Given a day to digest it, I'm feeling good about this race. Not super-amazing, give-me-a-high-five great, but good. Solid.
There were some key things that led to this good feeling. First and foremost, I kept myself upright throughout the race, an accomplishment that was all the more notable due to what was an extremely bumpy course. There were two descents on the backside of the course that were just dirt single-track, heavily rutted. The second one was particularly brutal, as the bottom of the decent was a 100-degree left turn straight uphill onto a paved climb. One of my teammates took a crack at a visual description of the course. That is dead on for me.
I was actually glad to hear that everyone else thought the course was as rough as I did -- I'm still at that point where I'm not sure about my opinions as I'm just six races into my career. The fact that these experienced racers were bitching as much as I was felt oddly validating.
On those rough sections, I spent a lot of time thinking about relaxing my upper body, and letting the bike just roll, and that made a big difference. The other thing that really helped was racing on tubulars for the first time. I was able to run them at a low enough pressure (35 PSI) that the tires could soak up a lot of the bumps, and leave me much more rooted to the ground. I don't think I'll ever race on clinchers again, as you just need too much air to avoid pinch flats.
I started about the middle of the pack in the Men's C race. With 78 competitors, that was way, way too far back. I failed to get to the line early enough to insure I was closer to the front, and that was a big mistake. The course only ran about 300 yards to a huge dirt run-up, and I was probably 35th when we hit it. And by that point, the race is gone from you, especially when all the singletrack on the backside of the course made it so hard to pass people. On the first lap, I actually came to a complete stop, as the rider in front of me took his time rolling onto the decent.
The long paved climb on the back was the focus of much complaint, but given my climbing chops, it was the best place on the course for me to pass people. I'd pick off five or six riders a lap on the climb, and then we'd all stay in basically the same order until the climb the next lap.
Over the course of the race, a guy from Peninsula Velo and I had a good little battle. He'd pass me, get a little gap. I'd chase him down, put a gap on him. It was really fun to be out competing in that way. On the final lap, I had a little lead, but he did a better remount after the last barriers, got the inside line on me. We hammered down the finishing straight, and he pipped me right on the line, by about 2 inches.
I finished 21st. Or as I'm choosing to think of it, in the top third of my race.
After the race I shook hands with my adversary, and we talked about how much fun the battle had been. And it was fun, even though I felt like I had been pounded by a hammer all over my body.
Looking at my lap data, my first lap was my slowest, by almost 30 seconds. That's the traffic jam on the singletrack. The last lap was the fastest, which was a little surprise to me, but the effort of the racing for position would have done that. The other laps were shockingly consistent, within seven second of each other.
But if you do some wish fulfillment, and wonder what would have happened if I could have done each of the five laps as fast as my best...that time would have been good enough for the top ten.
Of course, I probably couldn't have done that, even with a better start. But if my first lap could have been the same as my consistent times, I could have been 15th.
So, the focus next time? Keep working on technical skills and warmup. And get to the start line earlier, so I don't lose the race before it starts.