It’s been a hot minute since the race, and anyone who follows me on Twitter or Facebook already knows at least the important part of the story- I finished 3rd place. The combination of rain from a Wednesday morning thunderstorm/deluge, a little extra rain/snow Wednesday night, and the hundreds of people who raced on the course immediately following that, turned it into a total mud bog.
Ryan and I pre-rode on Wednesday at lunch before his heat race. At that point, it was sloppy, but less damaged, so it was nicely difficult- some deep, power-sucking mud, and a lot of slick, tricky mud. I felt great about it. However, between that time and my race, the course conditions deteriorated dramatically. The grass, mud, and water was so churned together that the course turned incredibly slow, and pedaling felt like trying to run and fight off an axe murderer in the throes of a nightmare- the type where you can neither run nor fight because your body feels like it’s moving in slow motion, no matter how much effort you extend.
This year’s field was a little more serious than last year- not that last year’s competition wasn’t tough, but this year, the field size doubled, and included the current National Champion. The stripes made it easy to pick out who to follow when we were given the signal to GO, important since I hadn’t done any e-stalking ahead of time, so I had no idea who was “fast” (other than myself, of course… hehehe)
The start was fast as usual for any very competitive cross race. That was about the only thing that was fast, though. As soon as we were off of the solid start/finish area, everyone dumped to the small ring, and we were racing our asses off… at an average speed of 6.5 miles per hour. Going that slow means that bike handling won’t be a determining factor in the outcome of the race. So, it boiled down to a 3 lap, 40 minute power test with 2x per lap bike exchanges thrown in for good measure. Ryan, who was working the pit for me, had his work cut out for him, repeatedly running the mud/grass-caked bikes to the powerwasher for the big stuff, then finishing the drivetrain cleaning off with most of a can of ProGold Blast Off that Bruce Dickman gave me just before the race. If it weren’t the good pit work, I would have been dead in the mud.
Off the line, I was on the wheel of Kari Studley, the National Champion. I didn’t look back, so I had no idea how the race was unfolding behind me. Kari would periodically pull away then come back, and I decided that, along with her, I’d pass the pits the first time. I stayed behind her like a slinky until finally imploding somewhere after the 2nd time past the pit- during which we both took a clean bike (I exchanged bikes 2x per lap following that). She began to pull away, and I worked on recovering enough to minimize the damage.
(photo courtesy of Debbie Baker)
In the meantime, Brianne Marshall of NoTubes was creeping up behind me. She passed me somewhere during the 2nd lap and seemed to dangle just out of my reach by about 10-15 seconds before pulling away in the 3rd and final lap. She tended to run more of the worst mud sections. I decided not to run- I made the switch from Crank Brothers to SPD pedals a while back, and they were NOT the best pedal in the deep mud because they clogged up every time I got off of the bike. I don’t really consider it to be a deciding factor in my situation, but Crank Brothers pedals would have been one less thing to worry about being affected by mud.
Kari, Brianne and myself finished spaced out about a minute or so of each other, but well ahead of the spots off the podium.
So, this third place was a lot better than last year’s third place, where a stupid mechanical for which I take full responsibility (rear skewer rattled loose) took me out of the 1/2 contention. I think that Thursday’s race through the mud bog could have been contested as a 40 minute power test on trainers with the same outcome. Not as fun as a high-speed, running/jumping/sliding race, but it’s the hand that all of us were dealt, and we made the best of it.