(copied from my blog @ jerryhazard.com)
In the starting House
For so much build up, over months, days, weeks… The race was over in a flash (as was the entire Sea Otter experience), I remember more from before and after my run than I do my actual race.
“Number 621 – Jerry”
My hands and left knee have the nervous shakes.
After my name is called, I move forward in to the line, and situate my helmet. A salty bead of sweat breaks through the dam that is my eyebrow and warmly slides in to my eye. I try to use the foam of my goggles to soak it up – it helps a little. Watching the hill, I can see the younger (in this case, age group 35-39) riders being released in 20 second increments down the course. Some of them look FAST. My knee shakes a little more. The line of riders behind me in line look FAST, and they’re just standing there. “I Want A Yacht” by Dweezil Zappa bounces around my head. Wow, how do you song bomb yourself?
Don’t know why I have been overcome with this feeling of anxiety or intimidation. Nobody is really watching “me”. I’m not out to “win anything for the team”. No UCI standing to uphold or advance. But the nerves won’t seem to shut down. I’ve raced before, but never really against the clock like this. 12 hour downhill races are a different beast, and seem a bit more relaxed, initially anyhow. I did move out of CAT 3 this time, though it technically should have nothing to do with my overall time. I hear my own breath inside the helmet, sort of like Darth Vader, but not quite so ominous. My heart is beating slowly, but pounding with the ferocity of Animal, the energetic little muppet. I advance forward a few spaces.
I trade small talk with the guy behind me, I think he was riding an Intense, but my memory is foggy, maybe it was a Trek. Or Corsair. He doesn’t live far from Laguna Seca, and rides Northstar frequently. A few years ago, I would be jealous of this. Today, I just hope this cat does not catch up to me. At the same time, once I’m out of the gate, I secretly hope to catch the guy in front of me, even though getting past him may be a trick on this course – for me anyhow. I move forward some more, slowly approaching the starting house where riders are slowly loaded in to one side, and then rocket out the other.
“Results will be posted at the finish area at the bottom of the course. There is beer there. There is music there, there is food there” reports the metallic female loudspeaker.
“There’s also massages and dancing girls” I add, in order to lighten things up a bit (for me anyhow). A few chuckles and other hedonistic suggestions are offered up by others in line. The mood does lighten a bit. At least for me. But sweat still beads on my forehead.
I begin to go over the course in my head – I’m glad I walked it earlier and actually looked at it while trying to get photos of the other Airborne riders. Even though it is a “downhill” course, it’s not on a very steep grade – a good thing, given how sandy the course is. Not to say the course is bad – it’s not – its very fun, like a high speed, large bmx course. They did an amazing amount of work to get this ready, and it shows.
The one steep section has become a bit treacherous with all the use over the last three days. It begins with a lip about 3 feet tall, then flattens out in to a left handed 90, followed by a steep right hand curve, and then exits to a nice, deep, fast left handed berm. Successful navigation of this section was about 70% for the CAT 1 riders, and about the same for the CAT 2 riders I watched.
I’ve had five practice runs down this course over the last two days, and that’s time enough to develop a track nemesis or two. The first one is a drop in to an open descent that if you don’t have speed for, you will painfully case – which I learned from experience. The second is a hip jump to the right out of a fast left berm – I don’t hip to the right, so it makes this fun. Those are my sticky points on the race. I like the top half, especially the first turn to the first series of jumps. If I make time, it will be through those parts. If I get passed, it will be – never mind, I won’t get passed.
I step forward in to the starting house. One rider is in front of me.
“Do I have to wait for the end of the beep, or do I go right when I hear it?” I ask to the lady with the clipboard.
She assures me to hit it as soon as I hear the tone. One last check to make sure my goggles are set right against my face, helmet is buckled, pedals set, correct gear engaged. Right pedal up, I crouch back on the Airborne Taka and prepare to lunge forward at the tone. Anxiety has vanished. The cool Monterey breeze has evaporated any sweat. Hands are steady on my grips. My knee solidly locked and ready to go. Background chatter from the rest of the racers has disappeared, as have the cat calls, cheers, and cowbells down the course (Dweezil Zappa is also absent). I am cool, calm and collected. Focused. Dialed. Ready.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. BEEP… “There are six beeps, the first five sound the same, the sixth will be a different tone. Go on the sixth beep.”
The blur begins. Things that stand are either harsh or smooth. I cased one of the table top jumps at the top – jarring, but it didn’t cost too much on speed.
Over the first jump in a series of bmx jumps at the top
PEDAL! PEDAL! PEDAL! PEDAL! GET OFF THE BRAKES! PEDAL! GET OFF THE BRAKES! – the most heard chants from the spectators all week I bet. Also, the words I chanted to myself as I descended the course.
POV shot over the last table
I pedal halfway down the long straight after the drop until I run out of gear. As I begin rising up to the steep section I pedal some more. I take the wide line at the top, and the bottom, braking only minimally and actually keeping momentum through the steep, sandy turns. Blast the berm. Blast the hip to the right. Sweet. Blast the step after the hip, clear it with a bike length to spare.
S-Turns before the drop in to the long straight
The drop before the long straight - I think this was referred to as the log jump
PEDAL! PEDAL! PEDAL! PEDAL! GET OFF THE BRAKES! PEDAL! GET OFF THE BRAKES! – More blur.
Top of the steep sandy section
Berm blasting before the hip jump - shot courtesy of Neal Bryant
Hip Hop... photo courtesy of Neal Bryant
Looking over the lip of the step up
Blasting down another straight section, with a fun drop in to undulating undulations
After a small 90 berm to the right, it’s a straight, flat, flat, flat straight to the finish – interrupted only by two short-ish tabletop jumps. Some people at this point in a race will say that can’t feel their legs. I can feel mine at this point. I can feel the acid burning; it hurts so bad that I want to just sit down and soft pedal that last 100 yards. I put my head down and clean the jumps as smooth as I can, in order to get the pump off the landings and maintain speed. Head down, I make like a bmx dude and just crank the bars left- right- left and that 100 yards feels like 200, 300… but I make it through the finish, manage to coast a bit slow down, put my foot down to keep from falling over. Look back through the finish and up the hill I just blasted down. A wave of pride washes over, as the corner of my mouth curls up in to a slight, shit eating grin.
The mad dash to the finish
It was not a perfect run, to say the least. But, it was as perfect as I could do, with 4 and half practice runs in 3 days, on a bike I’ve never ridden before. If I had one more chance to ride the race again, I could not do any better. My first Category 2 race, is over, and out of a field of 36, I finished 13th. Had I stayed in Cat 1, my time would have earned me 6th place. I’m good with 13th. Besides, the race is against the clock, right?