Today I won my first Cat. 1 mountain bike race. I've won quite a few races in the past, from racing the Junior Exert and Senior Sport classes, but never as a Senior Expert or Category 1 racer. It's a big deal for me. I finished the 32 mile course in two hours and seven minutes, just four minutes off the overall race winner's pro time. I also finished 3rd overall out of my start wave of 44 experts and pros, 4th overall if you factor in the crazy-fast high school kid that started a couple of minutes behind and finished a minute ahead of me.
I felt really good coming into the race. I carbo-loaded the night before and got plenty of sleep before our two-hour drive north to Sacramento. The race started at 9am, and I wanted to get there with an hour or so to sign up and warm up. I had a very light breakfast of coffee, a banana and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I found that my body responds well to a light meal an hour or so before a race, no energy gels or drinks, just water.
I rocked my new Open kit to go along with my bike. One of the highlights from the race was when a guy behind me midway through the race asked "What's Open?". I replied, "It's a bike brand." Then he said, "Cool. Ok, let's work together and bridge the gap. Just do me a favor and let off those brakes around the corners." On lap three I saw him nursing his left leg, having crashed into a sizable boulder. We all have our race strategies. I just tend to take less risks and stay in control.
The race start was insanely fast. I lost what seemed to be 20 spots before I found my rhythm. The course was really fast and flowy. There was one big climb halfway through followed by some pretty fun and technical descents. There were even a few crazy rock gardens and technical features to keep me on my toes. I was really impressed with the trails, despite the lack of climbing.
As the race progressed I learned to let off the brakes a bit and just carve the corners, drifting around a few. I'm really loving how responsive and secure my Racing Ralph tires were feeling. They're definitely my race-day go-to tire from this day forward. I'm still a bit slow on the descents and especially cornering, but it's a skill that takes a lot of time to develop. My new bike and setup allowed me to attack everything with confidence. I didn't crash or have any mechanical failures.
I got a side cramp on the third lap, which caused me to slow my pace a bit. I lost a couple of places, but didn't panic. I knew I just needed to drink a bit more water, stay focused and keep hammering once the pain subsided. By the start of the final lap I punched up the pace, feeling really good and strong till the very end. I passed quite a few people throughout the entire race, getting passed only a couple of times. My big move started halfway through the last lap as I caught a few more riders from the lead group.
With all of the overlapping of age groups and categories I lost sight of how well I was doing. There were a ton of beginners and sport riders on course by the start of the second lap, which added to the difficulty of the race, having to pass and make risky moves to keep position, but it wasn't too bad. Most everyone knew the rules of racing, allowing me to pass by. I crossed the finish line, and still felt great. The 32 miles went fast.
Not that tough of a post race pose, but it felt good to have finished strong. I collected myself for a brief moment before checking my result. TBF was very organized and had results posted on a screen soon after finishing. I checked my time and place and saw that I placed 4th… Not the result I was expecting. They didn't have finish times yet, so we decided to head home early, a bit disappointed since I didn't make the podium… so I thought. As soon as we got home I posted my ride to Strava and checked the TBF Racing site for official results. To my surprise they had updated times and correct results. I had won! Had I known we would have stayed to receive my price and top spot on the podium for a photo.
I'm definitely doing this race and future races again. The course, while not to my strengths (length and climbing) it was really challenging and fun. All the flowing single-track and technical features was a blast to ride, especially for a first-timer. Kudos to TBF Racing for putting on one of the most organized and fun races I've been to in a while. Despite the confusing results they put on a great race. The entry fee was a bit steep, but I learned why. Good job, and see you next time.