Due to the timing of the races, I opted to do the Masters 35+ (1-4) race at Lowell. I started this season as a 4, upgraded to 3, and now I am racing against guys who really know how to race. Uh oh.
The course was really nice and fun. I'll post more at gdracereport.blogspot.com. But overall there was a little of everything. The bottom half was just like last year, with single track through the woods. Same barriers. But the top half was completely different due to the recent improvements made to the park (which is a very nice park!).
Race started on the cinder track at turn 3. When I arrived at 7:00am, it was frozen solid and fast. By 10:00am, it was soup. Thick cinder soup. With mud puddles. At the starting line, I was wedged in between cyber-luminaries Gewilli and CTodd. I've raced against both before, so that provided some comfort when looking at some of the other powerhouses in the race. On the front line, we were pretty widely strung out and had to funnel into a narrow track. By starts are usually lousy, but couldn't be today.
Bang! Of we go, sliding through the soup. I was about 10-15th wheel approaching a quick uphill 180 degree turn around a tree into the first barriers. Of course, some guy wipes out, blocking the whole field. While straddling my bike, I shimmy through the carnage to keep going. That loses me some time, but I don't have great expectations today anyway.
The addition of a steep hill that you enter through a 90 degree turn was a nice touch. The designers said they hoped this would be a runup, but it was definitely rideable. However, not when it is clogged with people. So, I enter the hill trying to ride it, see there is not way, and jump off, pumping up the hill with my bike. Thank you toe spikes.
There is nothing better in cross than getting into the rhythm of the course. As you go on in the race, you start to remember what is coming, know what gearing to use, and find lines that work (all in a course that is constantly changing due to other riders and wear). I was able to find a nice rhythm here. While some people were passing me, I was passing a lot of people as well. Other guys from MRC were cheering like crazy, so I figured I must be doing okay.
Two laps to go I am able to reach another group. It was very strange to be hanging with people that I had watched when I started racing when I thought "I'll never be able to hang with them." I found myself on a very familiar solid disk wheel, thinking "Holy Sh*t, that's Paul Curley." For those not in the know, Paul has been National Champ in various age categories many times, and continues to put people into difficulty on the course. To be on his wheel was just WEIRD.
When I bell lap hit, I was shocked because time was flying by. I had not been checking the lap cards because the track was so soupy it required pretty constant concentration. I was tail end of a pack of about 6 guys. Going into the final steep hill, I wanted to be closer to the front. I shot around most of them to get second wheel and hit the hill hard, able to ride up it with another guy from NEBC-CycleLoft. I knew I thought I could outsprint him on the track, so I was satisfied to sit on his wheel through the single track, just trying to avoid mistakes.
Once we hit the single track, it was big chainring time. People had been riding the extreme outside line because it was dry. I had been riding a middle inside line. We were hammering next to each other pretty good. I was trying like crazy to keep my line because the momentum caused by our speed and lack of traction caused me to start to drift to the outside. I was able to nip him at the very end.
I ended up with 6th place overall, which was HUGE for me. Slight bummer in that I finished one spot out of the money (would have won $10 for 5th). But, not complaints here. Everyone on the team was pretty impressed with the performance, which was nice to hear. I was impressed to. Fellow MRC'er John Smith said to me once, "You're never happy after a race." That is generally true. I'll typically find something to obsess on after a race that casts a pallor over the experience (John, being from Scotland, said that would make me a good Scotsman). This time, I'm pretty happy.
Positives: Running with the big dogs and not getting bit.
Negatives: My uniform is a disaster.
Things done well: Putting together things I've learned and been working on. Learning as the race went on. Start was smoother than previous ones.
Things that need improvement: Still everything. A little slow going into the barriers. Need to get in and out of the corners better. Was behind Wayne from NEBC-Cycleloft for a little bit, and he was great at it. Small things make for big separations in this group.