GPCM Ninkrossi (Race #4)
Ninkrossi, a part of the Grand Prix Candi Murray, is aptly named after the beer sponsor – Ninkasi Brewing. All entries get a free beer!
The race is at Washougal MX park (but not the actual motocross park), instead you go on through the park to the back side where you’re presented with a bit of a pacific northwest view and course laid out on the side of a hill/mountain. At the bottom of the hill is a large “N”, bet you can’t guess why. After you go through the N you will head back up the hill, through some barriers down a double track road and then up a little paved section to the finish. Uphill finish, uphill start.
Here’s a video where you can get a feel for the course: Ninkasi Video
Needless to say, this is a relatively straight forward course and people that are good climbers will do well. You start out at the base of the hill and do a decent 1 minute effort to the midpoint where it turns into grass and then dirt heading back down the hill. The curves are fast and a bit flowy before turning into a massively bumpy field. Then you hit a hairpin right and head into the N. Its steep and several rocks can make the turns tricky. You exit on the top and head back down through a few turns before hitting the second, longer climb. This one was about 2.5 minutes long but it felt MUCH longer since you just hit it hard through the N. It feels like forever before you emerge from the top on an off camber turn into a mound, chicanes and then triple barriers. You finish on a quick double track road, into a gravel turn where people tend to wipeout and then head back up to the finish on the paved road.
I had front row seat at the beginning due to being 2nd in points in the series and my goal was to hit the N in the front 5 so that I could ride it in the first lap. If you can’t get to the front you run a real risk of being either stopped when someone inevitably has to dismount, or things are strung out single file so much you end up losing 20 seconds.
The whistle went off without any sort of notice though and we were all caught off guard. I forgot to turn my garmin on, but got a good clip in. I hit the climb on the front but didn’t have to push it too hard to get the hole shot. Actually I was a bit surprised in that, and there was only really one guy immediately on my wheel, Jake von Duering.
I had seen him tearing up the 4s and knew I was going to be in for a battle. We came out of the N with a little gap, maybe 5 seconds or so and I decided to just keep the pace really high and see if we could increase that gap. Maybe make a selection really early?
The climb hurt though and by the time we got all the way around and up to the finish for the 2nd lap I could tell that this was going to be a tough pace to keep up. Luckily, there were only 3 of us at the front and the rest were a considerable pace back. Our first three lap times were sub 6 minutes.
At this point I had a bit of a problem. Jake and I had swapped spots once but mostly I had been setting the pace. Unfortunately, this was putting me in the hurt house. I considered my strategy at this point as failed…I was not going to be able to shake Jake. The third place guy had been gapped about 10 seconds but by no means out of it. I could slow down, and hope to recover, but risk the others coming back together with us. Eventually, the decision was made for me.
While I seemed to be the more technical rider, Jake was clearly able and willing to go faster on the climbs. Into the 4th lap he hammered by me on the straight to the finish. I had already convinced myself that if he went I wasn’t going to be able to go with him, and this is really where my mind faltered for me.
Jake put a 5:45 lap down and I faltered…losing almost 20 seconds to him. He did it on the climb above and then again on the climb up the back side. I was going backwards and losing my focus more and more with each pedal stroke. I put in two laps, just over 6 minutes and suddenly found myself with the 3rd place racer, Douglas Turner. He looked fit but didn’t go by me right away. Instead he rode my wheel for about 2 laps.
All the while my mind continued to betray me rather than enable me. My teammates were giving me information to where Jake was, roughly 30 seconds ahead (but not growing). Rather than sucking it up I seemed to resolve that I would be ok with 3rd. Again, I could feel Doug breathing down my neck on the climbs and only on the technical spots was I able to get any room between us. I unconsciously felt that if he went by, I would not follow. In the 2nd to last lap I actually told him to go ahead, that I wasn’t going to catch Jake and that it was now or never. He said he wasn’t able to catch him either. Our content seemed to be shared, or was it?
As we approached the final lap, I gave a flick of my elbow to encourage him to go by. I don’t know why, but I did. There was nobody behind us in sight…was I conceding before we even go into the last lap? He came by and said something like, alright lets go man! I said ok but had no gas. He looked fresh…out of the saddle, full of fight.
I didn’t follow and allowed a gap to form. What was I doing? I was broken! I put a little effort in, heading into the final trip through the N and built a little confidence that I could push it again.
On the final climb Doug went past a few lap traffic riders. I hesitated. One thing I’ve learned is that if you come up on other riders that you should pass immediately. The reason why you came up on them is that they are slower than you…much slower. They are lap traffic. I wasted a few moments and then called out a pass. I lost valuable time that all but sealed my fate.
I continued to push, but without any urgency to, to the top of the climb and looped back around for one last hit of the barriers. At this point I could see Doug heading into the Z turn at the top of the double track downhill. I was about 10 seconds off him. I bombed as best I could, spinning out my 42×11 gear, hit the brakes in the loose corner and then moved past two more lap traffic riders. One of them said, “Go get him”!
I was encouraged and opened up for the final haul to the line. I managed 700ish watts for the 25 seconds or so it took to get to the top, but it was all in vain as Doug ended up finishing 10 seconds ahead of me still. Final lap was not fast…but was still under 6 minutes, in line with my early race pace. 3rd is a good result here, especially considering the kind of rider I am. 4th place was a minute back from me, and 5th 30 second behind him. The three of us had a great pace going. I really should feel good about the result.
However, I felt a bit defeated. I’m typically harsh on myself but usually can find a good spot in a race to reflect on. Man, I just didn’t feel good after this one. My mind was a bit crushed. I’m not sure how I ended up in this state but it is certainly something I will need to improve moving forward. A crash, a mishap, a mechanical, a bad lap…these are all things that happen in cross you have to find ways to push through them and instead exist in the moment. You really need to exist in the moment, to feel the bike moving under you, to focus on the course, your lines, the riders around you. Become numb to your own body. Sometimes I find myself in this state, the “zone” and I must say that it is sweet. How to secure that every race though? This is what I’m still learning.
And so this is how my Cat3 time has ended. I’ve accumulated more than enough points to receive a mandatory upgrade to the 2s. I could race 2/3 and have a potential for some top 10s, at least outside of cross crusade. I could also race master 1/2, in a smaller field and struggle to finish on the leader lap. Or, I could race 1/2 and get blown out the back even worse.
In any case, I’m not at that level yet to contend for podium spots in those races. Sure I will try but at this point in the season I can’t see myself improving that much. This is ok. Racing is more about yourself and looking internally to break through the limitations of your won mind. If you cannot manage the mental game then I believe it will hold you back much more than your body will ever.
It is a strange fate though to start the season with such success and finish middle pack fodder. 6 races, 6 podiums, followed by ?? Typically you would imagine building up through a season and having better and better results. Racing is harsh. I should not spend so much energy judging myself based on results in races. After all, I’m just a middle aged man out there hacking things up on the weekends…I can safely assume that there will always be people faster than me!
One thing is for sure though…1/2s…I’m coming for ya, I don’t know when but I’m coming!
Credit some pictures to Jay Small, Dialed Cycling.