March contained a healthy dose of intense training rides and races which, as I sit here typing, I can certainly feel in my legs. Looking over my training log for March, I count six races, two intense epic rides, and one crash, with plenty of other training and recovery rides mixed in. With rain in the forecast for this week, it’s a perfect opportunity to reduce my training volume and intensity in order to preserve the race sharpness I’ve developed for races later this month and next.
And what races I’ve had of late! After four races in the US Cup series, I sit in 2nd place overall in the CAT2 30-34 division with two 4th place finishes, a 2nd, and a 1st. The past two race courses in Fontana and Riverside have been a blast (shout out to the US CUP series organizers for the great venues and course layouts!) with some awesome climbing and technical single-track descents. In both races, off the starting line, I took off fast and took command of the pace wanting to get to the technical single-track first in order to open a gap or at least impart some shock & awe in my competitor’s legs.
In the Fontana race there is a tough mile-long climb that begins on a road and then dumps into a tight single-track climb which strings out racers. From the top, it drops into tight flowing singletrack with some minor rocky drops so being at the front is critical for clean lines. I assumed control of the race near the top of the first climb on the first lap (of three) just in time to try and forge a gap. I really pushed the pace on the descent because for me that’s free speed and time to establish a gap from which others have to work to overcome.
The rest of laps 1 and 2 stayed the same with me out in front riding my race and keeping a gap of about 30-45 seconds on 2nd and 3rd place. I remember being happy about the lead but also contemplating, or rather worrying about how hard I could continue to push the pace since I still needed to climb that damn hill on the final lap. I settled into a groove that had me climbing a bit slower than previous laps and found myself peeking over my shoulder on corners at my competition who were quickly reeling me in near the top. After the first descent there’s another small climb which really stung my legs on lap 3. This is where the rider in 2nd place caught and passed me.
I made a quick mental calculation of my condition and after summoning some “testicular fortitude” I decided to sit on the now 1st place rider’s wheel. This race strategy proved beneficial because I no longer had to stress about my pacing and I could recover on the last downhill section before the flat section to the end. Because the final section is over a half mile of flat dirt road and speeds exceed 20mph, I was able to use road racing tactics and draft behind the rider, conserving energy for the final push over a short loose rocky section.
It was here I could sense that the rider in front had a quick power fade and I dropped the hammer and took the lead again. A couple twisty sections later and with the finish line in sight it was do or die time with two riders literally on my tail. It took a sprint finish for me to claim 1st place with a finishing time of 1:33:05:06. Less than a second behind was 2nd and 3rd place, at 1:33:05:40 and 1:33:05:50, respectively! A thrilling result and one I deem just considering I led for 90% of the race.
A week later brought another US Cup race in Riverside at Sycamore Canyon Park which was a new course for me and many of my teammates. Several of us arrived super early to setup and get a reconnaissance ride in. I’m glad I did and it definitely paid off. There is a very technical section which we were able to scout and discuss. See my previous post and the video of this section! I still get stoked watching this and listening to the spectators cheer me on!
Out of the gates, I charged to the front and led through the middle of lap 2 (of 3, total) when I experienced my first chain drop and the eventual race winner passed me. Chain drops are soooooo annoying because in truth, they’re usually preventable. Excited (read – totally exhausted & lame) shifts when the bike is being jostled or pitched at angles typically leads to dropped chains. You have to stop and get off, wrestle with the chain, hope your gloves don’t get caught between chain and crank teeth, and hop back on the bike. Then, as your leg pushes against an immovable object in the form of a pedal, you realize the gearing is too high so further time and energy is wasted as you shift into lower gears. A dropped chain can cost 10-25 seconds in a race (just ask Andy); costly considering I won the previous race by 0.36 seconds!
Halfway through the third and final lap and my #$%#$^ chain drops again! I now found myself in 3rd position with half a lap remaining until the finish. I committed myself to catching up to the rider now in front of me by the end of the last climb and am able to pass him to reclaim 2nd place. He then sits on my wheel and is well positioned to take back second position in what will come down to another sprint finish! With my parents at the finish line again cheering me on (a nice surprise since I didn’t know they would show up!) there was no way I was going to be out-kicked in a sprint. Sure enough, I was able to secure 2nd place in a leg melting sprint finish. Thankfully, the second dropped chain didn’t cost me 2nd place, but I finished only 30 seconds behind the winner. I’m left to wonder what might have been without the dropped chains but that’s racing!
I should note that my Mother gave me $5 for the 1st place finish she missed seeing!