Saturday, March 21, 2009

Racing my Mountain Bike as a Mountain Bike

I completed my first mountain bike race a couple hours ago.  Some of my readers might say, "Andrew, you've been racing mountain bikes every now and then since 2000."  That's true, but this is the first time I've raced a mountain bike in a cross-country mountain bike race.

It was awesome!

I tried to ride my mountain bike fast a couple weeks ago, and it was really, really fun.  I also have a blast racing cyclocross, so I was fairly confident that I'd enjoy mountain bike racing, enough that I planned my summer around it and starting getting out on bikes again in January in order to start establishing a good base for going fast starting a couple weeks ago.  But I also had a nagging worry that maybe I just wouldn't like it.  Maybe all the things I love about riding my mountain bike would be taken away in racing it, maybe it would be too long a race for the type of athlete I am, maybe I would just suck too much as a mountain biker to be competitive and have fun.

Anyway, when I got to the registration tent to sign up, my trepidation increased.  I asked to sign up as a beginner, and they said that I could but noone else was racing that class.  I signed up in the next class up, "Sport," and figured that I wouldn't judge my racing ability by how I did in this race.  At the start line, I put myself behind all the other men.  I figure it's poor etiquette to force people to pass me if I'm really not competitive with them - it screws up the other person's race without improving mine.  When the whistle blew, I clipped in, did a little bit of a sprint - nothing hard, just to get up to speed - and found myself near the front.  So I put myself on the leader's rear wheel, figuring I'd just try to stay in contact with the lead group for the first half of the race.

The course started with a long, relatively gentle fire road climb.  I felt like I was starting to work a little bit too hard at some points, but I wasn't ready to let the leaders go yet either.  So I stayed on them, and even ended up at the front very briefly.  I didn't think I could actually open a gap or maintain it for another hour and a half, so I downshifted and cruised.

I was feeling pretty cool until we hit the singletrack.  I've been riding on the road a ton, but I've been pretty bad about going out and riding singletrack - I can hop on my road bike any time I want to, but I have to drive to ride my mountain bike.  Anyway, it was twisty, with tight uphill turns and some roots and erosion barriers that I had a hard time getting over.  I lost the three leaders, but, if I remember correctly, I didn't actually get passed.

I actually ended up catching two of the lead group again after the trail section, but they dropped me again in the next one and one of them I didn't see again until I went and told him, "Good race" afterwards.  It was really fun though - I had no expectation of being competitive, let alone hanging for a while with the guys who won it.  I lost one of the other guys from the lead group for a while, but I saw him again, and caught up with him, near the end.  Someone else also passed me, but I don't remember the circumstances.  He probably passed me either in a trail section or immediately after one.

The course was 15.9 miles long.  My time was 1:23.20.  That means I was cooking along at 11.5mph.  For me, off-road, that's pretty fast.  It was a fast course, but I still rarely maintain that sort of pace even on fire roads.  There were twenty racers who finished.  12-14 men and 6-8 women.  I placed fourth overall, which meant I was pretty competitive with the men as a group, and I actually placed first in my age class.  Granted only two other people were in it, but I'm still pretty stoked about my finish.  Now I have a decision to make, though - I anticipate the competition in the series I'm most interested in to be a little bit stiffer, but if I can race "sport" and do well, I'd rather do that than race beginner and be a sandbagger.

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