Everything was going great until I ended up in that ditch.

Just like at Baraboo two weeks ago, xXx was represented by nine riders in the Cat 4/5 of this 41-mile, three-loop road race. This time, however, about half of them were 4's who'd come up to show the 5's how it was done.

The race started at a much more moderate pace than Baraboo, no doubt in thanks to all the xXx 4's at the front controlling the tempo. I even found myself among them, which felt like sitting at the grown-ups' table.

And then the big hill.

One of the neophytes who'd ridden Baraboo claimed in his race report that there were some hills there. I don't know what he was talking about. Those were no hills. This was a hill, and it seemed to go on and on.

If I recall correctly, my internal monologue went something like this:

Me: Are we there yet? Are we there yet?
Me: Ask that again and you're going to be walking!
Me: Fine by me!

I'd started the hill near the front of the pack but by the top I was gapped by about 30 meters. In the flat, however, the pack slowed considerably and some other stragglers and I were able to catch up

with ease.

What goes up, of course, must come down, and that's where I always have trouble. My bike has only 400 miles on her and I'm still getting used to how she handles descents, which here were much steeper than the climbs. We'd already topped a white-knuckled 45 mph when we got to a steep descent that was followed by a short flat, slight turn and then another steep descent. I was feeling some wobble at the end of the first descent and decided to slow down a bit before hitting the second, but it became clear that I'd have to choose: slow down or turn, but not both. I chose to slow and simply ran out of pavement. I rolled into a grassy ditch. Fortunately the wet ground slurped up my wheels and I came to a safe and controlled, albeit humilitating halt. Unfortunately, that would be the last I saw of the pack. I hadn't expected that I'd be able to keep up for much longer, but I had wanted to make at least one complete loop with them.

Two red and silver streaks screamed by to my left: It was Dave Wolf and Alan Rovge trying to catch up to the pack. I hopped back on the road. About five miles later I caught up to Dave and we rode the second loop together.

I don't think I'm alone in this, but the hill seemed easier each time we took it. The third time we hit the hill Dave and I were in a group of five and were 10 meters behind a group of eight riders from the masters race that had\nstarted five minutes after ours. I found myself getting ahead of the 4/5's I was with, and then one by one I passed the masters.

At the top of the hill I was in the middle of the masters pack. I wasn't sure about the etiquette, so I asked whether it was bad form for me to ride with them. "Um, yes," one of them said, so I peeled off and enjoyed the scenery until Dave and the three others caught up.

Except there weren't three others: It was just Dave and a young rider from Sturgeon Bay. The three of us rode together the rest of the way and it was almost a replay of Baraboo: I attacked going up the final hill and got a good gap but was unable to hold it long enough. I'd promised Dave that if this happened I'd try to lead him out, but I didn't have enough left to help him much, and the Sturgeon Bay kid beat both of us. (Should this happen again, however, I think Dave and I have this routine down and will be able to sucessfully break away from a third.)

And that's how the race looked from the rear. I didn't place well, but except for the mistake on the descent I think I rode well and strong, and that's victory enough for me. One thing I'm digging about racing is the steep learning curve; I feel I'm a much better rider now than I was when I woke up this morning. I'm hoping that some of the riders who had more success -- Hello, Eric! Hello, women! -- post about their experiences, too, so I can learn even more.