After last week at 5-mile, I decided to prepare a little better for this race. I headed over to Racer's to stans my tires, adjust my front derailleur, and make sure my seat post wasn't going to slip again. I got a good night's rest (which I usually have a hard time doing the night before a race) and woke up feeling good. I loaded up the kids and headed to Sardine Canyon to meet my parents, who were gracious enough to watch the little rascals while I raced, as well as hand me bottles as I went through the feed zone.
The race started at a pretty decent clip. Apparently I wasn't the only one who thought it was important to start near the front going into the 1-track, because I was in only in 5th position when the trail narrowed. We rounded the first few corners without changing positions, and I could already see a few riders trying to gap the rest of us. I jumped up to the 4th spot, and then the first 2 riders created a gap, so I jumped up to third and it wasn't long before before the rest of the field was "put into difficulty", as Phil or Paul would say (I can never remember who is who), and we rode with each other until one of the first climbs. The other two each took a couple of pulls on the front while I was still trying to decide how my legs were feeling. While we were feeling each other out, I noticed that one of the guys was breathing heavy, and when I say "heavy", I mean that I had to take a second look to make sure I wasn't riding next to Darth Vader. I figured he was going to blow up at any minute, and it would be a two man race. I decided to take a turn at the front, and to my surprise, I looked back a minute later and I'd gapped the other two by about 5 seconds.
I was feeling good, so I kept pushing, hoping to open the gap. After a few minutes I looked back to see if I had done any damage, and noticed that I could only see the loud breather. I went through the back section of downhill singletrack, and luckily I remembered the quick right turn and climb in the middle from when I raced Sherwood 2 years ago. By the time I exited the woods and reentered the meadow, I couldn't see the guy. I tried to keep the momentum through the home stretch of the first lap, but I had a tough time powering through the flatter bumpier stuff, although I do think that the 29er helped minimize the damage. I hit the hike-a-bike, which I didn't expect at all. My transition wasn't very fast (I shoulda done more CX races) and by the time I got back on my bike, the breather was breathing down my neck again. I realized I had underestimated him, and he wasn't going to blow up after all. He might be a heavy breather, but he had staying power.
The next two laps were more of the same - I'd put time on #2 on the climby first half, and he'd start to pull me back on the flatter and bumpier second half. I was hurting on the 3rd lap, but forced myself to keep using the middle ring on the climbs, since I'm sure if I had dropped into the granny, I would have stopped pushing as hard, and I knew my best chance to gain time was on the climbs. When all was said and done, I crossed the line in first place, about 25 seconds ahead of second. It was my first win in the sport class.
A couple of thoughts:
*A year ago, I swore off the heart rate monitor during races because I decided I'd be better off racing by feel. I gave the HRM another shot on this race and I actually liked having it. I completely ignored it during the first lap when I knew my heart rate would be through the roof. On the next two laps, if I noticed that my heart rate was getting low, it would motivate me to push harder because I knew I could sustain a higher effort.
*I guess I knew this already, but it's now more evident than ever that it's impossible to win even one race without feeling the pressure to move up. Apparently, if you were fast enough to win, then you shouldn't have been there in the first place. I guess that's a good thing, but I'll tell you what. When I moved up to the Sport class, I figured I'd never see the podium again, let alone win. So now that I have, I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts, because if I don't enjoy this, what do I have to look forward to? I'll always enjoy racing for the same crazy reasons we all do, but my odds of winning an Expert race are slim to none (yeah, I know I said the same thing about the sport class, but let's be realistic). So while I'm here, I might even commit the disgraceful act of trying to win again before I take my place at the back of the expert class.
*Best quote of the day came from my 3 yr old after the race: "Daddy, you need to slow down because nobody else can keep up with you." Hey, what she doesn't know won't hurt her.