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!
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
I had been wanting to do a Chain Buster's Productions SEC race for a while because it looked like a fun, well-run series that I could do well at on venues that were (mostly) within a reasonable driving distance. I didn't get a chance to race any of them last year. However, I was pleasantly surpised when the 2014 race schedule was released and many of the 6-hour race dates fit into my training plans (mostly).
I had never been to Tribble Mill Park in Lawrenceville, GA - the site of Saturday's Taco Stand Classic, and it looked like I might miss it again when initial weather forecasts were for rain/snow showers. Fortunately, as race day drew closer, the forecast was updated to rain and then to possible rain, then to just morning showers. At the last minute, I decided to take the chance and headed to the race.
The delay to commit to the race meant leaving at 4:00am on race day to make the 9:00am registration deadline. Which I did. As I drove, the temperatures warmed ever-so-slightly. By the 10:00am start time conditions were cool and a bit overcast with the sun occassionally peeking thru the clouds and no rain in sight.
I had no idea what the trail would be like (other than a few brief Youtube videos). I took a conservative starting position for the mass start. As we left the pit loop and entered the woods for lap one, I quickly realized that hadn't been a great move. The trail was tight and twisty with very few overtaking opportunities. I kept waiting for the trail to open up, but it never did.
I started calling off my passes and began working my way forward rider by rider. There were 3 or 4 fairly significant climbs that were moderatley technical because most of the trail was covered in pin needles. They were all doable in the big-big ring which is my favorite kind of climb. I had also managed to make a pretty good guess at the tire selection, too because they were working well. By the end of the first 9 mile lap I was really starting to get the trail figured out. The familiar flow of racing my bike in the woods was coming back again.
I blew through my pits at the end of the lap and headed into the woods for lap two. By now I had moved up enough, and the field had strung out enough that I was catching riders individually instead of in groups, making passing much simpler. I am a lot more at ease when riding my own pace. No distractions in front and no pressure from the rear.
About a third of the way through the lap I managed to pedal-strike what was probably the only rock on the trail. It damaged my pedal so badly that there was no way I could clip in. In fact, it was difficult to keep my foot from sliding off. Not being able to weight the left pedal made for a very stressful lap #2. All the years of poor form and sitting while cornering paid off I guess, because I made it back to the pits without incident. Just a bit of time lost.
I rode to my car and picked up my spare pedals, then rode to my pits where my toolbox was, changed the pedal and headed out for lap #3. I felt like a hero after the way I had been riding. I could rail the corners again and pedal without having to constantly readjust my foot. With no one in the pits to check timing and scoring for me, I had no idea how much time I had lost or what position I was in. I actually felt like the pressure was off for a good result now. I just focused on being smooth and good pacing and nutrition technique.
I made my 2nd (and last) stop in the pits at the end of lap #4. By now it was obvious that I would only be able to complete 6 laps in the 6 hour time limit. I decided to make the most of it: To enjoy the trail and to keep the pace high. ...and to catch and pass anyone I saw on the trail. It was still a race, after all.
By the final lap I was starting to feel a bit fatigued, but there is something satisfying about completeing that last lap. Every obstacle overcome, every hill climbed, I think to myself, "this is the last time I have to make this climb". By now I know the trail well, I know which parts of the trail to expend extra energy to make time and where to just be smooth and stay off the brakes. It's a good feeling.
As I circled around the pits for one last time I allowed myself to wonder what position I was in. I rode a strong pace and no one had passed me while I was on the trail but I was unsure if there had been anyone in my class up ahead that I never caught sight of.
I crossed the finish line and turned in my timing chip. No fanfare. Just a bunch of fellow racers and their support teams happy to see the end of a long race.
I casually changed and gathered up all the pit equipment and water bottles, etc that I had scattered around throughout the race before allowing myself to check the results. I'm not sure if I was surprised or relieved to see my name at the top of the Solo Masters results, but I was pleased. It was a long day. It sure is good to be back racing my bike in the woods!
See you on the trails!