I had the luxury of sleeping for nearly 9 hours last night thanks to today's race in Bellevue, Nebraska starting at 2:10 pm. The drive over is exactly 2:15, so I was able to sleep in and rest up after yesterday's big training ride. I had breakfast in bed, then took the dogs for their morning walk about 10 am. After yesterday's decision making process of what bike to bring, I went with the JET 9 as it is my go to race sled.
Everyone is talking about the heat, but last year on this very opening XC race weekend in Bellevue, NE it was 87 degrees. So today's 92 degrees was not that different from this time last year. I had the AC on for the drive across Highway 92. The only thing new on the route from this time last year were the hundreds and hundreds of those big wind turbines around Griswold, Iowa. 100's of them as far as the eye could see to the south and to the north. I don't recall them being there last year, but I do know they have been installing them left and right in western Iowa. They have been in the same area up around I-80 for a few years, but these appeared new. Either that, or my memory is off...
I got to Swanson Park on time, checked in, suited up and began my warm-up. Due to the heat, I downed some Electrolytes, Pickle Juice, and took a GU shot before heading to the line. I think they had another record turnout of over 200 racers as everyone was itching to race on dirt with this "non winter".
I had trouble getting off the line as I dabbled my clip in, had to put a foot on the ground and by the time I got going I was at the back of the pack.
No panic though, as the rollout gave me plenty of time to work my way back to mid pack before we hit the singletrack. And that's just what I did.
The trail was in perfect condition considering the heavy rains this week. Nothing like 91 degrees on Saturday to bake the moisture out of the soil. It was dry and actually quite dusty. Everyone searched for some early season form and since I started with a couple of age groups, I wasn't sure who was who. I just rode my race as best I could. This was a priority C race on my schedule, so I was bit baked from the week's training and Saturday's 2 hour hammer fest. It seems odd for me to "train through races" like this, but that is what is on the schedule for me this month. So train all week and on Saturday I did. In spite of that, the legs were working and not balking too much.
I did recognize somebody in my division and passed him in the middle of lap one (looked like he was recovering from a fast start). Lap 1 had me smiling as that big base I put in the past few months was giving me some nice gas for the pedals. I was riding under control and the Nobby Nics on the JET 9 were like glue in the corners. Double the smile. I was railing it.
I got a little complacent in lap 2 when the guy I had passed in lap one passed me on the climb of the very northeast section of the course. I gave chase knowing that a position on the podium was at stake. I was hanging with him, but flailing the bike all over the trail because of it. On the steepest descent, I hit a root and flew offline. My mind was figuring out where I was going to crash (and it was going to be ugly - maybe race ending in fact), but my body fought hard with some English and excellent braking and bike handling kept me from going in the ditch and I saved myself. Whew! Heart rate racing after that, I slowed to a tempo that was in control and opted to just ride my own race. Lap 1 was my fastest and I faded in subsequent laps with slower times. Need to build the engine to take that 1st lap speed deeper into the race for sure.
I kept the chain on the 38T chainring the entire race and it started to fatigue me in lap 3, but I stuck with it and pushed through the pain. I started to get out of saddle on some of the climbs to use other muscles and keep my momentum going. It was a pretty uneventful race for me as my early season form seems to be better than in prior years - again, thanks to the big base (for me) that I put in over the winter. Sure, I've got work to do, but I'm pleased with where I am and how my equipment performed. The JET 9 and the new rings were excellent.
The good news is - and this is no April Fools - I brought home some hardware for the effort in my age division CAT 2 50+. That's the age division that love handles exist and the fact we still have a pulse is cause for celebration on most days. ;-] I wouldn't say any of us are super fast guys compared to the younger age divisions.
1st place had me by 2 minutes and 18 seconds. I'll be entering some top end interval work and longer duration intervals to bridge that gap to go for the bacon next time around.
The JET was dusty at the end, but it was flawless:
I drove home after the awards ceremony and walked in the house at 7 pm. I mowed the yard while Tara made dinner, showered and ate a great meal. All in all - a good day.