not exactly cyclo-cross racing but racing nonetheless. Last sunday I was part of a three-person team competing in a mountain bike relay race called 6 hours of Kortenberg. My teammies were Jonas and his brother in-law Chris. We wore the black version of the Vanderkitten kit and called ourselves the Phat Cats.
This was Jonas' first race ever, Chris just started riding a mountain bike in April, and I was under Coach Elmo's specific instructions not to go over low-tempo so we were there primarily for fun with no designs on taking the gold. And fun is what we got - lots of it in fact.
We turned the "competitive" event into an all-day play date complete with friends and family joining in the festivities. It was easily over 80 degrees F so we brought the oversized umbrella from the backyard and set up our picnic underneath with lawn chairs and a table filled with food such as cookies, beer, pasta and energy drinks.
The course was about 3.5km in length and included everything from fire roads, power climbs, technical descents and even a water fall (actually it was just a spray hose hung above the course that was very welcome by most of the racers to drop their body temps below boiling from Belgian's version of a heatwave.)
Chris was brave enough to start us off and battle the other 35 riders for the whole shot. Next it was Jonas with me last. I figured i should go last so that way when i jump on the course at low-tempo nobody will notice how slow I'm going. It turned out, though, that low-tempo on a cross bike (i used the Ahrens Whole Shot) isn't too embarassing when racing on a course that is not terribly technical. I really lucked out.
Our original plan was to do 2 x 45 minute turns, then 1 x 30 minute turns to total 6 hours. But what we found is that it doesn't work that cleanly in a relay race. Instead we should have done it by number of laps instead of by time so the rider up next has a better idea of when to stand in the blazing sun waiting for the racing baton. We also noticed later on in the race that the other teams were taking shorter turns. Something to consider for our next attempt.
My favorite part of the race was duking it out with the Butterfly Powder Team (the other girly jersey team) that were next to us in the transition pit. We are friends with the riders so we had a race within a race with them. In lap 20 we were passed by them but we didnt fret. Our patience paid off on lap 43 - the pentultimate lap - when Jonas passed them early in the lap and put a sizeable gap on them as he pulled into the transition zone and handed me the baton. Shoot. It's one thing to race your heart out but it is completely something different when you have to do it at a low-tempo pace. It really makes you race smart. I took a little more speed into areas where it would shave a few seconds off, and chose my lines and gearing wisely.
As I was coming down the last descent, I looked over to my left at the climb and spotted the butterfly jersey charging up the hill - about 15 seconds behind me. Although nobody outside of our two teams cared that I crossed the finish line ahead of him, it still felt like a little triumph for the Phat Cats. On a side note, due to a glitch in the Organization's lap counting method the Butterfly Team officially beat us but that didnt stop us from celebrating together with them after the race. We just forced them to buy the beers. haha.
It was no surprise that Jonas had the fastest average speed from our team but what surprised me was that Chris and I didnt pull him down too much at the end of the day since we finished somewhere mid-pack of all the teams - and 2nd place overall of teams with only 3 racers.
After we showered, we all went to the official post-race pasta party with life music. We even got party gifts - laundry detergent. Strange but thoughtful.
Overall it was a very pleasant experience. It was especially exciting for me to compete in a race where I can solely focus on having fun with absolutely no pressure to perform well. My coach is always joking with me about all of my lessons learned but I surely learned one from that day that i can take with me forward into cross season. If I can minimize the self-induced stress going into the upcoming cross races, I may actually have more fun - and perform better. Hey, you never know.