Dave Wingard and I left rainy SE Portland to be greeted an hour later by broken clouds and blue sky in Hood River. We drove up through the city orchards to Hood River Valley High School. Friend and former teammate Darren Pennington was warming up for the Master's C race as we parked and headed over to registration. The food vendors were stoking up an enormous BBQ as I went out for a pre-ride lap before Dave's race started.
The course was very similar to prior years, with some sections run in reverse. The start was a flat grass lane for 50 meters or so, then into a wide short sand section, then a hairpin grass 180 degree left turn. Then a right and all the way around the big grass field, and along an off camber berm. The entire grass section was at least 10 feet wide and not as bumpy as past years. After cresting the berm, the course turned to a dirt downhill trail, then up a little rise with a couple swoopy turns before a right turn in loose gravel put you back on the dirt.
Back on to the grass for a slight descent, turn and climb, then bomb down the dirt/gravel into a trail (the high school cross country running trail) and the first foot bridge. This bridge platform was just high enough off of the trail that it could easily cause pinch flats or worse. The fast trail then turned to new fresh loose gravel before a single barrier and a sharp left turn over the second footbridge and into a railroad tie run-up. At the top of the run-up the trail went down, up, swooping narrow turns, before kicking back down into a sketchy turn into the 3rd foot bridge (I think this was the one Dave flew off of last year). After this bridge the trail continued another 20 meters or so before turning uphill with a sharp right turn (ridable, yet a possible major congestion point as some would surely dismount for it). Then an sharp uphill left turn that I planned to dismount and run. Another right, and one more left then the run-up was done and the trail crested into the parking lot.
Now through the coned chicane in the parking lot (wide lane for passing), around the school, through a gate and into the grass where the start/finish was located.
After some cheering/heckling for Dave's race, I went and warmed up on the roads around the high school. After coming back and stretching I headed to the start about 20 minutes before race time. There were about 8-10 racers starting to file in, including teammate Eric Lanners. I took a front row position second from the left, while Eric looked to be front row on the right.
I got a good jump at the whistle and an immediate clip-in. I went into the sand 2nd or 3rd wheel, then was sitting in 3rd when we got off of the grass and into the first trail section. One or two passed me, and then I passed them a few laps later. My tire pressure was dialed in perfectly, as I could power out of turns in the loose sand/gravel/dirt that others were sliding in. I used this to gain good position so I could soft pedal/recover on the downhills while on someones wheel. About mid race the RCB guy up front faded and I passed him, while clinging to Karl Mikkelson's wheel. I passed and gave a good pull to try and bridge us up to Jeff Edes, but started to blow up and could not bridge. Karl then came around and put a little gap on me.
I caught back on to Karl, and Jeff was in sight, but the leader was not. Karl then took a bad line on the off camber and I got past him with 3 laps to go. I got up to Jeff when he got in traffic behind lapped riders, but when he saw me, he jumped and put in an effort I could not match.
At the time, I thought I was in 4th, but I later learned I finished 3rd. Eric came in 9th, with another solid race but a locked up back that caused trouble. I'm happy with my race, as I rode clean and had solid fast lines over the entire course. I kept my head in the race and did not make any mental mistakes that often cause technical errors. My bike was dialed-in, and the tires/pressure were spot on for the course.
I was motivated to do well, as there is talk of using Hood River and Barlow top 5's as seeding for call-ups at the first Cross Crusade race. This isn't a sure thing, but it helped me train and focus for a good result.
It sounds like we'll have a much bigger Team presence at Barlow, so I look forward to seeing some of you there. Good practice for the huge fields that the Crusade will no doubt have.