Long gone were the glorious moments of victory I held in the Desert Rampage ICUP race held about a month ago. I had accomplished what I'd set out to do throughout the winter--beat myself down hard enough on the trainer to start the season off strong. It had paid off, but now came challenge #2--Cholla Challenge, that is.
The second ICUP race of the season--Cholla Challenge--was down in Hurricane, UT (read: Hurr-i-CUN, yeah, I know, it's weird). Since the weather up here in Northern Utah has only been so-so, I was very excited to get back down to the warmth of the St. George area. I had kept a fairly strong training regimen to prepare for race #2 of the season. The only thing that saved me during those crappy-weather days in which I had to ride the trainer were the NCAA basketball tournament games. I'm not a huge sports buff, but while watching college basketball, I can just zone out and ride for a couple hours.
I had pretty moderate expectations entering this next race. I wasn't anticipating a victory or anything, but I wanted to have a good showing. I got down to Hurricane on Friday evening to do a quick pre-ride of the course and found it to have short downhills, not a lot of climbing, and plenty of rocks to roll over on the flats. The course essentially played to my weaknesses (especially on the rocky flats since I'm still sporting a 26" bike--the horror!). Regardless, I completed a lap of the course at an easy pace and told myself, "Do what you can chucklehead, cause you're going to get your butt kicked tomorrow." Oh, did I mention race-time temperatures were expected to be ~80 degrees with wind gusts 10 - 20 MPH++? Should be fun.
Woke up the next morning in Virgin, UT (where I was staying), downed some oatmeal with The Wife's homemade peach jam, packed up my stuff and headed to the course. I arrived early enough to have plenty of time to not only warm up, but also warm up again. And again. And again. One benefit, though, of arriving too early is that I didn't have a long wait in line to make my pre-race deposit in the porta-potties (and there was still TP available).
Unlike the Desert Rampage, the expert men 19 - 29 started 3rd (Pros went first, then expert men 30 - 39). Now comes the clarification point as to why this post is titled 'Carrots.' Starting AFTER the expert men 30 - 39 was actually a very strong motivating factor to race hard and catch fellow racers up ahead. Essentially, I had a pack of 'carrots' (my driving factor / incentive) that I was working to catch / pass the entire race. I think that it actually translates into a faster race time.
Lining up at the start, it looked as though there would be nine of us in the exp. 19 - 29 category (one more than in St. George, even though only four finished that race). A few familiar faces from the last race, but a couple of 'Cole Sports' jerseys stood out--one guy had long, scraggly enough hair and a couple days of facial hair growth to come off as intimidating; and since I am generally a wimp, I knew I'd be in for a big beat down.
5-4-3-2-1. Go! We were off. Sure enough, the two teammates from Cole Sports jumped out quickly ahead in the initial shakeout. I've been working on starting a bit faster so as to not lose the lead group, and I did a good job of trailing these two guys for the first minute or so. Once we got to a moderately long stretch of double track, I felt the pace was light enough that I could pull out in front, so I quickly passed one of the guys, then caught up to and passed the other (scraggly hair dude). Out in front now, I was leading the pace for our group and found out rather quickly that the predicted wind gusts were very strong. Needless to say, the guys who I just passed took the opportunity to draft off me for the next little bit until we hit the technical slickrock section of the course.
An aside: I love mountain bike racing for many reasons, one of which is the fact that it's generally you vs. the mountain. You don't sit in a peloton letting everyone else do the work and then sprint at the last minute to claim victory. In mountain bike racing, victory is achieved nearly 100% through your own merits. Thus, I hate drafting--getting a free ride while someone else pulls.
Me, leading the pack of expert men 19 - 29 on the slickrock--look at scraggly hair guy! He's gonna kill me if he catches me!
Kudos to scraggly hair guy though, cause he stuck on my wheel like glue through the windy doubletrack, the slickrock section, and for about the next ~5 minutes, there he was, keepin' up. At one point, we were about to enter a section of singletrack and the fastest riders of the expert 19 - 29 group were already catching up to and passing some of the expert 30 - 39 men. I saw a fellow UMB rider whom I was about to pass, so as I passed him and jumped onto the singletrack I quietly mentioned "block this guy behind me." If scraggly hair guy was gonna draft, I was gonna use a teammate to hopefully slow him down on a section of singletrack that required much more effort to get a pass in. Apparently it didn't work though, because he also zipped by the UMB teammate and kept on my wheel for the next bit. So much for my attempts at strategy. Looks like my legs and lungs are going to have to carry the day.
Look at the face I'm making. Sometimes I amaze myself at how much of a doofus I am.
It gets even better! Now I'm sticking my tongue out the side of my mouth. Why do I even try to pretend I'm normal...
The next 10 minutes or so of the first lap included a lot of suffering as the racers were pushing it hard to hold position, and in my case, continuing to see those 'carrots' up ahead and keep on passing them. I also began to notice that scraggly hair guy wasn't right on my wheel anymore. I was beginning to gap him and that made me very happy.
At one point, I passed two expert 30 - 39 racers on a section of sandy singletrack, only to have them blast by me once we hit some doubletrack. I was amazed--I felt like I wasn't even moving with how quickly they shot past me. Well, they must have really been red lining it because I actually caught and passed both of them within the next few minutes.
Lap one finished with one expert 30 - 39 guy on my wheel. As we entered the stretch of windy doubletrack on lap two with him still following closely, I jokingly shouted back to him, "Next lap, you pull!" He responded, "Don't worry, you'll drop me on the slickrock up ahead." He was good at prognosticating--I didn't see him again after that.
Midway through lap two, I downed a Gu (Vanilla Bean is the only edible flavor during a race) and kept my race pace up fairly high. In addition to downing the Gu, I found myself munching on carrot after carrot as I continued to catch / pass riders in the 30 - 39 category. I've found that during rides / races, I really get my 'motor' running at a good pace at the 45 min - 1 hour mark. This point came midway through lap two and I just kept pushing it. The temperatures were high, the wind was fairly brutal at times, but I had hit my cadence and I was just cranking it.
Here's the money shot that makes up for how stupid I look in the other pictures: shooting around a turn, cloud of dust in my wake--I'm cruisin', and looking good doing it (ok, ok, looking ok doing it)
By lap three, I had a couple more leaders of the exp. men 30 - 39 group passed, and I'd figured that I had gapped them all 1/2 way through the lap. As I neared the finish line, I cranked it up the last hill and sped across the line. As I rode back to check on my time / pull tag, I noticed that one 30 - 39 racer had come in ~20 seconds before me. But due to the fact that he started a minute before me, my overall time was 40 seconds faster than him. (Though I was told he wasn't pushing it very hard on the first lap and just sped away at lap two. Thus, he probably could have gotten a faster time. But he didn't, so I'll relish in this.) I'd gotten first out of all expert men. Last race, I took fifth overall. All of those nights of riding the trainer / Lambert Park are still paying dividends!
Don't know what my next steps are. I plan on keeping the training regimen up and doing my best, but The Wife and I have a two week trip to Europe planned at the end of April, so I'm hoping I don't lose too much fitness out there (I plan on riding as much as I can--Tour of Tuscany, around Lake Zurich, etc.).
Also, for the first time while riding my bike, I enjoyed a head wind. With the temperatures so hot, when we had a tail wind, it felt as if the air were standing still, so the heat became almost overwhelming. The headwind was cooling and nice. Now, I'll never state that I enjoy a headwind again.
Are these posts getting longer? I need to find a way to shorten them.