Mud, rocks, roots, rain, blood and a beating.
Coz and I left a rainy Seattle for the long journey south. We brought extra provisions and our passports just in case. Grey skies and off and on rain gave us a preview of the race conditions. Amid a sea of fast food restaurants and strip malls we found the wooded venue of Frontier Park.
After an unceremonious warm up and a couple pre-ride laps I concluded that I could ride ten laps on this course and still not be familiar with it. It was a bit of a dog’s breakfast. It felt like an endless series of serpentine sharp corners that gave the course a barrel racing feel. Accelerate, then brake late and hard into the sharp corner, make the turn at almost a dead stop then accelerate out of it. Repeat until blown. Once blown continue one more lap.
Loose rocks and mud in various proportions made the corners very inconsistent from one to the next. The corners also featured the full spectrum of cambers and uphill/downhill combinations. There was a corner with a high berm you could hit fast and bounce off of. Ten seconds later you came upon a sharp left hand corner that featured an off-camber drop that was a combination of roots and wet golf ball sized rocks that managed to take me down in my race. Other corners featured water saturated mud bogs and some had sketchy dry gravel.
In between corners it was either wet single track with baby heads, lumpy grass or loose gravel. There was one section of chipped wood just to tick all the boxes. Tree roots added unnecessary complexity as did the variety of water saturation levels.
There were sweeping corners where the outside line was fast and smooth and others where it was a bumpy mess. As the day wore on there were spots where the course decomposed so the line between loose and firm was moving lap by lap. What worked on lap two didn’t on lap four.
The bottom line was that for me, it was impossible to find a rhythm. When you can carry speed through corners and keep the RPMS consistent it is possible to get a feeling of flow on a course. This isn’t the Cross Revolution way. They seem to pride themselves on disrupting any hope of a flowing, euro-style course. The ghost of Seattle Cyclocross and a maze of 180 degree turns is alive and well.
There was only one section where you could accelerate for more than ten seconds. My hands still ache from braking and wrestling the front wheel. The course required no less than five dismounts per lap. I usually do well at courses that have a lot of running but this was not my cup of mud.
The race started hot and heavy and were onto loose gravel in fifty meters travelling at full speed. If someone had plowed a front wheel the cartwheeling carnage would have been epic. After the gravel the leading riders took a wrong turn and headed into the pit at full speed. This moment of confusion was short-lived and we regrouped at the pit exit. After running a series of four logs we dipped and ducked into the forest.
Ninety seconds of racing and my chance to count our group to see my current place was gone forever. The course would veer in and out of the trees so you only had visibility of those within ten or fifteen seconds ahead of, or behind you.
On the third of five laps I had grown my gap on Marshall but I went down when I washed out my front wheel on a loose off-camber downhill corner. I popped back up and remounted just ahead of Marshall and stomped on the pedal. It spun as if the chain was off. It was.
<<Insert whispered profanity here>>
I assumed the familiar posture of a man leaned over his bike putting his chain back on. By the time I was rolling again Marshall had fifty meters on me and I started the chase. “Not all at once,” I coached myself.
For the fourth and fifth laps I considered trying to bunny hop the barriers in an attempt to close the gap on Marshall. Each time, wisdom prevailed and I behaved like a man with responsibilities. I drew closer and was only one turn back as we crossed the line with one lap to go. I took momentary comfort that I hadn’t been lapped by the single speeders or the 45 plus Cat 3 guys.
When I got close in the corners I kept shouting to Marshall that I was coming for him. This was in good fun and he appreciated the attention. On the only pavement section he got out of the saddle and drilled it. Maybe I should have kept quiet. I had to fight to hold the gap. Marshall is a dedicated mountain bike racer and he used the technical single track sections to build a gap.
I accelerated hard out of the corners trying to close the gap but traffic was now an issue and I was forced to wait to pass slower riders from other cats. The loose corners suggested a bit of discretion as well.
By the time Marshall finished he had grown the gap back to the size he had when I first remounted. I rolled in to claim a top ten finish which met my objective but Marshall had become my target during the race and he beat me fair and square.
When I got back to the car I washed the mud and blood off my knee and only when I changed clothes did I realize my hip and shoulder also had some scrapes. This is racing and it is what I had signed up for. I was cooked and was glad for company on the long drive back home.
Coz took fourth in our competitive field and also lamented the aftereffects of the technical, if not abusive, course.
Tri-geeks get all excited about transition time and mine came when I pulled into my driveway. Hottie and I were having dinner with my daughter and her family which necessitated catching a ferry. Less than twenty minutes after hitting the driveway in WW2 full of bike and mud, Hottie and I were pulling out with a freshly washed Evo and a garage full of muddy stuff awaiting my return.
We made the ferry and had a great evening.