I decided to take my recent MTB fling to its next logical step – my first MTB race. A few teammates of mine convinced me that Spanish Lake would be the perfect venue to jump in and see what I thought – not too technical singletrack, with some open 2-track sections where I could use my roadie strength to gain position. There was even a first-timer category – I could probably do real well. I was interested, and after surviving the DeClue trail a couple weeks ago I figured I was ready for anything. As the day approached, however, I realized I could not, in good conscience, do the first-timer’s race – or even the beginner’s race for that matter. As a seasoned Cat3 road-racer it just seemed cheesy – like a dedicated triathlete showing up at a time trial and doing the Cat5 race. I decided to just go ahead and take my lumps in the sport race. If I liked it and wanted to do more MTB racing, it would provide a good baseline for measuring future progress.
I had intended to get there early enough to take a practice lap around the course – my skills (or lack of) would already be a handicap, and doing the first lap blind would put me at a real disadvantage. Plus, at my age I need a really good warm-up. I found registration and got my number – I wondered what was so funny when I asked what side it went on. By the time I was ready to take a lap I got scared I wouldn’t make it back in time for the start. Big mistake, and I knew it, but hey this is just for fun, right? I toodled around the fields and explored a little of the nearby sections of the course, then took my place at the start in a field of 15. I looked around at all the carbon frames and disc brakes, then looked at my 13-yr old tank of a bike (but with a brand new rear derailleur!) and reminded myself, hey this is just for fun, right? Rich said go and off we went. Talk about a throttle-fest! Well, I wasn’t ready for it and quickly found myself near the back of the field as we approached the singletrack. I got settled in, though, and on the second stretch of 2-track I jumped around two guys. Then we hit a short, steep rise – I wasn’t geared right and slowed to a crawl as I fumbled clumsily with my shifters. One of the guys I just passed got back around me, and by the time I got over the top the leaders had a gap – I watched them slowly pull away and I couldn’t do anything about it. I redlined trying the close the gap, then they disappeared into the singletrack. I knew I’d never see them again, but I continued to push the rest of that first lap. It was hard – I was beginning to wonder if I could last for 3 more laps. Once I finished the first lap though I was able to settle into a more comfortable rythym and actually start having some fun. With nobody around me I could focus on the obstacles, and each lap I handled them a little bit better. I crashed once going over a big log but nailed it the next two times. Other than that I only had to unclip once. I was averaging right at 17 minutes per lap, but the 4th lap I started getting tired and finished with a time of 1:10. Somehow, I managed not to get caught by any of the sport racers behind me, so I ended up in 11th place. That may not sound too good, but hey, I didn’t finish last.
The best thing was seeing the reaction of the DRJ boys when they saw me. Bob comes walking up saying, “What the hell is this!?” I thought Chris was gonna bust a gut looking at my bike – I don’t think he’s ever even seen a chromoly stem! And Rich Pierce, who I didn’t think even knew who I was, made a point to come up to me afterwards and thank me for showing up and giving it a try.
I think I might try it again sometime. I had fun, and it was a great atmosphere – a lot more casual and laid back than the roadie scene. Oh, and big props to my teammate James Nelson, who started 2 min back of me and still passed me – on a singlespeed. Nice job, James!