This week I decided to try something new. Openers. Some kind of workout thing you do the day before a race to get your legs ready. It's not a warm-up, it's... an opener. I don't get it, but word on the street is they're pretty cool. My typical Saturday routine consists of riding my bike to the grocery store, getting ice cream, mixing it 50/50 with Phil Wood Grease, and eating it while I overhaul my bike so we're both ready for the next day. Not this week - I was up early and headed down to the lakefront to ride in circles on the grass and maybe up and down a hill a few times. It was sorta fun and the weather was good, but I got home kinda tired and with a suspicion that I hadn't just unlocked the secret to the elusive cat5 podium. Whatever, time for ice cream.
I arrived early in Woodstock so I would have time to pre-ride the course. It was a course I'd heard so much about - technical and winding with a solid helping of barriers and hills. And that was what it looked like. If you took a standard CCC course and shrunk it to 3/4 size, you'd end up with the woodstock course. I was excited by the lack of long straights and the constant presence of tricky corners as they are usually my strength. I was not so excited about all the barriers because I can't jump them consistently enough to do it in a race and although my remounts are getting better, they're still a place I lose a lot of time. But there's no time to lose, it's pre-ride time!
The course was steep. It didn't have the sheer elevation of Dan Ryan Woods, but the course hardly left the small hill it did have. You'd ride up, then down, and then along it. Hairpin switchbacks running perpendicular to the fall line? Why not! Better yet, put a barrier and a steep run-up right after! And then you can bomb down the hill and do switchbacks the whole way up, then run down, jump a barrier, and run up again! What fun! With very few actual sprints or straightaways to be had, I decided to run slightly under-geared for the single-speed race just to be safe - if ran too hard a gear I would burn out and have to either run most of the course or DNF. So I popped a zip tie on my shifter and headed over to staging.
The last few weeks I've been starting comfortably mid-pack in the single-speed race. It's a good place to be in an open field, since you don't have to worry about the elites at the front or the folks in the back who don't get that when you can't shift you need to stand on climbs. I staged 34th, and figured I'd finish near there. I know I can't win the single-speed, so there's no sense burning out during it.I hit the start hard, and then settled into line. Halfway through my first lap I was already thankful for my choice of gear - the hills were constant and with all the corners on the flat sections there was no chance to breathe. I made precious few passes, really only going by people who fell down. Lap after lap went by, and each time I passed the finish they weren't ringing the bell. By lap four I just wanted them to pull me. And then finally, the bell. I tried to pick up speed for the last lap, but didn't have anything left to give. I slow-rolled across the finish line 43 minutes after the whistle blew. Despite my condition, I finished 28th. And that's the value of staying upright on a technical course.
By the time cat4/5 rolled around, the course had changed a lot. It was dry now, with just enough moisture on the tricky sections to keep from skittering around on dry dirt. I had gears, and was dead set on keeping my momentum from last week going. I had to nail the start, that was the critical bit. Partly because I wanted to be near the front going through the off-camber sections so that I could avoid as much of the mayhem as possible, and partly because the first person up heckle hill won a pie and I wanted that pie, dammit. But a good start was not to be, as I missed my clip, found it, sprinted, and then burned out before even hitting the first climb. Oops. I settled into the group, pushing only as hard as necessary to not get passed. And as we approached the off-camber switchbacks, disaster. The 4/5 race being one of mayhem, someone had poured water all over the course and it was all slick mud! I slowed to a crawl, weighted the front, and made it through upright. Many around me were not so lucky. Less people to pass later on. By the time I made it over the first barrier, it was clear there was no way I was getting pie, so I tried to settle down into a pace I could maintain for the next half-hour. And that was all well and good until I pinched a nerve in my chest on lap two. A problem that hadn't plagued me in years, it felt like getting stabbed in the chest every time I took more than the shallowest breath. Dammit. I slowed down to recover, and watched the field go by. And at the end of lap three, it passed and I attacked, or tried to. I was beat. I made a few passes, but there was a much larger looming behind me every time I checked under my arm. When would he make his move? I could see him fall back in the corners, but after the hill there was a straightaway. And sure enough, halfway down it he went whizzing past. No. No no no. I desperately tried to reel him in through the corners, and was on his wheel heading into the last barrier. We both went over, and he kept his lead going into the final technical section. I was faster, but couldn't pass and so the best I could do was hang right on his wheel and try to be intimidating through my wheezing. It didn't work, and he accelerated hard onto the final paved section. I tucked in for the draft, but blew my line on the turnaround and was still behind him on the last paved straightaway. So I stood up and sprinted. My wheel crossed the line perhaps a few inches ahead of his. Worth it.
I also had no idea where I'd finished, but it didn't matter because I couldn't breathe and was faintly nauseous. Later I found out I'd come in 12th. And as I'm told, that's how a race is supposed to go. You go in, go hard, and finish with nothing left.
Next weekend is a double-header of CCC goodness, and I'll be a cat4. I hope that'll favorably alter the racing/mayhem ratio, but I've got no idea.