So I went 27 days without racing a mountain bike. I tried a few substitute activities, and while I had fun screwing around on the road, in Vermont, and downhilling, I was really looking forward to taking my shit seriously on a bike once more. Thus, I registered for the pro race, because nothing makes you stop and focus on riding fast(er) like catting up.
Despite serious-business-mode being turned on, I completely whiffed on guessing the conditions for Putney, mocking Cary for his mud tire setup and nearly switching to my semi-slicks the night before. What can I say? It seemed like some pretty well-drained double track up there, but I guess a week of showers, and rain the morning of, can grease up anything. There were no mud bogs, but a persistent layer of slime everywhere. It was as technical as Putney gets -- and when combined with 800+ feet of climbing per lap, it turned into a really friggin' hard course.
Joining me in the Honda-Fit-Performance-Testing carpool were Linnea, Kevin and Cary. Turns out that 4 bikes on the roof drops my mileage from 34 to 26 and limits top speed to about 75. It's still the best biker car for under 20k, though! Kevin was kind enough to join me in the Pro/1 field along with 33 (!) other guys. I lined up at the back and went for the reverse holeshot (which actually made sense for me in a 5-lap pro race). CyclingDirt showed up and took some video of the start, during which I can be seen doing basically nothing, hanging out at the back. Some dudes almost crash, which makes Rob Stine cackle maniacally:
A field of 35 people is pretty fun, but standing around holding your bike, waiting to walk into the singletrack isn't -- which is what happened at the first bottleneck. Turns out there's a reason that actual fast riders jockey for position, because I definitely lost 20-30 seconds standing around and then walking slowly. Luckily I'm a lot more than 20 seconds from a good result, so I got over it.
No matter what level you're racing at, there's always guys who are worse technical riders, and starting at the back guarantees that those guys will block you at some point in singletrack. What's worse is that in the pro race, those guys have the legs to freakin' waste you on the climbs. We finally broke back into some extended doubletrack and I started making dicey passes on the downhill instead of recovering. Kevin was one of the victims, which only added to the adrenaline, but then we hit the big 180-foot climb in the middle of the course and I gave both places back. Ouch. Guess it's time to settle in and hurt for two hours.
The only problem was, I wasn't lonely yet! I love this 35-person field business! The next downhill it was sketchy-pass time again, passing Jon Rowe (on a rigid bike, in his defense) and Kevin again. This being Putney, this downhill fed straight into the next climb, and they came right back past me. I talked some trashed at this point, which is probably a sign I was having very painful fun.
Over the top of this climb Kevin and I picked up our other teammate Harry Precourt, and for a while we rode in a sweet IBC Elite MTB Team paceline. Given that we were in 27th/28th/29th place at the time, it was probably not very intimidating, but damn if it wasn't a good photo op. I was so pleased with our formation that I forgot that I needed to pass Kevin on the downhill to keep the pattern going. I rectified the situation with a pass on both him and Harry on the drop-to-greasy-sharp-right (you know it if you rode it) that completely cut off his line, leading to audible disgust/envy behind me.
Hey, if I could ride uphill (er... PUT OUT WATTS) I wouldn't need to do that stuff.
Surprisingly, neither of them caught me on the disgusting finishing climb, so lap one was in the books and OH GOD THIS IS GOING TO HURT. Usually I count down the laps/climbs to the finish, but I was so far from being done that I started counting the major climbs before the halfway point. Sweet, one lap done, six more climbs until I'm half done!
But you know how it is, it hurts for everyone. The DFL start paid some dividends on lap two and I picked off some guys traveling backwards. Free of traffic in the singletrack, I was able to pick up enough speed to nearly knock myself over backwards by planting my shoulder on a tree. Behind me, Kevin was nowhere to be seen, mainly because he bashed his knee and had to start walking. Lap two was definitely the high point of the race. I remember thinking "oh I can't wait to write about how fun the Pro/1 field is." I finished the lap and still wasn't halfway done, which suggested that some unfun times might be in my future.
On lap three I caught another Pro/1 dude, who immediately engaged in some psychological warfare. "How many guys are behind you?" he asked. "10 or more" I said. "Oh wow, I'm having a bad race, I thought I was almost last" he said.
I see how it is. I considered telling him that I was also having a bad race, even though I was having the race of my life. I didn't. I tried to drop him descending. I didn't. He tried to drop me climbing. He didn't. Ah yes -- equilibrium. Guess I will be hanging out with this guy for a few laps.
He was pretty chatty, so I forgave him for his mental warfare against me earlier. Near the end of lap four Tom Sampson passed through us on his way to sandbagging/dominating the crap out of Cat 19-29, and we both heckled him about upgrading. He told us he was trying to upgrade to pro, which means he sure hasn't read Kevin's blog entry about the subject. I tried to explain that crushing Root 66 Cat 1 fields doesn't mean jack for upgrading, but he was pretty far ahead, and I was pretty out of breath during this dissertation, so he probably didn't get it. Anyway Tom... you gotta move up. Taking over a minute per lap outta me puts you in the top half of the pro field.
Finally I made it onto lap five, which meant I was safe from getting passed by Jonny Bold for once in my life, or any other Cat 1's lurking out there. I breathed a sigh of relief and got down to suffering for 30 more minutes.
At this point I was having an utterly respectable pro debut, riding somewhere around 20th out of 35 starters. I was also getting really, really tired. Jon Rowe popped up behind me (I hadn't seen him in over an hour) and Rob Stine was back there fighting the course with his singlespeed as well. Desperate to put some time on the rigid guys and bouyed with confidence from my trip to Highland, I bombed the rocky downhill, caught some serious air on the big waterbar... and sliced my sidewall on a rock when I landed.
[ Diatribe about Bontrager sidewalls redacted here! ]
As you might imagine flatting 15 minutes from the end of the race is pretty disheartening. Knowing you didn't pack a CO2 is even more disheartening. First I tried to seal the gash while pumping. No dice, but I did waste two minutes. Then I took off the tire, put a tube in, and realized that the combination of mud/stans/tubeless rim strip made getting the tire back on virtually impossible, especially for a tired guy with my hand strength. I wrestled pathetically with the tire levers for another five minutes or so, finally getting the damn thing on... then I still had to pump it up.
The guys I had been riding with eventually finished twelve minutes ahead of me, so this was possibly the worst flat fix in the history of racing. I need to practice this. And carry CO2.
Somehow I lost exactly enough time to end up racing Terry Blanchet head-to-head for 30th place, so I couldn't even roll in with a hanging head and low HR. Nope, he was beating me climbing and I was beating him descending, and the course ends with a climb. I was ready to fold like a house of cards on the last climb when guess who's there... Cary and Linnea. "YOU CAN HURT MORE THAN THAT" was the first thing Cary yelled, and then he walked the whole way up the hill further berating me. At least Linnea couldn't yell at me because she was also racing. It really, really sucked, but it totally worked. I did hurt more, and I hung on to 30th place. Thanks Cary!
Despite the final-lap collapse the Pro/1 race was super fun and nowhere near as lonely as Cat 1 can be. I think I had someone from my category in sight for the entire day. If you're one of those guys crushing Cat 1 (*cough* Tom Sampson *cough* Jonny Bold) you should move up, it's more fun* to race people, I swear!
Ok, I'm done now, really I am. Probably hitting the Bromont Canada Cup next if all goes according to plan, gotta put my UCI license to use!
*Additional lap may not meet your particular definition of "fun."
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