Every movie has a moment where the characters are introduced, the central plot is established, and everything after that proceeds from what we already know. (A few twists & turns aside.) It's the end of the beginning.
I kind of feel like Race #4 was that moment for the 2021 Over the Hump race season. Everyone's been moved to their proper divisions, consistent winners have established themselves, and now we're all just racing for incremental week-over-week improvement.
I took 9th in my first race, which felt like a good start, but then finished 12th & 22nd in the next 2 races. That prompted some re-evaluation of my goals and some investigation into how I slid 12 places in 15 days. The nutshell: a bunch of stronger riders either showed up, or moved into Intermediate from other divisions.
So, rather than looking at results, I looked at my time relative to a rider who consistently finishes in the top 3 to get a sense of how I was doing.
In the first race, I finished ~1:30 behind him. In the second, I was ~3:30 back. In the third, I was a miserable 4:40 off the pace.
So, both things are true:
- Riders stronger than me have joined my class
- I wasn't racing as well week-over-week.
After race #3, I had a couple of take-aways.
It is immensely clear that my trail skills have atrophied. I'm not nearly as comfortable on trails as I used to be, especially if they're loose. During races, I can feel the extra effort taking its toll.
The little, punchy climbs that litter the OtH courses were killing me. I needed to get used to holding pace while periodically pushing over short rises.
I'd also been following my TrainerRoad training plan, which prescribed mostly rest between races, with an "openers" workout the day before each race. I wondered how doing actual training between races would affect my performance. (Both in terms of race results, and whether I'd improve week-to-week.)
So before race #4, I did some training rides during the week, and moved them from power-based interval workouts done mostly on flats to more race-specific stuff on trails.
And honestly, that seemed to help a bit. For Race #4, I was much better able to deal with the short rises.
Race #4 was honestly pretty uneventful. I was able to match my PR on the back lot climb, which makes me happy, and I felt like I improved the way I'm riding the first ~10 minutes of the race: didn't overcook the start, maintained position well, and got onto the flats with my HR at ~165 BPM, which is exactly where I want to be.
I fumbled at least one place right at the end by not following through over the top of the final climb. I had a gap on the rider behind me, and I'd have kept it if I just pushed for another 5 seconds & gotten up to speed heading into the final 2:00 of the race. I got passed with ~1:00 left to go, and that's entirely my own doing. I did manage to barely hold off an attempt to get past me right at the line.
So, 4 races in, it's clear I've gotta work on three things, and they're not subtle.
First, I need to work on my cornering. I'm just bleeding time on every single corner, and I absolutely hate my lack of confidence in the turns. It's costing me time and fun.
Second, I'm going to do some YouTube research and see how faster, more experienced racers deal with short rises. (~5 seconds) There's a definite art to carrying momentum & using minimal energy to maintain/regain speed.
And third, I simply have to get faster. When I was 1:25 off the lead, I felt like better skills & tactics might close the gap. But I'm 4:00+ back now, and that's down to my legs.
And finally, I have to accept that if I'm going to win in Intermediate, let alone move up to Sport & be competitive there, I'm going to have to get leaner. So I'm working on that.