This Saturday it was time to get the real (full-length) MTB season started down at Hopbrook Dam, so after a quick game of "how much do we have to disassemble 4 bikes to fit them on the roof" me, Linnea, Thom and Greg were off from cold and rainy Boston.
Unfortunately I based my clothing selection around the current conditions in Boston, and it turns out than in a 135 miles a lot can change. We showed up at the race and it's a scalding 70 degrees, all I had was knickers, maybe I should have tried to trade the winter gloves and winter hat from my pack for a real pair of shorts.
We lined up with 18 guys in the 19-29 Expert category, and when I looked around I was the only guy with hairy legs. Since when do mountain bikers shave their legs? Am I going to have to cave in to peer pressure on this one? Crap, I think so.
We get rolling and since it's my first mass start since cross season all I could think was "wow this is slow." My legs were only 50% present so I was trying to be conservative, taking deep breaths and trying to ride controlled, but then we got to the first field and I could still see the front of the group... very strange. Maybe I'm actually in shape... or maybe this is a 2 hour race. Maybe.
I started too feel a little too good and sure enough, that's cuz the leaders are gapping the group I'm in. I jumped to the front and set off alone, because if this was a cross race I wouldn't just let people ride away like that. So I bridged a little gap and rode with some other guys, but then they were getting gapped too, so I went around them, and then we hit a pretty big, pretty steep climb and wow, I'm in a lot of pain!
And of course my clock says I'm 12 minutes in. Crap. Time to start riding my own race. I thought I dialed it back after that on the first lap but I still ended up coming through in about 29:30, nearly 2 mins faster than any other lap I did. There were still 6 or so guys up the road in my category but I couldn't worry about them, it was time to settle in and suffer on a bike.
And suffer I did. It felt like my skin was on fire as I rode 8mph uphill with an 8mph tailwind. The sun was tearing through the trees (no leaves yet) throughout the course, I couldn't escape it anywhere, I was so, so hot. I dumped some water on my head, it didn't matter, three minutes later I was back to having a head made of molten lava. Finally I started desperately shedding clothes, I unzipped the jersey all the way (leading to a pound of mud in my chest hair, sweet!), I took off my gloves, I would have taken my helmet off if it was legal. Actually now that I think about it, there was a 45-degree lake were were riding around, I should have just dumped the bike and jumped in for a sec, it would have been awesome.
These drastic measures, combined with some timely cloud cover, cooled me just enough to restore my sanity. I quickly realized that ditching my gloves was a stupidtastic maneuver, muddy hands and muddy grips meant I had to clutch my bars like they were a greasy, angry rattlesnake anytime I wanted to steer on a downhill.
Meanwhile, one guy from my category had been stalking me about 30 seconds back for nearly an hour, and just when I assumed he would stay there indefinitely he hitched a ride on a 30+ guy who was passing through and got nearly up to my wheel. Suddenly I remembered that I needed to actually keep hurting to maintain my position, so I dug in for the last lap to keep him at bay. My lap times kept falling off (by a smaller margin each lap, I guess that's good?) but he must have been pretty toasted (just like my pale arms) because he just disappeared in the last half hour.
As usual for me, just when it appeared my position was sealed I spotted a serious-looking kit up the trail. I was gaining slowly enough that he had to be on the same lap as me, so I abused my legs to the point of cramping for the last ten minutes. Finally on the last hill I caught him, I tried to hammer right by to conceal how much pain I was in -- then I saw his number and he's not even in my category (booo) but he is a semipro (yaaay), and he's actually one of the guys who dominated 19-29 Expert last year.
I wrestled my bike down the last hill, nearly out of rear brake because I'm a crappy mechanic, crossed the line and lay down. I let go of the bars but my hands were just locked around... they stayed in a pathetic little bird claw position until I straightened them by dragging the tips across the ground, which made my forearms cramp up which made me I finish learning my lesson, never take off your gloves, idiot!
Two of the guys ahead of me either broke their bikes or their will to live (if not both), because I somehow ended up 4th, which was worth two pairs of socks. Small potatoes compared to Linnea getting first/a wheelset/a jersey, but hey, it's my blog so MY SOCKS WERE A SWEET PRIZE, SHUT UP! Plus TP w/o HASS only beat me by 6 minutes, which might sound like a lot -- but it's a lot less than the 39 minute gap he put on me at Vermont 50 last fall. I think what I'm trying to say is that this season might have some potential... can't wait until next week, maybe I'll even pack shorts this time.