The Ontario Cup mountain-bike series kicked off today at Mansfield Outdoor Education Centre near Alliston. The weather man promised sun and warm temperatures, and that had most Ontarians stoked for the first nice weekend -- especially mountain bikers. It is a little tradition of mine that my first day in shorts (and my first sunburn of the year) occurs at the Mansfield race.
For as long as I have been racing, Mansfield has been the first stop of the provincial series. Because of the unpredictable nature of the weather and conditions this time of year its sandy, well-draining soil makes it an excellent early-season venue. No matter what mother nature throws at us (notwithstanding lightening or Armageddon), chances are the racing will be a-ok. Plus, it's a nice mix of flowy tight single track and climbing which makes it a little easier on racers getting out on their first course after a winter of accumulating cobwebs. The course caters more to riders' fitness than technical skills.
The weather was indeed unpredictable, and the forecaster was totally off-base. Instead of a 30 degree sunny sky, we were treated to a 6 degree deluge. The sunny, hot pre-ride from the day before was a distant memory as we scrambled to find yet another layer to keep warm and dry. We were early for the race to help out Tara, a fellow racer who's start time was a couple hours before ours. So we mostly just killed some time chilling in the minivan, trying to stay out of the weather.
Watching the rain come down I was oddly calm. It wasn't long ago the thought of slippery roots and muddly trails would have had me tense with nerves, but I really think my weekend in BC helped with my comfort in that department.
Soon enough, it was time to suit up, get the bike ready and head out for a warm up (which considering the pummeling the elements were throwing at us turned out to be not very warm at all!) Problem ... where the eff is my skewer? I looked everywhere and couldn't find it, then thanked myself profusely for being prepared enough to bring a spare. It didn't have a quick release, but at least my wheel would be attached!! After that bit of drama, I was off to the warm up, and then the start line.
The weather was cool enough to require arm and knee warmers. When I put my arm warmers on, they were still a bit damp from my sweat the day before -- the result of overheating on the balmy pre-ride. Sigh.
Off the start, KK sprang into action. She charged up the first climb and Mandy (of Paris to Ancaster podium fame) was right on her wheel. I was third wheel and well aware of it. At the crest of the hill, we were treated to a long fast descent and I pedalled up into the big ring -- the meat and potatoes -- and closed the gap. Just as the course pitched up into the first single track, I surged forward and jumped in first. "Holy shit, I'm in front" I thought and then did my best to gap them. I led the pack for the entire first lap, pulling away, then getting pulled back and getting away again. I was so excited I could hardly concentrate but I wanted it. Bad.
KK let me have my lap of glory (sadly at the wrong end of the race ...) and teammates cheered from the side of the course and the feedzone as I hammered through first. Then KK took her turn at the front and never looked back. She went by me like I was going the other direction. I gave chase, but knew I couldn't maintain the pace on the climb we were grinding. I hoped to see her again in similar fashion to the first lap, but she was long gone.
Perhaps I went out too hard, but shortly after KK got by, Mandy appeared again. She passed on some of the more technical climbing on the course and got away. I kept her in sight, kept the pressure on and we battled for two laps giving and taking. At last, at the end of the third lap, I got by her for the last time. She commented, "not going to give it up this time are ya?" in reference to the Paris to Ancaster tilt from last weekend. "Not today!" I called over my shoulder and went in for my final lap.
I chased in vain for KK, while stressing out about another Mandy-coup, and then it was over. It seemed like I had been begging god for it to be over only five minutes before. But when I crossed the line, I had to check with other racers to make sure I got my lap count right. It felt like it flew by.
I grabbed my complimentary chocolate milk, high-fived KK and rode off smiling my head off to spin out my legs. Today was my first time up on the Elite podium. Oh what a feeling! Rounding it out were KK with the gold and Mandy with the bronze.
Last season's model of oak leaf ... nothing more to see here.
The Ocup Circus is in town!
KK and I chilled out (literally) trail-side
Liz, post Sport race, hiding from the downpour
Stay tuned for a more coverage from the OCA report and just for fun, check out Andrew's version of the 1:30 race from the Expert male cateogry.