Sunday, August 28, 2011

Call It The Redemption Ramble

Can't see the race from the observation tower.  Reforestation is working!
After a bad mountain bike racing debut at Greenbush in May, I knew two things: first, I didn’t want to get back on the mountain bike for a while, and second, I did want to try another race at some point.  Today proved to be the right time and Suamico proved to be the right place as I competed in the Reforestation Ramble.

The venue lived up to its reputation: a mix of wide nordic ski trails and smooth flowing singletrack with only modest changes in elevation.  Back at Greenbush I don’t think I was comfortable for a single moment, but at Suamico I was comfortable almost immediately.  The start seemed almost leisurely, but I figured I should go along to get along—I’m still a roadie masquerading as a mountain biker.  I wasn’t going anything like full speed but I passed a couple of guys in the few minutes before we reached the first section of singletrack.

What came next was the pattern that my entire race would follow: limit my losses on the singletrack and then just destroy people on the ski trails.  I was good on the hills but otherwise fell back a little on the singletrack due to poor technique.  Invariably I would carry too much speed into a corner, then brake hard, then accelerate hard on the exit.  For what it’s worth, I never crashed, but I used gobs of energy that the more experienced, more fluid riders conserved.  That might have become an issue in a longer race, but as a Cat 3 (Citizen) competitor I needed to complete just one 12-mile lap.  I trusted in my fitness and pressed on.

By the halfway point I was convinced that I had seen everything Suamico could throw at me.  I had been passed only once but soon retook that position by outdistancing my rival on a sandy climb up a section of ski trail.  There were two hills I failed to climb cleanly.  The first was on a singletrack section where a rider stalled just in front of me, leaving me nowhere to go.  The second was on a very sandy ski trail.  I later learned that the only good line was on the far left; I had no chance trying to charge up the center.  I didn’t lose much time there, but pre-riding the course would have allowed me to avoid the problem.  And pre-riding would have helped with the finish.  I flew through the aid zone at mile 9 without taking a water hand-up, so I knew I was getting close.  But a short time later when I saw the number 24 flashing at me I assumed I was coming to the line in 24th place.  That would have been a great result, but actually the sign was indicating my current speed as I tried to finish in style.  Yeah, 24 mph.  Those ski trails were fast.  But the true finish line was still one gentle corner and a short sprint away.

In the end I took 41st out of 123 in men's Cat 3.  In the 40-49 age group, I was 13th out of 32.  With a time of 58:44.2, I was less than 5 minutes behind age group winner Chris Harold of Lindenhurst IL (53:57.7).  Mitch Otto of Appleton posted the fastest overall time in Cat 3 with a 52:01.0.

So, just like last weekend’s Kirke Vei Time Trial, the Reforestation Ramble was an honest representation of where I am right now as a cyclist.  Where I will go next is uncertain.  A good August will go out with a whimper: tomorrow is a planned rest day, Tuesday will be a fairly easy effort and Wednesday will be the final night of my 2011 softball season.  My only special events scheduled for September are the Washington County Bicycle Club rides on the 10th and 24th … but that could change.

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