I rode the second Wednesdays at Wakefield race tonight with much better results than last week's wheel-busting, saddle-breaking, lardass-bruising crash. I saw Matty D. before the race and we exchanged mutual good wishes, always a good thing because Matt brings a warmth about him that just makes you feel good. Y'know how some people give away good wishes like they were grudgingly peeling ones off a big pile of bills for a tip for a doorman? Matty gives off good vibes the way a hot road radiates heat on a summer day. He's a very positive guy, and it helped me get my head on pre-race.
So somebody in the women's sport field asked why we Clydesdales started behind them, when we'd start picking off their field within a half lap despite the two minute gap between waves. There's only one answer I can think of: we like the view. Seriously, lotta cute girls ride MTBs. I have a rule in life: you want to find the good stuff, whatever it is, look for the cute girls. They know what's good. I guess that explains the packed women's sport class at Wakefield. The ever entertaining Dharma was present, along with frequent commenter DCVeloBella, KLM, who is a race official who likes to yell at me on the road bike. (She denies this). She's very warm on the mountain bike so I'm going to bring my mountain bike to roadraces to make sure she has a good attitude there from now on.
Anyhow, the race started with a long gravel uphill. It was pretty slippery, as usual, but I cleared it fine helped by the slightly larger 32:19 gearing (up from the normal Patapsco 32:21 gearing). About 6 guys got in front of me at the start, and a little pack of 3 got past me later, so I found my place somewhere near the back of the pack of a pretty good sized clyde field - maybe 18 guys? Three or four really slow guys weren't there this week, so that was a bummer, but the thing is once you're racing you just go as hard as you can and that's it. So I have no idea where I was, not last, but probably top of the bottom third perhaps? Hard to say.
The first lap went pretty well. I didn't go out as hard as last week - I rode to just short of the point where my face goes numb. When the face goes numb the fuse is burning and I think pushing that hard early last week caused the lapse that caused my crash. So I settled in behind a couple other clydesdales and just worked around, picking one of them off on the long-ish powerline hill. Geared MTB'ers often don't climb as fast, granny gears offer a bailout that allows for easy, uncommitted climbing.
I found myself riding pretty steadily with a clydesdale who was a lot faster than me through the technical parts, but struggled on the hills. I read the tea leaves and figured there was no way I could get a clean pass early, I'd need to ride on his wheel, let him get nervous and worn out and then take him when he started to pop. So this led into a really odd rhythm where I was scaring myself in the woods trying to keep up, and then easy spinning on the hills, seriously, not even breathing hard, to keep up.
At the start of the second lap we started passing some women. Eventually I passed Dharma and got in a little group behind three girls and my arch rival. An expert blew by, and right after that the guy I was marking passed the girls, and then I did. A minute or two later we were on KLM's wheel going through the powerline meadow. My guy passed her, and I rode her wheel on the flats, waiting for a spot to pass. That's when I noted there wasn't a single deer standing at trailside watching, but two. And one of them was straining mightily to push out a steady stream of deer pellets. I pointed this out to KLM but she didn't seem to find it amusing - later she said she didn't even see it. I guess she's not in touch with her inner 6 year old boy.
Going up the powerline hill the second time, I blew passed the guy I was marking as hard as I could. I wanted to make the pass really convincing. Apparently it worked because by the time we crossed the stream, he was nowhere to be seen.
The third lap was pretty uneventful. I got passed by eight or ten experts. A couple times, there was nowhere to pass so I went as hard as I could in some forest sections. One guy who had been forced to hold my wheel paid a compliment about that after the race, said it was some really good riding. That was nice of him, and it felt good to know I wasn't f-ing up his race. I'll have to see if I can do more riding like that. But what's the trick - identifying the parts of the trail where speed is easy to gain and safe? I figured out one trick today which is to think two turns ahead. A lot of little schwerves at Wakefield require you to come out of one corner positioned properly to hit the second and third one after that, otherwise it's a big loss of speed. Anyhoo...
Coming across the last stream and up the hard hill to clear, I was resolved to clear it in style. A pack of experts had just passed me, so I was a little bummed, but determined to clear it. I'd cleared it earlier but now my legs were crampy, and I'd only barely cleared it before; it would have been faster to run earlier. I didn't want to do that again. This time, I did a mini sprint across the stream and up over the roots, clearing them with some pace. Aha! A couple experts had failed to clear the hill. The one guy got remounted and I passed and sort of shoved him out of the way, the other one was running up the hill with his bike. As I passed him, I said "Fat Roadie Pass!" Yeah, I bet he was bummed by the sight of my big ass beating him into the last section of single track.
From there it was nothing, I came across the line alone in my class. Based on later discussions with Dharma, I probably pulled a 1:04 or so for the three laps, not awful but not great either. I'll have to post my result here in an update when Potomac Velo posts them.
The bottom line - it was a really fun race, total blast. There's a nice vibe in the MTB racing scene, and it's an easy crowd to hang with. The racing at Wakefield is fast and hard - you can rest a little in places, but it's a lot like a crit in terms of effort, long periods of tempo+ effort, a bunch of 30 second red zone efforts, and occasional soft pedaling and a lot of spots where you don't pedal at all. Still, after about 50 minutes, my legs were getting really, really heavy feeling. Going tempo for hours is easy, going all out frequently as you go around the course is much, much more tiring - but again it's like a hard technical crit with constant hard accellerations. That, and not hitting your brakes is a key, just like in crits. It's a great workout, and not terribly technical. Fat Marc seems to think the skills you learn will pay off in 'cross too. But the real reason to do it, is for the fun. Man, what a great way to spend a couple hours on a Wednesday.
Postscript: Family Bikes wrench and Friend of the Rouleur Tom Mackay won the Single Speed class today. The kid's a monster, very impressive.