Adella went to most of my races with me. She's awesome for supporting me that way, and her observations on my races are always amusing.
If I've learned anything from this series, and from my finishes in it, it's that I need to ride my mountain bike more. I can hang with the faster riders for a while in the flats, although I think the faster guys in my class would beat me in a road race too, and I catch and pass people on climbs, but when the course goes into a singletrack section, I start drifting back.
Yesterday's course had such strongly demarcated different kinds of riding that it really brought this out. It started with a brief gravel road section, then a relatively non-technical climb up some flowing singletrack, with a final section up a narrow service road. I kept myself in mid-pack up to the entrance to the singletrack, in an effort not to get caught behind someone making a mistake, something that happens more the further back in the pack I am. I still ended up getting separated from the front runners there - it was the two riders right behind me who made the mistake. But after I got rolling again, I managed to hold my position and then pass a few people on the fire road section of the climb.
The course stayed on top of a hill in a lot of winding singletrack for a while after that. I didn't lose a ton of places, but I started losing places there and certainly letting the gap in front get bigger. It took people a while to catch me there, though - I definitely bought myself some time attacking the initial climb. When the course went into descending singletrack with a really loose surface, I was really in trouble. I managed not to get myself hurt, but I got passed a ton.
Following the loose descent was a flat, bumpy, windy section. On the first lap, I was still losing places, but I think on the second lap, I managed to keep my position through there. That area felt like it would never end, but eventually it did. There was another, short section of singletrack after that that was relatively flat, and then a last climb up a wide gravel road to the finish. Of course I tried to sprint the finish on the last lap, but I was having trouble shifting into my next chain ring, so I settled for shifting a couple gears on my cassette and rode across the line in the saddle.
I often pick off a few riders in the last lap of a race, and this one was no exception. But something that was interesting to me is that I even managed to drop a guy in the singletrack. I don't know if I passed him earlier in the race, or if he started in a later group and spent the whole race chasing up to my position, but I noticed him when he passed me in some of the flat, bumpy stuff. I figured I'd never see him again, but I managed to stay on his wheel for a while, and then he made a mistake and had to put a foot down. I wasn't able to ride past him, so I ran, and kept running for a little while until the trail got simpler. I was sure I'd see his rear wheel again, but I never did.
I hope that my ability to maintain a good pace at the end of these races is a good indicator of how I'll do in endurance races. I'm going to get called on it in about a month, so it'll be interesting one way or the other.
I'm planning one more traditional XC race this season. I'm planning to go to the Padden Mountain Pedal. This is a long race with a lot of climbing and descending. Honestly, I haven't done that well in it in the past. The climbing is on singletrack, and I don't climb as well when I have to think, or handle my bike. In a way, though, that's good - it'll give me an opportunity to see how I'm doing at what will be one of my two goals for the rest of the spring and the summer - to develop my bike handling skills, and to improve my stamina so I can be really competitive at the 50-mile race I'm planning in August.