Well, it's now mid-October and to date, I've lined up at two races.
Considering I deliberately took a step back from the road season to focus on 'cross, it would be an understatement to say that my plan hasn't quite worked out the way I thought it would. So where did it all go wrong?
Well, it all started the week before the first race of the season: I'd been having issues since last season with my rear brake lever having a few millimetres of dead travel when returning from the engaged position. The last time this happened, it was resolved by a bleed and since the brake technically still functioned fine except for that loose rattling of the lever, I figured it could be dealt with before Aldor Acres.
I was wrong. It was determined that there was something more serious going on with the master hydraulic cylinder in the lever, so they sent the set back to the local SRAM distributor for examination. To their credit, they replaced both levers even though I was long past any feasible warranty claim. After a two week turnaround, I was good to go again. I managed to head down to MFG's Moor Cross where I proceeded to swallow dust for 45 minutes and finish 22/48 after a bell-lap bobble knocked me out of my groove. Not bad for my first race in an open Cat.3 field.
My training plan involves working on both fitness and handling. For the latter, the UBC Endowment Land trails offer some excellent terrain, made even trickier/more exhilarating when you're rushing through them after dark. In a group. A fast group. On one of these rides, I went over my bars and bruised a rib. Great, so now I'm out for at least two weeks while waiting for the musculature to heal. During this time, I couldn't really do any work on my fitness because I couldn't take full, deep breaths. I did whatever I could to work on core strength and flexibility, but it wasn't a substitute for being able to do interval work.
The weekend before last, I was finally able to get out for more than a casual spin, so I used the opportunity to head across the border to pick up a parcel and get some riding in the Bellingham area. All was going well until the return loop when the combination of wet pavement and a careless driver forced me onto a loose gravel shoulder where I went down on my left side again, opening up the wounds that had just healed from the crash that put me out in the first place. Great, so now that impact probably set me back at least a week.
The good news during all of this was the remnants of Typhoon Songdra, which has been dumping rain on the city for the past week. If I couldn't get out to ride, at least most of the city was facing the same situation, albeit for different reasons. By last Friday, cabin fever had finally gotten the better of me and I had recovered enough to take about 90% of a deep breath without issue and could lift my bike to barrier height. I did a short opener session in Stanley Park on Saturday and was sorely disappointed in how quickly I got winded, but perfection is the enemy of progress, so I was willing to take it.
Despite the threat of the third forecasted storm, Junkyard Cross in Surrey managed to stay remarkably dry (but incredibly windy). The organizers at VCXC had to alter the course to avoid any wooded sections at the direction of the city, leaving my disappointed that I wouldn't get to run the course I missed last year due to illness. This year's layout was defined by the long uphill paved start, two short grassy run ups, some flowy chicanes and 180s, a few surface transitions, lots of loose gravel, and lots of off-camber. The consensus among those I chatted to after pre-ride was that it was going to be a fast course. I'll admit that I was worried, but told myself to keep my expectations low.
I snagged a front row start since a good number of the call ups weren't in attendance. The good news is that the uphill start was something I knew I could still do well with given my body type and preference for low-gear, high-cadence acceleration. I was able to get off the front almost immediately, but just missed out on the hole shot. No matter; I had accomplished my early goal of putting myself at the front of the race to avoid the early bottleneck at the double-180s leading to the barriers. Once over those and into the back section of the course where it widened up, I was fine with easing off a bit to try and settle into a manageable pace. Immediately, a few people surged by, but that was fine. All according to plan.
After the early laps, I knew what was going to work well for me and what wasn't. I wasn't that great in the loose gravel, was OK in the greasy chicanes, and knew that I could make up any distance I lost by being comfortable letting my bike run on the downhill transition from paved to greasy/muddy grass and then gravel without touching the brakes and using the paved and off-camber grass climbs.
True to my impressions, I went down hard after washing out on a sweeping right on loose gravel right within sight of the beer garden with three laps to go. I laid the bike down on the drive side, yet somehow managed to injure my left side (again). My thoughts, in chronological order:
Shit, did I just ruin a brand new skinsuit? (No)
Shit, did I just re-open the road rash from last weekend? (Pretty close)
Shit, is this bad enough that I want to DNF? (Also pretty close)
Shit, did anybody see this? (Most definitely yes)
Shit, how many people just passed me? (Three or four)
Ignoring the stinging coming from my hip and forearm, I hopped back on to the raucous cheer from the beer garden and set forward to start picking people off. Also true to my impressions, I was able to use the downhills and uphills to regain contact. I fought a tight battle with a group of three during the last two laps and made my final pass on the low line of the off-camber grass uphill. I heard one rider chasing onto the final gravel turn into the finish, but having already gone down once, I decided to hold it back instead of risking another dermabrasion session.
All in all, I was happy to finally be able to do (and finish) my first VCXC race of the season. Final result: 11/48 in Intermediate Men.