Wow. In short, upon pre-riding the course, I completely ratcheted my goals down to surviving without busting up myself or my bike -- completely. I'm not sure words really do the course justice, but I'll give it a go.
One man at the hotel said, "It's like busted up frozen concrete." And, when I saw it, I thought the same thing and then by our race there was just enough melting on the top that it was slick to boot. In several places there were deep, and I mean 4-8 inches deep frozen ruts, waiting to catch your tire. This along with the rest of the 1-3" ruts throughout the rest of the course rendered most of it single-track. There were hundreds of wrecks. At one point the announcer figured the average for each rider was running 3 spills every 10 minutes. Forks were broken, wheels flew off and it was just quite the eye opener for yours truly. In fact, the race winners were those who were able to keep the tire side down the most.
So, after the goal adjustment, I rode and tried to get the hang of going over the ruts. As it turns out, it's like a rock garden. You have to maintain momentum, even though it seems entirely counter-intuitive, and you have to keep the weight of the front of the bike. I practiced that before the race and throughout the race. Consequently, next time I face something like that, I think I'll do much better. I ended up 41st but didn't get lapped by Compton and with another year of riding experience to improve my handling skills, I think I can crack the top 25 next year.
The race itself went like this for me:
Missed my clip-in. (note to self - clean out cleats before race start), but still wasn't in awful position but the rutted right turn onto the ice/grass track was a near crash and I had to restart my momentum. I made up time and started moving up, only to be taken out by another crash, which I wasn't even really upset about. Everyone was trying to do their best and although it was frustrating, mostly I didn't want to get hurt or see anyone else get smashed up. So more than once another rider and I untangled our bikes and wound it up again.
The run-ups were good for me, and I ran that whole section because I was quite sure I wouldn't be able to clean the rutty section preceding the hill down to the asphalt and on nearly every lap I caught 1-3 women with that strategy.
On the last lap, I heard something amiss with my front wheel. I didn't know what, but when I leaped to my bike to go down the final hill and wind it up on the asphalt, I realized I wasn't going anywhere fast with a flat front tire probably due to my broken spoke. At first I thought I could ride the carbon rim, but the attempt was brief. So, after working so hard 3 times to move up after minor disasters I had to get off and jog up the hill and across the line. It hurt, but you know, that's what I like most about 'cross -- the drama.
In most every race, for most every rider, there's a full range of emotions when you mix it up with the other riders and the spectators. There's comedy, triumph, tragedy -- all of it -- and because there's not a pack or tricky drafting strategies, you pretty much get to witness and experience a fight whether you're at the front, struggling through the middle, or valiantly bringing up the tail end. And on that note, I'd like to give every single rider who faced that course this weekend in the mud and the bitter cold a giant gold star -- especially the kids out there. Man, if any of 'em were mine, I'd make 'em pancakes for breakfast for a week. :)
Hurrah for 'cross! Huzzah for the '08 season!