It should be noted that my previous successes have come on courses with minimal elevation gain and soft fields. Coyote Hill would be neither of those things, because it's in Vermont. No one goes to races in Vermont expecting them to be flat, and no one entering an elite race that far in the boondocks is a scrub. Well, except for me. And Kevin.
The race starts with a climb that's basically a VOMax interval on Eastern Ave, except instead of stopping at the top and puking up your burrito, you drop into five miles of rooty, lumpy singletrack that will make your back mutiny well before the finish. I've done this thing three times before, so I was able to keep a lid on my interval up the start hill, to the point where my heart rate was only pushing 96% of max as we topped out. And my throat was on fire, and would stay on fire for the rest of the lap. Yup, totally paced myself perfectly there.
Directly ahead of me were Randy Jacobs and Paul Simoes, with Randy playing the part of "guy who didn't preride and is braking too much." Paul was none too pleased with this, especially after he got his singlespeed stalled on a punchy climb in traffic, so he went stomping and thrashing through the woods to get around Randy. "Gee," I thought, "he sure looks overgeared on that singlespeed. That must be a lot of work, I'll catch him later, when he gets tired. Spin to win, baby!"
Then he beat me by 3 minutes.
And of course Kevin "please blog about me" Sweeney rolled up beside me on the next climb, and we set off on our weekly merry jaunt through the woods. After 15 minutes of this I was starting to think I could just paste in my report from last week, but then Kevin decided to blow himself up on a left turn under heavy braking and go flying over the bars.
I slowed down to wait, er, laugh mercilessly, but it turns out that he had blown his tire off the rim. As much as I wanted to stand there and heckle him during the tube insertion process, I had to go. And thus began a time trial!
Seriously, except for passing a soon-to-DNF Noah Tautfest, my position was unchanged for the next hour and forty minutes. This gave me ample time to try to figure out if I had cracked my frame (verdict: no, but I really need to lube that rear shock body) and try to figure out where everyone else in the race had gone to.
The course loops around the woods enough that I kept catching glimpses of other dudes, who didn't want to wait up. I clocked James Harmon at "2 minutes up" and then "oh-my-god-did-i-misread-my-watch up," which was fun, but also Chris Hamlin and Tim Daigneault at a consistent 1 or 2 minutes ahead for an hour straight.
Entering the final lap I realized that something strange was happening. I was 30 minutes away from the finish line and I wasn't cramping. I wasn't even praying for the race to end, I was just tooling along at a pace that seemed sustainable for another half hour.
OH MY GOD DID I JUST FIGURE OUT HOW TO PACE MYSELF?? AFTER 4 YEARS? NO, IT CAN'T BE!
Maybe I'm not trying hard enough. The integral of SUFFERING is VICTORY, and I forgot to SUFFER for the first 3/4 of the race. Doh!
I tried to break myself satisfactorily by killing the last lap, but it was too late, the only cramp I could summon was during an awkward dismount. A far cry from last year when I was screaming like I had been murdered before lap three was over. What have I become?
My final lap attack was enough to bring Chris Hamlin into sight range, but not sprinting range at the finish. I rolled in a tantalizing 17 seconds back in 11th place, which sounds pretty good in a field of 21 starters, but considerably weaker out of 15 finishers. Importantly, one of the six DNFs was Kevin, which takes my winning streak to three. Not that I'm counting.
Linnea, aka the meal ticket, was also back in action in the states after two less-than-satisfying Canada Cups this month. She flatted on lap one, sealed it, and then rode back up to second, to earn