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Old 03-30-08, 05:36 PM   #1
Snuffleupagus
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On Being a Sandbagger

Please allow me to preface this with: I'm sorry.

Apparently bringing decent CAT3 roadie fitness to a beginner mountain bike race is sort of like bringing a heavy machine gun to a pillow fight. I honestly did not know this would be the case. I was competitive in cyclocross this fall, but by no means was I blowing away the field. Before today's race I expected to place well, and hoped for a win – but nothing was given. I've done three mountain bike races before, two in 2005 and one in 2006. In the first, I raced the clydesdale (fatboy) division, and had a mechanical. In the second I came in 9th in Beginner, and the third I had a mechanical in Beginner, converted my bike to single speed, and finished one up from dead last. Since then I've raced almost eighty road races, making my way up from the bottom, with a few placings – and a whole lot insignificant of pack finishes. More importantly I've put in tens of thousands of miles of pain. Pain in the cold. Pain in the dark. Pain in the rain. Pain in all three. I've also torn three ACLs, and had three knee surgeries – the most recent of which was eight weeks ago. I still don't have an ACL in my right knee. Did I mention pain?

While warming up for today's race I'd somehow forgotten how long a section of trail was – and as I watched the minutes tick away on my cyclocomputer I began to put in a hard bit of effort in an attempt to get back to the race start before the gun. My new hardtail build was responding like a champ, and I was reveling in how light, stiff and responsive she was. I let an expert rider pass as he was finishing his race – only to catch him and suck his wheel for the final miles of the trail. I made it to the line eight minutes after my field had left. I saw a fellow club member, and local wrench extraordinaire who yelled at me to GO, they'd left already. Great. I was already full tilt from trying to get back to the line in time, and even in the rain, and 40* temperatures my glasses were fogging up. In anger I tossed my glasses into the woods and drilled it. I was so mad at myself for being stupid that the pain was secondary to the anger.

I began taking big risks, and my breathing was so ragged and labored that I imagine those I was passing thought they might have to perform CPR on my heart attack addled corpse a few miles up the trail. I caught and passed all the women, then began picking off the men. My goal was not dead last. After I caught the first man, I wanted to pass five. After five, ten. After ten I lost count. I had no idea how many starters to expect, so at no point was I sure I was in contention for anything other than pack fill. I have never, ever pushed that hard off road before. Several times I came within a flinch of a face full of rocks and close personal bonding with the trees. If I wasn't going down hill I was anaerobic. The anger was welling up inside of me and boiling out of my ears. It seeped out of my pores in a thick ooze and burnt my eyes. How could I be so god damn stupid? What kind of rank amateur misses his race's start time? I twisted the bars and tried to rip the cranks out of the bottom bracket. In the final miles I began to blame the riders ahead of me for every ill in the world. Every wrong done to me was a result of their existence. They would pay. I hated them. I hated myself most of all.

As I bombed the final descent I expected to see a glut of riders milling around the start/finish. This was not the case.
“Noah, you won – you're an animal.”
“What? Are you sure? From eight minutes back?”
“Yep.”
“Oh.”
It turns out I put more than 10 minutes into second place in my age group, and was apparently the first Beginner man of all classes to finish. Not just 19-29, but 30+ and 40+ as well. Oh. Let me reiterate my apology. I mean this in all honesty, and in the spirit of balancing out my cycling karma. I left with a medal – but the payout/swag bag was given to the 2nd place kid, as he crossed the line thinking he'd won – as when I passed him he “thought I was an expert.” Oh. Sorry.

The win feels good, but there is no way in good conscience that I could do it five times to meet the NORBA requirements for a mandatory Beginner to Sport upgrade. I talked to the NORBA official who concurred that I should probably race Sport from now on. I'm fine with that, as my lap time would have likely put me comfortably on the podium in Sport as well. I'm looking forward to the stiffer competition. I moved up from 5 to 4, and 4 to 3 on the road as soon as I could. Today's experience reinforces my decision to do so – because to paraphrase a cycling friend “it's never fun to be the tallest midget in the circus.”
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Old 03-30-08, 05:40 PM   #2
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I don't think a roadie, regardless of fitness, is 'sandbagging' as a newbie MTB racer. No way.
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Old 03-30-08, 05:41 PM   #3
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"Play" in the sandbox, but stay true to the road.
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Old 03-30-08, 05:45 PM   #4
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First, kudos on giving the schwag to the second place guy.
Second, kudos on doing the upgrade.
Third, What a totally insane way to demolish a field!

+1 on road cat doesn't mean didley offroad.

As a reasonably fit Cat 3 my first race was as a Beginner and I was the suck:
http://sprinterdellacasa.blogspot.co...ing-tools.html

After that I raced Sport (you could up or downgrade at will, no official anything necessary). I got 12th in each of the 3 or so races I did. Then my last race I was the first rider to pull out, while I was in the lead - flatted while doing a "win or die" effort with no bottles, no tube, no nothing. I haven't raced since then.

cdr
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Old 03-30-08, 05:47 PM   #5
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I don't think a roadie, regardless of fitness, is 'sandbagging' as a newbie MTB racer. No way.
I've seen Beginner MTB guys, and a pudgy lot they are.

I'll be disappointed with anything less than a podium in my first real MTB race this summer. In Sport.
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Old 03-30-08, 06:53 PM   #6
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Hmm...I've been trying to decide which cat I should enter for my first MTB race. I did a collegiate B's MTB race...that was slow. Guess I'll avoid beginner.
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Old 03-30-08, 06:55 PM   #7
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PCaddy: MTB beginner isn't like Road 5. I think it may have been at it's height in the 90s, or in some parts of the country - but I think you'd surprise yourself, especially against a 40+ field.

Mollusk: Natch. I love all bikes, and racing but road racing's special blend of pain is my favorite.

Cdr: Insane is a good word. I'm looking forward to applying the same hate to TTs.

Duke: Just don't crash, and you should be able to pull out a good result. It's like an anaerobic TT with a side dish of fear.

Vos: Colorado might be different...
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Old 03-30-08, 07:06 PM   #8
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My vote is to stay in the Beginner category all this year and even into next year. Post weekly win reports in which you write self-deprecating stuff and feign surprise at your ability to get lucky and win. But whatever you do, don't upgrade--not even when you meet the upgrade requirements.

--Steve
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Old 03-30-08, 07:34 PM   #9
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When apples race against oranges....
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Old 03-30-08, 07:46 PM   #10
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I agree with your comments about Beginner MTB racing. I raced in my first ever mtb race two weeks ago in the sport class and was absolutely destroying the field until a mechanical. Even the sport class seemed slow and out of shape. Technical skills of the top sport riders were a tad better than mine probably (I never witnessed them), but their endurance was minimal. I also approached this like I would a cross race (the first mile or so was fire road) and just nailed it from the whistle. After I created a big gap I just rode tempo for most of the double track areas and rode cautious in the single track. I dug deep in certain areas where I figured the mtb riders would be dogging it. All in all the race was fun. I love to race cross and have done fairly well so far so I think this will help me improve my bike handling skills until then. Anyway, move up to sport, I don't think you'll mind the challenge.

RB
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Old 03-30-08, 07:52 PM   #11
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ya I did my first MTB race last year while it was also my first year as a roadie (cat4)

didnt even consider the begginner class and did sport. Pulled 6th place without too much trouble.
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Old 03-30-08, 07:57 PM   #12
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You guys are making me want to try MTB racing in the Fall.
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Old 03-30-08, 07:58 PM   #13
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You guys are making me want to try MTB racing in the Fall.
The early spring mtb races are definitely a lot of fun and can substitute for a hard solo training ride. That's the main reason why I started racing mtb. I don't think you'd regret it.

RB
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Old 03-30-08, 08:38 PM   #14
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Umm, 5 races to go from beginner to sport? I talked with the race coordinators who consulted with NORBA and said that I could race sport right from the start if I was "comfortable" riding. So I did. And so I got completely trashed. However, I'm glad I did, as I would have just about won beginners. The two categories are worlds apart.

I do know that you have to have a certain number of races and even placings to make it to expert, but never heard of this in sport. I guess I shouldn't have raced the 3 or 4 times I have as sport now. Oh well, I'm not telling.
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Old 03-30-08, 08:44 PM   #15
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I let an expert rider pass as he was finishing his race only to catch him and suck his wheel for the final miles of the trail.
Does sucking wheel on a trail actually work? I mean, really - how much of a draft is there to dwell in on a trail? (Or am I imagining trails that are more technical than the trail described?)
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Old 03-30-08, 09:21 PM   #16
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Cool story.
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Old 03-30-08, 11:30 PM   #17
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great story

Similar surprise performance for my first MTB race (late start, 2nd place, swam through a field of 50 from behind). Fitness > technical skills. I've had a couple friends do really well out of nowhere on the bouncy bikes.
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Old 03-31-08, 07:59 AM   #18
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Steve: Great plan

palesaint: The NORBA rule book specifies manditory upgrades at 5 top 5s from Beginner to Sport and Sport to Expert. You can apparently race pretty much whatever you want to though.

prendrefeu: I was drafting at 15-20mph up a shallow grade fire road climb, and fairly easy single track.
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Old 03-31-08, 08:23 AM   #19
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Whatever it takes, man. Whatever self loathing punishment you have to muster, do so with the craze of a heroin addict on his last fix. Get to the line with rage-boiling hate for everyone around you next week. I want to read the same thing next week.
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Old 03-31-08, 09:01 AM   #20
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Yeah anybody can race sport... Just sign up!
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