The first race of the season always carries a few extra emotions. I used to race quite a bit in Texas so it was exciting to be returning. There was relief the at getting to ride without worrying about keeping extremities warm, a little stress over having new yet un-trail ridden equipment, transitioning to the endurance mentality from cyclocross, and of course being out of practice for traveling with the bike and the constant need for reassurance that you have brought all the little mountain bike specific necessities.
I made it to Austin smoothly, I was set up with a fantastic host from Mellow Johnny’s and got out to check out the course. While it was a bit dry the course was a blast, plenty of rocky technical sections and drops that kept you on your toes yet flowed together very well, broken up by a few punchy climbs and a lot of slippery gravel. There was no real elevation gain to my disappointment but still plenty of sweet singletrack to keep you working and thinking. The start loop funneled down quickly to a tight twisty singletrack, which would play a big factor at the start, while the rest of the course was unrelentingly fast. Best of all, the weather was perfect.
After pre-riding I went to spin out on the road. I was rolling down a hill and from out in the brush on the left in a field a large beer can came flying out of the bushes and landed on the shoulder. A few things went through my head at this point: (a) maybe there was a homeless guy sitting in the yucca and cactus drinking beer and tossing the cans, (b) someone was out there picking up the recycling and was trying to be more efficient by hurling the cans to the shoulder, or, (c) maybe some kids are hiding in the bushes drinking. My eyes are peeled on the spot where the can came from when a scary loud ripping noise almost made me crash myself. There was no dust in this dust devil but another stray piece of garbage blew up and I would like to think that if I hadn’t have stopped I would have been ripped right off the bike with the violence of that wind. The experience nearly gave me a heart attack!
The course was pretty hard on the bike, it’s such a funny transition from cyclocross smoothness and mud and snow to rocks. I wasn’t sure how the new wheels would handle it since all the home trails were buried under some pretty but annoying white stuff. I was fairly worried about bashing a rim on the rocks by running a low tire pressure but even with a few good fast rocky drops everything seemed awesome and ready to go.
The start was aggressive as it should be but I got a bumped on both sides and for the sake of knowing it is still faster to stay upright I backed off a little and rolled out pretty near the rear of the group. I made a bit of time up on the slight climb to the singletrack, but I didn’t foresee the amount of dust reducing visibility and again unfortunately opted for slightly less aggressive and more self-preservation of a start. It didn’t take long to start moving up, the course was great to ride at full speed and the spectators were fantastic. I finished twelfth which I am generally happy with but not quite satisfied. I felt like I could have definitely produced a higher quality race but as it was I rode a very technically competent effort and the competition was fierce. As always I feel like I learned a lot of great lessons that make me super excited for the next opportunity.
The bike for the day was definitely not a hardtail but while I feel it could have been faster with suspension, all the comments I was overhearing about fatigue from being beat up on a hardtail took me by surprise. Whether it was the carbon wheels, the bike, the tire pressure, or a sweet combination of everything I hadn’t even noticed.
I finished up the weekend by missing my flight home on Sunday due to leaving my wallet at the house. While this did end up causing me to miss class on Monday morning I scored an extra bike unpacking to go out on the greenbelt trail from downtown Austin. The weather was incredible and the trail was super rad which more than made up for walking around in the two inches of Monday snow in flip flops when I got back to Denver.