Fun at the Fort 3/20/2022 – Finn Kaste

After my success at Exchequer I was looking forward to finding what this race had in store. I was excited because Tristan had recovered and Chris had petitioned which meant there were two new varsity riders representing El Cerrito. Naturally, I had a twinge of apprehension but I felt confident that it would be a good race. Also this time, varsity wasn’t until 2. I would take this over an 8 o’clock start time in a heartbeat but it meant I had to spend the whole day stewing in anticipation. As I had stated at the meeting the night before I had two things on my mind: beat Will and don’t burn out on the first lap. After cheering on all the other waves Tristan and I warmed up together. We lined up at the start at 1:45. I was surprised to find that Will, Chris, and myself had all wound up in the third row from the front. 

Soon the announcer was counting down and we took off. I didn’t go full sprint and I let a bunch of people pass me. I ended up right behind Chris as we entered the single track. I stuck behind him for a while but the first chance he got, he started passing people making his way to the front pack. At the first flat straightaway I was shocked to see the front of the pack a mere few seconds ahead of me. Everyone was tightly clumped drafting off the leader. There are some insanely fast racers in the top pack. I decided it was irresponsible for me to be starting off the race at the same pace as them, but I wanted someone to draft off of. I was conflicted but I decided to hold back. Some more people passed me and I drafted off them instead but we wound up catching back up to the front pack. This should have been an indicator to hold back again but I decided to stay with the group. Slowly however, we started to spread out.

At the water tower, I heard Tristan shout “We got this!” right behind me. We chatted a bit on the fun swoopy downhill and I felt confident and more relaxed. At the big steep climb I passed a couple of the racers who had passed me. Except for the occasional JV racer, the rest of the lap was pretty uneventful and I was pretty much alone though Tristan did a good job being invisible behind me and I was surprised at the end of the lap when I heard people cheering his name.

At the start of the second lap I saw a kid in a purple jersey and what looked like a Berkeley kid trading back and forth. They seemed burned out and I was surprised how quickly I caught them. Even more surprising however was when I passed them I caught a glimpse of the Berkeley kid and I realized it was Axel! I thought I would drop them pretty quickly but on the next descent I could hear the buzz of their bikes. They were drafting off me. I probably should have just fallen back and let them pull me by going so slow that they would be forced to pass but I was too charged with adrenaline. They drafted off me for the rest of the second lap and well into the third. 

At the steep climb, I started to reel in a Monterey kid. At the top I had just about caught him but I was gassed from the climb and he started to sprint and I lost him. For the rest of the second lap I kept trying to catch him and he kept slipping away at the last moment. It was really irritating but it was a good way to gauge my pace and as the lap wore on, I caught my first glimpse of Will. 

As I went into my third lap I saw I was slowly but surely catching up. I could start to make out the ECHS on his jersey. I thought “this is it, I’m going to pass Will just as I had hoped” but on the first climb I realized I was feeling pretty rough. The pressure of having Axel right on my wheel and my attempts at catching the Monterey kid had taken its toll. I decided it was smarter to save my energy for the end. I still tried to keep a consistent gap, not letting him get away. I was successful at first but at the steep climb I realized I might have gone a bit too hard for the first two laps. I was completely gassed at the top and Axel and the purple jersey kid passed me. After the straightaway was a climb, followed by a short descent followed by a rutted fireroad climb. I was able to stick with them on the first climb and descent just fine but on the second climb they started sprinting to catch the Monterey kid. I couldn’t keep up and they lost me. 

On the steepish gravel road climb I saw they had caught Will. Will had it in him to keep up somewhat and they quickly got farther and farther away. I saw my chances of catching him rapidly diminishing and soon I couldn’t see them at all. The rest of the race there was no one around me to gauge my speed. My legs were cramping and I felt overworked from the first two laps. Near the end of the third lap on a good straightaway I decided to have a block. It took me what seemed like forever to chew it and get it down my throat. Combined with a moderate headwind it was excruciating trying to breathe.

I limped my way through the first half of the fourth lap. I had energy but I couldn’t push or else my legs would cramp up. By coincidence I saw Chris at the figure 8. I shouted to him but I don’t think he heard me. By the gravel road climb the shot block seemed to be finally kicking in and my power felt effectively restored. With no one around me to worry about, I tried to just enjoy the rest of the race sprinting the climbs and bombing the descents. I even mustered a good sprint finish.

Needless to say, I didn’t meet either of my goals. However, even though I didn’t beat Will and I most certainly didn’t pace, I feel this was one of my strongest races yet. I placed 14th which may be a marginal improvement from 16th but compared to Exchequer I had a significantly smaller gap from first. Had I been able to stay with Axel I would have been in a pack of some pretty impressive riders. It was a great learning experience for me and I have some new strategies I’m excited to employ in future races.