Ultra Cross series, Southern Cross was my first goal event of the season. It was my 3rd attempt. I finished 6th on a 29'er MTB 2 years ago. Last year I raced a CX bike, missed a turn on the final long descent and added some extra mileage. This year I was back again on a CX bike. The competition has ratcheted up a couple of notches over the last couple of years, so my optimistic goal was a top 5 in 40+ but realistically I was just looking at seeing where my early season form was and just pushing as hard as I could.
The weather turned out to be pretty good. A little chilly at the start, but nothing like last years freeze. I got a reasonably good starting position (for me). The tall grass and soft ground on the winery grounds at the start made for some difficult going early on. I lost a few spots by those more ambitious on the first big run-up than me. By the time we got to the road my legs were already burning, but it's crucial to be in a good drafting pack early and then sort it out on the climb.
I had been riding the .GPX course file of the course on my CompuTrainer, so I knew when and how long the first climb would be. I think I paced myself pretty well because of those that passed me early in the climb, I was able to reel them all in and a grab a few more spots before the 1st aid station at the top at mile 12.5.
A few more short, steep climbs and descents followed before a long descent leading onto a road section. Somehow I managed to hit the road solo, so I had to do all the work myself instead of sharing the work with drafting partners.
There are a few more short steep climbs before we turn onto a road that follows a creek on a steady incline that suits my climbing style perfectly. It's a joy to be outside with great weather, great terrain, pedaling up a mountain. Other riders are few and far between, but I do manage to pick a few spots before the aid station at mile 32.
Next up: Super fast, rough road descending. It's a bit technical, but most of all, it is a bit of crap shoot wondering how fast I can rocket down the mountain bouncing off of rocks without flatting. I played it reasonably conservative, losing a little ground to some MTB's, but pleased that I got to the bottom with no flats, no issues.
I pop out onto the road, solo again, for the 5 or so miles back to the winery. We enter the winery on a narrow, paved undulating road, but the real difficult section starts with a giant run-up and doesn't end until the finish line. Two miles of suffering through soft ground, tall grass, off-camber sections, more run-ups, a log crossing, 2 creek crossings and the accumulation of 49 previous miles of fatigue. But it does finally end. The extra struggling at the end adds to the satisfaction of mission accomplishment. I crossed the line in about 3:20. Good for 7th in 40+ and 25 minutes faster than I was last year.
A good start to the season.
See you on the trails!