Monday, May 5, 2008

Orchard Assault

It was gonna be the hills that got me.

Yesterday's course out at UMass wasn't really that bad - in DRY conditions. Unfortunately, it rained for a couple of days before the race, turning logs and roots into "slicker than snot" obstacles. But oh those climbs... There were only two really, both snaking up the same hillside from different places with multiple switchbacks. According to my teammate, Cris, the second time uphill seemed to have "slicker than snot" roots or logs at the apex of every switchback. Add the mud and the pitch, and, well, it got me.

Several NEBC'ers made the trek out to Amherst, despite 43 degree temps and rain - Julie, Cris, Bernie, Scott B, Greg, Keith, Michael, Libby and ourselves. Yup - we're sadists, especially since for most of us, it meant leaving home between 6:00 and 6:30 am on a Sunday! We all met up in the parking lot before heading out to see what was in store for us.

Since Cris and I were racing together, we went out for our warmup together as well. Before entering the woods, my HR was already at 155. This was gonna be hard - and I needed to warm up! Because not too many people had yet been out on the course, it was wet and slippery, but not really that bad. I knew what was in store, and decided that I COULD ride everything - just needed to be careful, and maybe dismount for the bridge to nowhere...

Only 6 women lined up for the Sport race, and my goal was to stick with Cris as long as I could. She had a great start, and ended up with the hole shot. One other woman was on her tail, and I entered the woods in third place. At the bottom of the first descent, Cris got a little tangled. After telling her to stay calm, I passed by her, only to biff it in an uphill corner, where she passed me back. After that, I never saw her again...

The first lap for me was pure torture - all out, as fast as possible, and biffing the second climb miserably - partly due to trying to rush through sections, and partly because I couldn't see through my fogged up glasses. In the second lap (after ditching the glasses), I decided to settle in some, and managed a little bit better in the technical sections, although somewhat dejected that I had let the leaders get away. By the third (and final) lap, my technical skills were better, and my legs got back under me. I managed to clean almost all of the uphill climb (by now, the corners were so mired that the good lines were in the leaves on the inside or outside of the turns), and finally cross the line where I started - in 3rd place.

After cleaning up, I went out to cheer on Keith, Michael and Mike in the Expert race. With all of the switchbacks, and the climbs coming up the same hillside, it made a great spectator course. I could walk from switchback to switchback to take pictures, and cheer for the riders. Later, Michael said the he felt "haunted" - couldn't figure out how we were in so many places on the course in such quick succession.

Since the Beginner and Sport fields had already raced, the course was now much different than it had been early in the morning. The mud was thicker everywhere, and the corners had more exposed roots in them than before. Apparently, my favorite section of the course, which I dubbed the "slip & slide" was worse also. This was a downhill section where you had some speed, and had to navigate through about 3-4" of mud. When I went, it was a matter of pointing the bike and going - a little more finesse was required for the guys.

Keith rode really strong for the first four laps of the race. When I called out to him on lap 4 that he was doing great and only had one more to go, he thought I was kidding - he had miscounted (even though I gave him his lap count earlier), and thought he was done! I felt really badly then...

Mike also rode well despite dropping his chain a couple of times, and looking like he was having absolutely the worst time of his life. I cheered, as he had done for me, until, on one lap, he heard me, looked in my direction, and said, "This sucks". I was quiet after that, cheering instead just for Keith and Michael ;-).

While the team had great results overall, I don't think many of us would describe this race as "fun". I think it was likely the most challenging race we will have all season - at least I hope so!
  • Julie - Beginner Women 35+
  • Cris - Sport Women - 2nd
  • Cathy - Sport Women - 3rd
  • Scott - Sport Men 30+ - 1st (5th overall)
  • Greg - Sport Men 30+ - DNF (derailleur casualty)
  • Mike- Expert Men 30+ - 2nd (5th overall)
  • Keith - Expert Men 30+ - 5th (8th overall)
  • Michael - Expert Men 30+ - 6th (10th overall)
  • Libby - Expert Women

Three washes with OxyClean and Tide later, the tough stains did sort of come out of the kits - that will teach us for going out and playing in the mud ;-).


tmc said...

Definitely looks (and sounds) like an epic ride! Can't wait to get back out there with you guys.

jtheskier said...

I really wanted to head out to UMASS to do this race (i used to live on orchard hill) but didn't because of the weather. Despite the "this sucks!" comments, it still looks like it was a blast!

Trigirlpink said...

What a contrast blog.
Flowers one minute,
mud and knobby tires next. lol..

claudia said...

Clearly you guys had a better weekend than we did.


paul.obeda@ said...

I'm a bit late with the mail (pretty bad for working for an arm of the Post Office, I know). And thank-you very much for your card.

Have a Great Day tomorrow! Especially nice that you & your Mom can celebrate the same day, even if for different reasons. All my best to everyone.