I had to do it. I had to see if my early season has been a case of home-course advantage. It was also the end of a rest week. It all made sense. Drive 6 hours to Macon GA for the Georgia State Championship Series opener, throw down for a couple of hours at the end of a rest week and see if the speed I've been displaying would follow me into hostile turf.
I wanted to ride for a couple of hours, so we left at 6AM Saturday and got to Arrowhead Park at noon, which wasn't bad considering that the entire province of Ontario was making the exodus north on I75 from their winter roosts in Florida. I started with an easy lap with Lauren and Fontana. Lauren was nursing a foot injury and only wanted to ride one lap, but with the temps in the 50s, Fontana was up for running all day, even keeping up when I was doing some race-pace openers.
"Will you quit futzing with that gadget so I can run?!?"
Sunday was near freezing in the morning, as predicted. It made the warm-up for the 9:30 start fun, with frozen fingers and toes. It was sunny and the wind had died down, so it felt pretty nice by start time. A lot of people really bundled up, but I opted for a base layer under my jersey, arm and knee warmers, and toe booties and thick gloves to keep my digits happy.
The start suited me well. It was nice and wide, immediately taking a sharp right turn up a steep hill, then right back down the hill and into the singletrack. It would give me plenty of time to ramp up the pace and hopefully hit the trail in good position.
I lined up on the far left with the thought of taking a sweeping turn up the hill, maintaining speed and staying out of the 24-man fray if things got silly. It was a good plan because things got silly. I started to see and hear bars locking and hit the hill off the left side of the gravel as riders piled up to my right. I was the last person in a 5-man group that broke free of the pack once we hit the singletrack. The first 2 riders peeled away and the 3rd rider was just ahead. I sat behind #4 and made my move near the end of the 1st lap. I maintained my spot through the 2nd lap, then at the start of the 3rd lap the singlespeeder that was just in front of me broke his chain on the start climb. I was now in 3rd. An uneventful 3rd lap led into the 4th and I was greeted by fellow Floridian Robert Bounds in the feed zone. Apparently he pulled a hamstring and it was bad enough that he pulled out while in the lead. Bummer, but that put me in 2nd. One rider left.
Rolling through the feed zone to start the 5th and final lap, I asked Lauren if she new how far ahead he was. She didn't know, but as I went up the hairpin climb, he was coming down. 30 seconds. I started pushing harder up the climbs and keeping the pace higher on the flats and downhills. The climbs were starting to hurt, but I finally spotted him near the end of the lap. He saw me and started a series of small attacks, which I responded to and kept him in sight. There was a paved climb right before the final singletrack section that was going to be my only chance to make a move. He had other ideas, though. He hit that climb about 50' in front of me and dropped the hammer. I stood up to attack the climb, but my legs would have no part of it. The climbs were starting to hurt during that lap and it appeared I'd run out of turbo fuel.
I had victory in my hands and let it get away. I started second-guessing myself, wondering if I really gave it my all. When I saw this picture that Lauren snapped of me crossing the finish, I knew that I'd left it all out there. I looked like I was about to drop dead on the spot.
A trip out of state resulted in one of the best XC races I've put together. I think I'll do it one more time before enduro season kicks in, heading to the Knobscorcher at Tsali in a couple of weeks (as long as work doesn't get in the way). Maybe that'll be the one that gets me onto that top podium spot.