They say that you are only as good as your last result. This is a mantra that I've always taken to heart, be that for good or bad. In many cases, one could argue, that line of reasoning is flawed if not just plain stupid. Unfortunately, my crazy mind tends to think that way, so that is what I am left with at the end of the day. After all, results don't lie, right? Last Saturday was the second race in the New England based Root 66 mountain bike race series, the Massasoit Lung Opener at Massasoit State Park in Taunton, MA. Last season marked the return of this event after some years of downtime. We were, however, unable to attend the event last year and as such this was our first time racing the venue in modern history. I say that because I'm not certain that we didn't sample the venue in a previous life. The race is promoted by a great group of folks and friends from the multi-discipline bicycle racing scene and is a benefit for a good cause, so you didn't have to twist too hard to get us to register.
As predicted by the various weather prognosticators, the weather Saturday was somewhat less that stellar. The temperature was in the low 40's, there was a slight rain and it was windy. Motivation was once again low, this time weather and general health induced. I was sick with a cold and I could tell Cathy was throwing out the bail out hook as we dressed for the day. I did have a purpose though, I wanted to try and redeem myself from last week. It would be a long time living with my crazy thoughts until the next opportunity would present itself so I felt compelled to take advantage of this opportunity. Besides, though I hate, hate, hate mud and crappy weather, I tend to perform pretty well in mud and/or adverse conditions. Once I get into the race the conditions don't seem to affect me the way they do some. Basically, suffering is still suffering, regardless of whether the sun is out or it's snowing.
The drive to Taunton was uneventful and as we arrived, it actually seemed to dry up a bit. We checked in and suited up for a pre-ride of at least part of the course. Once out, the trails seemed to be mostly dry and in good shape. The terrain was lightly rolling with tight and twisty singletrack. There were ample exposed roots but very few rocks. The rises on the portion we sampled we short and steep but no problem. The general feel was that the course would be power sucking and would afford little opportunity to recover. Passing opportunities seemed to be much better than at last week's venue. The start was on pavement and long enough that most hole-shot and slide artists would not be able to hold it to the trail-head. Good stuff, things are looking up.
About 45 minutes before the race was scheduled to depart, the rains returned and visited for the remainder of the event. What felt comfortable at riding temperature before the rain, now felt bone chilling and raw. Things were no longer looking up. Fortunately, I noticed that although not pre-registered, Brian, the man who had put the hurt on me last week, decided to race and was on-site. I would be granted a rematch and I really wanted to make good on it. Shortly there after we were all standing on the line, shivering in the wind and driving rain, waiting for the whistle so we could get on with the task at hand. I think for most, it was the desire to simply get this race in the books with the hope that we would once again be clean, dry and warm. The wish was granted and we were off.
Immediately I flew out of my pedal, flailing I got clipped back in and sprinted to attach to the only wheel that I'd predetermined mattered, Brian's. I managed to complete the task and we hit the woods one and two. From there we traded turns and worked well together, with Brian displaying more strength and composure than I. We were both suffering from frozen hands and feet which made it tough to shift and stay clipped in. The normal start of the ride cold hands and feet caused by lack of warming blood to the extremities during the initial surge seemed amplified and highly extended as the respite and recovery didn't seem to come. I fumbled and floundered with popping out of the pedals, missed shifts and hitting sections in the wrong gears.
It was ugly out there. Brian spend most of the first few miles in the lead, I suspect so I wouldn't C.H. him and partly because he was just plain feeling stronger. He was in fact, in control and I was just hanging on. It was with surprise that when I took a turn on the front on a long flat power section, a gap opened up. I backed off a little as I didn't really want to spend the rest of the day out ahead solo. We soon hit the first of what would be three virtually unrideable, rooted, steep hills. I heard Brian say something and it sounded as though he may have had some chainsuck. I scrambled over the hill and then on the backside came into a blind hard left after a drop and stacked into the fallen tree in the corner, driving myself into the tail of the saddle. I called out the turn to Brian and got back on the bike to set tempo. Unfortunately, he was not there and I never saw him again.
The laps ticked by ever so slowly, punctuated by worsening conditions. My old coach and generally really nice guy, Frankie was out cheering for his boy's who were ripping it up in the Cat1 Junior race. His words of encourage were always welcome and appreciated as were those of NEBC teammates near the start/finish. I caught a number of friends in other classes and would try and yell encouragement as I did my best to maintain forward progress and avoid the pitfall of complacency obtained by settling in behind caught riders. It is far too easy to fall into that trap as it takes a surge of effort to pass, anyone, they are moving along just fine, and the pace they are at isn't necessarily comfortable, it's just less uncomfortable than the pace you were at before you caught them. The trick is to keep moving forward, a trick that I found really difficult on Saturday.
The last lap was horrendous. I started off with a gel that stuck in my throat and a muddy pull at the nipple of my Camelback that was more mud than drink. Trail conditions had deteriorated to thick, sticky and ultra slick mud that robbed traction on all fronts. The roots never really seemed to be glacial but the mud made up for it. The hot line was the side of the trail, in the pine needles and leaves and away from the viscous wet loam. This meant you picked up all sorts of debris to be deposited on your drive-train and in the treads of your tires, robbing you of traction and demanding extra power, power than you didn't necessarily have, just to turn the pedals.
On the last of the three stumble uphills, which was only about 1/4 mile from the finish, I saw an approaching rider, that I hadn't seen before. It was a Bikeman rider and I knew that we had a group of them in our race, one of whom I did not know. Panic. I needed to finish it out clean, no mistakes, and go fast, really fast. Fortunately, I managed to stay out front and finish cleanly, so to speak. Better, though there was nothing really smooth about it and I didn't really feel I was in the kind of control that I needed to be in, the kind I think that I've had glimpses of in the past. Goals for the future but at least the minimum requirement was met.
Cathy had an excellent day and hung in like the trooper that she is, despite a chunk of wood wedged in her rear derailleur that barely allowed the chain to move and a cracked jockey pulley that reduced her to 4 usable gears. Even with the handicap she finished in 2nd place for her field and within a handful of minutes of quite a few men that we know. She moved into the overall series lead as well, not that we are necessarily planning to chase the series in its entirety.