Monday, September 26, 2016

Arctic MTB Race 3

The first of three races held at Hillside this season. Despite an overhyped weather forecast for heavy downpours and flood watches from the incredibly-off weather guessers, at most, the bone dry and dusty trails saw a quick shower mid-race, and otherwise cloudy and cool temps: perfect.

I felt really good going into the race, and was jittering with energy all day. As expected, the race jumped out hard.

In keeping with my strategy this year, I just rode the first lap at pace, knowing that I would get pulled along by the collective momentum of the group a little faster than normal.

I was feeling really good about the course, and had a new strategy for the descent: don’t brake!

The standard Hillside course is one of the few I know of that you can lose on the downhill: and I have, several times. The descent beats up riders, particularly those on hard tails, leaving them strained to attack on the rather direct main climb. I think between doing the 6-hour race helped me a lot, but even more was spending an afternoon doing consecutive laps (4) on this course.

Photo G.S.

I noticed when I was riding the course consecutively, that toward the end of my ride, while my times on the climb were gently slowing down as my legs fatigued, my overall lap times were actually decreasing, as I got faster on the downhill each lap. It wasn;t because I was developing some inside edge on the downhill though, I was actually getting tired, and was thus relaxing. Basically, I’ve always tried to ride strong and decisively on this descent, but it turns out, it’s better just to let go, not just because it’s faster, but because it’s easier. I was working less, meaning I had more energy for the climb.

On race day, I finished off lap one and caught a glimpse of both Nick and Andy D down the straight away of the gasline. That was a good sign in my mind, though I specifically avoided reacting.

Part two of my plan was that, as in the past, I expected to mostly be alone in this race. I would be hard pressed to use other riders as motivation to chase riders, instead, I would use the course and the clock to launch attacks.

The main climb, though fairly direct, isn’t all that steep. The steepest pitch actually is right at the base going up Drone Lane, and then one or two short pitches along the way. It’s still a climb though, and can lull you into a steady pace if you let it.

Photo G.S.

I marked two sections along the way up where I planned to launch 30-second all-out sprints, regardless of who else was around.

I flirted with this strategy a little bit last year, and found it to be fairly effective when I’m alone in no-mans land.

I was able to pick off another rider using one of these attacks as I headed up the second lap, though Nick and Andy had disappeared, as expected.

Sure enough though, back at the base of the second lap, there they were again. I was gaining on them on the descent, they were gaining on me on the climb, but the delta was in my favor with this course.

I employed the ghost attack method again going up lap three, and as I topped out, closed the gap first on Chris Jung, who I think Nick had just come by. I followed Chris a short ways but slipped around him, and within 10 seconds of dropping into Lama, had caught Nick.

This is where I made one major mistake: Nick asked if I wanted to come around, and I declined. I was thinking about what a good race we’d had at Race 2, and I figured I’d let him pull me through a little more of the descent and then come around. I should have just come around right then when he offered though, as a short ways after we came up on another rider, and we couldn’t really pass on the narrow trail. Truthfully, he wasn’t slow either, but in this case, I could definitely descend faster than both Nick and the other rider and was losing valuable seconds for chasing down Andy D.

Eventually both Nick and I passed when the trail opened, and we finished the descent.

Unfortunately, at the base of this lap, Andy wasn’t off in the distance down the straight away providing a target, though Nick was just seconds behind me.

I had one more part to my plan for the day: go deep on the final 1/2 mile on Double Bubble’s steep climb on the final lap. Nick gave me a good chase to the base of the hill, but I was able to open up the gap going up the steep pitch.

Though this wasn’t as close and confined as the last race, that was to be expected, and I was super pleased with how this race went, for one main reason: after years of getting walloped on the descent, I was able to take three positions on the final descent instead of getting passed.

Last year, I decided I would try to use my climbing legs and punish some of my cohorts by digging relentlessly deep on the climb, challenging them to hold on. The simple problem with this strategy is one of basic math. The climb takes me anywhere from 11-13 minutes, the lap takes 27-29 minutes. That means one spends the greater portion of this course going down or traversing. I was getting caught on the second part every time, leaving me to instead hang on to riders who were going faster than I wanted to, while I worked too hard on the downhill, diminishing my abilities to return the favor on the comparatively shorter climb.

My only question about this year: when I finished, I felt really good, like, I wanted to hammer another lap. On the third lap climb, I did think about throwing in an extra attack, but decided to stick with my plan. The fact that I had this thought though, on a climb, three laps in, was noteworthy, and told me I left too much in the tank.

While this course sometimes gets some grief for being rather hard, not to mention repetitive (it’s been raced every year since like 2009), I think it’s one of Anchorage’s best, both for its challenge, but also because you know you will see it again, so it serves as a good benchmark.

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