This year's Winsted Woods MTB race turned out to be a fun reminder of just how much of an idiot I can be in a mountain bike race. Basically, it was a classic dual-suspension kind of course and I brought a hardtail. Reasonable people might recognize that a 1% bike disadvantage is not really a big deal and get over it -- but bike racers are far from being reasonable people. How else can you explain the fact that people pay for XTR? So the predominant theme of this race was me being a drama queen about having to ride a hardtail over rocks.
Anyway. Me, Thom and Linnea did a quick half-lap preride and it was bony as hell. I dinged my rear rim a couple times without pinch flatting, but it was obvious that four laps at race pace would do me in. So I went back to the car to "air it up" (bike pumps are XTREME!). I was running around 30 psi so I upped it to 40 just to be safe. "At least I'll finish," I said, forgetting for a moment that having fun is actually more important than finishing.
So I set off with my overreactive tire pressure. Everyone went way too fast out of the start and my dignity forced me to go with them. I pushed gears that were too big and rode too fast. I discovered that a fully weighed 40psi tire, upon hitting a rock, bounces you so freakin' hard (right in the ass...) that you have zero chance of keeping a fluid pedal stroke, or even pedaling at all. I made up for this little problem by going harder on the smooth stuff to stay with guys.
After one lap I jumped ahead of some people on the gnarly, high-speed descent that featured prominently in my adventure here last year, and was pleased to discover that once you're off the saddle on a hardtail you can kill it down a hill pretty well, assuming you're motivated. I put a little gap on 3 of my riding companions and figured this was the part where I'd check out and start moving up, because I'm super awesome.
But then I rolled through the start finish line, trying to eat a gel, and I DROPPED IT. I locked 'em up and backpedaled to grab that sweet, gooey packet of sugar, but my gap was gone. So I went back to riding behind those three guys, who seemed to be going strangely fast, especially since this was the part where I was supposed to ride super-awesome and move up.
Five minutes later I stacked it on a stupid angled log and when I picked my bike up the bars were twisted 45 degrees... and twisted back waaaay too easy. Crap. I loosened my stem to fit it my bike on Thom's roof rack and obviously didn't tighten it enough... so now it's time to burn a minute fixing that. At least I'm smart enough to ride with allen keys.
I finished up fixing that and then had to wait another 20 seconds while the lead 30-39 guys went by before stepping back onto the singletrack. Since 70% of the race lay in front of me I figured I could probably catch up to my guys before the end.
I rode kinda hard for a bit longer and then dabbed on the big, hard, rocky climb (see map).
Wait a minute, 70% of the race to go? Holy crap. I can't do this. My back is killing me, my legs are killing me, I can't get off the saddle and my bike is attacking my crotch on every rock. This. Sucks.
I was desperate for help. Would taking air out of my tires make a difference? I didn't think so, but I couldn't think of anything else (except dropping out, which is lame), so I tried it. A quick 4-second burst from each tire and I remounted.
And just like Holiday Farm last year, what a difference 5 psi makes!
It was the difference between being able to kind-of-pedal through the bumps versus getting bounced too much to pedal. Sure, it was still uncomfortable, but it worked enough that I could up my cadence to something a guy with good aerobic base and crappy leg strength should be at (hint: not 50). After a while... wait a minute... I think I feel... good?
Yes! I did feel good! I made it to the second half of the race and spun my way around the course. Guys from my category were dropping like flies, I passed them left and right, man, maybe I am super-awesome?
Starting lap four I caught the last of the guys I had been riding with, Eric from Bikers Edge. I've seen him in C cross races and I beat him by ten minutes last week, so I was all like, "bah, I shall crush you, for I have fixed my bike now and eaten gels." I passed him and assumed he would quickly fade to silence behind me.
But, a few minutes later, I bobbled in a mud hole and Eric rode back past me. What the hell? I'm supposed to be passing everyone here. I rode behind him for a while and then tried to retake the lead on the climb. It didn't work, but it hurt a lot.
"That's ok," I told myself, "just attack at the end, on the last climb, and then bomb the downhill. Easy as pie."
If only. He was hauling ass now, pedaling his dualie through the rough, fast sections while I bounced all over the place behind him. I clung to his wheel, trying to figure out how a guy that I had caught so easily was kicking me all over the course.
Up the last climb it got worse, the pace got higher, we started passing back singlespeeders and 30+ guys, we got to the top field and I was just broken. Five yards became ten yards, became twenty yards, he was out of the saddle, cranking for the safety of the final descent and I couldn't do anything about it.
Just like last year I needed a crazy descent to even have a chance to make a pass at the finish. I envisioned descending like a suicidal chimp with pockets full of lead, but my enthusiasm and fatigue seemed to get the better of me... sprinting downhill in the big ring is great fun but locking it up and coming to a near-stop for corners isn't so hot.
I went faster, to be sure, but at the bottom he looked back and knew he had it. He had to ride hard all the way to the line, but the issue was never in doubt -- I came in two seconds back, and immediately started flailing around complaining about forearm cramps, which I also managed to blame on my bike, and not the fact that I have the upper body of a T-Rex.
Needless to say Linnea won her category again, but this week she didn't beat any of the Pro/Expert women, so it appears even she was feeling the limitations of the hardtail...