I don't want to bore you with my non bike racing life, but man, it's been a busy week. So busy I completely forgot about a race report for Sunday's race! Which is a bummer since I tried to allude to it in the Baystate report.
So anyway, I got my butt kicked at Baystate, so I drank a bunch of water and did the Anna McLoon recovery jog special that night, I figured I'd try anything to get some form back. Sunday morning hits and I still feel like crap, but is it crappier than the average post-race morning? I can't tell. Get in the car!
The Palmer course was a pure reversal from Baystate. Narrow doubletrack that was singletrack if the guy in front rode in the middle for 70% of the course. As rooty as any woods trails that's been ridden on for 20 years. Five dismounts per lap, triple barriers, three runups, one of which was obscenely long. I don't actually know what old school jungle cross is like, but I suspect this is it.
We lined up with what felt like around 30 or so people. In true cross fashion, I lurked around the start area for five minute waiting for the lineup call, and then the second I go to my car to get my glasses, 20 people line up. So I snuck into the 3rd row somewhere and then we got rolling.
The opening stretch was surprisingly long and straight, long enough that the pack hit cruising speed before the first turn, so those of us in the back who wanted to move up just went straight past cruising speed into sprinting speed and moved up the outside. This worked great and I made it into the top 10 as we tore into the 90 degree left into the woods. Unfortunately, the course here narrowed down into two abreast and we tried to go through three wide -- someone took an aggressive/reckless line between me and the guy to my left, hitting both of us.
The interloper of course was fine, he squeezed through as we collapsed behind him. I used my Chainbiter experience (thanks Rosey) to hold a line even as the guy next to me fell sideways into my bars and arm. Over a space of 10 yards he slowly toppled over, slowed by my body, cursing the whole way, until eventually eating it hard, with his bike flying into the air beyond him.
Amazingly he turned out to be fine, and no one else even got caught up in the crash, but I didn't know that until after the race. At the time I was pretty spooked because I've never been that close to what seemed like a really bad crash. It actually affected my ability to race hard for the next few minutes because I was like, wow, that guy is going to the hospital and he might think it was my fault.
But eventually the lactic acid overpowered my empathy and we got down to business. There was the standard group of fast starters up the road and I was hanging around 6th place. The crash strung things out nicely behind me so there was no swarm around me at any point -- I was the swarmer instead of the swarmee, except you can't swarm anyone on singletrack so I was just blocked.
I rode through after one lap with Ben Corbalis, a guy who owns me on a mountain bike, but he seemed like he was slowing down on the field so I went around and never saw him again. Surprising, but I'll take it. Meanwhile the other Ben C, the Putney winner, was gobbling up the field after a bad start and I was not spared his wrath. He came up behind, rode my wheel for a half lap, dropped me on the big run up and motored off into the distance.
With six laps to go I didn't have the guts to race his race so I stayed within the limits and kept rollin. The early rabbits were coming back, or at least some of them, so I picked up a few places despite going backwards in relation to Ben.
The course had three runups, but the first one was short. My goal became to ride it -- it was one of those super-steep quick ups that only takes 6 steps to run, and no matter how fast you ride in you stop dead in a few seconds. It was getting pretty torn up from people climbing it which wasn't helping, you had to come swinging in through some singletrack, take two frantic pedal strokes and then try to keep pedaling as you shot straight up. Lap one I had no chance because of traffic; lap two I decided to run it, but that was lame so lap three was another shot at riding it. Unfortunately I got blocked at the last second by Ethan P on a singlespeed when he tried to ride it and end up stalling well before the top. Uh-oh...time to topple off to the side and backwards, landing at the bottom. Well that wasn't very fast.
But I honed my technique over the next five laps. I never got to the point where I could clean it, but I eventually got the to the point where I could put one foot down and take a quick step to get over the top, while straddling the bike.
This extremely effective and ugly technique helped me stabilize my position in third and eventually start moving forward. The early leader had been Guenter Hofer who was now joined by Ben Coleman. Coleman caught him pretty soon after passing me, so when I saw him sitting behind Guenter I figured he was just biding his time.
Unfortunately for me while Ben was recovering I was dragging myself back to the front with grim determination. I finally made contact on the smallest runup with 1.5 laps to go -- and just as expected, on the straightaway into the triple barriers Ben attacked.
I had been chasing for several laps and I didn't think I could beat him, so I took the easy route and didn't react, deciding instead to race Guenter for second. In retrospect, it was totally lame and defeatist, but at the time my legs found it to be quite an attractive idea. So I sat lazily in third as the bell lap started, but Guenter was cracking after leading from the gun and as soon as I took a turn at the front I started to pull away.
Ben was still dangling in the distance, ten seconds or so, but he was solid enough on the roots and terribly fast on the smooth stuff. I might have closed the gap to 8 seconds by the last runup, but even after flying up it like a hyperactive monkey with crampons was he still 20 yards ahead, so I packed it in and took my second place.
Somehow 25-30 riders on the start line turned into 17 people on results because lapped riders and DNFs didn't get scored. So luckily, no upgrade points from that one so I can keep on sandbagging 3's, huzzah!
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