Unfortunately, I must be very un-photogenic on the bike, because I again failed to make it into any of the event photos. At the risk of wounding my pride, I shall maintain that I am simply to fast to be photographed. Harrumph.
Sunday was rainy. And grey. And a bit nippy. Not my idea of ideal weather. But the race had to go on.
After signing in at the signing in table in the signing in area, I was presented with a tee shirt, a map of West Virgina, and a sticker. The tee shirt was grey, small, and cotton. The sticker had an adhesive backing. The map was paper. None of the above (or beside depending on the width of your monitor) has any relevance. But I thought I should share anyway.
After my mandatory quadruple pre-race water closet breaks, I rolled up to the start about a minute before the race began. I lined up in the back again.
(I'm the handsome devil astride the orange and lime steed)
The course started with a mellow climb up a paved road. I did my best to stay with the geared riders, and to my surprise, I was fairly successful. By success I mean that I wasn't dropped and spit out by the pack, left wheezing on the road side.
We made a turn onto gravel, and the trail narrowed down. I started working my way around a few riders. Before long, I spotted Gerry Pflug in all his black and orange stripped strippieness. I made some passes and tried to get up with him, assuming that if I could stay close to him I would have a good finish. He kept passing riders in the single track, and I tried to follow, but I just was not making my passes happen as quickly. After a few minutes he was gone.
I settled into a pace and tried to stay smooth. At this point, the trails were a little moist, and traction was sketchy in places, but nothing was unrideable. I was probably a bit to cautious on some turns, but I had qualifying for track and field states in the back of my mind the whole race. I did not want to crash and get hurt. (I have to admit that I am still primarily a distance runner. At least until May 22nd)
The pack thinned significantly, and my passing essentially came to an end. I kept pedaling away and making good turns. The course was almost all cut into the side of a hill, so it kept me on mi toes the whole time. The trail was starting to get a little muddy, and I was starting to get a little glad that I was running a fender.
Before long, I hit a much dreaded section of downhill switchbacks. I sped down them, made the first turn, pedaled up to speed, braked for the second turn, and promptly shot off the trail. Two riders passed me. I'm not even sure where they came from. I shook it off, and the race was on again.
I did hammered to try to stay with the two passing riders. I kept with them on the climbs and flats, but as usual, I lost a little ground on the descents. I hit another switchback section, and noticed this fine gentleman on my tail.
He passed me on a section similar to the one I was currently on last race. I was determined not to let it happen again. I weighted my front wheel and managed to keep my bike on the trail through the turns. I struck out and pedaled away from him.
At the bottom of the hill there were a series of wooden bridges. On the first one, about six feet in the air, I almost lost it. I yanked my bars back to the right and averted a disaster. "Ohh hoo whoo. That's a trixy one!" I shouted to the legions of on lookers. They were greatly impressed with my manly man speech.
I hammered up a hill (its a common theme on this course. I don't recollect much flat ground.) Pulled nails out (opposite of hammering.) on the way down, and was spit onto a section of road. The fine gentleman from Trek, we'll call him Stephen, (only because I think that's his name.) was still behind me. I put in a mighty effort on the road, and actually pulled away from him while catching up to another SSer. I grabbed a water at the aid station, almost knocking over one of the helpers (lo siento. and thanks for the agua) and climbed back into the woods. To my extreme surprise, Pflug appeared about 30 meters ahead of me.
As I caught up with him, I noticed he was standing an awful lot. On closer inspection, I discovered that his seatpost was missing. I spent the next 10 minutes trying to think of something witty to say to him.
"Rigid SS not hard enough for ya?" was the least lame thing I could muster in my anaerobic state.
His retort was nearly as clever: "Yeah. Right?"
I passed him, but he stayed right behind. The trail was getting extremely muddy now. We were covered in the greasy brown stuff, but I hardly noticed. We were routed back onto the trail for a second lap, and the real mud began.
I'm going to assume that the sport and beginners also rode this section of trail, because it was completely torn apart. My speed slowed to a crawl. I couldn't get out of the saddle because the traction was so bad. I came off the bike at one point, causing Gerry and Steve (who had caught back up) to do the same. Gerry ran and did a cyclocross mount, swinging his leg perfectly across the saddle. Or so he thought.
But he still had no saddle. I'm not sure how he avoided mashing his delicates, but he seemed ok. Steve decided that since he could spin a nice low gear and keep traction, he would pass. Then Gerry went. I was alone again.
I passed three people with clipboards and asked each one how many miles were left. I was getting tired, and I think my inexperience was showing. I kept slogging along in the mud, hoping the finish was near.
I found Stephen on the trailside a few miles later with a flat. I raced by, and he DNF'ed for the day. After climbing a hill, I finally got a definite distance to the finish from someone.
"1/2 mile to go!"
"That's it? really?" I shouted back. But I didn't wait for the reply. I gave all I had left.
Then I crashed. (it was really slippery. i can't be blamed.)
I rolled in the last few meters without incidence. I was pleased, and figured that I at least had a decent finish.