Here I am coming into the finish at the Napa Valley Dirt Classic up in Angwin, CA, just outside of St. Helena where I finished a solid 5th place. I was half a minute down from 4th and a few minutes from 2nd. 1st place was way out there to be considered in the same class. I had a very good start, almost getting the hole-shot at the top of the road climb onto dirt. I wanted to make sure I positioned myself well enough to gauge the leaders. It wasn't going to be a long day in the saddle so I knew I had to pin it from the beginning.
At the very top of the first climb I dropped my chain, losing at least five or so places. I knew I should have replaced my chain the night before. Lesson learned. From there I was chasing the chase group. I lost contact with them halfway through the first loop and rejoined them on the rolling sections of trail. When I say rolling they really rolled, dipping straight to the bottom of a riverbed and back up. I kept my position well enough and managed to drop the group as soon as the climbs became steadier and steeper. The trails were sweet. Lots of tight corners and sweeping single track.
By the halfway point I knew I had made up some ground, but didn't know exactly how far back I was from the lead group. I passed a few folks, either in my start group or stragglers from the pro field. I put my head down and continued to work. I dropped my chain a few more times, and really started to panic at this point, and thought it would eventually be the end of my race day. I tried to manage my shifting by not shifting down to the small ring as much as possible. Only on the steep pitches would I have to risk the downshift.
A familiar face rode by, someone I raced with at the Old Caz Grasshopper Adventure Series. We traded off places on the rather steep and slippery slopes of Pope Canyon. He had overheard someone describing the terrain like 'kitty litter'. It was really loose dirt atop hardpack, making it rather difficult to keep a straight line, especially through some deeply rutted sections. I managed to drop him at the start of the big climb out, leaving no mercy for my rivals. Reminder to self: replace worn out, nearly bald Racing Ralph tires before Sea Otter.
I got into quick-spin mode and worked my way past four or five riders before it began to flatten out. The grades were so steep, at some points averaging 20º or more. I was expecting more of a climb, not to say it wasn't easy, but it was shorter than expected. I also kept looking down at my Garmin thinking there was at least another four miles or so of trail, but before I knew it we were already back on the cow fields adjacent to the airport. From the top of the airport was the short descent back to the finish line. There was one rider who managed to escape on the long climb out. I tried to bridge up to him, hoping to make a pass before the downhill, but he knew I was chasing and didn't let up. I should have fought harder, but for some reason I didn't think he was in my category to matter.
I came in with a finishing time of 1 hour and 30 minutes, my goal for the day. It wasn't fast enough to podium, but I felt really great considering how competitive and large my category was. I finished 5th in my age group and snagged a 7th overall out of 70 starters.
I've got to carry this fitness throughout the week and into Sea Otter, which is on Friday. I'm feeling really good, but Sea Otter is a whole different kind of race, twice as long and potentially twice as hot. Last year I barely finished, with a respectable 9th place. This year I want to podium. It's a lofty goal, but I've improved tremendously as a rider/racer this past year.