For the most part, the weather here in Sacramento has cooperated and allowed me to get some good winter saddle time. The last weekend of January usually starts my racing season with the TBF MTB Kickstart at Granite Bay. This year it is the first of three races out there, each two weeks apart. I use these as "training races" to kind of get me going and motivated and to see where I'm at in my fitness.
I'm not ashamed to admit I was nervous for the first race. I hadn't raced for about six weeks since I did the Folsom Cyclocross race and hadn't raced my MTB since September 15th!! I had definitely missed racing and was ready to get back into it. But I was nervous that I wouldn't perform to my expectations and to others' as well.
I started with just one other guy in the pro category but we were in a combined start wave with the experts who are sometimes just as fast or faster. We had a long and mostly flat first mile or so which makes a gap pretty hard to create until the first climb. I think I went into that first climb in third position but that's when I go to work. It's the longest sustained climb on the course which is my forte, even though for MTB racing it is a relatively short climb just a few minutes long. But by the top I put maybe 30 seconds on the next guy and headed into the trees for the fun rolling single track of Granite Bay. I had three laps to do and I was by myself. It's hard to stay motivated and keep pushing but that's what I'm out there for. I also know that I'm being chased... so keep pushing! I ended up taking the overall win by a couple minutes over the next fastest racer, expert rider Chris Schulze who usually races SS but has since added some speed with a 1x9 setup. It was a good first race, and a good benchmark. I still had a little bit of life left in the legs so I knocked out a few hill repeats after the race until I started to cramp :-).
Two weeks later we added a lap and a lot more competition. The pro group was 7 riders strong and we headed off on the course the same direction. The racing was pretty much identical to the Kickstart two weeks prior as I went into the first climb in 3rd or 4th but by the top had put in a gap. Again, I just tried to keep pushing and stay motivated as I ended up riding by myself. About half way through the second lap there was a turn around point where I saw SS rider and Mad Cat teammate Ron Shevock within about 30 seconds. That was my "uh oh" moment for the race and I got the motivation I needed to put the hammer down again. I made it through the rest of the laps without seeing any of my chasers and took the win by about three minutes. Had one adrenaline kick on the last lap where I took an "up and over" rock line to pass a lapped rider just a little too fast and caught some good air I wasn't expecting. Luckily I landed still on the smooth down slope of the slab or that would have ended badly... oops! And since it was Super Bowl Sunday I felt I needed to earn my game watching grub so I decided to ride home too. Adding an extra hour and a half of pedal turning to the day earned me a beer and the right to not move from the couch the rest of the day. Go Packers!!!
The final race of the 3-pack was set up to run the course in reverse, which makes the climbs shorter but steeper and more technical (relatively speaking, it is still Granite Bay). And then I got what I asked for... a 5th lap for the Pro class. My goal, as with all the "training races" I do, is to work on my weaknesses, which may not necessarily put me in a position to win but will help me in the races that matter. So for this one, knowing the climbs are shorter and steeper my goal was to go as hard as I could from the start and for each climb get out of the saddle and mash it. Normally I don't like to get out of the saddle and I like the long sustained type of efforts. This got me out front again and by myself right from the first short climb and I was feeling pretty good. But those power spikes over the course of two hours were really wearing me down especially considering the three hours I rode the day before. I ended up getting caught on the last lap by Cody Kaiser and Riley Predum, two young U23 riders who are getting pretty darn fast. They raced the day well and conserved enough to be strong on the last lap and they worked together. With a half lap to go I couldn't hold onto them and I was done.
This was also the first race I'd done with a Garmin to record everything which is really cool to see. I could see how my heart rate steadily declined as I faded... gotta work on that! Strava - TBF MTB Challenge, 5 laps, Granite Bay, CA. I know I worked hard though because I absolutely could not move the rest of the day once I got home. Part of that may have been that Jen and I moved one of the spare mattresses out to the living room in front of the TV!
Next race is the big one at Bonelli. A Pro XCT, Triple Crown, and UCI C2 race. Am I ready?