Saturday - Plymouth North
Mike and I did this race last year, and I really liked the course - lots of grassy sections, a couple of tough run-ups, a single barrier you had to cross twice and a downhill singletrack section that was bumpy, twisty and rooty. Sadly, for this year's course, the grassy sections were shortened, and the run-ups were removed. That meant that this was going to be a fast race - more like a crit than a 'cross race, with only two forced dismounts per lap.
The weather this year was also quite different from last. Overcast skies, cold temps and WIND! I did my warmup laps with my jeans and down jacket over my cycling gear, and threatened to race that way too. The wind was biting, making it feel much colder than the temps indicated. A lot of racers were having trouble staying warm, especially once warm layers were shed in the staging area. Since there were only 8 women, we told the official to start us and not wait!
I knew that hanging onto a wheel was going to be important in this race, especially with the wind and long, flat sections of the course. I managed to latch onto Perri for much f the first lap, but she quickly gapped me, leaving me chasing Sue M and Karen T. I was pretty suprised to pass Sue - she is a much better racer than I, and I don't usually see her after we start a race. I later learned that she wasn't feeling well, and didn't end up finishing the race.
So, I targeted Karen, who I could see, but not catch for much of the race. At about lap 4, her rocket boosters kicked in, and then I could no longer even see her. I was on my own. I hunkered into TT mode, trying to get as low as I could to stay out of the wind, and just finish. When I came through for the bell lap, I was really excited to have only one more to go. So much so that the announcer commented that they usually see smiles on the bell lap, but never as big as the one I gave!
I finished the race in 5th, which was in the money. My teammate Teri, in her 1st race with the big girls, accomplished her goals as well: finished, didn't get lapped, and didn't come last! It was a good day for both of us, but we were REALLY happy to get into warm clothes when we were done.
Mike had a terrific race, finishing 10th in his field. Congrats also to Shannon for finishing a strong 3rd in the women's 3/4 race.
Sunday - Plymouth South
Everything that Saturday's course was not, Sunday's course was. I think this was my favorite venue so far this season, and you can tell from the photo that I had a great time (and apparently, wasn't suffering hard enough)! Thanks to Dave McElwaine for the photo - great to meet you!
The course started on the pavement, with a hard 90 degree right onto the grass, along some chain link fence and into single track - SWEET! The trail was twisty, and turned up a semi-tough short grinder into another field before putting us at the bottom of another long, steepish uphill into a 180 degree turn back DOWN the hill. A fast field section, onto a loose/sandy road and back into the woods. Here, you had to carefully negotiate tight, muddy turns, curbs (yes, in the woods), and a tree smack dab in the middle of the trail before the hardest uphill of the course (many ended up running this hill). Once this was complete, a bit more up/down in the woods brought us back out into the field for the barrier sandwich - DEEP sandpit, barriers and second sandpit. Yahoo! Challenging and fun.
Because many of the local women had registered to do the race in Putney, VT, there were only 5 Elite women on the starting line. I knew that Jennifer would gap me early, I would have a fight on my hands with Libby, and the two others were slightly unknown given that Kerry is a great MTB rider and I didn't really know the other woman.
From the whistle, I was chasing Libby (important note: Libby is a National Champion. She is also 14). When we came to the difficult uphill on the first lap, Libby chose to run while I rode, allowing me to make up some time on her. She got a little nervous trying to remount, so I told her to just be calm (she is also a teammate). This seemed to help, and her awesome skills through the sand and barriers let her get a gap on me.
I chased hard on the second lap, with Mike telling me not to let her go, and Libby's dad thanking me for coaching her through ;-). Each lap, I was able to make up time on her in the fields where power came into play, and she made time on me in the singletrack and sand/barriers - that girl is SMOOTH! I would catch her again as she ran up the hill and I rode. By lap three, Libby admitted to me that she was pretty cooked (this was her second race of the day - and the 12th time up "the hill"). I followed her through some sections, coaching her to stay calm and not make mistakes. When we got into the field, I passed her, moving into second place. She never lost a lot of time on me in the remaining three laps though, finishing just 30 seconds behind.
It was great to have cheering "fans" on the course as well. On one of my climbs up "the hill", someone yelled out "You're an animal" to which I replied, "An animal looking for one more gear!". Then came the ultimate heckle - "Less talking, more riding!" Yup - something I would have said ;-).
Sadly, both the Women's 3/4 and Men's 35+ results were incorrect. Julie L was really 14th in her race, and Mike was actually 8th in his race, where they showed him as 11th - there are 3 lapped riders in the results ahead of him... Too bad - this was his best result all season, and the second race in a weekend where he bested Paul Curley! Congrats to Carrie, who finished 3rd in her race, winning a nifty medal made in China ;-).
All in all, however, a great race, great venue and a fun day, with great results for NEBC!