Frankly, I was a little nervous. I've really only been riding consistently again for four months. That is, the four months since I resigned from my job and dove into trying to move War Axe Bicycles forward. Four months after not truly racing for two years. Four months of saddle time that didn't seem like much time at all.
Plus, I had the newly arrived Fascist Killer on my hands. I didn't want to be the guy who played chopsticks on a finely tuned grand piano.
Wednesday went well enough. The surprised faces always held a friendly hello. New faces introduced themselves and several took a few minutes to look at the bike. The race went fine as well. Not last, certainly not first, but solid enough riding that occasionally had some flow, power but was certainly hitting on fun the entire time. I think I was the only person riding single speed, so I wasn't sure what to think about my gear choice, but I left Branched Oak with a smile and looked forward to Saturday.
Saturday offered both a time trial and XC race and I was cautiously optimistic that I'd avoid the side of myself that takes last place as equaling failure. When the time trial start times arrived Friday night, I was happy to see I didn't go off until 8:55. Happy until I then read that Aaron Gammell was the guy going off 30 seconds after me. I then began to play a game of guessing how long it would take Aaron to pass me, tried to remember my lap time from Wednesday, then decided I didn't want to do that much math.
The following morning, Aaron was one of the first people I saw. We chatted, discussed the TT and warmed up together before heading toward the start gate. Part of our discussion was the classic single speed "what gear?" discussion. Aaron, was running about five gear inches less that me, which means that while I lost most of my fitness over two years, I didn't lose my penchant for overdoing it when it comes to gear choice.
Out of gates, I just tried to go after it. One Lap, Balls Deep. However, the course wasn't in condition for a frontal assault, at least not the opening turns. Greasy and and wet, the trail required some prudence, which I failed to take with me. I blew through the first few turns and continued to slide off the trail even after I was trying to take them slowly. The fact that Aaron came by less than a quarter of the way through the course wasn't a huge surprise. The guy can ride a bike. I got better (and so did the course) as the lap went on, could see Aaron at times through the trees and finished up strongly, telling myself not to make the same mistake when the XC race arrived.
I found Aaron after the finish and we went over/under on how far back I finished from him. I went with 55 seconds and was close, 58 seconds back. A quality Price Is Right estimate.
Waiting for the XC start was a good time. I continued to chat with Aaron, saw EB, MG and Dale Pinkleman, wishing them luck in the marathon class and watching them power through the beginnings a of long day in the saddle.
For the XC race, it turned out the single speed group would be going off on our own, three minutes back of the Cat 2 folks. With my handling in the TT speaking for itself, I thought it best if Aaron lead into the single track, he'd be riding away from me anyway and there was no reason to pin him behind me if I fumbled my way through the turns.
Luckily, the course had really firmed up by our 12:30 start though and Aaron and I went into the first climb together. He gapped me a bit on the climb, and I decided on the next, longer climb I'd do everything I could to stay with him and, if not make a decent race of it, at least not ride solo for two and a half laps.
Unfortunately, we never got that far. In twisting section of trail, Aaron went down and dislocated his shoulder. I stopped. He yelled for me to go on and I called to some people watching to get him some help and carried on. Aaron's a tough guy, so seeing him in pain and grasping his shoulder like that changed the dynamics of the day. The race turned into a hard ride and I just cranked it out to the end. Job done.
Aside from Aaron's injury, I had a great time and it was nice to step back into the scene and have it feel like you haven't left.
Of course, it would be nice if at some point I put the right gear on my bike. I actually used the Beta version of our gear calculator to see how different what Aaron ran was from my 36x18 selection. Considering I now have lap times I can use, I plan to head back out to Branched Oak with about five gear inches less in my set up. I'll let you know how it turns out.
Aside from poor gear selection, it seems I've kept another habit from days gone by... writing long race reports.
See you next race.