Channel 3 MTB Race Report

Or, "This Expert Thing is No Joke," by Colin.

I got my Expert career started down in Andover, CT this weekend. Linnea and I rolled up with 2.5 hours to go before the start, but after finding out experts were riding 5 laps we decided to skip preriding in exchange for a trip to subway and a bike shop to get a chainring bolt, because when you're riding 5 laps of a course described as "fast and dry" you'll obviously learn it while you ride, right? And if the expert race is lengthened because the course is fast, that's basically synonymous with easy, right?

Right.

So I rolled up to my first expert race ever having seen a few hundred yards of the course, with lots of air in the suspension, because it was sooooo fast.

It turns out that the only part of the course I'd see was actually the smoothest and flattest section out there. The course was only 4 miles of pure climbing and descending up and down a hillside. I would describe it as "world cup style," having seen a few world cups in my day -- tons of climbing and no resting on the downhills.

Another cool feature was a giant log about 2 minutes into the course that was far more than chainring height. I felt compelled as an "expert" to ride it, but it's a good thing saw it on my practice ride and saw other people riding it, to shame me into conquering my fear and doing it.

So I lined up with 18 other 19-29 experts and we started out at a ridiculous pace. If 19-29 sport riders start like they're experts, then these guys start like they're pros. I felt obligated to not go straight to DFL in the group so I was hammering the big ring just like everyone else up the first hill. We can into the log section with me in around 15th place, I saw all the leaders ride it and then a bunch of guys in front of me hit it cross style. For guys that could remount decently (like PvB from Hup who was right in front of me) it was pretty fast that way, luckily I rode it so there was no need to break out the stutter-step remount.

The pace continued to be high for the first half lap. I was killing myself but pretending that I could keep it up for 5 laps, just like everyone else around me. There were two super steep climbs that were either granny ring or a really hard middle ring, and after the first one, about 15 minutes in, I was starting to come to grips with the fact that my legs were pretty much on fire and I wasn't even done a lap. So I began the painful process of slowing down and trying to find a sustainable pace.

Soon after that I had an amusing exchange with PvB, who kept passing me back on climbs, when he jacked his bike sideways across the trail, completely blocking me and forcing me to stop. He yanked his bike out of the way, leapt on to remount behind me, just in time for me to slide out on a root, hit a tree, and completely block the trail again. "I deserved that," he said. Oh yeah, we are so expert.

After that I was forced to walk the 2nd super-steep climb because my legs and brain just couldn't come to grips with how much it was going to hurt to ride it. Not that walking was any better, just slower. So I gave back some places there.

Coming through at the end of lap one, all the adrenaline had completely worn off. I realized that this was going to hurt a great deal for another hour and a half. So I did what any badass would do, I slowed down and ate a powergel. Mmmm, sugary.

From there, things get kind of fuzzy. There's only so many ways to describe that I was in pain. I was treated to a nice parade of leaders catching me on lap 2 and 3, as the singlespeed leader (on a rigid 29er!) caught me, followed by a bunch of the 30+ leaders, followed by the 40+ leaders...

To spice things up I planted my uphill knee on a tree trying to ride a nasty, narrow sidehill section, which is a pretty painful bruise today. Linnea had a similar experience with the exact same tree, so I'm betting 50% of the field or so knee'd that tree at some point. It was in a horrible location.

I ate my second gel starting lap 4, and by then I was settling in to a sustainable, if not fast, rhythm. There were mechanicals everywhere (flat tires), which was getting me a fair number of ill-deserved places -- unless you consider being 145 lbs and riding a high tire pressure to be a skill -- and some other guys from my category were actually slowing down even faster than me, so I was picking up some places as time went by.

On lap 4 I started passing the back of the women's field, which gave me renewed motivation, because it meant that maybe I could catch Linnea. I kept looking through the woods for her blue jersey, but it was nowhere to be found. I was, however, treated to the leading semi-pro lapping me, just to remind me what it looks like to ride 4 minutes faster per lap than I can.

Starting lap 5 my camelback ran out. I initially thought this was a catastrophic development, but it turns out that surviving 20 minutes without water is pretty easy. I passed Jess Ingram, who told me that Linnea was "about a minute ahead," so I still had something to race for. Because obviously, lapping my girlfriend is far more important than actually beating people in my class.

Too bad Jess was lying. I didn't even see her until almost halfway through the lap, when I caught a glimpse of her climbing off through the woods while I was climbing as well, meaning she was an entire climb + descent ahead of me.

It didn't look doable, but adrenaline is a funny thing, especially when you're finishing the race and your quarry still has a lap to ride. I pushed as hard as I could and with a quarter lap to go she saw me, passing by on a downhill while I was on the climb just before. A few more technical sections and I could see her on the last climb before the descent to the finish. As the fast downhill flattened out, I got out of the saddle in the big ring just in time to come screaming past and yell "gotcha" just before the last corner, which I then overran horribly and almost hit a tree.

Then I finished.

It turns out they had lots of stuff to give away (drink mix!) so they went 8 deep in my category with prizes, and thanks to 5 DNFs I ended up 8th out of 19. I'll take it!
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