Greasy. Not cheap diner greasy. Not mechanic's overalls greasy. But greasy where there is a thin layer of slippery slimey mud covering the hard packed soil underneath. That was the theme for the Cyclocross Revolution course at Sprinker Recreation Center.
There was some chill in the air and rain showers on and off all day. I arrived early for my second weekend using the trainer during my pre race ritual. In a nutshell the new ritual is:
1. Preview the course for one lap.
2. Get completely geared up and then stash backup wheels in the pits.
3. Preview and pre warmup on the course for about 20 minutes.
4. Finish warming up on trainer until about 'ten to go'.
So far this is working well for me and the time on the trainer helps calm my pre race jitters.
Another Cyclopath, Mark this time, was present at the race. We chatted about the course and I steered him towards the best viewing areas which were all on the opposite side of the park from the parking lot.
The layout was especially spectator friendly this year. The back side of the course has ridge running down the center of it. The layout had racers riding up and down the sides of the ridge but left a good area at the top open for spectating. The elevation of the ridge gave the spectators a panoramic view of various parts of the course.
I lined up in a position to be on the inside of the first corner. My launch was good and I easily stayed in the top 5 going into the first corner. The third corner was especially slick and claimed a rider in front of me. By the fourth corner I was into second and content to follow the wheel in front of me.
The race was adequately intense with riders including myself continually gaining a little here or loosing a little there through each challenging corner. But my race was almost scripted. I would gain a position or two in the slimier sections and through the tight turns in the section called 'the pit'. Then I'd reign in my ambitions on the straights to keep my heart rate under control and watch a rider or two slip past. I slipped as far back as fifth as the race wore on and also found myself in the lead a few times.
From my perspective my pace was consistent with the position changes being attributed to extra effort being made by the riders around me. But my Garmin took the weekend off so I do not have lap time data to substantiate my claim.
At the end third lap a rider came by with authority going into the barriers. He disappeared pretty quickly. He must have been biding his time and I correctly presumed the rest of us would be racing for second.
Near the end of the fourth lap I quickly went from second to fourth as two riders came by. As we crossed the line and '1 lap to go' flashed on the board the intensity clicked up. Going from the paved section back onto the dirt I found myself between these two. The lead rider came in hot, hit the brakes hard, and I slid right up next to him while the third rider brushed past on my other side. We had worked too hard to be risking a foolish tangle and I backed off and followed these two for a bit. When we reached the tree section one of them washed out his fron tire in a slow corner and then cheered me on as he righted his bike.
The tree section ends where 'the pit' section begins. There were a couple corners where I was the only rider taking some pretty bizarre lines. But these lines were keeping my tires on the fresh grass, out of the grease, and getting me through the corners faster or with less effort. By choosing one of these off grease lines I dispatched the rider in front of me to regain second place. At the next corner I clicked into six minute mode.
Six minute mode wasn't discovered in six minutes. I've been mentally recording my last lap perceived effort and respiration rate since about December of last year. This year I'm refining what my 'go all race' effort feels like. And I've learned as long as I've not exceeded my 'go all race' pace that I have about six minutes of 'go harder' before my body surrenders.
Six minute mode allows me to ride like the stronger racers around me. Out of the saddle to accelerate. Keep the pressure on the pedals down the straights even if it means wasting those precious Joules with the brakes. Looking for seconds instead of looking to conserve energy.
At Sprinker when we exited 'the pit' I had a couple seconds on third place. Over the next minute or two that gap doubled. It felt good to hammer a bit with the confidence that I could hold this pace through the end of the race.
At about two minutes to go I estimated the gap behind to be ten seconds but I did not relent as I could now see the leader ahead. As I entered the last set of barriers I could see him remounting. I accepted my finish position and ran the barriers carefully. And just as I remounted my breathing went into overdrive. I pushed the last couple hundred yards to cross the line with my respiration rate at 'eleven'. During my cooldown, as the oxygen was replenished, I was filled with the satisfaction of having played my cards well.
Much to my surprise my friend David had worked his way through traffic and finished third. From a third row start. On his single speed. Impressive.
After the race Mark and I walked to the pits together and talked about the race. He had figured out how to use the viewing area to his advantage and it was encouraging to hear him cheering me on multiple times per lap. Thanks Mark. He also mentioned that my speed through 'the pit' section was a big advantage over my competition. I wished I could have witnessed the race from Mark's perspective. His race review would certainly be better than mine.
After wiping the mud off my face and chipping most of it off my shins I put my muddy kit and bike in the back of the truck and headed home. On the short drive I thought about how cool it was to have another Cyclopath attend the race and cheer me on. And how nice it was that I could have my best race of the season with Mark in attendance.