A week ago, the nerves started. I was sure that despite all of the hard work, I wasn't going to be ready. What if I went, and I stunk? Mike had spent a lot of time and effort on my bike (which was beautiful BEFORE the race ;)) and my coach had spent a lot of time and effort on my training. I KNEW in my head I was ready, but the butterflies still insisted on their version of the Olympics.
Oddly, as we made the drive to Connecticut on Saturday for the first race of the Root 66 series, I was calm. I think I figured that at this point, it was too late to worry and be nervous - whatever was going to happen was going to happen. And what happened? As we got on our bikes to go out and pre-ride the course, the skies opened. Yup - rain and cold the entire day. An auspicious beginning to the MTB race season!
Mike and I suited up and went out to hit the course for one lap prior to the race to see what we would face. At one point, we ended up pre-riding behind none other than Tim J, Lyne B and Matt O! Imagine our surprise to see the pros out at this race - especially Lyne, since we haven't seen her in this type of race (yet). And Tim must be home prepping for Battenkill next week... Since Mike was racing in the Pro category, he was going to have some tough competition. Me? I'm used to getting lapped by Lyne on the road and in 'cross, so was half expecting it here too ;).
First impressions of the course were good. I liked the mix of power sections with technical. The consensus back at the car, however, was that we needed to be careful and safe - the downhills were going to be slick, and sliding out on a corner in the mud wasn't going to get anyone anywhere fast.
We made our way over to the staging area since Mike's group was going off first. There were a huge number of racers who turned up despite the weather, and the Pro/Cat 1 fields were packed with talent. The Pro men's field had 25 starters lined up! I cheered as Mike got underway, and then stood and shivered until it was time for the women to head out - at the end of the entire wave of racers.
Standing in the back of our field (Pro and Cat 1 women get sent off together), I looked at the talent ahead and beside of me - besides Lyne, my coach was on the line as well as two of my training partners - Linnea and Kate, and next to me was Sue L, who won the overall series last year. I still managed to remain calm, knowing that my goal was to try to stay with the pack of Pros as long as possible, and then to bury myself to hang on to Sue as long as I could.
On the whistle, we were off, and I managed a decent start into the first corner, and then was swarmed hitting the first narrow single track. That meant that heading into the woods, I was second to last, with only Sue behind me. It was a single file trudge up the first hill, but I managed to pass a couple of the pro women once things flattened out. I still had Lydia (who was the other racer in my category) ahead of me, and Sue close behind. As we hit a technical uphill, Lydia didn't make it, and Sue got caught behind her. I had the MOST SPECTACULAR 'cross move ever at that point, dismounting and running past both of them to remount at the top of the hill (not sure why I can't pull off this move during 'cross season...). I was now leading my group, and had another pro racer in my sights.
Unfortunately for me, soon thereafter the course started uphill - Sue's specialty. I have gotten better at the hills, but Sue past me and quickly put a gap into me here, and now I was chasing again with Lydia not far behind. The good thing for me was that I could make up time on Sue anytime we went downhill or hit a technical section of the course; the bad thing was that Sue regained any time I made up every time we started uphill... I kept Sue in my sights for most of the first lap before losing her for the remainder of the race - an improvement over last year!
Lap 2 was difficult in that this was where most of the Pro men's field, and some of the Cat 1 men started lapping me. Now, I'm ok with being lapped, but there were some places where it was just plain difficult to get out of their way. I tried my best not to hold anyone up, but also to not give up any time myself - I still had my own race going on! Despite the lapping traffic, I believe that lap 2 was faster for me than the first lap. The bad thing was that at that point I could no longer see Sue in front of me, nor Lydia behind me.
By the third lap, course conditions had completely deteriorated. I now know what it must feel like to ride around in peanut butter - sticky, and no control over tires, steering or braking. Sections I was making in the first lap in my big ring I was having to run with my gearing now in the middle ring. I ran some sections I had ridden cleanly in the previous two laps - more for fear of a major injury than anything else. I also gave up some in this lap. Not being able to see the people against whom you are racing is detrimental to my motivation. That, and I really didn't want to get hurt, it was still pouring, and by now I was cold. I was also wondering if it was possible to get an infection from all the mud that was in my shorts (my mind goes to some strange places when it is tired...)!
So, the end result for me was second place in my category. Second out of three. Not great. BUT, let me now put that in perspective over last year. Last year, Sue was consistently beating me by 10 to 15 minutes in our races (I upgraded to mediocrity, you might remember). Saturday - Sue was a scant 5:30 ahead of me - not insurmountable before the season is through! I also finished ahead of Lydia and two of the Pro women. I rode the technical sections of the course, and didn't crash. I drank from my bottle, AND ate food (this was a big problem for me last year). Overall, I am happy with my result and have left some room for improvement.
Mike had a great race as well, finishing 8th in the Pro/Cat 1 Open category (in a starting field of 25). If you want a play-by-play colorful description of his finish, go read Thom's account - it's pretty funny.
After our races, we de-mudded as much as possible, and waited for teammates in the Cat 2 race to finish. Unfortunately, that means that even as I type this on Monday, I am still trying to warm up! And the kits? One wash with the garden hose and then two times through the washing machine (which needed vacuuming when finished) got MOST of the dirt out... Here's hoping for drier conditions in two weeks at Winding Trails!