Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Weeping Willow

A little history is in order. Last year, the Weeping Willow was my first mountain bike race ever. My friend David, told me it was the race to do, so I showed up on my rigid, circa 1995 Stumpjumper, with cantilever brakes, and far too much pressure in my tires. I had registered for the beginner race, since I obviously had no idea what I was doing. The fast, tricky, single track was a hoot, even though I managed to overcook everything, and wiped out on every slippery root. Post race, I was muddy, battered, and bruised, but it left me wanting more. I knew I would be back, to race this one again.

This year I came back with a new bike, a new team (Hup United), and much better handling skills. Albeit the handling skills were greatly improved thanks to the tubeless conversion I did 2 days before the race. Wooooo, 20psi! Thankfully I signed up early, because it sold out, with over 400 riders preregistered. It seemed as if half the people there were friendly faces from the NECX, which made me happy. My friend Susan, who lives nearby, even stopped by to give me a fresh baked scone and cheer the start. I was signed up in the 30-39 Sport class, and there were 41 guys in my age group alone. With so many riders on course, I knew that the start leading to the single track would be even  more important than usual. Of course I almost missed my start, because I couldn't hear them calling our age group up. Using my ninja skills, I sneaked my way towards the front on the outside edge, a mere 30 seconds before they started us.

Tristan, was just one of the sexy NECX folks taking over the MTB  race.

Soon, our thundering herd of Sport riders were barreling down the fire road. I got off to a decent start, but almost got taken out a few times as people were jockeying for position. I ended up about 15th wheel, as we hit the single track, and started our dusty first lap conga line of suffering. We started hitting the back end of the 40+ men, about a third of the way through the first lap. I got caught up behind some of the passed riders, and lost the leaders. At this point I settled into a sustainable pace for myself, and worked on riding clean, and staying hydrated.

 I had made the last minute decision to wear my hydration pack, which turned out to be a good idea, since the single track didn't give you many places to take a drink from a bottle. The few attempts I made at drinking from my bottle of electrolyte mix, ended with it mostly absorbed by my mustache as I spilled it all over my face. With the temperature already rising close to 80, I was also taking great joy in riding through any of the water on course, even if it was primarily stank puddles.

At the end of the first lap, I blasted up the double track passing as many folks as I could before we hit the single track again. I ended up in a little group of 3, with a rider from Bike Barn, and another from NEBC. We quickly assessed that we were all in the same category, and tried to make up some time on the guys ahead of us. With the pace high, I was content to sit in for a bit, enjoy the terrain, and try to make my move later in the lap. We soon ran into another slower group, and the NEBC squeezed by them, gapping us as we tried to pass with little success when one of the slower guys managed to bobble on a climb. Shortly after that I heard someone come up on me, and gasp out, "group leader, can I pass?", I tried to get out of the way quickly, and only succeeded in getting myself hooked on a small tree as I let him by. I was happy to see that it was my Hup teammate Jon, who was obviously killing it, since he had worked his way through almost two full fields to get to me. He was quickly off down the trail, as I unhooked myself from the tree. I sprinted to try and catch up, but he was already long gone.

I did manage to get back to the Bike Barn rider though. Shortly after I passed him, I clipped my pedal really hard on a rock that was hidden behind a tuft of grass. I hit it with enough force, that it almost knocked the bike out from under me, and crushed one of the wings on my crank brothers pedal. The Bike Barn guy was impressed with my ability to destroy my bike, and still keep it upright. Sadly he said that he did not have his Gopro, to record it. This also left me looking like a drunk, as I fumbled to clip back into the pedal.  For the rest of the race, I was doubly frustrated anytime I got caught behind someone who would bobble, and force me to pull a foot out, repeating my Drinky McCantclipin performance.

We soon came onto another small group, which included my friend Todd, I rode with him for a little bit, and he let me by. Shortly after that I managed to drop my chain as hit a little climb, and lost about 5 places as I pried my chain out. I pushed a little too hard after that, and suffered for it. I managed to just barely catch my handlebar on a tree, as I came sweeping around a turn. This had the undesirable effect of launching me shoulder first into the tree, with enough additional force, that I felt as though I had been launched out of a catapult. Of course this also brought me to a complete, and painful stop, and lost me even more time. It took me a few seconds to shake it off, and then the chase was back on.

I caught back up to the riders who had passed me, and kept looking for opportunities to make a get around them, but no one was interested in leaving the door open for me. We rode by another of my Hup teammates, Ana, who walking out after a flat, but cheered us all on. She is a total bad ass for attempting to do the race on her CX bike. We finally hit the last section of fire road, with Todd right ahead of me. He waved me around, and told me to get the other guys, so I dropped the hammer, and started pulling the other riders in. Several of them seemed like they were no longer interested in sprinting, as went by pushing the big ring, which was fine by me. I did feel one other rider breathing down my neck as I hit the last turn before the finish, but I was able to hold him off by a few bike lengths.
Dirty, happy, Hupsters.

In the end I finished 13th out of 41 in my age group, and approx 27th out of 150 in my category. Overall, not too bad, but I felt like I had too much left in my tank at the end. I obviously need to be more aggressive with my passing in future races, because I felt like doing another lap after we finished. Jon made a nice showing for Hup, winning his age group in dominating fashion, finishing 5 minutes ahead of second place.

Jon was pretty excited about his win!

Post race observations:

The Good:
-Didn't crash much.
-Was much more conscious of staying off the brakes.
-Got to ride some nice trails with all of my friends, at break neck speeds.
-I had a warm recovery scone .

The Bad:
-I wasn't aggressive enough with the passing, which didn't allow me to ride at full throttle.
-Had a stupid chain drop, which was preventable. 

Overall, I have a lot of room for improvement, but I feel like my fitness is getting better. With more practice, perhaps I can be the fastest mustache in my category.