It almost seems hard to imagine that the long winter we just went through actually gave way to spring temperatures and trails that were dry enough to actually ride to begin the 2013 XC racing scene in the Midwest. But it did.
First up was the Psycowpath Swanson Shoot Out XC race in Bellevue, Nebraska on Sunday. Following Saturday night's concert, I didn't get to bed as early as I should have, but the race was not until 2:10 p.m. on Sunday, so I had plenty of time to sleep in, get packed and drive over for the start. I drove through rain on I-80 to get there, but a bit before Omaha the rain stopped and things were sunny and dry.
I arrived, checked in, got suited up and started my warm-up. Temperatures were warm enough for short sleeve jerseys and bibs. A bit humid, but pretty comfortable riding conditions. My legs felt as good as they could after 12 weeks of base and the first week of build phase #1. The first races of the season occur during a build phase as my "bigger picture" remains on target for later in the season.
There is some good new competition in the 50+ age class this year as a few new riders have hit the 50 age barrier and moved into my age class. Joe Schmidt from Des Moines was there and he rides in the Comp Class in Iowa, Mark Sullivan who beat me at Ida Grove last year by 44 seconds was there, and a couple of the top CAT 3 50+ racers from last year have moved up into the CAT 2 50+ group. So this actually is an excellent development to have an increased talent pool in the Psycowpath Series group of 50+ CAT 2 riders. It makes it worth it on a competitive level. Jerry Hoff who won the age age class last year was racing the Marathon race on Sunday, so he was not in the mix for the XC race this time.
My wave of 40-49, and the group of 50+ racers lined up and took off around 2:10 p.m. as scheduled...
I eyed Joe and Mark and on the start followed Mark in the opening sprint. I passed a few in the opening 200 yards before we settled into the singletrack. For the most part, this was my first dirt (that wasn't frozen or muddy) for the year. So I was prepared to be cautious in lap one and get my feel back. The legs were responding well, but I found myself stuck behind a strong rider who I couldn't get around on the climbs or the flats due to his power, but he was slow in the technical sections where I would catch up to him. I settled in behind him for far too long and lost site of Joe and Mark. Eventually I asked to get by and got around him.
Lap two was a bit more open now that we were all spread out and I was able to move quicker through all of the the technical sections. The Maxxis Ikon 2.35 up front and 2.2 in the rear was a perfect combination for the conditions. Tom caught me in my virgin white skin that hasn't seen sun for about 6 months...
I think I was surprised in lap 2 that my legs and power felt so good for this point in the season. So I started to up my pace and was passing people I had caught up to from previous start waves as well as those who had been out there for 2 1/2 hours in the marathon race. I could tell my lighter weight combined with the training I've been doing was beneficial on the climbs. Should be even better if I hit my target weight goal.
Lap 3 I decided to put the hammer down and see what the legs could deliver. I also tossed out my early season inhibitions in terms of bike handling and got in a groove. Crossing the pavement road near the top of the race course, I spotted Mark Sullivan ahead of me. And he spotted me and took off. There was about a 100 yard gap between the two of us and I set about closing that gap in a manner that wouldn't drain the tank. I figured it was for a podium spot, but I didn't know if it was for 2nd place (Joe was out of sight) or 3rd - not knowing what some of the other riders new to our class look like. Coming off the top section of the race course back down into the low areas, I was flying. Suddenly, in the middle of the woods, there was a dog - a collie - barking and chasing me. He went right for my foot and I managed to shoo him off, yell out and stay upright. I finally caught up to Mark after closing the gap and settled in behind him to catch my breath and recover.
Knowing that one of my strengths in the past has been finish line sprints, I felt I was in good position to have a go at it. However, making the final sharp left and steep hill turn out of the singletrack - I misjudged how Mark was going to climb that short steep hill as there was a female rider in front of him and we all got a bit jammed. My front tire buzzed his rear tire hard. It didn't throw him off, but it forced me to have to unclip and put a foot down. By the time I got going again, he had a good 15 yard lead. I gave chase, but he turned it up a notch. I heard the loud speaker announce Joe Schmidt's crossing the finish line just ahead of us, so we were in the hunt. I caught up to Mark again on the final sharp right turn just before the finish line. I went into final sprint mode, but quickly realized I didn't' have the top end as I haven't trained any of that yet this season. I was on Mark's wheel to the finish line and gaining inch by inch in diesel mode, but needed about 30 more feet of length than there was to have even come close to passing him. So I settled for 4th place (come to find out when results were posted) by about a wheel or 1/2 a bike length. Mark told me after the race that he nearly busted a lung on that final sprint.
Top 4 spots in CAT 2 50+.... (note: not much time separating 2/3/4 positions)
The course was not exactly the same as last year, so it is hard to compare times, but that's 5 minutes faster for me than the first Swanson race on opening weekend last year, and a few seconds slower for me than the closing race at Swanson later in the season. Yesterday, it looked like a section of the forest had been mowed or clipped to the ground (or an Alien Craft had landed and leveled the forest) and some of the familiar sections had us riding through some wood chips. And the bottom section before the grass meadow portion to the finish line was a bit different. So it is hard to compare the courses from last year to yesterday's course. Close to the same, but not exactly the same.
A good race for sure and it's nice to know there is increased competition this year in the 50+ age class. Game on!!! The winner of our group was newcomer Thomas Jeffreys who was the CAT 3 50+ overall series winner last year. Congrats Thomas!!! And I know big Andre Rethman - who is new to the 50+ CAT 2 group this year (he came in 2nd in the CAT 3 series last year) - will be a contender. He has huge, powerful legs and dusted me at the Iowa Games last year with the power he can put out.
Plenty for me to work on these next weeks to up the game a bit. That being said, I feel better and faster this year than last at this point of the season following base. There's no better race specific training than actually racing - so I know I worked all the zones in this race!!!! I cooled down on pavement doing gentle Zone 1 spinning for 20 minutes. Then I drank a recovery drink, got changed and headed back to the food area for a burger. I went out in the woods to help the kid's race as a course marshal before packing up and heading back to Indianola. I got home about 7:45 and sat down to a big salad before taking a shower and unpacking the car.
Kudos to Ryan and Roxzanne Feagan for doing such a fabulous job running this series. They both have my tremendous respect and kudos for what they do. Hosting Lake Ahquabi has given me a total new outlook on what it takes to put on a race and do it well. The Feagans do it well!!!
On to build week #2 which begins today with maintenance weights. Tell me the 75 degree temperatures this afternoon are not tempting me to go out on the bike..... I guess I could manage a Zone 1 recovery ride to take advantage of the weather before it turns cold again for the rest of the week.