On Day 2 of this latest double header weekend, I woke up very tired. The race on the previous day at Xilinx had really done some damage to my throat, and I had spent most of the night tossing in bed and fantasizing about getting a drink of water… which I never did. In some ways I questioned whether or not I really wanted to race again, but the fact that the race was a part of the Cross Cup was motivation enough to go back for more. Plus, I thought, everyone else would be tired too.
Also motivating was the idea of correcting some of the mistakes I made at Xilinx, namely going out too hard and racing sloppy. I really wanted to test a new theory that I shouldn’t really be on the front alone but should instead try to work with a group during the race to conserve energy.
Monarch was very different from Xilinx. The course was almost 100% grass with countless hairpins and a few sections that resembled the layout of the large intestine. Turns double backed and folded over the top of one another in semi-ridiculous configurations. I actually heard other racers say “this is stupid” out loud, but I myself really like the tiny technical stuff because it causes separations in the group and gives me a chance to rest a bit. In the absence of mud or other adversity, convoluted sections of the course keep the race from becoming a high speed dirt (or grass) crit.
At the starting line before the race I told the DS that I was going to try to race smarter; my goal wasn’t even to win this race, it was to learn how to use more tactics when racing. She said “good”, and told me she wanted to get 5th place. It may sound like a strange thing for her to have said, but I was glad she got me.
Thus, as the race started, I didn’t race for the front, I deliberately let others lead out on the large starting straightway. When we reached the first dip into the grass, I was probably riding around 10th or 12th position. I felt some primal instinct telling me to go faster, but I made a very deliberate decision to just sit tight and conserve. CONSERVE! It was the only thing that mattered. I wanted to race at 95% so that maybe in the latter laps I would have something left, unlike at Xilinx.
As we hit the tight and twisties, mistakes were made by guys in front of me and every time it happened I capitalized on their misfortune by slipping by without the effort of accelerating. By the time we exited into the large grassy fields, there were about six guys left in front of me and a small gap had formed between us and the top 3 riders. Once again I felt the urge to bridge up, but once again I forced myself to stay put. It was very difficult to let them go, but I had to at least try to stick to my plan.
For the next two laps things went smoothly. I raced with my little group and we hovered at about 20 seconds behind the leaders. I rarely went to the front of the group. Others seemed intent on leading, and I was happy to let them do so. Going into lap 3 the lead group faded a bit or we sped up, because we caught them. This may have been where I made a critical mistake in the race. Instead of deciding to become a part of their group, I stayed passive and dangled off the back of the huddle. When they started pulling away again, I didn’t pursue. If I had it to do all over, I think maybe I would have tried to tag along with them. Instead I was left in no-man’s land between the A group and the B group. I wasn’t gaining on the A group and I wasn’t losing time to the B group.
For another lap or so things continued this way. I rode alone. The result was that I began to wear down a bit. I was still riding below my meltdown threshold, but I was also solo in the wind. Group B started to make time on me. It was then that I decided that I had a better chance duking it out with group B then making it back to group A, so I let way up on the throttle until I was caught by them. Once again this was hard to do, its hard to fight the instinct to pedal as hard as you can in a 45 minute race! But, I’d seen this scenario before, and I wasn’t going to hand the B group a gift by riding my race solo while they enjoyed the benefits of a small pack.
Once caught by the Bs, I sat in. They clearly wanted to get around me anyway, so I obliged and tacked onto the back. While doing so I rested.
Going into the last lap it was the A group off scott free, then it was me and two others in the B group, after that there was a pretty large gap to everyone else. I sat on and sat in. Another B accelerated out on his own. I let him go, deciding instead to save it for the end. I thought we would catch him, and we did start reeling him in. Going into the very bumpy off-camber straight before the finish line hairpin there was the guy alone, then a five second gap, then me and the wheel I was sitting on. Deep inside I felt really confident about my tactics. I knew my conservative racing had left me with a nice reserve to sprint with. I was all but positive that I would easily out-sprint the wheel in front of me be cause he looked tired. At the very sandy hairpin into the final straight, I could feel the tension about the sprint. The turn though was very dangerous and many people had washed out on it. As we entered the turn I actually opened my mouth to warn my wheel to “be careful on the turn!”, but just as I did so, his front tire washed out and he went down. Damn! I didn’t want that to happen to me OR him. I wanted to end in a fair sprint for the line for both of us. I came to a stop but stayed upright as I tiptoed around him. I sprinted back up to speed into the finish and ended up with 5th on the day; exactly what the DS had requested. 4th place finished 5 seconds in front. It is possible that I might have caught him if the washout hadn’t happened, but I will never know. Perhaps there is a good lesson there too: Stay in front of the drama on the last lap!
The Monarch race left me feeling very content. I was happy with the 5th, but I was happier because I think I learned some things about pacing and racing that will help me a lot moving forward.
This coming weekend is an off weekend for the Cross Cup, so I’m taking the opportunity to go “home” to the Northwest and race in the beloved Cross Crusade series. I’m really looking forward to seeing old friends and racing in the conditions I cut my teeth in. It will also be interesting to see how I can stack up the the Cat B races there, where in the past I’ve never been able to place better than 5th…