I hadn't originally planned on racing this past weekend, but the family started heading different directions and I found out that I would need a 6th race for the local cross series. I made my decision around 12:30, loaded the car quickly and hit the road near 1pm. I had an hour drive and the start time was 3pm, so I wouldn't have much time to register and warm-up.
The drive was quick and the location was easy to find. I quickly registered and changed, grabbed the bike (had to quickly change out a flat front tire) and did a single recon lap. The course had us weaving across a shallow ditch a few times, then into and through a muddy cattle chute. After that it was another 150 yards into what I think was the horse barn (soft sand surface that required a short run). After that, there was one hurdle and mostly wide open through some grassy areas. A good course that I thought would favor the road cyclists and put me at a disadvantage.
The cat 3's took off, followed by the 35+ (10sec later) and finally, the 10 of us in the 45+ category (10sec later). As we sprinted the initial 100 yards towards the 1st ditch, I was sitting around 8th spot. I passed 1 or 2 and counted myself in 6th spot (I have this habit of counting my position from the leaders in the 1st couple of corners, it helps keep track of my placing because the various classes usually end up co-mingled). Then I had a bit of luck, Kim West had something happen during the 2nd ditch crossing and he took a hard left into the course tape, that caused a pause in the group and I was in 4th (what happened Kim?, I didn't see any raccoons). We headed towards the cattle chute and I was able to get past Laugs for 3rd. Steve Fleagle was leading (haven't caught him in any of the previous races) and John Adamson (Mr. 10 Leadville belt buckles) was in 2nd. I bridged up to John by the end of the lap and we had a good gap on those behind us. I drafted John in the one longer straight and hung onto his wheel to recover some.
I've been hoping/waiting for a race in which I could try to use tactics in order to decide the outcome. Thus, when John said that he was slowing down and suggested that I should pass if I wanted a chance to catch the leaders, I was leery. Was the older veteran using his knowledge to sucker me out of my plans? Should I just wheel suck and recover? I thought about it for what felt like an eternity (5-6 seconds) and decided to go. I put in a hard effort to get a gap (I've read about that in Velonews) and looked over my shoulder. I had shaken John, so I took off after Steve.
Now in our conversation, John had mistakenly thought that we were in 3rd and that 2 others were up the road. With us hitting the back of the 35+ racers it was hard to tell (was it his mistake or more cunning deception?). I went hard for another 2 laps and then started to die. Of course, John had probably planned all this and caught back up to me. He passed and I tried to stay on his wheel. It was just too hard and I looked at my watch. We had 25min to go in the race. I decided to let him go and save it for the last 15min.
When I finally decided to go, I was fortunate to be lapped by the cat3 leader. I caught his wheel in the fast section and used his momentum to make up some serious ground. I did try a bad line in the barn and lost some time, but thought I might catch John for the finish. It was fun chasing him down and we were both making time on Steve (who I could see looking over his shoulder). We had caught the guy that John thought was in our class (and confirmed he wasn't). At the end, I waited a lap too long. Steve won by 100 feet or less to John and I was another 50 feet behind John.
What a fun race! It's been at least a decade since I've been at the front of the race and fighting for a final podium spot. I enjoyed the mental aspect of this race and was glad that my form came back. I hope to carry some of that into the final races this weekend. Spookycross on Saturday and Sunday. Too bad that we are mixed into the other groups, because I bet the small but vocal crowd didn't realize how close our race was.
I do realize that the fastest two riders series (of the 45+) were not at this race, but it gives me hope that if I find a little more speed that I can still make it to the front of the field this weekend.