This time, I feel like I pretty much got it right. I got there in time to register, and while I didn't ride the whole course, I rode the more technical sections. The park is mostly flat, with three hills in it. One of them is wooded, and the riding there is fairly technical. The others are not, and the riding is mostly pretty simple.
One of the things I didn't pre-ride was the start. It went down a road, and then some doubletrack, and then took a sudden turn up a short boot pack through some grass. On the line up the middle, that was ridable, but it was a lot more difficult to either side. I'd decided I would just stay in contact with the pack and then try to do something with the race once there were some hills to work with. A couple of positions up, a guy didn't manage to keep his line on the boot pack, and put a foot down. I was thinking I'd go to his left, but he moved more to the left, and I ended up running the section. While that put me at the back of the pack, I was still in contact until I tried to remount, went too far, and ended up in the grass. Oops! Once I was sorted out, the pack had a gap on me. Including the guy who'd made the mistake in the first place.
I had a little schadenfreude when I caught up with him, bouncing up and down on his suspension and failing to climb a short, steep, loose pitch leading to the next part of the course. I cleaned that on all three laps. It didn't take me too long to chase back onto the tail end of my class, but by that time they'd already mixed in with the 19-29 men and the juniors, and the fastest couple of 40+ men were starting to show up. I never really know where I am in a XC race, and clearly this was to be no exception.
During lap 2, I ended up right behind one of the kids who was racing. I guess I was probably lapping him, but the organizers let the kids go in the first wave, so I'm not really sure. It was on a loose descent on the wooded hill and I wasn't about to start yelling at him to get out of the way, so I just hung out on his wheel until he pulled over on his own. By then, a couple of other guys were behind me. I think they knew what I was doing, because nobody asked for a pass.
That descent was the last part of the course on the little hill, and then there were about three quarters of a mile of riding through the grass. I was sure the guy behind me would pass as soon as we hit the flats, but he didn't. I figured he must be drafting off of me and not talking, because I couldn't hear him, but I decided I didn't care, chose a gear I thought I could sustain until it turned back into a mountain bike course, and channeled my inner time trialist. Strangely, I actually managed to drop him. I felt warm and fuzzy about that, because usually my strong suit on a MTB course is climbing, as long as it's not too complicated, and I can't do all that much when I'm mostly pushing air. Later, I drafted off of someone else who passed me - it was that simple, and that fast, on that part of the course.
During the last lap, my teammate Kim, who's very, very fast and in her first season of racing mountain bikes, and winning every time she starts, after her first season of 'cross last Fall, caught up to me. We rode some of the wooded hill together - I can stay with her on a climb - and then she disappeared into the woods once the descending started.
Once out of the trees, I time-trialed to the finish and did my usual sprint across the finish. I felt generally sore over my whole body, which I think is a good thing - having more specific soreness indicates an imbalance, I think.
Adella, who is awesome for coming to my races with me, did a faux-liveblog of the morning. It's much better than what I thought a liveblog of a MTB race would be.
So last year, I finished 8th, out of 12 finishers. This time, I finished 7th, out of 12 finishers again. Moving up! I feel like I'm better in longer races. The big problem I have with these short races is that as long as they don't need to do it too long, a lot of the other guys in Sport class can put out more power than I can. In 2009, I tended to go fast and then make mistakes and while I'm riding a lot cleaner now, I'm not spending as much time on my bike (funny how having school and a life will do that) and I'm heavier. So I know what I should be working on next winter, and even this summer, but with the last race of the series a week away, I'm not going to make any progress now. I'm planning to reincorporate intervals in my training next week. I have a XC race in late July that may tell me something about how that's working, if I actually do the intervals days.