After the Saturday Debacle, I’ve been temporarily halted from riding my crippled road bike. Considering the number of busted parts, its going to take me a bit to round up the necessary ingredients to rebuild.
I’m “allowed” one midweek race per week by my DS, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to take advantage of that this week until a little email appeared in my inbox with the title: “Final Short Track MTB Race, Monday Night“. I hadn’t yet tried a short track because it overlapped with the weekly road circuit race, but the broken road bike provided a perfect excuse to give the discipline a go.
Woo hoo! Problem solved! All I had to do was dust off the MTB, add some air to the tires and I’d be ready to go. I informed my DS of the plans, and told her that it was only a 30 minute race on a tiny course so it would make for great spectating. Translation: “Please come watch me baby!”
There is something super special about when my family comes out to cheer at a race. Maybe its just a dad thing but having them there provides a little magic in the motivation department. I just want to do them proud. When extending the invitation to spectate, I keep my expectations low because I know watching bike racing doesn’t always define the word “exciting”. With the kids being one and three, I know that there is no such thing as casual spectating for my DS, she is always balancing the “go billygoat!” cheers with preventing the kids from running out in front of speeding bikers. Its probably more work for her spectating than it is for me racing.
That said, she was on board to come to the short track mountain bike race. Late (as usual) and in a hurry, we loaded up the car and got to the race with 30 minutes to register and warm up. That went well until with 20 minutes to start and only 2 minutes of warm up I realized that people were already lining up for my race. This realization brought up an interesting question: In a 30 minute race is it better to get a good starting position or a good warmup? The answer of course, is “neither”. Just show up early and do both! Not having that option, I chose to skip the warmup and get lined up. My reasoning was that short track is like cyclocross: its pointless trying to be fast if you spend the entire race stuck behind slower racers. Racing your own speed is all about not getting stuck in traffic.
That decided, I ended up lining up around mid-pack out of thirty four total racers, which was neither ideal or horrible.
At the whistle things got predictably chaotic pretty much instantly. Panic and adrenaline hit the herd in a rush and we stampeded each other in a mass of interlocked bars and elbows. Good times! I again went with my CX strategy: Get to the front at all costs. I took a bunch of crazy zig-zaggy lines and I picked off a few guys little by little. I noticed a bit of a herd mentality with group and their choice of lines, so I tried getting a bit creative with alternate lines. Sometimes going off the beaten track meant riding in the softer dirt, and that meant spending more energy, but again I think it was worth cashing in the some chips to get clear traffic for the rest of the race.
By the end of lap one, I’d stopped passing people and was beginning to wonder where I was in the field. We had started catching the stragglers from the 35+ (category) in front of us, and it was difficult to guess who might be in my category. At around this point a “kid” in a Hammer kit blew by me on the left, and I thought for sure at least he was in my race, so I tried to throw a mental rope onto his wheel. He was gunning pretty hard, and I had trouble staying with him. Making it more difficult was the fact that he was slipping by the 35+ guys and I was getting a tripped up taking some goofy lines while trying to then pass those same people. I was wasting quite a bit of effort on these mini passes, so I decided to back it off a bit and race a little smarter; only passing when the opportunity was there. Hammer kid had about 20 seconds on me at this point, and we seemed to hold our positions for about three laps.
As the laps ticked by I seriously appreciated the “goooooo daaaaaads” coming from my cheering squad as I passed them. The cheering was a real boost because it was a constant fight to stave off exhaustion, but then I’d pass my squad and feel motivated to dig a little harder so they’d think dad was invincible and rad. I’ll bet Hammer kid was too young to have any “gooooo daaaads!”, and I’m pretty sure impressing your mom isn’t as motivating as impressing your wife and kids. Advantage: me.
Riding a little smarter started to pay off at the start of lap four when Hammer kid all of a sudden reappeared in front of me instead of being off in the distance. I hate to admit it, but by this point I had decided I was okay with second place if that was in fact where I was at. I didn’t know what to expect from this race anyway so second was more than acceptable…right? Hammer’s reappearance must have kick started some fighting instinct again because all of a sudden I started thinking about where I could try to pass him. The opportunity finally came when he made the same sort of mistake I had been making earlier. When he tried a risky move to get around a slower rider, he bobbled a bit and I managed to dodge around him on the inside.
From that point on I just rode with the fear that you get when you know you have a chance at winning but you can feel someone behind you trying to snatch that win away from you. I also rode because I knew the cheering squad was going to be a lot happier with their effort if they had a “W” to show for it, and in the end they did.