Then I started racing UCI cyclocross, and now I'm like, two hours of sprinting out of corners and up punchy climbs, without a single spot to recover? SIGN ME UP! THIS IS THE BEST MOUNTAIN BIKE RACE EVER!
It's also the only mountain bike race that's so fast, you have to make actual decisions like "should I bridge to that group to try to get some draft, or ride my own pace in the wind?" I averaged just about 13 mph for 2 hours... which is probably the only time all year I ride a mountain bike race faster for 26 miles than a world class marathon runner could.
Guys, marathon runners are insanely fast.
Onto the racing.
I was still putting my bottles out in the feed zone when I heard them announced "1 minute to go," because apparently having a watch or a clue is more than I can handle in 2013, my EIGHTH? season of mountain bike racing. This led to a back-row start and TOTALLY SWEET reverse-holeshot start in a race with 30 guys.
|About to take over last place due to my terrible line choice on the first off camber.|
For the first five minutes everyone was ridiculously sprinty, in UCI-cross-race fashion. I was unable to move up, but also somewhat okay with that, because I didn't have the fortitude to be EVEN SPRINTIER even if there was a place to do it.
|Holy cow a spot to pass!|
A quick perusal of the situation showed that despite all our sprintage, some significant gaps had already opened ahead and sprinting across the gap like it was a road race was probably the best course of action.
I got to the next group and discovered that they, too, had a growing gap ahead of them. It's almost like mountain bike races aren't group rides, but instead a quickly-splitting time trial! And it's almost like, if I kept bridging across gaps, I would eventually be winning.
|If you aren't flailing your bike around you can't call it bridging|
Obviously winning was not the point here so I hung out with this group for a while. It could also have had something to do with breathing so hard I was almost choking on my tongue.
Eventually, though, it was time to move on. On a climb, no less! I sprinted like a cross racer up the gravely hill and found myself on Greg Jancaitis's wheel at the top.
I soon noticed that for the first time all day, there was a guy in front of me who was riding fast enough that I had absolutely no desire to pass.
We came through after one lap and there was a HEALTHY pack of six or so guys just up the trail. Greg pulled me across to them while I sat on like the lazy cross racer I am.
|LOOK HOW NARROW THIS MAN IS. DOES IT EVEN COUNT AS DRAFTING?|
Mid-race math is generally fraught with error, even for me, but it seemed like I had passed enough people at this point to be in the "non-embarrassing" zone.
In a fun twist, this group contained ENDURO PRO ADAM SNYDER and my appearance in the group meant he was moving into his version of the "embarrassing zone." That's right! If you hold a pro license, I'm the grim reaper of YOUR PRIDE.
Greg was sadly not content to chill with this collection of guys and somewhere along the line he passed everyone and went to the front. The pace picked up. Mountain bikers seem to regularly forget that holding a wheel is actually less work than NOT holding a wheel, and next thing you know the group is split in half. Who's got two thumbs and is in the wrong half? This guy
I heckled Snyder about "missing the move" and asked him if he was gonna tow me across. "Nope," he laughed, and then promptly leaped across the gap without me.
I eventually pulled myself up by my bootstraps (no handouts!!) and got there was well, making a group of four -- Greg, Snyder, Me, and John Burns.
We hung out for a long time. Adam and I chatted about how painful mtb racing was. Then I decided to make it a bit more painful:
It was one of those crashes where you hit the ground just barely soft enough that you can pop back up and keep racing with no effects. 24 hours later, of course, I have all kinds of stupid whiplash-related soreness.
At some point Adam succumbed to the shame of riding with me and dropped out, cutting our group to three.
Soon after, Burns succumbed to what he later described as a "lack of eating," and then it was just Greg and I.
Heading into the last lap, staying on Greg's wheel was getting increasingly difficult, as we'd be doing what felt like a cross race for over 2 hours by this point. Since Greg's claim to fame is ENDURANCE SMASHING, the final lap was going to be very unpleasant for me.
Good thing I have YEARS of experience hanging onto the wheels of stronger riders than me. Using advanced techniques such as "flop your head around to get more watts" and "seriously just close your eyes or something, focusing takes too much energy," I was able to maintain my barnacle status.
In a very non-Myersonian move I even told Greg how "freaking crosseyed" I was. I think I was trying to get him to attack one more time so I could just get dropped and do my own thing, but sadly he was showing some rare signs of mortality and couldn't keep attacking.
So now I have to be that guy that attacks the dude who was pulling for the past hour? I mean, yes, I suppose we could stop, sing kumbaya and smoke a joint, but that's not what Lance Armstrong would do now, is it?
I attacked with five minutes of racing left, and let's pretend that because I was being "sporting" and not just "totally forgetting where on the course I was." Five-minutes of character building later, it was over and Greg and I were 9th/10th. Then I apologized profusely at the finish line, because that's how mountain bikers do it.
Then I tried to hide how stoked I was to get 9th/28 on a non-technical course in April! Is this what "form" feels like?