Oh man, this two-races-per-weekend business makes keeping up with race reports damned hard. It will be interesting to see if I can keep racing and blogging twice per weekend, lucky for me cross is so awesome so there's always good stuff to write about.
Casco Bay cross was Saturday on a pretty interesting course -- I would describe it as mountain-bikish, not because it was rooty and rocky but because it had a very distinct climbing phase and descending phase each lap. The descent was a legitimate 20 seconds or more of recovery, pretty rare in a cross race. It also had a tough but rideable sandy beach section and a "big log" in addition to the barriers. Each lap finished with a punishing dirt road climb that was made even worse by the 80 degree temps.
As soon as I saw the big log I knew I had to get "all mountain biker" on it. I was terrified and my first couple of practice attempts were pretty shaky, but after 6 successful cleans before the race I was ready to do it at race time. It wasn't actually faster (I had to brake a lot because I'm a wimp) but it was less work and my remounts are disgraceful.
The field ended up being 44 riders, I think, and we lined up about 15 people abreast, all going for a holeshot 60 yards away that was a 10-foot wide gate. Needless to say the race squeezed down fast. I got a decent start but not good enough to get out of the scrum, so one guy swung across the front of me and ended up smacking his hip straight into my bars. I successfully avoided freaking out as we drifted left and the race was on.
Midway through the first lap I had latched onto the back of the lead group, 8 or 9 guys strong. First time into the big log, I swallowed my fear, got a little free space, and cleaned it. Not pretty but not bad. On the way up the dirt road, some of the fast early starters started their inevitable pack slide, so I had to get off the back of the group (what the heck was I doing there, anyway?) and move up. Coming through after one lap I was sixth, but still in the lead train and feeling pretty comfortable.
On an uphill 180 going into the long descent, the guy in front of me slipped a bit and I got up next to him. We had an exciting trip down the twisty downhill, two abreast for quite a while, until I proved that I was crazier and eventually squeezed him out. So, up to fifth.
I think it stayed this way for another lap. I felt pretty good everywhere except the sand, which was a real test for everyone. You had to enter with almost no speed, after making a near-180, and then ride one line right on the tape, ducking under a bush to get there. There was a mountain bike in the front group (Chris LaFlamme, who would be miles ahead of me if we were racing mountain bikes) and he was floating blissfully through the sand AND riding the log. If it wasn't for the dirt road I'd have sworn the mtb was a faster bike.
On lap three we were all still together when then third guy in line washed his wheel out hard on some hay -- fourth place t-boned his sliding body and flipped over, and I just barely got them both by breaking through the outside course tape. In a split second the lead group was trimmed to three.
That lap we went over the log three abreast, and next thing I know I'm leading the group up the dirt road. I didn't want to be doing the work this early, but I looked back and there were only two guys on my wheel -- and 3 more strung out as part of the aftermath of the crash. I didn't want to let them come back so I sucked it up and hammered on the front, and when we came through we had 4 to go.
This time down the hill I was leading, in the drops, and got down with almost no brakes. I felt like I was going a lot faster than previous laps and when I looked back at the bottom I was right -- I had a gap.
I HAD A GAP!
I wasn't planning to do it solo from 4 laps out, but you can't pass up a gap. I tried to ride fast but sustainable, and after a half-lap I was definitely pulling away. Pulling away with authority, in fact.
On lap five the chase was taken up by one of the guys who had been in the crash, and my lead stopped growing.
By lap six the gap was definitely coming down. It had been 35 minutes in the heat and the dust, my mouth was full of sandpaper and I was starting to feel chills. On this lap I really screwed up the sand, thrashing the front wheel back and forth and coming nearly to a stop. I could feel them gaining but I didn't think they were coming fast enough -- just ride smooth, dammit (I tell myself, as I screw up the sand) and let the adrenaline take care of the last lap!
Sure enough, I still had 5-8 seconds on the last lap, and I could taste that Cat 3 victory and 50 dollar paycheck. My throat was raw, my legs were shaky, but when I looked back, sprinting up the dirt road one last time, I still had the gap. I was too tired after hammering the uphill to mess around with any two-armed salute, just a quick fist pump and then collapsing into the shade and begging spectators for water.
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