Practice in the mud that is. And I've certainly had plenty of opportunities to race in the mud this year.
Today was the Ruby XC race and I already knew I would be getting wet since the course crosses a river twice on each lap. But the weather forecast called for overnight rain and into the morning and of course this forecast they got correct.
Bernie and I drove up this morning and we hit harder rain just before the course. With the wet conditions and falling rain it made it easy to decide which bike to use. The 1x9 with Michelin XC tires came out and the fully geared bike stayed in the van. This is essentially the same bike setup I used at Pontiac this spring and the Stony race a few weeks ago. Except this time I had a slightly smaller chainring on the front to make it easier to climb the couple of hills this course had.
At the start I got in right behind the fastest guy in our group as we headed into the first section of singletrack, the other guys were right behind me. At the start of the race we had warned each other to stay safe and take it easy but it didn't take too long before I heard the guy behind me crash. "That's the first one," I told the guy in front of me, figuring there would be more to come.
A little later he had trouble on some roots going up a hill and I went around him. I knew he was having a little more trouble with the mud than I was so I tried to push my advantage in case it started to dry out. By the end of the first lap I had a lead of about two minutes.
For the next three laps I concentrated on trying to stay upright and only fell once, when I put my foot down on a slippery bridge section. The mud began to get thicker and the course faster as it stopped raining and began drying. I was worried the others would begin to catch me.
I also had some problems with the chain skipping on the two smallest cogs as the mud packed the cassette. On one lap through the river I stopped to try and wash some of it off. The river was deep enough that most people were running with their bikes instead of riding. The water actually felt refreshing as it was not too cold to cause a shock to the system or to cause the muscles to cramp.
I managed to extend my lead over second place to four minutes to take the win. I actually had a good time in the mud. I always seem to do fairly well in the nastier conditions; part of is from practice and the other from having a positive outlook. It also helps when you have the right equipment.
Next race I know I will get wet again, even if it doesn't rain. The Stony Creek time trial runs through a creek twice but it is usually pretty shallow. The current forecast for next week's race actually says 0% chance of rain. I won't know what to do.