Winsted Woods Race Report

There's something about the noon start time that lulls me into a false sense of security. Noon is the middle of the day, so surely I can do lots of things before the freakin' halfway point of the day right? So there's no reason I can't drive 125 miles AND preride a lap before a noon start.

Well, it would be easy, if I was one of those old guys who wakes up at 5 AM without an alarm. Then noon really would be the middle of my day, and I would probably be able to get in a nice hearty breakfast, preride, warmup, and the 13 trips to the bathroom that seem to be required before racing.

As you may have figured out, we didn't really get there with much time to spare. I think I parked the car at 11:25. I ran around and bumped into things for twenty minutes until I was ready to roll, and I only spilled about half a cup of energy drink powder in the back of my car in the process. I "warmed up" for a frantic ten minutes and rolled up to staging late, along with 21 other 19-29 Expert Men. It was a big field.

The astute reader will remember that there was no Putney race report -- at least not one with any sort of depth. Putney was a dismal failure, I think I rode to something like 16th/19 in my category with absolutely no problems except my body completely refusing to move quickly. I rationalized my poor result as the symptom of starting too fast, on a too hot day, with not enough warmup -- and here I was on the starting line on a day about 10 degrees hotter than Putney, with a shorter warmup. So there was only one thing left to do... ride off the line like I stole it, right?

Nope. I did at least learn one lesson. My start could only be described as leisurely, so I went straight to the back of 22 guys. If this was a cross race, I might give a damn, but come on, 2 hours in 85 degrees? You guys go ahead with that.

The first lap was also my first time seeing the course, so it was nice to have some dudes to follow. Or all the dudes to follow, I suppose. The course was basically 4 miles of rough singletrack and ATV trail strewn over a much bigger hill than I would have guessed existed in Connecticut. There were really 2 major climbs with a bunch of other small climbs thrown in. The descending was the beat-you-up type of 4-wheeler trail that is pretty much the only mountain biking that exists in northern Maine, wide packed dirt with washboard and rocks and sticks and crap everywhere. As with any good mountain bike course there was really nowhere to rest, so my heart rate was basically above 180 for 2 hours.

Anyway, while I was figuring out the course I quickly started pulling back some of the guys from my class. By the top of the first climb, around the halfway point, I was ahead of two people who both looked to be already headed for the hurt box, so it was nice to get that DFL thing taken care of.

I motored around to finish up the lap, picking off a few more guys, and getting ridiculously and horribly smoked by the 30-39 leaders when they came through. The course actually finished with a really tricky descent -- it started in a big, sunny field, going straight, but for some reason there were these triple-down-arrow signs out. You know, the ones that usually mean "get ready to take a soil sample, sucker." But these were out in a field, so I was just confused. There were more sets of them as I screamed down out of the field around 25 mph, headed straight for the comparatively pitch-black woods, so I slowed down... a little.

The second I hit the woods I almost went over the bars at twenty miles an hour, which would have ended my race and possibly my collarbone. What happened was the trail takes a sharp left and then a sharp right -- so when you come in way too hot (as I did) you end up pinned to the right side coming out of the left, which means you have to go over a very decent-size rock and then turn right, except of course you can't turn right when you're in the air, so then you basically get to hit a tree if you can't get it turned right away when you land. Luckily my front wheel does the steering, because that's the only wheel that was on the ground when I narrowly missed said tree and went riding a nose wheelie off into the woods.

So next lap I slowed down there a bit more.

Lap two and three were the typical hard-to-remember middle section of the race. I remember being hot, and getting chills, but I think that's just what my body does when it's hot. I was really riding pretty steadily, if not fast, and it was paying off as I kept coming up on guys from my class that were suffering a lot more than I was. On the other hand, Kevin Hines, who is approximately quadruple my age, passed me so fast he had to call "on your right" from about 30 yards back so my dawdling butt could get out of the way before he stormed past. He ended up beating me by 17 minutes, which means he was about 20% faster, which is TOTALLY INSANE.

I had another near-death experience at the beginning of lap four. There was a long, rough, fast downhill section with a deep washout in the middle that only got bigger and bigger, until you had to be right on the left edge of the trail to stay out of it. And if you did go in, your choices (assuming you stayed up) were to either slow down a ton to get under control and then ride up the side, or go crashing into what appeared to be a vertical wall where the washout turned right and the trail was suddenly whole again. This thing was insidious. Linnea crashed here on lap one, sprained her wrist, and was out. One of the sport women crashed here and broke her helment, which meant she got an ambulance ride, and a lot of paramedics talking about a head injury. Fun stuff.

So I'm cranking down the hill on lap four, thinking about how I'm actually hanging in there pretty well, when my focus lapses for a moment and suddenly it's got me, right at the very end when the rideable trail is narrowest. I'm moving fast and the "vertical" wall is right in front of me -- I had just enough time to yell something that surely would have gotten me DQ'ed if the right people had heard ("Oh [fiddlesticks] me," if you must know) -- before slamming into the vertical wall/extremely steep exit ramp at the end of washout. I bottomed out my fork (ka-chunk) and rode another sweet nose wheelie for a bit, and got the back end down in time to apologize for swearing and hit the next bridge. It was either amazing bike handling or I just overreacted with the profanity. Possibly both.

(What I thought was going to happen)

On the biggest climb on lap four I could see several guys in front of me, including one chap who had the audacity to race in baggy shorts -- nice cycling-specific baggy shorts, but baggy shorts nonetheless! He had to be mine -- No one is going to beat me while wearing an ensemble that wouldn't get him laughed out of a biker bar, fraternity, or any other establishment frequented by manly-men.

I caught him at the high point after working the hardest I'd worked all race on the climb, and my HR monitor confirmed it -- 192. I got ahead of him and tried to hang on for just 12 more minutes. It's a good thing all I had to do was put him behind me to make him magically disappear (that's how it works, right?) or I might've been in trouble.

I looked back on the last climb and baggy shorts looked to be safely put away, but headed across the field at the top he somehow came cranking past me in big ring, flailing with disturbing effectiveness. I was caught totally flatfooted, and also feeling pretty cooked, so by the time I got the adrenaline going he had dropped me and put a masters rider between us. I was going to have to get it back on the twisting, rocky downhill to the finish.

There was one problem. Do you think a guy rocking the baggy shorts is a poor descender? You think he rides expert because he's in really good shape but can't handle his bike? Yeah, right. This guy was tearing down the hill with serious speed. I quickly got past the masters rider between us (who wisely decided he didn't need to be anywhere near this recklessness) and slammed it in the big ring. Down and down we went, sliding through corners, screaming around berms, and I wasn't losing ground but I couldn't get on his wheel. There was a short climb with two lines in the middle of the downhill, but I was too far back to really challenge on the alternate line. We had a nice split-pass of another 40+ guy ("on your right" "on your left") and hit the steepest part of the downhill, an off-camber, washboarded 25% pitch with a sharp right at the bottom, and here is where I finally closed the gap.

I made one mistake though, and it proved to be my undoing -- I got so close my front wheel got chopped by his rear on the corner and I had to put a foot down. That was pretty much all she wrote -- I was out of momentum with one last rocky pitch to go and my HR was still probably almost 190 after descending for 2 minutes. Suddenly, I just couldn't go any more.

My baggy-shorted foe was actually on such a tear he got another pass on, on a guy in our category even, before shooting out of the woods and up the finish straight for 8th place. I pedaled in 9 seconds later for 10th with my head hung in shame.

But on the bright side -- 9 seconds out of 8th place in an Expert field of 22? I will TOTALLY take that.

I slumped over my bike trying to catch my breath, and suddenly, when the adrenaline subsided I came the closest to peeing my pants I have ever come in my adult years. I barely made it out of the officials' sight before relieving myself in the most literal sense possible. I guess I stayed hydrated this time.


josh said…
the post-race piss. one of the most satisfying, and urgent one's their is. personally, after any race longer than 2 hours, find myself across the finish line, then sprinter harder than I just did for the finish to the nearest porta-john or woods away from officials.

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