Vern and I kitted up and took a slow lap around the course. He gave me some pointers and pointed out some critical sections. It seemed to have held up well after the morning races and looked to be fast. Just like yesterday, the key here was to try to stay warm right up until race time. We finished the lap and I did the rest of my warm up with a bowl of Bob's Red Mill and my trainer. About 20 minutes before the start I jumped in my rig, cranked the heat to 80 and just listened to tunes for a few minutes. It started to snow just as we headed over to the staging area but it was only flurries. It was pretty funny seeing so many racers, including myself, riding up in big puffy down jackets.
Since upgrading I've had to start in the back of the field but my points finally got transferred over and I got the call up to the front row. I checked the time and we had two minutes to go. I gave my jacket to Denise and was still warm and ready to go......Hold on!!!! For the 2nd day in a row we had a delay. We didn't get going for another 10 minutes and my body temperature started to drop. I knew I would warm up soon after the start but I was already starting to lose feeling in a couple of fingers.
It seemed like forever but we were finally sent on our way. We were doing five laps. For the 2nd day in a row I had trouble clipping in. By the time I got going I had dropped back a few spots and was sitting about 12th as we entered the course. The first part of the course was probably the most technical. There were tight turns, good sized slippery rocks and not a lot of room to pass. With the whole field bunched up it could set the tone for the rest of the race. It was pretty intense. We all made it though in one piece and headed for the first set of barriers. They were at the end of a fairly long straight away and timing would be key. I managed to pass a couple of guys before the barriers and got over them and back on my bike with no issues. We headed back into the trees and I was looking to make a move when Brian (Stanley), racing his first CAT 3 race came flying by me like I was standing still. He had to start a few rows back and was moving up fast. I know how strong he is so I was just going to try to hang with him. A few seconds later we took a corner and he went down hard right in front of me. I had to brake and swerve hard to avoid plowing into him. I somehow got around him and pushed hard to get back up to speed. Just like the day before, the guys in front of the crash managed to get a small gap on the field. We were not even half way through the first lap and I didn't have a clue what place I was sitting. I figured I was around 10th but wasn't sure. It didn't really matter since there was a lot of racing to go. After some long turns in the woods we came out to where many of the fans/hecklers had gathered. The course went down a short hill, took a 180 back up the hill, turned right and headed to a sand pit that looked to have been brought in just for the race. My plan was to try to ride the sand all the way through but that didn't go so well. Someone in front of me dumped it and I had to dismount. We had to take a slight right turn in the middle which added a degree of difficulty. I don't know if I could have fully made it though anyway. I exited and quickly remounted and started heading down the short hill. At the bottom, the course turned sharp to the left then into the 2nd set of barriers which were placed at the bottom of the run up. I misjudged my entry and basically dismounted my bike at a stand still. Another rider plowed into the back of me (my fault) and luckily neither of us went down. I stumbled over the barriers and up the hill. I almost laughed when I remounted. I probably went through the two obstacles as slow and clumsily as humanly possible. I think a couple of guys passed me in the process. The next lap would have t0 be 100% smoother. I got back up to tempo and headed to a section I thought would be really tricky. It was a single track section along a fence line. At the end of the fence the course made a 90 degree turn to the right and into a short, off camber down hill. The nice thing was that because there was no place to pass and you had to take the corner slow I was able to get back on to the end of the lead pack. I decided to take the high line and made it down with no problems. We hit a long straight section on the grass followed by a long sprint on the pavement through the finish line. I was able to pass a good handful of guys before entering the course for the 2nd time. So much had happened on the first lap in our field and we had already caught slower riders in the single speed field that I still really had no idea what place I was in. I pressed on and just focused on the rider in front of me. As I swung around to head towards the barriers I could see who was behind me. There were at least 4 or 5 guys breathing down my neck so there was no time to mess around. When I hit the sand this time I decided not to mess around and just dismounted, slung my bike over my shoulder and ran. I was also able to time my dismount better as I headed to the barrier/run up section.
The next couple of laps were about the same except for the snow had started coming down pretty hard. I haven't had this issue before but my glasses started to fog up. Normally, in a road race I could ease into the field and deal with it. Not in cross. You can't really sit up and take your hands off the bars. I wanted to just pull them off and chuck them but they are expensive and I was worried I'd never see them again. Just then I heard my teammate Jeff cheering on the sidelines. I quickly grabbed then and threw them in his direction. Thanks Jeff for that. My new problem was adjusting to the snow pelting my eyes. I had to squint a little but it was better than not seeing at all.
I started the last lap feeling pretty good. I had been jockeying back and fourth with a few guys and it was making for a great race. I went to the sand section for the last time and quickly made it though. I remounted and headed down the hill and made it over the barriers and up the hill without incident. This was the first time I noticed that I was feeling a little gassed. I only had about five minutes to go so it was time to suck it up. I remounted and could not clip back in. I stayed calm but could not get either of my cleats into the pedals. I kept pedalling while I swung around the corner. It wouldn't have been a big deal except I was coming up to a short climb and wanted to have all my power available. I slowed and as I got both shoes clipped in four guys went flying by me.....CRAP!!! I had to give a little more effort than I wanted to stay with them but luckily we were coming up to the single track section by the fence line and they had to slow a little. I was inches away from them. I knew that we were coming up to the straight grass section and long paved section to the finish and I could hopefully use my sprinting skills to get by them. We hit the grass and I flew by one guy and settled in behind the others. As soon as we hit the pavement I hit the gas and motored by the rest. I had no idea how I finished. My in laws were near the finish and they thought I finished 5th....WHAT??? I figured I was top ten but had not idea I was top 5.
This weekend was a great way to end a long season of racing. It's time to head to Hawaii for a much needed vacation and then.........Get ready to start it all over again!!
all pictures by Denise Phillips