Wednesday dawned sunny but windy and cold. Today was the 30-44 Men’s Open, Non-championship race. Also known as the annual Sandbaggers Championship. But hey, if I was gonna fly out halfway across the country, I was gonna race every single race I could!
Had breakfast with the family then cruised out to the venue.
There’s are definitely differences when you’re racing Nationals. This was my third time racing Nationals. I raced in Junior Nationals for MTB a LONG time ago in Mammoth, CA. Back when the Kamikaze was a thing and mountain biking was hitting the main stream. Then I raced age-group Nationals for MTB in 2007 in Mount Snow, Vermont. Total opposite of main stream at that point. But I digress.
So the differences.
1. Size of the venue. The layout of the course, where things are located, where you can park and warmup are all larger in scale compared to our local race scene. Even the laps at this course was about 2 miles. The walk from the warmup area to the pit then to the car was about 20 minutes. This meant planning and logistics and timing would be way more important.
2. Size of the field. I’ve never raced cross at this scale. We had 148 riders in our field. That’s 148 riders to call up, line up, start together, and race together. I guess it was good the laps were about 2 miles long!
3. Amount of distractions. There’s lots of cool stuff going down at Nationals. Old friends to catch up with, new ones to meet, food, drink, and swag. All good stuff but all potential derailments if you’re trying to warm up and race.
I told myself I was gonna do everything I could to limit the differences and make things as close to my normal routine as possible.
I normally warm-up about 30 minutes before a race so I cruised to the venue, which took about 10 minutes, then rode around the venue a little bit on the grass and beside the course to check grip and tire pressure. Then I placed the spare wheels in the pit. The pit was far. Unless you flatted right at the pit, your race would be done. But I put the spare wheels there because I wanted to finish. Then I hit the rollers at Tony’s tent to spin one more time.
Hitting up the rollers to warmup.
Elliot working on wheels.
The bookabikemechanic tent was like club Focus.
The temperature right around then was probably 45 degrees. This was another difference, but more unique to my situation. What was I going to wear? I decided to race in a short sleeve, thicker base layer, long sleeve skin-suit, embrocation on the legs, then regular long fingered summer gloves. Air Attack helmet.
I did one warmup lap then it was off to the start. I was actually cutting it too close because a lap took me about 10 minutes but the start was 12 minutes away. I ended up cutting the lap short and heading to staging.
Didn’t really matter since they actually call up every single racer. Yup. All 148 of us get called to the “line.” I put “line” in quotes because by the time they called me up I was in the 12th row. There are 8 racers per row so there were 90 people in front of me. Seeing the line was impossible.
The official gave her instructions, including the fact that she would be pulling out racers if they were lapped or slower then 80% of the leader’s time. Wait?!? (Insert record scratch sound drop). They’re pulling people? How bad would that suck if you flew halfway across the country to race a 45 minute race, only to get pulled by the official. I told myself, “If there’s one goal you have today, it is to NOT get pulled.”
The racers around me joked that the official gives that instruction only to the last half of the field, not the front guys!
Then it’s “15 seconds to start” then the whistle! And it is mad chaos.
I knew that the long, wide, paved start straight would be one of the best and only places to pass people so I sprinted like a mad man right up the right side. It really pays to know who to follow, which I didn’t, and it was tough navigating but I made up probably 40 or so spots in 15 seconds.
Then we hit the off road sections. I kept everything smooth through the grass as we approached the first pinch point. A tricky downhill into off camber left turn, around a tree, then back uphill. What made it tricky was the pile of wood chips laid down over the ground. Even though I rode this thing no problem in warmup, when you have 8 people across going full bore it’s totally different. All it takes is one person slipping or messing up then it’s a pile up.
So that’s exactly what happened. I tried staying on the bike to ride but in hindsight, I should have just dismounted and run because that’s what ended up happening anyway. I gave back 15 or so spots right there. Ugh.
Then it was back on the bike and then just doing what I had been training to do all season. Race my cross bike.
I found groups to stay with and pace with. I just tried hitting lines clean and smooth. Having a big field made it kinda fun because there were always people around you. I saw lots of bad luck happening to people. Broken chains. A guy rolled a tubular on a grassy uphill right next to me. Brakes failing. I kept trying to pass people which oddly enough, happened in the flat, power sections. I got passed every single time up the limestone steps. Ugh.
I almost ate it on a off camber slope right after I heard my family cheering for me!
One of the spectators was counting off racers and as I came past he said “53.” Oh nice! That meant I was somewhere around the middle third of the race. At least nice for me.
With one lap to go I told myself I have to keep it up to not get pulled. Turns out the mind was willing but the flesh was weak. I started cramping bad, especially at the running parts. The limestone steps turned into limestone crawls. Then over the barriers I cramped real bad, a rider passed me, and I had to limp to the line.
But I finished! And without getting pulled or lapped. It was fun to hear the spectators, the cowbells, people cheering. I knew I had given a good effort.
I later found out I ended up in 47th place. Same lap as the leaders but 5 minutes back. Made sense. I was about a minute slower each lap and we did 5 laps.
I cooled down on the rollers a bit, met up with the family, then cruised back to the house.
Hit up East Side King for lunch for some Tako Tacos and chicken rice.
It was nice to get one race done. The weather ended up being sunny and cool. Perfect cross weather. I was able to finish the race and feel like I gave my all.
Now for the big one on Friday. The Master’s championship race.
It’s fun racing with a big group. Jason Siegle hitting the front of the group.
My cheering squad. Taking a break to tailgate.
My wife snapped this pic of me going by near the pit.
Limestone steps. Look at that pain face. I look so dead. Haha. I honestly feel like deaf people would lip read my face right now as saying “Why” or “Please make it stop”
Madness up the steps. All these photos were taken by my wife. She tweets at @aalawahine
Thanks for reading!