The start of the P.I.R. Short Track mtb race, Cat 3's. I am second row sort of in the middle of the photo (blue and white helmet, blue and white jersey with a red collar--identical kit to the guy in the lead row, Dylan)
I was a bad son and made my mother go to the airport early so that I could try my first short track mtb race out at Portland International Raceway. I've never done any sort of short track race. It was fun...in a miserable sort of way.
Ok, so I really didn't have to drop my mom off early, but truth be told I was considering doing so in order to race. As it was I dropped her off about 90 minutes before her flight and then raced to get to the race. I ended up getting there in time to sign up and then get a decent position on the starting line. I had very little idea what the course was going to be like. With no warm up lap I was going in with a big disadvantage, especially since I'd never done this sort of race before.
Dylan Cernitz, also a Team Buttercup member, was front row and I lined up just a bit behind him. He was an old hand at this race now...this was his 4th race this year. He tried to tell me a few pointers which I appreciated. I rode my Lapierre carbon cyclocross bike while most of the bikes were of the fatter tired variety. I had a cheap tubular wheel in the rear with a Tufo Flexus Dry Plus (700x34) with a file tread pattern and a slightly knobby Tufo Flexus Primus front tire (also a 700x34) glued to a front wheel that Brian Spears and I are calling the Chi-Bons. Generic Chinese-made carbon rims purchased on Ebay mated to American Classic hubs. According to one local bike shop these wheels are pretty much destined to blow up one way or another. The rear wheel isn't glued up yet and so I only used the front. Even the guy that built the wheels was suspicious of their durability. In fact when I told Neil Cernitz, the builder of my new singlespeed frame that I used them I think he thought I was crazy for doing so on that course. But I figured that I might as well use them, despite not being the ideal terrain. If they are going to fail then so be it. I would rather that it happen now than in the middle of cross season.
The race started and I had no idea where we were going. I was in the middle of the pack and I just sort of followed along at a brisk pace. I immediately missed having big fat tires. Oh, if I could only have gone back in time to when I had my Dean titanium 29er...I would have really kicked some butt without the pain, sometimes intense pain in my back and kidney area. Riding on that course was just plain hurtful on those little narrow tires. The course was full of sharp turns, short steep ascents and short steep drop-ins. Much of the course weaved through a motocross course. There was not one smooth part on the entire course that I can remember. After all, this is a mountain bike race, so I would not expect it to be so. But still the advantage I gained from having a stupid-light bike was totally cancelled by the fact that I could not pedal though some of the choppy stuff at speed. Guys with bigger tires passed me at times. On straight aways I could get them back but again...as with the entire evening...it just plain hurt.
My lungs hurt from the dust. My back hurt from being bounced around while riding a cross bike with skinny tires. My legs hurt from being having to push my fat gut around. But all in all, I didn't do horribly. I raced the Cat 3's and managed to place 23rd out of 62. Could have been worse, and when I finished the question I asked was, "How close to last was I?" I really thought I had only placed ahead of 4 or 5 guys. That is how ugly I felt out there. If I had known what the course was like I would have certainly picked up a few places as well.
Anyway, I checked my equipment after the race. Di2 drive train: perfect. Chi-Bon front wheel: still perfectly true. Semi-slick rear tire and minimal knobby front tire: hooked up great. Only sketchy in the pea gravel. My equipment did a great job despite being sort of over-burdened. This really gives me confidence going into cross season with the Lapierre. I was somewhat worried early on this year. But as I have put more time on it I don't think about it at all anymore, which is the best thing that can happen to me. I am pretty used to it. I still prefer the geometry of the Cernitz singlespeed, but it really is a rocket.
Hopefully I can get out for the race next week. Short track is a cool thing and I recommend it. Sure it hurts, but it is over quick.