Sunday, May 15, 2005

2 Races, 2 Primes

I have raced in NC, MD and VA over the last several weeks. I would be lying if I did not say the most memorable was the crit Carol and I did up in MD. We had dinner the night before with Janelle, Mitch and Missy and stayed at Janelle’s place and terrorized her shy rabbit. That’s the fun stuff of racing. Oh, and Carol did great in both the open Women and Cat 3 races, while I hung at the back of the Cat 3 one, took one second-place prime mid-race, then retired to the back of the pack. I staggered across the finish after having been gapped the last 4 laps, having completed my first crit in a year.

But the most memorable on-the-bike experience was the Spring Cup mountain bike race at Poor Farm near Ashland, VA. This mostly flat, twisty course sits well with a medium-built flatlander. It had the appearances of same old stuff until I got on the line with 10 pro/ expert women. We all noticed there were no pros in the field to clean up so it seemed like anyone’s game. Women often have their own start time, but they put us in a wave with the 45+ men. 45+ sounds old until you consider that these guys are racing mountain bikes. They are in better shape than most teenagers I know. So my primary strategy was to keep all the women in sight and to use the guys as pacers.

For some reason, Laurie with Richmond Sportsbackers likes Le Mans style starts. I am a clumsy runner, especially when wearing cycling shoes. Yet I did manage a good placing at the trailhead and it was clear immediately that this would be like no other race at Poor Farm. To begin with, the race was sold out. They had triple the number of entrants than last year’s races, so the organizers had not considered having half the group start in morning and half in afternoon. Instead, nearly 400 of us started in 2 min increments and piled into a 6-mile single track course. Lots of traffic.

I did what I had planned the first few miles. I could see all the women in front of me and had a count on how many were behind, and I paced with the men who were interspersed. There was no room for mistakes. If you hit a bump wrong the course was so tight that the rider behind would surge into your place, pulling several with him. Normally, women are very courteous while racing, but not this time. If a woman faltered and was in my way, I pushed off of her as if she were a tree. I got mine right back once when my foot slipped on a hairpin and 2 women bolted past me, jabbing me with handlebars, elbows flared so that I could not jump into their spaces. Once 3 of us ended up off the trail in a stupid tangle that I think the woman in front of me caused, and we were all cursing each other silently, none of the usual, “sorry are you ok.” I had to rip my bike from my competitor’s and I purposely took up ground space when remounting so that she would be delayed. There was just too much to lose if you lost position because 10 people would quickly fill the position with so many on the trail.

Anyway, I was also glad for the traffic because it helped pace me with the leaders for nearly the whole first lap. We hit the hills on the backside of the course and as I barreled down one steep one, I noticed my front wheel sounded and felt like it was coming off. I despised the thought of stopping, knowing that even 10 seconds could put the leaders out of sight. Plus, I was on the most difficult section where I was bound to lose time anyway. I flashed back with dread to the month before as I raced in NC and discovered the front quick release was about to disengage in the middle of the race. At the time, I thought I had made the rookie mistake of not checking the wheels, but as I stopped this time at Poor Farm I realized that something must be wrong with the front wheel that has made it jar loose for a second time (I had triple checked equipment this time).

I filled with fear when I stopped and discovered the quick release fully disengaged. The only thing that had saved me on the string of downhills was the safety catches which of course would not have continued to support me. I thought of the time I had face planted, or rather neck planted when the front wheel of my first mountain bike collapsed. I had a sunburned trail rash hickey on my neck for a year. I realized that there must be something wrong with my skewer as seconds ticked away. I would need to abandon the race. My heart rate and hopes collapsed as I considered the best walking route out. But the other side of me madly grabbed hold of the front and clamped down the quick release with full adrenaline and emotion. I kicked it to ensure its hold, fully knowing that if it was malfunctioning, it could release again anyway and possibly send me face to ground, what for a $20 bike race. I just couldn’t quit. I eyed the skewer’s position and vowed to monitor it and drop out the moment I saw it change positions. Beating the odds is just one of the many races within the race, a prime of sorts. I jumped back in to the mosh pit, catching onto the next string of racers jockeying for position on this packed course. I had lost about a minute. I considered why I couldn’t make even minor decisions off the bike as quickly.

I passed back two women, but never caught back to the lead 5. I finished 6th. Somehow during it I rationalized that the quick release must have popped when my bike was tangled with the 2 competitors’ bikes. Tom had to help me get the front wheel off the bike using pliers since neither of us could release it with bare hands since I had kicked it closed in a very tight position. My comrades did well in the race:

Hosang 13th Pro/ Expert Men
Robert 2nd Expert Vet
Chris 2nd Sport Vet
Robin 5th Women’s Sport
Bill 6th Expert Vet

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