Before summer school ended in July, I found myself talking about “next [school] year,” and I had to stop because I hadn’t yet begun my summer vacation and already I was thinking about coming back to work. I remember in January chatting with John Behrens of Bailey Bikes at the final cyclocross showdown in Bakersfield who offered his insight:
“Cross Vegas is only 8 months away!”
No kidding! I guess it doesn’t matter whether it’s the school year, the summer or racing season . . . it’s only a short while before it starts all over again.
I took much of June and July off from racing and just rode my bike. Didn’t do too much running, lots of good eating and some not so good. I kept myself in decent shape, didn’t gain or lose weight, although I worried about it somewhat.
Now those carefree days have come and gone . . . Alas, it is time to get ready for ‘cross. The tentative 2012-2013 schedule is out already, the Langtown BBQ is set and Facebook is overflowing with people buying and selling bikes. So I thought I’d better get back on board with the training.
Rim Nordic was training for me, strangely, not for ‘cross, however. It was more of a general fitness test. So I jumped into the next Over the Hump Race this last Tuesday to start training for ‘cross. I did a few of those OTH races in 2010, then one in 2011 and this was my first one of 2012. Dave and I had plans to do it earlier in the year, but with so many people out there, we thought we’d get some better training on a less congested course. It wasn’t as crowded as I’d expected this week, although it was still a good sized group.
We got registered and started warming up a little over half an hour prior to race time; it was pretty warm so a shorter warm up was ok, except that we got caught right in the middle of the kids race. There was some confusion on the course because it was different from what we remembered, although we were still able to get a good idea of what the course was like. We got back to the staging area just before everyone lined up and I thought I had gotten a good spot: in between rows 1 and 2.
I looked around a bit hoping to see someone I knew to no avail. Then Ryan Weeger walked up to say hi, snapped a few photos and he was on his way again. By the time we hit the line I found myself positioned precisely into row three, scratching my head as usual. I took a quick survey and figured there were about 25 or more guys in my group.
As we set off, the field quickly thinned into a line either because of the speed or the narrow road at the start and I found myself in the back. It was a long straight fast start and I tried counting the guys in front of me so that I could have some idea of where I was throughout the race. I counted 20, knowing I had missed a bunch, and then saw a gap start to open between the guys in front of me and the rest of the group. I went around easily and caught the big group right before the big asphalt climb. I was feeling really good and I shot out like a rocket up the hill passing more guys than I could count, including some from the younger group that started just before we did.
I kept working my way passed people until the climb stopped and I took the first quick steep drop a little too wide and a bunch of guys whizzed right by me. I slowed, knowing that the next quick steep drop was coming and that I couldn’t handle it as well as some of the other guys. I picked my line on the outside and went down slowly yet well. I caught the guys going up the subsequent singletrack pretty easily and stayed with them down the next sketchy soft and bumpy descent. Thad had suggested I take the inside there, but that was after my warm up lap, and I didn’t feel brave enough to try something new during the race. I think I went down pretty well since no one was on my wheel cursing or crashing. I fell off the back on the next single track that led us out toward the fire road around the start/finish area to the backside of the course.
The flat manicured fire road provided an opportunity for a drink. My throat was very dry from all the dust at the start. My legs felt good and my heart rate was only in zone 3, so I got a bit of confidence. I caught back onto the group on the next climb, passed a couple of people in my race, some not. Then a nice little descent to another longer flat fire road. I punched it into the big ring and bridged to the next group as they started the next climb. I passed more people on that climb but lost a few places on the soft sweeping left turn at the bottom of the gradual descent that followed.
I did my best going into the next singletrack to stay with the group. No one passed me, which was good, but I struggled to maneuver smoothly through some of the twists and turns. There was a small sandpit there, which I handled pretty well and then we were out and sprinting towards the start of the second lap.
I caught the next group on the long straight away and then punched it again before the asphalt climb. I passed more people on the climb and this is where the race started to sort itself out. I knew I must have been close to the front now because I moved up through more than half the field in my race. One guy wearing a sleeveless US flag jersey passed me before the top of the climb. His jersey was distinct, unlike anyone else’s in the race, so I knew I hadn’t passed him. He had caught me. Coming down the second steep descent, I went on the left again and was feeling good about my line when one guy came barreling down and one of the course marshals started yelling “Easy, slow it down!” with some concern in his voice. I didn’t think he was telling me because I felt like I was in complete control of the bike and then right before the bottom I felt a grip touch my hip. The course marshal was talking to the other guy, who managed to get control of his bike, and slow me down, and went ahead. I don’t believe it was intentional, but it worked for him because he got ahead of me.
As I came through the sandy turn of the next singletrack I twisted my bars and had to dismount, run and then remount: no idea what happened! On the fire road that followed my front tire almost slipped out on one of the turns and that continued to be a problem the rest of the race. I passed the same group on the final climb of the second lap, including the guy with the flag jersey, but he caught me and passed me before the top. I followed him down, and my front tire slipped again.
In the last section of singletrack before starting the final lap I was able to pass some of the Beginners and couldn’t help but think that I know how they feel, having guys whiz by them while they suffered to keep the bike upright or didn’t care enough to risk going any faster. I was glad I wasn’t them anymore.
In the final lap, I decided I was feeling good enough to go harder and when I hit the asphalt climb I felt like I dropped everybody. Then there came one guy in a white Castelli jersey whom I’d passed just seconds earlier and he passed me, which was a good thing because it told me I could be going faster. I jumped on his wheel and we rode up and down and around to the back side. On the long fire road before the final climb I kicked it into my big ring again.
“C’mon, we gottta catch that guy. He’s in our group.”
I sensed some resignation in his voice but he went with me and we caught the US flag guy and again I passed him on the climb, and again he passed me before the top. We dropped the guy in the Castelli jersey. Right before the top, I could see the leaders wearing the orange and white OTH jerseys and thought I might have a chance to battle for the win. They made it over the top and I followed them down, turning carefully so my front wheel wouldn’t slide down the fast fire roads. I was hoping I could get to the final singletrack before them and have them get caught behind the Beginners, but they turned the tables on me. I got caught in the first turn behind one guy and waited until the first opening to pass, even though I really wanted to tell him to get out of the way. I’d lost some time on the leaders already and wasn’t able to pass people as soon as I came up on them. Eventually I caught one guy who was moving pretty well and then he decided to let me through.
It only led me to a group of 3 others, one of them crashed in the small sand pit, the one behind him panicked and I was eventually forced to dismount. One guy in my group passed me. I ran on to find surer footing and could hear the yelling behind me.
“Riders coming through! Watch out guys!”
I’m sure Beginner Chuy would have stopped and let them through, regardless of the category they were racing, but I, Sport Chuy, ran hard and then remounted and pedaled away. No one else passed me. I tried to pass the guy in my group who benefitted from my misfortune but he was strong enough to hold me off until the finish. My hard tail was bouncing all over the place through the last section near the lake. For the first time, I wished I had rear suspension.
I finished 8th and only the top 7 got the pint glass. There were 26 racers in my group, but 4 of them DNF’ed. Admittedly, I was disappointed, not with my 8th place finish, but because I missed the pint glass. There was some confusion with Dave’s results but he finished 7th, earning him a pint glass. When we grabbed our bikes to finally head back to the truck, my front tire was flat, explaining the sudden onset of slippage during the race.
I’ll try to earn my pint glass again next week!