Is one supposed to feel discouraged when one finishes 10th of 15 racers? That’s where I finished on Saturday and I don’t feel bad at all. I’m pretty happy with my performance, all things considered.
It had been 3 weeks since I had last really raced my bike. Sure, I keep showing up to the Wednesday night practices, but I had taken a couple of weeks off from “real” races. I had been doing a reasonably good job sticking to my Time Crunched Cyclist ‘cross training plan, so there had been at least a little intensity in my riding. It was good to put the bikes on the roof and head off to a race though.
The three-lap warmup has become second nature to me now. I get all bundled up, ride one lap just to see where the course goes, one lap to check out lines and one lap more or less full gas. Strip all the extra stuff and line up. For this race, the “extra stuff” turned out to be everything except the bibs and short-sleeve jersey. It was only supposed to be in the mid-50’s, but everyone else had ditched the arm warmers and baselayers too.
I lined up near the back of the pack (all 15 of us), and off we went. I got ahead of a few folks before we hit the short singletrack section but knew at least one guy was breathing down my neck. I took some wide lines to let him pass, but he didn’t take them opportunities. I tried to keep up with the guy in front of me, but wasn’t having a lot of luck to start with. Eventually the guy behind me slid by, but I noticed something strange.
I have always considered myself to be quick in the corners and slow in the straights. But Saturday, I was just barely keeping ahead of people in the corners and dropping them in the straight, pedaly bits. On lap 2, I repassed the guy who went by me. Lap 3 took me past the next guy. Two laps later, I made it past the last guy. He stuck close to me for a few laps before I started to distance him. Each pass was on the straightaway and every time I made up time on other riders, it was on the straights. A very backwards kind of scenario for me.
The race went on and on. After the first two laps, the official called out “10 to go, 10 to go!” I looked at my computer and thought, “Wow. 2 laps and 10 minutes down and we’re going to do 10 more?” And the answer was yes. We just kept going, plugging away. Running through a volleyball court filled with wet sand that packed into our cleats and made it hard to clip back in. Dismounting three times in a tiny stretch of course around a tight, off-camber corner then a single barrier, then a triple set of barriers.
One lap my family made it around to where I had stashed my pit bike and water bottle. My son, the soigneur, (does that make him a son-yeur?) gave me a bottle hand-up that was very appreciated. It was only one good mouthful, but it was wonderful. Eventually — finally — they called one to go. No more than 30 seconds later, the leaders came through. I didn’t get lapped, but only barely.
I hurt all over. My hip muscles were strained from pedaling, running and jumping. My quads were on fire from pushing the biggest gear I could for 65 minutes. My left foot had kicked my right ankle hard enough to pull off skin and draw blood. My right arm was sore from where the downtube hits it when I shoulder the bike. My only consolation was that my back didn’t hurt. In a few ‘cross races, my lower back has gotten sore. Perhaps this time was because I spent so little time in the drops.
Returning to my original thesis, I finished 10/15 and was pretty happy with my performance. I’m picking up speed on the straights and still hanging tough in the corners. The bike is pretty dialed in now. The TRP brakes were awesome and I rode the Clement PDX’s at 27 psi. I’m not going to say that I’ve got this cyclocross thing down, but I feel like I know it better than any other discipline of cycling I’ve participated in. And if I haven’t mentioned it before, I absolutely love it.
Next up? Baycross! (Man, do I love Ashland, WI — especially cyclocross in Ashland.)