MTB Challenge #3
03/07/10 - Folsom Lake, CA
4 Laps - 28 miles
With all the juniors racing in the NorCal High School Race #1 in Monterey the same day, they inspired me to get out there myself. The first race of the season is always interesting. There is an uncertainty of how the body will respond to a race-level effort. Even though I might have good training in the legs, racing is always a notch above training in both focus and intensity.
Since this was a non-USAC sanctioned race, we could choose our category to race. And since the pros were allowed to line up at the front -- and there was some good competition, including Jason Moeschler (WTB) and Clint Claassen (25+ National Champ) -- I decided to race pro.
The course was a non-traditional MTB XC course, with almost no climbing. They mentioned that they ran the course reverse direction (counter-clockwise) from races past, which ensured that you could pedal virtually the whole time. However, to make up for the lack of vertical was endless twisting, smooth, tacky singletrack, with the occasional granite tech challenge and mud-bog crossing. Fun, fast and flippin' fantastic. This was such a momentum course that I stayed in the big ring (40T) and kept my fork locked out the whole time. My WTB Nano Raptors performed flawlessly, fast-rolling with just enough side knob to hook up in the fast, sandy corners.
The start was fast and flat, and we quickly began to jockey for position. I was happy to let at least one or two guys get in front and pull, which Claassen seemed willing to do. Soon after we were a group of five and pulled away on the first of four laps. I had pre-ridden the course just prior to the race, so I noted that there was actually one small climb on the course toward the end of the lap. I went into it first and realized I could stretch out our group if I went hard, so I held back, made a mental note and conserved for the later laps.
On lap two, I went to the front just prior to the "climb" and Moeschler was on my wheel. I hit the climb a bit harder and the two of us started to gain a gap. We railed the back side and Moeschler took the front heading into the third lap and got on the gas. The two of us immediately started putting time on the other three. It was a pleasure to ride such a smooth and powerful wheel. Moeschler's technical skills are apparent when following him and it comes as no surprise that he's won the Pro Downieville all-mountain before.
Jason was really killing it, and we worked our way through lapped traffic. I briefly got stuck behind and lapped rider and couldn't quite close the gap to my breakaway companion up the climb. At that point I needed to ride the best pace I could for the last lap whether I was able to rejoin Moeschler or not, but the key was to avoid blowing up. All the short, punchy efforts began to take their toll after 90 min and it's easy to blow a gasket and lose everything at that point.
I was starting to feel the familiar late-race fatigue of XC racing again, and just focused on riding as smoothly and as fast as I could on the last lap. Making my way through traffic, I finally reached the end of what seemed like an endless lap and rolled through the finish alone for 2nd. Claassen came in a minute or so after to round out the podium. A very satisfying effort and a super-fun course.