Met Kent at his place a little before 7 AM. Two hours of good conversation and a stop at Casey's landed us at Sugar Bottom for the penultimate race on the IMBCS calendar. We were surprised by the sight of Cam's Jeep sitting in the parking lot 3+ hours before his race start. A quick conversation determined that he showed up early to make sure that Julie could make the start of the beginner's race. Kent and I suited up in our finest black attire and headed out for a quick recon lap. This was (all together now) my first time riding at Sugar Bottom. I can see why it was rated as one of the 50 best trails in the nation. We cut our ride of the first half of the course short since the beginner race had started in the middle of our recon. Even with a short recon in, I could tell it was going to be a long day. I had been bouncing all over on the tree roots during our recon lap. Kent gave me some assist with the tire pressures and I immediately noticed an improvement in how the bike was handling. We hung around for what seemed like forever as there was a 2 hour gap between the start of the beginner race and the rest of the classes.
With 50+ people lined up for the start of the sport races, I decided to sit in back at the start. I've made a habit of this during the year. It's not good for me as I have to work to catch anyone, but for some reason I'm concerned about blocking people unnecessarily and having to let them by on the course. Next year, I'll probably change that strategy and try to be further up. They let us go and I could just feel that my legs and the rest of my system weren't really warmed up yet. With my heart in my throat and a lot of dust in my eyes, I reached the apex of a small hill and turned to enter the single track. I spent the first half of the first lap trying to stay in touch with people, while not getting held up by slower traffic. At one point the rider in front of me slowed in a section that I had just rolled right through during our recon lap. Unfortunately I tapped his rear tire when he slowed, but it also caused him to put a foot down. I yelled sorry as I continued to ride past. There were other riders that were good about letting faster traffic by, even towards the back of the pack. That allowed me to make up a few more spots early in the race. Reaching the second half of the course I knew that I was pushing harder than I was going to be able to maintain for the rest of the lap, let alone the rest of the race, so I backed off a bit and let my heart come back down into my throat. When I reached cyclocross hill, I had already planned on jumping off and running up as the climbing on the second half of the course had really cut into my energy levels. The second lap was more about conserving my position and finishing the race. Without gloves on, my hands were being rubbed and blistered by my grips rubbing against them, so every root and drop I rode over was painful. After 2 laps, and 2 hours and 20 minutes in the pain cave, the race was over. I rode through the start finish area, set my bike against the truck and put my hands in some ice water to help take away some of the pain. Only one small blister showed, but my hands were definitely not feeling well. I made a quick change in to street clothes, downed some gatorade and had a quick talk with Kent and Cam. After another hour or so for the awards and swag give away Kent and I packed everything up and headed for home.
I ended up a somewhat disappointing eight out of nine in my class and 39th out of the 50 starters. With the bike feeling as good as it did during the race, and riding obstacles that I wouldn't have thought I was able to ride, I was hoping for a higher placing than what I had, even with a bit of implosion on lap 2. I have a lot of room for improvement in the handling, momentum and smoothness departments which will only come with time. Stiil, I was amazed at how quickly a skilled rider can walk away from you when they pass you on course. Good riders can make the difficult look effortless.
Kent finished third in the single speed class, and second place for the state championship. Cam finished first over Brian Eppen in a close expert race (dead heat until the last lap). I can tell that the season is winding down as I caught a glimpse of Cam taking a swig from a post race Miller Lite tall boy. Never would have seen that before now. :)