As late as February, I was too freaked out by the first big descent at Bukit Timah to ride it. Later, I was still too freaked out to ride it at speed. I thought I shouldn't enter a mountain bike race until at least I could do that. Blue Bike is still less than six months old, so I guess we've come a long way in a short time. But, as today's race shows, not far enough.
I was too nervous to drink my coffee at a normal pace during breakfast. I don't think I've been this nervous about a bike race for two years. My pre-race nerves go away once I'm at the start with my hands on the bars, but that's three hours away.
Pain was nice enough to ride with me on Saturday so we could find the course. We didn't find it, but we had a nice ride anyway. He seemed surprised this morning to find out that this is my first mountain bike race.
Pain recommends I pre-ride the course. Since my nerves are under control now, I think that could only make things worse. Riding behind everybody else, all I have to do is follow them to ride at speed. Forced to find my own lines, I might very well determine that parts of the course are unrideable.
Wheelie Mike is also racing, so we've got more masters riders than the last road race! Wheelie speculates that the pendulum is swinging back.
An hour and a half after it is scheduled to, the countdown starts. We're off. Sitting around for two hours in the sun without warming up was kind of stupid. I know I'm not going to fight to be in front, but it would be nice to be behind the better wheels to follow. It seems that's the strategy for a lot of us, so I'm quite a ways back.
Things are fine until a bumpy, muddy, grassy stretch. My tires sink into the muddy grass. Steering is not possible, forward traction only slightly more so. Once you slow down, it's hard go fast enough again. I note this to myself for the next lap. Maybe I should have listened to Pain. I've lost a lot of time here, and the pack is out of sight.
A few more weird turns, and we're climbing. At the grassy area with an uphill slalom, I catch up with the pack and pass a couple of guys. The climb ends in a sign that says "SACA EXTREME CAUTION" and a blind right turn. The blind right turn opens up to a steep dropoff about 6 meters high. At the end of this descent is a strategically placed tree, a bit less than two bike lengths after the end of the downhill. In a "cross-country" race in California, from what I understand, the challenges are provided by hills. On the first lap, I walked it. Mistake. I rode it the second time. The third time, the race officials asked us to walk so the medics could clear out from rescuing someone from the trees. It seems to me the penalty for missing a turn should be losing time, not a medical emergency.
Another highlight of the course is a couple of trees on either side of the trail, only a bit more than a handlebar width apart. And then another pair of trees a couple of meters later, after a left-hand curve. Between the two pairs of trees are some roots along the trail set up perfectly to catch your turned wheel and send you off the trail into another tree.
Suddenly, I am reminded of riding last month on a new trail with Max. Porky told me how "big" I seem riding narrow, overgrown trails. Beef was right in front of me, so I don't think I was actually "big," but my flailing elbows and general gracelessness probably made me seem like an elephant on a mountain bike then, just like I feel now.
On my third lap, Pain calls out to me to pass. "I'm lapped already?!" I sigh. "Good luck!" I call out to him. At least there is some chance of glory for Team Absolut today.
There is a steep, slippery climb where I lose traction, even the third time through. Walking my bike toward a place I can remount, or maybe a little farther, I realize how hot I am. There's only a small part of the course with a high-speed descent where you can cool off. I'm nervous on the technical stuff and I have to work on the climbs if I don't want to fall too much more behind. So I am really overheated.
Before I can even pray, it starts raining. I debate myself about whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. Cool rain, good. It will make even more parts of the course unrideable for me. It means more crashes and guys dropping out overall, and my only hope is attrition at this point. Besides, mountain biking is fun in the rain. It can only help Pain.
Then comes the crack of thunder and ensuing downpour. My glasses make it difficult to see where I'm going. Do I have enough of the course memorized after three laps?
It doesn't matter. At the finish line, halfway through the assigned distance, they tell me the race is called off. I guess I missed seeing the red flags.
"Really?" I asked. How is mud bad for a mountain bike race? (actually
the race was called on account of the lightning. For the rest out there,
Singapore was the highest lighting strike in the world - webmaster)
I was pretty much ready to give up for reasons of eyesight, but surely there are guys with better eyesight or contact lenses who would want to finish, especially guys like Pain that have only two more laps.
Not a very satisfying conclusion. Not even a chance to see the kids on the podium.
Was it what I was expecting? Was it fun? To me, racing is about speed. From what I hear about California mountain bike races, it's about the mountains. Can I climb this technical stretch fast enough with guys trying to pass me and the slope working against me? Can I descend this without braking? You're either going up or going down, trying to maintain speed the whole way. By necessity, I understand why this isn't going to happen in Singapore, and so flatland challenges have to be invented: the muddy grass, the obstacle course, the sticks all over the trail. On the one hand, someday, I may be able to do take on an obstacle course and feel a sense of speed. On the other hand, I don't see how riding on grass could ever feel fast. Of course, I would have preferred something a little easier for my first mountain bike race.
Pain, on the other hand, thought it was great. Heretofore, Singapore races have been "deionized, desalinized, and sanitized," too much like road races. He likes the races with big time advantages for the most graceful riders. He was definitely in the top five when the race was called; he says other guys were ahead of him, but I didn't see too many purple tags passing me. We still don't know who needed the medical attention. Attrition also favors the skillful.
I forgot to claim my T-shirt, but I still have my number tag on my surprisingly clean bike. I do have a nice post-race cough, so I guess I got some kind of workout. After riding back in the rain, my headset is nice and crunchy sounding. Nevertheless, I think Blue Bike is happy.
Would I do it again? Depends on whether we can get the team tent for the next mountain bike race.