The folks in Leesburgh were nice enough to hold a second race for those that signed up for the first snot cycle race. Lots of snow and ice made for an uncomfortable day back in January. They were extra kind to me, because I sold my entry and was still allowed to race at Part Deux.
I was a little worried how the trails might be. It has been getting warmer and the ground is thawing, so the mud potential was high. I have been on some trails here locally at 6:00 AM when the temps are 20 degrees, but others have been out in the daytime and mentioned the trails were not rideable. Looking at the tires on the bike of the race promoter, I could see lots of sticky clay on them warning me of the conditions to come . . . .it was overcast and the drive down had been dark and foggy, but I do not think it rained in Leesburgh.
I got registered for the race in time to see the 40+ Cat 2 race go off with about 30 guys in the field. I said to myself that is probably where I should be racing, perhaps I could have won in that field today. I remember talking to Ben about winning a race before moving up to Expert, how I would have liked to experience that because it might never happen once I upgrade. I have had this same conversation for at least a year, yet the win never came. It seems there is always someone (or in the case of 40-44 Sport half a dozen) that is always substantialy faster then the rest of the field.
I got dressed and went out for a spin. I had heard about a rock dropoff that I wanted to see. It dropped off 4 feet to the ground, but there was a line, whatever that might mean. Turns out there was a rock stack to the ground, but the top section was 4 foot wide and the rock stack was 10 inches wide. I am glad I checked that out.
I got ready for the start, to find there was only 3 other racers. Looking around, they all looked more fit than me. One guy was riding a Moots and told me he was focusing on endurance races this season and that he just got his response from the Leadville 100 and unfortunately had been turned down. There was another guy that kinda looked like a courier with a ring in his nose. The third guy was racing for Plum Grove Cyclery, the onsite bike shop of the promoters. All of these guys looked totally fit, but the Plum Grove dude looked really really strong. I commented to the Moots guy "There is the winner there", and Mr. Moots totally agreed. Just to add to that, Mr. Plum Grove pedaled away and his pedal stroke was totally intimidating.
The race started without event and I put my head down and went. It might be a small field, but at least I could lead my 2nd expert race for a little bit until Mr. Plum Grove took over. He let me lead into the woods, but he was on my wheel. The field section was wet for sure and it was not easy to ride fast. The sun was just starting to come out and the temps were pretty warm. As we get into the woods, I let off a lttle bit, trying to recover from the start and waiting for Mr. Plum Grove to take over. We were about a mile into the race and I noticed we rode everyone else (all 2) off our wheels. I took it easy for 1/2 mile or so, enough to get over the tough rock section.
In terms of bikes, I decided to race my Engin. I have been racing a Niner Air 9 for the last 4 seasons, never totally happy with the way it handles turns, but always liking the way it responded to pedal input (which is like a rocket shop). The Engin is smaller and allows me to handle technical areas and especially tight turns much better than I can on the Niner. I knew this last season, but went back to the Niner for the acceleration. Let me say the Niner is now for sale, because it is too big for me. It was new in October (warrantly replacement). OK, sales pitch over.
Back to the race, I took the recovery, decided to push a little bit and see what happens, so I slowly pulled away from Mr. Plum Grove at mile 2 of 27 and maintained the lead until the end of the race. YES, I actually won my first race after trying for years to accomplish the same. It was a very small race, but that is OK, I will take it. I learned a lot about pushing myself during this race and pushed harder than I ever did in any other race or training event. I did not wear a heart rate monitor for the race, but I am sure I set some new records for average h/r.
There were times during the race that I wanted to stop pushing myself so I could rest, but my mind would not allow me to do that. I remember Marc V telling me that when you are pushing yourself that hard, you cannot turn it off. He is right. I remember Dan telling me he won Fair Hill using Envertene and it was weird, but worked well. He is right, the stuff works great. I ate 3 Clif blocks, drank water and accelerade, and the Envertene. I had the experience of the second place rider being local, so I had to look fresh and strong every time I passed a volunteer, because they all were teammates of his and I was afraid they would tell him I looked bad, providing him with the strength to pass me. I wanted them to say "He looked really strong" instead. I feared him for 25 miles, taking that win away from me. On lap 2, I let myself believe it was OK if he passed me and won the race. 20 seconds later, I punched myself in the face (metaphorically) for allowing that weakness into my brain. I took advantage of the dry pine tree sections to push the big ring, I cursed the new middle section that was soft and wet (and rooty and climby). I did see him in that section of the course on the 2nd lap, but had no idea how close he might have been to me because of all the twists and turns. I will say he looked extremely strong and put some fear in me.
Lap three was just trying to keep it all together. In the last mile, I came up on a woman that would not yield the trail at all. I asked nicely if I could pass on the left and she totally blocked me, to the point I ran off the course and almost crashed. I was still nice to her, then I found out later she was not racing just riding the course. Thanks for your consideration and lucky for you I was totally beat at the finish, or I would have given you an earful about that (she was parked near me).
Pulling out of the woods, I could see the finish line and sprinted for it, not knowing where Mr. Plum Grove might be. Once I was in the clear for sure, I zipped up and crossed the line with two arms in the air. I finally won a race, even though it was a very lightly attended training race. I learned a lot about racing and pushing myself that I can use this season when I get to race some very very fast experienced competitors. And I will always remember this first win and hopefully use it to push myself into a Mid pack position in my MASS class. Mr. Plum Grove admitted to his team mates that the race "was way too much suffering for March" and his teammates seemed surprised I finished in front of him.
Now to get recovered . . .