I came to French Lick today with none of the gut-wrenching pressure that I had at Brown County. After BCSP's re-alignment of my season goals, my objective today was not so much to WIN, as to gather critical information to help me learn what I need to do to WIN. I know that the obvious answer is to train harder/more, but I really think that while my fitness needs to improve, that improved racing skills are going to be a critical piece in the breakthrough that I still hope to have in 2010.
I knew the race was going to be super hard, but I also knew that I would likely have the advantage of being the only Cat 2 woman who had ridden the new section. My plan was two-pronged: to stay in control effort-wise until a certain climb that I considered my "step on the gas" point and within reason of the first prong, do my best to drop into the new section with no one obstructing my path. I knew that with the exception of the long climb up from the creek, which I was hoping to save some spare muscle fibers for, that I would be strongest rider in my category on the new section.
It all seemed like a good plan, but it wasn't to be. I practiced much more pre-race patience than I ever have and continued to soft pedal around the starting area until about four minutes before we went off. I rolled up to the dashed "on deck" line on the far left side as I like to do, and it looked like I was going to get a place on the front row without bumping any Cat 1 girls. Then the wave before us went off and started to pedal forward to the starting line and I heard a crunch. My chain had popped off and lodged next to my frame. I pulled it out, but I didn't have room to pedal out the kinks between where I was and the starting line, so I lined up and slightly panicked knowing that I would not be able to shove hard off the line like the other girls. When the siren sounded, they flew off and I took a few awkward pedal strokes to get my bike working. The good news is that I started going normally, but the bad news is that I was already 30 seconds back at that point.
At that point, all I could do was chase, but I made sure not to kill myself to try and catch up, since it would do me no good if I made contact but was too blown to keep up when I did. When I dropped into the new section I was exactly where I didn't want to be. I was about to catch two girls, but it was in the place where I didn't want to have to be behind anyone. I quickly caught the first one, and she let me pass fairly quickly, but the second was the girl who I went back and forth with at BCSP. I caught her on an especially narrow portion of trail, we were heading into a steep, pukey climbing section (lots of rocks and I think three switchbacks), so she started pulling back away as soon as I made contact. The really bad part is that I started burning quite a few more matches than I was ready to give away during this cat and mouse portion of the race. I re-caught her and eventually passed her, but not after spending way too much of the technical section than I wanted to sitting on her wheel waiting to pass.
When I finally got clear, it was nearly time to for the climb I had been dreading, and I was coming in with more blown legs and a narrower margin than I had hoped. It hurt so bad. To make matters worse, I passed a Cat 2 guy not long after getting free of my competitor. I'm not really sure what all transpired during the next couple of minutes, because I think I passed another guy after him. At some point I dabbed on some little rock feature because my legs were about to pop off and I couldn't manage the extra 5% power to clear it. I heard a male voice saying something about getting my cadence up behind me. Are you freaking kidding me? There aren't a lot of things that piss me off more than making a minor flub in front a guy I don't know and then being the recipient of "helpful advice" that I apparently need since I'm a female and all.
The fact of the matter was my legs were fried and I was tapped out in my middle ring, but I was not about to give up a get all granny geared up when I knew I was being chased. As the climb went on, I struggled more in the most deeply anaerobic state I've experienced since I allowed myself to slip that far into the hurt box on the same climb at the DRT race. The difference was that this time I had known better than to let myself get in that situation, and yet it still happened anyway. I had reached the point of audible groans and out-loud negative self-talk. Well, at least it was supposed to be self-talk. Unfortunately, Mr. Sport Guy was riding behind me and responding, which did not help the situation at all. I guess he was trying to be encouraging, but it was just annoying. I finally got mad and told him to go around me. I'm now struggling with guilt over being the short-tempered bitch that I become in the middle of cross-country races, and a complete misunderstanding of how such a weird situation happened in the first place.
After finally getting rid of Mr. Sport Guy, my frustration had reached a peak and I gave up and switch to the damn granny gear for a while. I got really close to making it to the top of the climb without being caught by the girl behind me, but she passed me before we got to the open field that lead to the swoopy pine forest section that would allow for some recovery before the last bit of climbing. Then, to my horror, the pine forest section was rerouted to a long series of horrible muddy fireroad sections that somehow added even more climbing through a section that would normally be flat. I was so unbelievably mad at the promoter for this travesty that the short-tempered bitch flared once again and I resorted to walking my bike through a couple of the really thick muddy sections.
At that point, I just wanted it to be over and it mostly was. I got through the last climb, and started the descent that I love so much, but I found that I didn't even have the strength left to enjoy it. Although, it is downhill, it still requires a decent amount of pedaling and pumping to really fly, and I didn't seem to have much pedal and pump left. I even had a baby crash where I dropped my chain again just a minute or so from being done. That sucked.
So, all and all, it didn't go well, but the thing I'm most disappointed in was losing the opportunity to experience the start, since we still have four races left and, other that I girl I raced against today, I still don't have a good idea of the girls' strengths and weaknesses. The other disappointment is that the bad start deprived me of the opportunity to play my strengths. I guess the one good thing that I'm taking away from today is that I can now list "shredding the gnar" as a strength on my bike racing resume'.