I don't know why but I love climbing. There's something very pure and almost carnal about climbing in a MTB race. As you enter a big climb early in a race you can often see your "prey" somewhere in front of you and the hunt is on. You stalk your prey and wait for the first sign of weakness. Maybe it's a spin out on a loose pitch, sometimes it's a slight weave off the trail due to a bad line but more often as you approach your prey you can read their body language and know they're struggling. This is the time to pounce.
I dig the Solitude Tuesday night race series. It's almost too fun for words. Due to the way the distances are set up most beginners decide to race in sport for the extra distance. This sets up a scenario where I have an abundance of prey. Because of the early singletrack climb most of the beginners think they need to blast off the line at a dead sprint to hit the singletrack ASAP. Normally it's a good strategy but unfortunately after sprinting for half a mile to the singletrack they're blown and it gets ugly for them quick on the climbs. Early in the climb I pass people who are standing off to the side of the trail gasping for air as I motor along but later in the climb is where I find my true prey. These are the racers who are strong enough the continue to climb after the sprint but are too blown to climb well. I hear them up ahead blowing like a freight train and the hunt is on. I slowly creep up on them and try to keep noise to a minimum, you don't want to scare your prey too early. As I get right on their wheel I calm my breathing and politely ask "can I get by". Immediately I see their shoulders slump with resignation when they realize the game is up. They'll try to be polite as they grunt out a yes but I can sense their displeasure. After making the pass I make sure to give it a little extra juice just to make sure I demoralize them enough so they can't grab my wheel.
Last night the prey was particularly abundant. The sport group was bursting at the seams for the start with maybe 20 or so total riders. The all mountain crowd was well represented with maybe a third of the racers on 5" rigs with fat tires and baggy shorts. It's good to see those guys out racing because some of them will get the bug and eventually evolve into XC types. More racers is good for everybody. I was probably too slow off the start and let most of the field get ahead of me. As soon as the singletrack climb started there was a massive pile up of blown beginners cursing at each other so I just picked my bike up and ran around them as best as I could. I picked off close to ten people on the climb and as the singletrack opened onto the service road I could see the lead group a minute or so ahead. The lead group got strung out on the road but I didn't push as hard as I should have to try to move up. I got caught behind one of the stragglers on the downhill and couldn't make a pass until the climb. I was feeling pretty good on the second climb up but still couldn't close the gap much. I wanted to hammer the road at the top to try to bridge up but I didn't have anything left in the tank and the people ahead were gone. Not sure how I placed but my time was less than a minute off my personal best from last year. I'm pretty happy with that since the snow on the course slowed me up a bit and I was re-learning the downhill. I just wish I didn't have to wait till next tuesday to do the race again.
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