The Panama MTB Enduro Race has been the first race of my season now for the 3rd year running. It is essentially a 35 mile gravel grinder. This year I had a choice when doing it whether to race it on my cross bike or MTB. They were running separate divisions for each. I thought the cross division would be tougher and didn't make up my mind until it was time to go put the bike on the car and leave for the race. With help from everyone (thanks) I made the decision to go with the cross bike. As I was looking at them I thought that Cross bike isn't going to get raced again until October so it was best to get out on it now. For some reason the whole time I was getting ready it just didn't feel like race season yet to me. Maybe it was cause of all the cold weather.
When we got to the Panama the temps were not what they were supposed to be. It was supposed to be about 50 but instead I think it was just in the high 30's to low 40's with a cold wind blowing out of the north. There was also a slight drizzle that wasn't helping either. I was glad that I had brought my thermal jacket. I swapped it out for the vest I was wearing at the last minute and ended up being dressed perfectly.
When we lined up to start the race I was feeling Ok and just ready to get rolling. We had about a half mile neutral roll out of town then we hit a gravel section and it was on. I was a little farther back than I would have liked and worked my up to the front but one rider had gotten away and was just hammering it so I started to chase. I instantly could tell that I did not have the legs to keep that pace up the whole time and was hoping that he wouldn't either. I looked behind me and I could start to see a small group forming to chase me but kept on chasing trying to catch up. I ended up in no man's land in between the leader and the group behind me. I wasn't gaining any ground on the leader and holding my position well until I missed a turn and got off course about a third of the way through the race. I lost my map early on and was trying to remember how the course went but they had to make some last minute changes cause many of the gravel roads were not passable due to all the melting snow and the overnight rains so the course wasn't marked.
When I got myself turned back around the chase group of 4 caught up with me and I realized I probably wasn't going to be able to chase the leader back down on my own so I joined in with the group. The only problem with the group was that they weren't really wanting to chase and I think they were happy with holding their position so I was pulling the group pretty much the rest of the race. So far in the race we had been heading either with the wind or in a cross wind and when we had to turn to head back north right into the wind it seemed like hitting a wall. I moved to the front to try and start chasing cause I thought that it may be the equalizer between us and the leader but it didn't happen. I was again the only one that wanted to chase and I realized that I didn't have it in me to go at it alone. I've still been in my base building section of my training and could tell.
When we were about ten miles from the finish I could see a railroad crossing ahead and I thought to myself "it would suck if we got stopped by a train" and I looked over my shoulder down the track and I could see a train coming in the distance. I waved to the rest of the group (I lost my map and needed them to help me find my way) that we needed to get across before it got there. We made it across the tracks right as the barriers were coming down. I looked back and couldn't see any other riders or groups behind us so I didn't feel to bad. As we kept going I started to take a few hard pulls at the front to test the group and quickly realized that I was the strongest out of the riders left. At about the 6 mile mark I upped the pace and the riders started to crack and fall off. With about 2 miles left it was just me and one other rider and I punched it and left him alone and cruised to the 2nd place finish in both the overall and cross.
Overall I was pretty happy with how I felt and performed. I think I could have done better and pushed to stay with the leader if I had gotten with him right from the start but with how late I was up the night before I'll take it. The team overall had a good showing too. John finished 6th overall and 4th in cross and the other's all finished towards the top.
I'm looking forward to this week and getting started on my plan to build up for the 3 state championship (Crit, TT & most important XC MTB) races in a row in June. Hopefully it is finally going to be warm enough that I can do most of my training outside now.