After getting it handed to me at Sunapee on Saturday, the obvious next step was to take my trashed pride back to the dirt, a.k.a "the sport I actually try at." I've seen the road/mtb double done with much success by guys like Mike Rowell and Jonny Bold, and I've also seen Cary do it with... less success. Unfortunately my fitness is much closer to Cary's than Mike's and Jonny's, so I had an idea about how this might go.
My legs felt like crap in the morning, and 2.5 hours in a car did not miraculously jump start them. I decided that today would be best dealt with via the "complain loudly before the start about how you raced yesterday" approach. Then I got the reverse holeshot, for good measure.
The start gets narrow and technical fast, and the "luxury" of being DFL allowed me to back off from the main pack a bit on the first technical climb and wait for the predictable bottleneck when someone dabbed. Sure enough, no less than six guys were soon off and running on the steepest part as I pedaled merrily through them into the thick of the race. Unfortunately, it was the last awesome thing I was going to do all day.
I hammered down the opening descent and ended up climbing the next hill behind Eric and Keith. I was ahead of both of them at the Fat Tire Classic so I figured I would just hang out behind them until their legs felt as tired as mine did already, and then beat them with experience.
No, wait, that's not going to work at all. Crap.
Winsted is a technical course, but it's a lot of uphill technical, the kind of thing that requires serious legs in addition to bike handling. I kept entertaining the idea of closing the gap on the downhill until I made the mistake of doing a time check, and it turns out that when you're crawling up a rocky hill you can see people who are a solid 30 seconds ahead of you.
So that was the end of that. Greg (who has beaten me by one place in each race thus far...the bastard) came smoking past shortly thereafter along with Jeff in tow, and they also put a good 30 seconds into me by the top of the climb. It was here that I began the inevitable negative inner monologue, which I will spare you the details of.
Oddly enough Greg cracked soon after (although Jeff was never seen again) and I was riding with him near the end of lap one, thinking that maybe the day was salvageable, when my new teammate and apparent rock star Kevin Sweeney rolled up behind us and asked "what's going on??"
That's what I wanted to know, as he had just taken four minutes out of me in less than a lap. Either I was sucking or he was on fire. Turns out, it was both!
Kevin was kind enough to go running over the bars on the descent that ends the lap, so I got back ahead of him for the all-important face-saving trip through the finish line. Predictably he came flying past on the next climb -- but unpredictably I caught him soon after, when he flatted.
Despite a four minute handicap and a flat tire, he still caught me in less than two laps and completely slayed his category. Someone get this man an ebay auction.
Meanwhile, I was sucking big time on lap two, and noticing that my knee was hurting pretty solidly. With that added bit of self-doubt - "is the adrenaline covering up some serious damage?" the writing was on the wall. Dropping out started to seem like a great idea. Plus, I hadn't seen a heart rate over 174 all day (usually that would be my LT), so I figured any coach would advise you to pull the plug when you can't get above LT. Er, almost any coach.
I ended the lap by burping my stupid new Bontrager Mud X tire (loosest tubeless tire... evar) and getting passed by Cary (and passed by Kevin for the third time today). I decided to do the right thing and chase like hell, pass Cary on the downhill, and then drop out.
The plan worked out, Cary crashed, and I talked trash on the way past -- it was actually so much fun that I came within a few pedal strokes of heading back out for lap three. Oddly enough, the thought of riding two more laps fretting about a softening rear tire was what pushed me over the edge. I turned around and headed back to the car.
Even though I personally stunk the joint up, I realized it was still a good day, because I got to ride bikes downhill as fast as I could, I got to see Cary and Kevin crash, I got to make fun of Tim Johnson's broken shoes, and I got to hang out with everyone else whom I like from the mountain bike scene. I'd name more names, but 1) I'd inevitably leave someone out, and 2) that's too openly sentimental for this blog.
Anyway. Racing was still better than not racing - don't think I've learned my lesson. See you at Coyote Hill in five days, where I. will. suck. less!
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