This Wednesday was my second Wednesday Worlds of 2011, and my first on the RSL. I would describe racing on this bike with one word- awesome.
Earlier this week I had done some pretty intense training so I wasn't sure how good I was going to feel. The usual Saturday MTB ride and Sunday endurance road program got rained out, so I ended up doing a hilly gap climb on Sunday and 65 mile endurance ride on Monday. Both of those rides were on the deceptively difficult terrain of Addison County, and the temperature was over 80 degrees both days. Normally I can handle the heat, and I can ride two hard days back-to-back, but I also have Monday and Tuesday to recover. This week I just had Tuesday.
At Catamount last week we ran a similar course when I raced the YBB. Some of the muddy sections had been removed so the lap was a little shorter but with more climbing. Overall lap times were faster and the field was slightly larger so I didn't feel like I was riding solo for 75% of the race.
As we lined up I told myself to take it easy and just ride for as long as I could with the goal of finishing rather than setting the world on fire. I felt fine on the warm up, but wasn't really feeling snappy. At the start I slotted into a decent spot and cranked up to speed.
The first thing I noticed was how fast I was going on the starting stretch and up the first false flat sections. I didn't go crazy and deliberately slotted into the well-worn groove even though it meant staying behind some slower riders while other racers zipped by in the grass. I maintained my pace, stayed seated and turned over a reasonable gear in the big ring, and all of a sudden I realized that I was flying.
With the bigger wheels I knew I wouldn't be able to push the same gearing on the climbs and that I might not be able to stay in the big ring like I did last week. Fortunately the XX 156q crank has a chainline that allows for a full cross chain, so I shifted down to the 39 x 36 and kept it rolling.
I was pulling a group of six reasonably fast racers as we entered the first woods section. Normally I can stay in contact in the woods if I push it, but I'm not comfortable leading. We skipped over the first rock sections, around the roots through the sweeping turns, then up and over onto the slick mud covered rocks. I was still comfortably leading my group.
The excitement of leading through that section caused me to get a little too aggressive and push it even harder through the next technical section. I rode it cleanly, but burned too many matches and had to back off going up the steep uphill at the exit.
With this same feverish pace I pushed through the first lap and was hauling through the sections that had dogged me the week before. The course was dryer and faster, but I was also more confident and had a level of focus that it possible to sustain my pace.
Coming out of the last flowing woods section I was pretty smoked and was too far in the red. The group of six that had been behind me zipped by as we started to work our way back up toward the finish line. The climbs weren't terribly long, but they were steep and psychologically I was gassed. I never was able to catch back on.
Last week I targeted one racer who finished two minutes ahead of me, and as we rolled through the start of lap 2 he passed me. I composed myself and tried to limit the damage and stay in contact. For most of the second lap I was 15-20 seconds behind him- always in sight, but a little too far ahead to catch.
Through lap 2 I maintained the same distance, but as we entered the start of lap 3 I could see that his pedal stroke was getting wobbly and that I was slowly reeling him in. As we snaked through the rocky sections at the top of the course he was maintaining a 10 second gap, but he overshot the exit of the sweeping high speed turn and all of a sudden I was right on his wheel. We rode together for a few hundred meters before he bobbled on one of the uphill hairpins and I was able to sneak by.
With a slight gap in hand I pinned it for the last lap with the intention of putting as much distance as possible on my new nemesis. Some other racers were hot on his heels and I was soon being chased by a small group. I didn't take notice of exactly how far back they were, nor whether they were working together but rather put as much as I could into the drag strip climb. Where the course doubled back on itself I could hear other riders behind me and made sure to push as I hard as I could without overcooking the technical sections.
As I hit the last woods section I just tried to stay smooth and keep my gap. I could hear some jockeying for position behind me and gave it a little extra gas through the G-outs and over the roots. At the bottom of the last uphill I was already in the red, but I knew that if I could get to the top of the steep grassy climb with a gap that I could recover on the slight downhill before the finish.
My plan worked, and I streaked across the line with no chasers in sight. I didn't win, nor even garner a noteworthy place in my category, but I beat a racer who's consistently been ahead of me and put almost four minutes into last season's nemesis.
Overall a great race, and a great start to racing on my new favorite race bike, the RSL.