past posts, the old course was, frankly, not so great. Thanks to Chris and crew though, the new course is exceptional. It is super twisty and makes incredible use of the side hill that they have to give a race with a modest four mile lap that has a whole lot of punchy climb and a near thirty minute lap time. All this with a great starting straight leading to a tricky high speed corner and slight power up make for a fun, interesting and exciting race. Oh, and they have goats, sheep and chickens to boot.
This year, Cathy and I dragged two of our team mates with us to the race, Kyle and PJ. Kyle is new to MTB racing and this was his second race ever. If you recall, his first foray into the world of MTB racing, at Grafton Pond, began on the ground right after the start thanks to the work of some overzealous racers, who didn't fare nearly as well as Kyle did. PJ has been riding and racing in various incarnations of extreme and ugly competition for years but is a relative newcomer to the world of MTB XC racing. He has caught the bug though and we have shown him the light as to the Root 66 Race Series in New England. He gets it, as does Kyle actually also. Funny, it doesn't take long.
All week I'd been looking toward the Stonewall race as an indicator of fitness and form for the upcoming national championships, which take place in PA in a couple of days. I've been away from the nationals since the last time they were in New England, which was way back in 2008 at Mount Snow. At that race things went fairly well and I finished up third in my race, just behind JB. Since then the yearly event has gone west and has been held at significant elevation. Thus, I have stayed local. This year however I have had the championships on the radar as a primary season goal. This is obviously why I was looking at the Stonewall race anxiously to try and gauge where my fitness was. It had been pretty good most of the season save for a couple of transgressions where I took the volume and intensity a little too far, subsequently paying the price. A quick step back to regroup and then a hard block of big volume saw gains beyond the previous level. Needless to say, I was cautiously optimistic. I say cautiously as I don't believe in being over confident. Nothing good ever comes out of that.
Kyle rode to the venue with us in the van and we coordinated with PJ to all get together for a pre-ride as a team. Off the bat, it was hot. We were into yet another heat wave and it was supposed to follow suit and get really steamy, yet again. Despite the deluge of rain we'd had over the past month, the course was spectacular. Moist and tacky in some spots but not muddy and certainly not the dry, dust bowl that it was the previous year. It was however, evident that the trails were a little older now than last year in that there were roots and rocks getting some exposure. With the humid conditions, some were even a bit slick, making for some additional challenge to the already challenging, tight twists and turns. We all finished up our pre-ride course recon and then looked for shelter from the sun while waiting for the start. Cathy would race the women's Cat1 35+ race while PJ and I were in the Cat1 40-49 group.
At the start I saw that as usual, the 40-49 group was stacked with some stout competition despite the weekend seeing some additional races that detracted mildly from the start list. Direct rival Matt Boobar was on the line as was old friend and mentor Frankie McCormack. Frankie had been coming to the races with his two boys, Brendan and Cameron but at Grafton Pond he decided to jump in and race the elite race. This time he settled in with us old guys in the 40-49 race. This was great, more fuel for the fire. I hope that he has found a new MTB race home and I really like competing against Frankie. His sole presence gives any race legitimacy.
At the whistle my plan was to sit back for the slightly downhill 100 yard sprint through the field but then move to the front as the access road tipped up and lay down some watts. The plan worked perfect as I approached the corner in 4th but came out in position to hit the front and hit it hard. A steady gently rise led to a loose access road left turn and into a slightly steeper rise into the initial single-track trail head. Near the top I was feeling the burn in the legs and lungs as we had been full bore for a couple minutes. As such, I expected to be overtaken but it didn't happen and I hit the single-track first. Ride smooth and go hard I told myself, as always, and it payed well. By the time we dumped onto the next chunk of access road I had a bit of a gap over Matt, small, but still separation. After the next section a little more and so it went. It was a day of small gains with nobody wanting to give an inch freely. At no point in the first lap was I free and clear, I always had someone close enough to see in the switchbacks, which meant that they could see me as well. Dogged.
The next lap I had to back it down a bit. This is often the way a race goes, at least for me, with the first lap being brutally fast and hard and the second often slower, so that some sense of recovery can happen. I could tell that the gap was increasing but I didn't want to let myself get lulled into any false sense of security. Must keep pressing on. Near the end of the second lap on the tricky downhill hairpin leading to a bridge crossing, teammate Kyle yelled a split to me. What I heard was thirty seconds, not the answer that I was looking for given that we were half way through the race and half a minute can wither to nil instantly in a mountain bike race. Must go harder, and so I tried. I later found out that what Kyle said was a minute and thirty seconds, not thirty seconds. That would have made me feel better though I'm not sure that it would have changed anything.
Eventually I made my way through many of the other Cat1 fields that started before us and eventually saw Brendan ahead moving well with a pair of other racers. It took what felt an eternity to actually reach them and when I did, it was in a twisty single-track climb. Rather than push super hard to pass I sat and waited, finally coming by on the long steady straight climb that brings you near the top of the course. After that I saw a caught some of the women and a few other racers who were working hard to keep moving with the stress and heat. I passed Cathy late in the race and she was working hard and looking great. Wish I had her determination, fortitude and ability to suffer. I only caught a few of the elite racers, who on this occasion were doing the same number of laps that we were. Of course I never got anywhere near the top racers in that field as you would expect. There are some really, really fast guys there. Too fast for this old man.
In the end I was fortunate and was able to stay out ahead of the competition. More over, the test was a success. The start was brutally hard and I was able to match it and recover from the initial shock quickly. The endurance held really well and I didn't get the heat and exertion headache as in the previous race. What does all of this mean in terms of the next race? Nothing really I guess other than I think that I have done what I'd hoped to do, training wise toward the end goal. This week I followed my plan and did some short rides with small blocks of intensity built in. The numbers were promising for the few intervals I did, at record power output levels. No huge gains but marginally better than in recorded history, which for me goes back to 2009 with the road bike anyhow.
Cathy finished her race feeling good and looking really strong. She has started to embrace climbing now that we have been drilling into her the fact that she is actually pretty good at it. In fact, this has exposed that the area to work on is with descending and technical sections. We will work on that as in reality, she can and has done really well in those areas, looking back on the days of DH MTB riding.
PJ also had a good solid race with a top ten finish, despite some creative riding through the sharp downhill hairpin near the end of the first lap, which had him sitting on the top-tube. Kyle had the breakthrough of the day though with a stunning performance in the Cat2 40-49 men's field. He has come a long way not only in the short year that he has been riding mountain bikes but in the couple of weeks since his first and only other MTB race, at Grafton Pond. This is what the team is all about, teaching old dogs new tricks and having fun doing it.
So with that, we will see how it goes. I will say simply that I am hopeful. I refuse to let myself be nervous or to make too much of this. A good performance would be nice but again, we will see. And that is all I have to say about that.