Obviously, this led to a classic reverse holeshot (seen here at 0:32), which is really not optimal on a technical but fast course like this.
After a few minutes of fighting the urge to flip out as we repeatedly bottlenecked on turns in the woods, we got to the first true mudhole and traffic backed up on the semi-rideable line. The totally-disgusting-mud-that-might-take-your-shoe-off line was WIDE OPEN, so I flipped out, dismounted and sprinted like a madman through it, which netted me a good 6 or 7 places and also jacked my heart rate straight through the roof. NOW WE'RE RACIN'!
I ended up in a group of five, I think -- Alec Petro, Chris Gagnon, Me, Will Crissman, and a Union Velo dude. Alec was leading on his brand new Superfly 100 (in my size, I might add) and demonstrated that a dualie 29er is still no match the nastiest of the Grind's rock garden. He stalled, so I stalled, I thought about trying to steal his bike, and next thing I know three guys are all trying to pass me running at the same time, in a rock garden. Bikes were slammed and curses were hurled. With an hour and forty five minutes to race, every second counts, right?
Somewhere along the line I managed to separate myself from this group and go off ahead, where I discovered that my lackluster start meant that Thom and Kevin were already a minute ahead of me. I timed the gap again and it wasn't going up, at least, so I had a while to fix this problem.
Meanwhile, Alec Petro remembered that he doesn't feel pain like a normal man and started chasing me down.
I spent the entire second lap riding WAY TOO HARD with Alec about 10 yards behind me. I knew we were going faster than when he'd been leading, so why the hell was he staying with me? Aside from the never feeling pain or fatiguing, I mean. Of course when you're showing a guy your line the whole way around the course, that's gonna negate your technical advantage. Duh.
Then I heard Thom cursing at his bike, presumably because it had 19 more gears than he knew what to do with. Turns out he had broken a pedal, which is a pretty big problem on a course with 5-10 dismounts per lap. So that was the end of him.
Much to my surprise, Alec Petro did not drop me like a bad habit, rather, he caught up to Kevin and then I caught them both. I was temporarily excited by this, until I remembered what happened last time I caught Kevin and thought I was gonna smoke him. And I was tired, from riding lap two wicked haahd.
So I was happy to just hang onto the two of them on lap three, as we rolled around through increasingly dense lapped traffic. Now, everyone out there is doing their best out there to be respectful of other racers, but man, sending out masses of sport riders out 15-20 minutes behind the elite wave on a 30-minute course is kind of nuts.
The race became a sport-rider-dodging contest. Sometimes I'd get gapped off the back, and Alec and Kevin would get past a group of sports before a rock garden. I'd get held up, panic, sprint around them as soon as it was clear, only to find Alec and Kevin waiting behind the next group, just up the trail. I suppose this race did have about 2.5x the turnout as last year, so I should go easy on the promoter for not foreseeing this.
The silver lining was the mandatory recovery due to traffic. My effort from lap two started to fade, and I started to think about how I was going to beat these guys.
Near the end of lap four (holy crap, that's the end of the race!) there was the only real hill on the course, muddy and rocky, and coming after a required dismount. I'd been riding it, Alec and Kevin had been running. I figured this was going to be my place to make a move, but I came in breathing really hard, bobbled on some rocks, and ended up just barely cleaning it, at about 0.1 mph, spinning my back tire everywhere. So much for that attack.
Kevin was pretty gassed from running it all, and then he decided to lie down on his face on a corner, so I caught back up to him. Somehow Alec had just completely friggin' disappeared in all of 60 seconds' riding, which was annoying but not surprising. Whatever. Kevin is the real enemy here.
I ended up launching my attack on a downhill, that I thought was 2 riders wide, but ended up being quite a bit narrower. I discovered this when I clipped his bars on the way past, but hey, if you can't handle a little bar-clipping, go back to Cat 1! Oh wait, you can't.
Unlike the week before the finish wasn't on an uphill, so I was able to keep the cramping under control and pull away for a 15-second "win." Most excitingly, I caught Paul Simoes at the very end and since he was on a singlespeed, actually managed to come around him in the 40-yard sprint off the final corner. It looked like this:
Oh man I can't wait to be a drama queen (1:30) after this finish line!
I ended up 7th/18 in Elite, which I'm pretty sure is the best mountain bike finish I've ever had, just barely. Technical, flat courses rule.