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Well, after much prodding by Mark B. for the past two years, I finally made it up to the track ;). Of course, it took a ‘cross race to get me there …
We heard a lot of pre-race speculation calling the course “jungle-cross”, but the crew did a FANTASTIC job creating a very fun and interesting course in a small space. We started out with a half lap on the velodrome, and then up a small dirt kicker that took us into a bigger run-up (some of the men were able to ride this section, but most/all of the women chose to run). Then onto some really nice, SMOOTH singletrack in the woods that brought you to a steep downhill with a sharp, round-a-tree-and-back-uphill off-camber turn. This section was entirely rideable, but I saw a lot of racers opting to run here (some running only after crashing in the bottom of the corner ;)). More twists and turns in the woods, and then up into a higher speed grass section with some awesome corners. Another dirt run-up brought us back onto the velodrome and down into the infield for some more turns and two sets of barriers. There was literally something for everyone on this course, and it may just have become one of my favorites.
Despite a TERRIBLE start on the track (I somehow managed to be unclipped from both pedals and watched the field ride away from me…), I actually felt generally good about my performance at this race. My fitness helped me through all of the power sections of the course, but my challenge came in the skills area – every time I had to dismount, I lost time. In fact, on at least two laps, I ended up dismounting on the wrong side of my bike as I came into the first run-up. I quickly recognized that this was costing me, and managed the final laps with clean dismounts at least in that section.
I was also really happy with my cornering in the race. Looking through and not at the corners let me carry a lot of speed. I also practiced what I preach, and sprinted out of each corner on the course. I did manage at one point to pass Michelle K. after she got a stick in her wheel, but my poor technique on the barriers allowed her to catch and make up time on me. I would then make up a bit of time on her as I rode the downhill into the sharp uphill turn section, while Michelle chose to run (the MTB skills came in handy here!). In the end, she managed to best me, but I was making up some time.
After the race, one of the officials came over and told Michelle she was being relegated! On one of the laps, as we crested the run-up back onto the velodrome, Michelle somehow managed to get herself outside of the cones, and the official cited her for cutting the course. I didn’t think it was fair (she did it right in front of me – it wasn’t intentional and she didn’t advance because of it), and was glad to later find out that the decision was reversed. The lesson everyone should take away, however, is to be very aware of the course.
I certainly hope that this race becomes a regular! I loved the course, and had a blast.