Irene Pang Reports In from the Desert

Hello everyone! Greetings from Arizona! Since you now have more outdoor racing coming up, I’ve decided to issue a summary race report, which includes a total of 4 mountain bike races and 3 criteriums. Would you believe that the State Championship Criterium is in a mere 2 weeks??

I’ve been participating in the 7-race state mountain bike Championship Series in both the Marathonand the Cross-Country mountain bike racing divisions. 4 races are already over, and the whole series ends mid-May, so the entire series as much like an early-season exercise. Mountain biking inArizona involves coming in close proximity to a multitude of sharp thorny plants, some with detachable appendages that cling to whatever body part or soft bike part unfortunate enough to happen by. So despite having mountain biked here before, I felt the need to don protective armor on my first few rides here. Fortunately, the race courses tend to feature less sharp plants, but are full of sandy washes, loose climbs, loose descents, rough rock (granite and volcanic), drop-offs, and twisty trail. I race in the Expert category (Women 19-39), but found early on that due to my desire to stay upright, I have inferior speed and skill at negotiating downhills, drop-offs, twisty sections, and some otherwise ‘technical’ sections when compared to other Experts. This is where the Marathon event comes in – the Marathon event is a much longer event, typically requiring 4-6 hours to complete, but due to the length of the event, the route tends to be on the average less ‘technical’. So as it turns out, my best placing so far is second in a Marathon event (but less people do the marathon event). 3 of the 7 events are at mid-altitude, with one at 5000 ft, another at 6000 ft, and the Final at 7000 ft, but since most of the competitors in this state live at lower altitudes, I’ve come to the conclusion that on the average, this is not a huge detriment. Interestingly, I’ve noted that 2 of the other Expert Women raced regularly in the Wisconsin WORS mountain bike series a couple years ago.

My first crit here was a semi-success, but somewhat accidentally (Scottsdale Grand Prix - 4 corners, 1 mile course). I have exercise-induced asthma which appears to be aggravated by high pollen counts and/or high pollution levels. Unfortunately, due to the different environmental profiles in Tucson vs.Phoenix, I was not entirely medically prepared for this event. My first race was the 30+ women, which was run concurrently with the Cat 4 women. The entire field was 15, with 8 teams represented, plus 2 unattached. I knew no one, nor any of the teams, and was also having asthma issues during most of this race, so I was mostly ‘hanging-out’ observing while trying to stay upright and not get dropped. At some point I must have gotten over the asthma and with 1 lap to go, it seemed like everyone suddenly slowed down. So I got into a reasonable position and by merely sitting on another racer’s wheel, I found myself in 2nd with about 50 meters to go. Since I did not want to interfere with the Cat 4 sprint and did not appear to be challenged by any 30+ women, I initially opted to just continue sitting on this woman’s wheel, but in the end decided that the finish would look silly if I didn’t at least try to go around. So in the end, in the field, I was second by about half a wheel, and 1st in the 30+ Women.

My 2nd race that day was the Cat 3 Women, which was about 3.5 hours later with a field size of 9. Due to either eating solid food too late before the race, or due to the settling-in of respiratory issues, I noticed during my warm-up that I was getting winded unusually easily (i.e. - 120W felt like 145W), but decided to race anyway. Oddly, this race was slower than the Cat 4 race, and with everyone ambling along at one point just before a prime, I went for the prime, but at an apparently harder effort than my respiratory state allowed at that time. I did not get the prime and was promptly dropped after that. The lesson here was to take adequate asthma medication with me.

My 2nd crit was a local one (Tucson Crit Series) held on a go-cart track with 11 (!!) ‘corners’ over a sub-mile course. There were few straight-aways and rapid successions of left-right-left-right-sequences making it difficult to pass at whim. Not trusting my own ability to adequately safely negotiate the course in the front (after having to brake a couple times while pre-riding) I decided to hang out in the back leaving others plenty of room also. Women of all categories were combined and 2 women separately got away early. There were 2 crashes total, 1 near the front of the group, and 1 near the back. This was just sort of practice for me, and I ended up 2nd in the Cat. 3 Women. I also raced with the 45+ men that day, but after being unable to make it around 1 other gapped competitor prior to the first sequence of rapid left-right-left right’s, I ended up pacing the entire race with this other competitor. All-in-all, I think I’ve gotten adequate practice on this course to be able to do better next time on the same course.

My 3rd crit was in the South Phoenix area (Hungry Dog Crit – 2 corners, ½ mile course). I have no idea why the event is named this, but each category winner received a dog bowl. This time, armed with more asthma medication (the regular amount), I proceeded to chase breaks right from the gun, but later, it became apparent that perhaps these breaks did not need chasing because they were 1-2’s who were scored separately anyway. So the rest of us rode at mostly a tempo pace after that, with a couple primes sprinkled in. Towards the end, we were lapped, at which point I should have latched on, but debated this concept for much too long until they were well ahead and already sprinting for a prime. At some point after that, a couple riders bridged up. Oddly I don’t even remember seeing them go, so I must have been in the back at the time. After this happened, I also mistakenly thought that one of the bridgers was on the same team as one of the 1-2’s, but it turns out I was incorrect. In the end, I won the field sprint, but was 3rd in my category.

After this race, I decided that I need to learn to identify the various team jerseys better, as well as individual riders. I believe I must be the only racer around here with an orange jersey, but there appear to be multiple royal blue, green-royal blue, and pink-purple themed team jerseys around here.

Not sure if anyone bothered to read all this, and I’m not offended if no one did ….

Best wishes in your upcoming races and events!