This was a non-series race, which is fine because I didn't want a race to be the first time I took my new Kona off-road, and it was. But it's not one that counts toward my standing in the series I'm doing. I did pretty much the same thing this time as last time in terms of going to the race early to pre-ride, etc. The course had some sections on real, honest-to-goodness singletrack, which made me happy, and it passed through a volleyball court at one point, which was a really sadistic choice. Anyway, I did my usual thing - got there early, pre-rode, registered, watched the 9:30 race, etc. It was raining, though, which added a little spice to the undertaking. I tried to look at people actually doing sections of the track when I was watching and I learned some interesting things - for example the traction on the sand in the volleyball court was so bad that guys who got off their bikes and ran it actually passed the guys trying to ride it. The organizers also decided to eliminate the barrier at the bottom of the run-up, such as it was, and replace it with two barriers in the middle. I thought that was a good choice because when I pre-rode, I found that the barrier was in a place that made a dismount super-awkward and potentially dangerous (more than cyclocross already is.)
When my race got called up, I found myself a spot near the back of the pack at the starting line, on the idea that if I wasn't planning to explode out of the gate, try for the holeshot, and spend the whole course standing up and hammering, something I'm not really in good enough shape to do, it would be better not to spend the race getting passed either. The men's category 4 field was 70 riders deep, so as soon as the course had its first turn there was a bottleneck and there were more bottlenecks at the following 180s and the volleyball court. The race actually slowed down enough for me to dismount and smack-talk at these points. The volleyball court slowed the field enough that when people got going again they were spread enough not to have another major traffic jam until the first singletrack section, a very short loop that entered and left the woods surrounding the race course. The next singletrack was another bottleneck, and that problem cropped up pretty much every time the course ventured into mountain bike territory. On the trails, I was passing riders from time to time, but there were some 180s in the infield that went under trees and had roots and loose soil complicating them and those gave me lots of trouble.
On the second and third laps I got to push my speed a little bit, although I never charged because I didn't want to blow myself out before the fourth lap. I ended up falling a couple of times when my rear tire wiped out on the wet grass and almost fell once when I decided to do a powerslide. Note to remember: Regaining traction on 35mm tires is much harder than on 2.1" tires.
I banged my front left shifter a couple of times and during the fourth lap I got it so far off-angle that I couldn't operate the brake properly. Since it's my front brake, I stopped at that point and shoved it back, more-or-less, into place before continuing. That lost me a couple of places and since it was during the fourth lap I was never able to regain them. I actually passed those guys running through the volleyball court, but I couldn't get back into my pedals fast enough when I remounted to maintain my advantage.
Ultimately I finished 62nd in a field of 70. I'm not totally sure how to interpret that. I finished 85th in the last race, but in a much larger field. The most charitable view would be that the twenty guys I beat and sixteen guys I didn't decided not to come today, and I beat eight guys who beat me last week. Or I could figure that the top guys didn't bother to come because this is a non-series race and so I did worse. I guess I'll have to wait until the next SCX race and see how I do.
Things that worked for me in this race were that the course involved singletrack, my bike was better, and my legs were rested enough for me to race harder than last week. I think that my idea about taking the day off two days before a race and doing an easier ride the day before was a good one, and I'm going to keep doing that.
Things that didn't work for me were that I may have sold myself a little short in my starting position and lost places because of that, that I had a really hard time keeping the rubber side down, that the bolts holding my shifters on weren't tight enough, and that I could have done better if I had more aerobic capacity at really high effort. Also that I frequently got stuck behind slower riders on the singletrack sections. At the end of the race, my back hurt like crazy, so I think my handlebars are too low.
The biggest thing for me to ride better races through the season is probably to work on my aerobic capacity up at really high heart rates. Tomorrow I'm going to do a chill-out ride, but that leaves me with Monday-Thursday to train, depending on work. With Thursday as a recovery ride, I have three rides to play with. I think a fast road ride, a fast off-road ride, and an intervals ride would be a good use of my time. I also think that I need to work on keeping the rubber side down. I don't know how many places I lost falling or how much energy I wasted getting started again, but I'm sure it was significant. I need to start doing some off-roading on my cyclocross bike, and it occurs to me that I can do that on my chill days if I don't go too hard. I think that to ride a better race next week I also need to keep tweaking my equipment - I'm going to try raising my bars a little and tipping them down a little more, since I found I rode the drops most of the time in the race and that would make them more comfortable, and I'm going to try running my tires at 35psi instead of 40, which should give me better traction. I'm also going to make the bolts on my shifters a lot tighter. Having to stop and fix a mechanical problem was really irritating, but nobody's lining up to sponsor me and have a duplicate bike waiting in the pits for me to trade to if I have an issue.
So another race where I finished all the laps, wasn't the last person to do that, and didn't kill myself. I also had much more fun than last time.