Fun at the Fort 3/20/2022 – Theo Borys

Exchequer had been my first real mountain bike race, and I had surprised myself by placing 5th. I went into Exchequer with no expectations, and it ended up going well. At Fort Ord, I now had a place to aim; 4th. Chris had gone up to varsity, leaving an opportunity to place higher. 4th place was my goal for the race, however I felt a lot more nervous leading up to the race. I became more stressed the morning of the race. Then I started warming up, and before long was called up to the first row. I didn’t really have a strategy for the start besides “enter the single track in the top 5”. Hint: that didn’t happen. 
When the announcer started to count down the start, it seemed like it was happening in a dream. I didn’t really register the start of the race, but I started pedaling when he said go. The first row remained together as we approached the single track. Less and less room became available as we moved forwards. And then, suddenly, I started to lose control of my bike. The next moment I was on the ground. I’m not sure what happened – maybe someone bumped into me from behind, or my handlebars knocked into someone else’s – it all happened too quickly to register. Even looking back at the video that my dad conveniently filmed, it’s unclear what exactly happened.
Other racers were whizzing past me. I saw two others collide behind me and cause an even larger pile up. My first instinct was to get out of the way – I ran to the side of the racetrack. I was off my bike for what seemed like forever; my handlebars were reversed. I tried turning them but I turned them the wrong way, making them even more tangled. I turned them back the other way and, at last I could bike again. I started running and then hopped on my bike. It had felt like an eternity, but was really more like 5 seconds – but that was still enough for the majority of the racers to pass me. 
I started riding again, and surprisingly felt pretty good. I was fine, my bike was fine, and the benefit of being almost last is that nobody is going to pass you! I stayed behind a slower group of around 15 riders until we entered the single track, and then I started passing. At first I passed just one or two people at a time. But we were moving so slowly, and there were so many riders in front of me, that I decided I needed to be more aggressive. I took a trick out of Chris’s handbook and just started sprinting on the grass next to the single track. It was incredibly bumpy, but it ended up working – I passed around 10 riders at a time. 
After passing the large group, I started passing smaller groups of riders, or individual ones. I saw Miles and tried to say something encouraging. A few minutes later I saw Felix with a small group of riders, passing them on one of the steeper hills. He said “keep it up”, and I tried to respond but I was breathing too hard at that point. Around the end of the first lap I passed Noah. Throughout the entire lap I was totally unsure where I was. I had passed around 30 riders, but I had no idea if I was 10th, 20th, or 30th. At the last fireroad climb I saw Doug, and he yelled “you’re catching up!”. This made me feel better, and I tried to go up the fireroad pretty quickly. 
A bit into the second lap I found Odin and Joaquin with two Berkeley riders. Odin, Joaquin and I started drafting off each other, switching who was in front every few minutes. The El Cerrito Power Squad was going to sweep the podium! (well, we hoped so). The Berkeley riders were getting a nice draft off of us, and eventually one of them decided to pass. He kept riding next to me and trying to push me off the trail, but didn’t fortunately didn’t succeed. Eventually he sprinted past us on a downhill, and started bombing some berms. Within 5 seconds he wiped out, and yelled some obscenities. I didn’t see him again for the rest of the race. At this point I started speeding up as well, and dropped Odin and Joaquin. I guessed I was either 5th or 4th, depending on which spectators you listened to. I rode on my own for a while and I think I paced myself pretty well. I saw Doug at the fireroad again and he again yelled “you’re catching up! Just a little bit ahead, push harder!”. I had no idea whether there was actually someone ahead of me or not – was he just saying this? Either way it worked, and I sped up. I passed another rider a bit later, but spent most of the 3rd lap on my own. Eventually a kid in a leader jersey passed me, and I became incredibly confused; was that Olaf? Why would Olaf be behind me?? I learned later that it was actually the JV D2 Leader – some incredibly fast kid who had managed to catch up over 3 minutes. 
Nearing the end of the third lap, I knew I was 4th. I had a good amount of energy left, and started sprinting up the last hill where all the spectators are ringing cowbells 1 inch away from your face. I heard everyone yell “10 seconds!”, “10 seconds ahead!”. I didn’t know who was 10 seconds ahead of me, but I started sprinting. Unfortunately, the next bit was flat curvy singletrack, which isn’t really somewhere you can catch up much. I saw an El Cerrito jersey in front of me, and realized it was Tobin. I sprinted the rest of the third lap, and crossed the finish line 7 seconds behind Tobin, in 4th place.
Despite the crash, I felt the race had gone pretty well. I paced myself, passed a lot of people, and ended up achieving my goal. I’m looking forward to the next race and seeing how it goes with a (hopefully) not as eventful start.