I did my very first race this weekend. Cat 4, though I know a lot of the guys who showed up to ride the Cat 4 race from the local road scene...and if some of those guys aren't at least Cat 3, then no one is. But I digress.
The race started on an uphill paved road, to make a sharp 90 right onto the offroad course. That turn right there all but decided the top half of the race right there. Even though I pre-rode the course, I hadn't really thought through the tactics of that. The turn was a sharp bottleneck, and if you went through first you had a SIGNIFICANT gap over whoever squeezed through last.
So. I was thinking about it like a road ride/race...I can outclimb a lot of the guys around here, so usually I just sit on wheels for initial climbs, let guys tire themselves trying to shake me, and then wear them down until a climb that I make a move. Bad decision in this case. The initial climb, like I described, was decisive. I sat easily on the wheel of the charging group, and then realized what a BAD position I was in as I got wedged out of the turn. I went through 18th...out of 20. Dang...should have dashed that hill after all.
The course had no barriers to portage, though I created my own by running out of the boundaries twice, forcing a dismount and a hop back inside the course. Whoops.
My daughter was the loudest cheering section at the race, and by lap three, the two reporters by her were also yelling "Go daddy!". (She's 4...it was really exciting for her.)
After the initial tactical blunder, it was just a matter of grinding back ground for my eventual 14th place finish. The gap at the beginning was too much to claw up higher than that. Having done road events with a lot of those guys, I already knew that there was NO WAY I'd catch them if I was gapped that much. I can hang with them on climbs, and in a draft, but their usual tactic on the road is to lay on an acceleration on the flats hard enough to leave me in the wind, and then get a big enough gap prior to the final climb that I won't be able to overtake them. My last lap was actually pretty easy...I'd reached a point where I'd gapped the six behind me far enough that they would never catch me, and though I'd been mostly pacing the group up front, I was never going to catch them. So I just cruised it and enjoyed the ride.
It was a lot of fun though. I raced on my Nashbar "X" frame commuter bike...just stripped it down. It has a (gasp!) triple crank, which worked out pretty well. I stayed in the 39 ring for almost the entire course, but used the 30 for one really steep hill (I think intended as a run-up) and the 50 was great when back out on the paved downhill-to-uphill. I had considered a single ring setup, when I read that a lot of guys were going with single ring 39t cranks. But then I thought that this would be silly; all I would do would be to convert my triple, and removing the FD would remove the tool that could pick my chain up if I dropped it. Why not keep all three, and just use the middle if that's all I need?
Fun times. I'll probably do it again.