Recently, Abby talked me into one of the Southern Classic XC events, to be held at Hobby Park in Winston-Salem. I agreed to do it, but had few expectations. Abby’s principal M.O. was to borrow the geared Santa Cruz hardtail in an effort to crush the women’s race and come away with the state championship medal as well. I should probably also mention that she really likes riding bikes, so she registered for two races at Hobby: the Cat 2 single speed race among a mixed field, and the standard Cat 3 women’s race. Her first race would be in SS at 10:00 AM so we showed up a little before 9:00 and nabbed a primo pitting spot, then we prepped for a little pre-riding. For this particular course, racers are immediately given the gift of Derby Hill, a short but steepish asphalt climb before it transitions into the singletrack. It got my heart rate up with a quickness on the pre-ride, but then settled down as Abby and I took it easy on an unfamiliar trail. The course was smooth with a few root drops and some fixed rocks here and there. Abby was on the S-Works and I was on the SC, and we were enjoying the flow of the trail. Another rider approached us from behind and we exchanged a few pleasantries. He clearly was able to go around us, but seemed content to shoot the bull for a few minutes first. When we rounded a corner and faced a steep technical climb, Abby dismounted and the rider went around us. We decided to turn around and save our energy for the actual race, and also to put a slightly easier gear on the S-Works. This turned out to be a very good decision.
Gary, Carrie, and Zack Lowden showed up a little later and erected a nice shelter that Abby and I took advantage of without really asking, because that’s how we roll. Also, it was cool to hang out with the Lowden clan.
I worked on my tan while Abby got ready for her first event. Soon, she was off, with only two other (male) racers in the field of SSers. I had agreed earlier to hand off a water bottle for Abby when she rolled in to start her second lap. As it happened, she did not need it and so continued on with a smile on her face. Another 47 minutes later and she completed race number one, exhausted but still enthusiastic. I proceeded to ply her with the lowdown on sections of trail that we had not pre-ridden, which were plenty. Her assessment was mostly more of what we already saw: nice berms, a few drops, burst climbs, and roots. I was getting excited and a little anxious, because I still had hours before the 2:30 start time. Meanwhile, Gary and Zack were preparing for their respective Cat 1 races, which kicked off at noon. I ate a lunch comprising a tuna salad sandwich and fresh berries, washed down by a creamy protein shake. The Cat 1 race started and after about 30 minutes, I made my way over to an area where racers would emerge from the woods and into the open before one last half mile among the trees and then to the start/finish area. I wanted to snap some pics of Gary and Zack at that spot and try to gauge their condition as well. Zack came out first and he did not look happy, so I did not take a photo. A few minutes later, Gary popped out and simply muttered “horrible.” When I made my way back to the pit area, I saw that Zack had exited the race early, and Gary was doing the same. Neither felt well, so they wisely cut it short, to race another day.
After what seemed an eternity, I made my way to some asphalt rings where other Cat 3 racers were warming up. I went round and round countless times, like a hamster in a wheel, in an effort to get my legs loose. The saddle on the S-Works felt a little odd, but that was likely because it was much too padded. It was too late to make a change now, and besides, the race was only one lap. I could endure a less-than-ideal saddle for one six-mile lap. It would be a rare moment when I actually sat down, as it turned out. Finally, it was time to line up. I found that there were 10 or 11 of us in the 40+ field, and I did not know any of these dudes. And naturally, I was the only one on single speed. Rumor had it that this trail was not very friendly to the one-geared bunch, but here I was. I thought maybe I’ll just phone this one in and take it easy. Treat it as a ride, nothing else. But when the official said go! all that shit was out the window. The geared bikes pulled away as I started to spin out, but when a sharp left turn came up, I regained a few spots by hugging the inside corner. Then it was time to face the dreaded Derby Hill. I had some decent momentum as I shot skyward, and found that I was easily able to overtake about three more competitors before getting funneled into the narrow singletrack. Now it appeared there were only six or so riders ahead of me, and their pace was too slow to settle in behind. I could see that the leaders were pulling away from the racers immediately in front of me, and I would need to make my move sooner rather than later. But there are not many spots on this trail where passing can be done safely. However, I did not have to wait long, because the fellow in front of me dabbed on a turn and I took advantage of his misstep and shot around him. I went around a couple more guys in a similar manner when they struggled with the first serious technical climb and had to dismount. Yet another rider was waylaid by a mechanical, but I found out later that he was in a different age group, so no matter. At last I appeared to to be gapping the others and was in the clear. Could I actually be out front? It was difficult to tell since I did not get a good visual on who the leaders were right out of the gate. Nevertheless, I was all alone for a few more miles, so I backed off just a touch so that my heart rate would calm down a little. The rest of the trail was indeed much like the first portion that we pre-rode earlier. There were a few climbs that I considered walking, but somehow managed to reach down and just power through. Now I was enjoying some smooth descents, punctuated by an occasional drop or smooth berm to rail. I had the S-Works humming, its trusty Kenda Nevegal biting nicely in the corners and the Ardent out back, rolling with minimal resistance. I popped out into the open a few minutes later, the same spot where I photographed the hapless Gary earlier in the day. I knew that it was only about 3/4 of a mile until the finish, but first, back in among the trees for a few more punchy climbs and root drops. The last few hundred feet of the race course were a blast, so I turned it up a little as I crossed the finish, hoping I had first place locked up. But it wasn’t so. My initial suspicions were correct: two racers gapped the starting pack so quickly that I never saw them. However, I did manage to make up a little ground on the second place finisher throughout the race. Perhaps if I’d been on the geared hardtail, I could have been a little faster, but some brown-haired chick had borrowed it for this race. And it was not long before that chick came rolling into the finish, far ahead of her competitors. Abby nabbed first easily, and she appeared to be rather enjoying the moment as several of us milled about the timing area.
So I got third place, which I’m happy about. I think I could get into this series if I could cat up, since the beginner group only does one lap, and many of the venues are quite a distance from Raleigh. It would be difficult to justify a long drive merely to race one lap. If I could win a top spot in a future race, I could move to Cat 2 and enjoy two-lap events and therefore make it worth the drive.
Before heading back, Abby and I found an appropriate feeding spot in the middle of W-S called La Perlita Tacos Y Restaurante. They neither spoke nor understood English well, and Abby had a difficult (and a little humorous) time trying to convey to the server what vegetarianism was. But the food was delicious and we scarfed it down with a fury befitting two champion mountain bikers.