It’s been a busy couple of weeks as the race season has finally gotten underway, first with the opening Pro XCT race in Bonelli Park, CA followed by another Pro XCT race two weeks later in Fontana, CA. Going into Bonelli I was totally unsure of what to expect. That first race of the season always has my nerves on end and my caffeine addiction does not help in the efforts of keeping me calm. The morning of the race I may have appeared to be relaxed, but my mind was constantly racing thinking about all of the different possible outcomes to the start of the season, but once the gun went off it was go time. Starting in the middle of close to 90 other racers I left my initial pacing up to the sea of riders jockeying for position. Once the initial starting frenzy settled I began picking my way through the field and kept the highest pace I knew I could maintain for the duration of the event. The first of seven, three mile laps went extremely fast and the course left no time for resting. Its short steep climbs, fast rocky descents, steep chutes, and berms kept me on edge and focused the entire time. The second through fifth laps followed a similar pattern and I continued to pick off other racers one by one. By the beginning of the sixth lap the pain started to come on hard, but the brief three mile laps made it easy to press on without backing off too much, and after that it was one lap to go! With such short laps I was surprised to not have gotten pulled as I did during my last Pro XCT event two years ago in Windham, NY. This gave me some good motivation along with the km markers that lined the course. Seeing 6 k to go at the beginning of a lap is a good thing when you just want to be finished, considering that pro road racers begin positioning for a field sprint around this mark. So I dug in deep and sucked it up to the finish line only getting passed by one or two others along the way. At the end of the day I finished 33rd and was already thinking about Fontana in the coming weeks.
The Fontana course was quite a bit different than Bonelli with much more climbing, a little more mileage (five, five mile laps), and lots of high speed technical goodness. The main feature on the course is THE climb which rises 400 feet in a little over a half mile. This section is intense while just riding let alone while redlined in a race. After doing a couple of pre-ride laps on Thursday and Friday I could not wait to let loose on Saturday’s race. My call up for this week had me starting around the same halfway point and with the first race out of the way I was much less nervous, though the feeling never goes away whether it is a big UCI event like this or a local MASS race. The start was pretty much the same as Bonelli for the first 100 yards until we hit the first little rise with a sharp turn at the top. This rise was small enough to spit to the top of, but with racers trying to fit 15 wide and make the turn it left most of us walking and I could not help but to laugh at the situation. The same thing happened on the first small climb before it all calmed down and the field began to slowly string out. I got lucky being in the right place at the right time in a few sections and was able to make up some solid ground riding past racers who were getting caught up in slower traffic and being forced off of their bikes. By the time we made it to the big climb for the first time I was scoping out my line which ran up a large rock slab right next to the beat in line that everyone else was taking. It was open so I took it without hesitation passing at least ten others before jumping back in line. After that it was a slow crawl to the top before descending the mountain. I was riding hard and felt good both on the ups and downs of the first lap so I followed the strategy of riding hard, conserving a bit before the big climb, hammering to the top, and “recovering” on the way to the bottom with some good efforts on the rolling climbs. I was able to make some passes on the second and third laps while climbing and continued to feel strong. By lap four I was starting to crawl into the pain cave, and made a couple of more passes but those would soon be lost on the final lap. With one to go I still felt strong coming into the feed zone and up the first short climb, but that all ended when I hit the wall of a climb which also meant hitting the wall as in bonking for myself. I had definitely been drinking enough out on the course, but I guess I had not realized how hard I had been pushing it until I started seeing stars every time I blinked. Time to take it slow! Trying to preserve as much energy as I could I made the slow crawl to the top and surprisingly was not passed until close to the summit where a train of less depleted riders hopped in front of me. I forced myself not to follow my instincts on chasing and to try to recover which kept matters from getting worse. I did manage to recover a bit and caught a breath of a second wind and was able to move at a not so slow speed up the rolling climbs that interrupted the long descent to the finish. At the end of the 25 mile death march I ended up in 52nd and finished my second ProXCT event of the year on the leaders lap. Putting things into perspective I am definitely happy with my performance since it is early March and old man winter has not yet left PA. With some good race miles in my legs I’m ready to go home and do some local racing starting with the Dragon’s Tale 50 mile race next weekend in Southern VA. It’s going to be a great year for sure and there are a few more Pro XCT’s and a pile of NUE races to gear up for.