We've finally had a string of dry days. The weather was perfect for racing, but this also meant the course would get loose. There is nary a hill in the circuit. It runs four miles, a mile on cinder rail trail, three miles on fire roads. There's a small bit of cyclocross style course taped off in a field with some off-camber turns. The race also sported a large CX field, almost certainly the biggest field of the day with upwards of 50 riders.
CX in June? Chris Plummer finishing lap 1.
We went off in age group waves, one minute apart. There were about 15 riders in my 40-49 age group category. We were doing 7 laps, or about 28 miles. The pace was pretty furious down the long rail trail drag strip. There was no hole-shot bonus on this course. It was all wide doubletrack. Sketchy corners abounded though. We raced after the novice and sport riders loosened things up a bit. I ran Stan's Raven tires with a barely there tread. I ran them with high side pressure too, 32 front, 36 rear. They were screaming fast on the rail trail but sucked in the corners.
Our pace stayed pretty high through the first lap. Several times I looked down and we were doing 25mph. Half way into the second lap, we had shelled half our group. A pretty select group remained, and nobody was getting away from this group. So what happened? We just kind of sat up for the next four laps. I can't say I volunteered to carry the torch, but I did take a couple good pulls at the front. The only guy I knew in our group of seven was Keith Button (CCB). The others were unknown quantities to me.
After putzing around for four laps, I was feeling pretty good, except for my lungs. I was quite sure I'd have coal miners lung after this race with all the dust in the air. My plan was to bolt free at the beginning of our final 7th lap. I could bury myself for 12 minutes.
My launch was a bit messy. We caught other riders just as we passed through the start/finish on our bell lap. Probably wasn't the best time to attack. I had to grab fists full of brakes a couple times, and the other six were not about to just let me ride away.
Once on the rail trail, I had a clean shot. Head down, massive Watts ensued. Geoff McIntosh (NHCC) dangled precariously close behind me, partially in my draft. I had to severe that cord. The rest of the group quickly fell way back. I figured Geoff could be a great guy to work with, but he didn't latch on quickly enough when I let up for a bit. So I went it alone.
More than half way through the lap, I didn't see any of my group behind me anymore. It was hard to tell, as I was passing a lot of younger riders staged ahead of us. I thought that was it, I had it in the bag. Perhaps I got just a tad too comfortable. With less than a mile to go, Alby King (Bikeman) bridged up to me. Dang, where did he come from? He certainly had some fitness goods. So I immediately relinquished the lead and re-assessed my strategy.
About 200m from the finish, things got messy. We caught another bunch of riders just as a few elites caught us. Doubletrack is wide, but not wide enough for three groups of riders to all pass simultaneously when the slower group is already riding two-abreast. We got through it.
Entering the taped section, I made a sweet, sketchy pass around slower riders and was now ahead of Alby. Awesome! Just don't biff in the sand now. Alby has been doing nothing but winning these things this year, and he was intent on not letting this one slip right through his fingers. Some very aggressive racing ensued, with plenty of body contact. That is not my gig at all and I was surprised I stayed upright. On one of the last turns, Alby executed a particularly aggressive move that got him back out front. I ran out of course to do anything about it. I missed the win by a bike length.
At first, I was pretty pissed with the aggressive tactics. Then I realized this is probably common in 'cross racing, and we were essentially in a 'cross scenario at the finish. It's not like I got intentionally pushed into the tape for no reason. There was a lot of traffic in the finishing chute with the other riders we caught. Alby and I talked afterwards and it was all good.
Results suggested I came in 5th place overall expert with a time of 1:30:08. I'm pretty happy with that. We were faster than last year's Vet-II race. Not only did I use the big ring for the whole race, I think I used only half the cogs in back too. An average speed of over 18mph is not your typical mountain bike race.
There were more than a few tattered jersey's and bloodied knees at the finish. I braked going into the corners, drawing the ire of those behind me I'm sure. My biggest fear was somebody stacking in front of me. There were many close calls. Heard tires rubbing many times during the race. There were wrecks in other fields.
I completely underestimated how much drafting would matter in this race. It essentially is a crit on dirt. Sketchy turns, attacks, pacelining, it was all there. After the race, Alby commented that had we not lollygagged along for four laps, somebody from our group (I wonder who?) would have claimed the $200 for fastest expert. We were only a few minutes down. The firepower we had in our group of seven could have easily erased that gap.
It was a great day on dirt. My next off-road event might not be until August 21, the Hampshire 100, where hopefully I can have a rematch with Alby.