Gorgeous streaks of blue, gold and yellow light streaked through the high clouds, tracing crispy streamers through the chill Autumn air. Rust, Rose, Merlot and Lemon dressed all the trees and ditches and fields, their hues made all the brighter and sharper by the cold. Thin patches of light mud and mocha colored puddles littered the bed of the old quarry, splashing all over the legs and bikes of the more than 500 racers assembled to take part in a terrific day of racing.
Grey mounds of gravel, old sawed logs of fir and spruce, yellow and brown grass and smooth river rocks painted a bucolic yet dramatic backdrop for the action, which was fast and rowdy.
I showed up right at 3:00, with just enough time to register, get my bike together and run a couple short warm up loops before the 3:15 line-up for the Category B and Single Speed race I’d be competing in.
There were almost 200 of us waiting for call-ups, all eager to get muddy, go fast, and praying not to blow up. I saw a ton of my friends, chatted them up for a minute, but then we all promptly got down to business.
Call-ups were by leaders and then last digit of bib numbers. I had the privilege of starting in the back of the middle of the pack, where all the bottle-necking happens.
We started slowly, everyone trying to find an opportunity to pass, to get a better position from which to attack. I hung back for a few, lacking the confidence a course preview would have afforded. My first lap was focused toward familiarizing myself with the course, feeling out my ride, and making sure I was ready to attack when I had the chance. There were lots of long straight sections, great for flat-out acceleration and passing. Some soft gravel in the first few turns would need to be avoided, as well as some rather large, very HARD river rocks. Next were some muddy corners, and then a fun, steep run-up that led to what would be the finish line. A tight corner and a few more yards and we came to the first barrier, a single 14” high orange wood standard crusade barrier. After was a long loose left corner on a double track dam road, the back end of which was riddles by river rocks. After negotiating the river rocks and trying to pick the smoother of the two lanes, there was a soft right downhill into a decent little left, followed by a hairpin right turn to a left turn over a bridge. This was the start of the only real tech section of the course. The downhill was fun, but the speed could only be carried if we picked the perfect line. And then the speed had to be dropped immediately for the hairpin, out of which we needed patience before accelerating, as that wood bridge on the left turn was not as wide as it could have been. (I almost went off it every single lap) After the bridge were a few short straights followed by sharp, muddy corners, a mellow little climb, and then a fun little woops section through some trees and into a sharp right turn and onto the long paved section of the course. This was where I could have used a bigger gear. I found myself spinning like a track sprinter in a full tuck, hands in my drops, all the way around the 3 gradual corners of the pavement. After the pavement was a short dirt straight that led into a nice little rocky run-up, and then a circle around a huge burn pile and a few more technical corners on mixed mud and river rock. After which we did a little gradual climb back onto some more pavement, with a 180 degree turn at the far end, bringing us back into the start of lap 2.
After the crowd spaced out, and I knew what to expect, I started to accelerate slowly. I wanted to pace myself so the run-ups wouldn’t kill me, but there were so many opportunities to slash seconds, and the course was super fast. I spent most of the race in my drops, accelerating through turns for traction, and pulling for speed. I picked off 2 or 3 people per lap, and kept accelerating all the way through to the finish.
I always seem to find myself wishing I’d gone out harder in the beginning at races, because I don’t know my limits or my fitness as well as I should. Today, knowing that, and remembering feeling too relaxed in the middle of my race yesterday, I poured it on and never let up. I only wish I’d tried harder to pick off more people in the first 2 laps.
My last 2 laps felt like my fastest, and that has been a constant goal of mine, so that felt pretty good.
Came in 60th out of about 90. I’m not happy with the results, but I’m happy with the process. I even ran an extra lap after the finish, because I loved the course and it seemed like it would hurt less than an abrupt stop. It may have been my fastest lap of the day.
I heard the leaders were pulling times under 8:00. That seems pretty realistic for how fast the course felt. Maybe with a bigger gear, or more than 1 gear, I may have been closer to 8:20 laps.
I’m toying with the idea of racing in the C Category, to see how I compete against people with the same lack of experience as me. (Read: To place in the top 10 and stroke my ego) But I like the challenge and the camaraderie of the SS category, and I have so many friends racing in this category, it seems like I’d be better served picking a couple of them as targets and trying to beat whichever one is riding best that day.
Anyway, enough of my rambling. It was a great race, a great day, and it’s been an awesome Cross Season here in Portland!