"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer


Action Jackson

First cross race ever today.

I can't believe I waited this long. Today was the most fun I've ever had on a bicycle. It was as though I had died and woken up in Brussels.

I arrived at Jackson Park around 11 am, after hemming and hawing over whether to subject Jack to 15 miles in the Pet Ego trailer, and let him out with tail wagging to take in the scene: the men's 3s and women's 1/2/3 races had just started, cowbell was everywhere, floating on the early fall breeze, along with the scent of Bill's pancakes on the griddle, and the bass of Sean's Euro-dance party from his DJ perch.

(Photo by Nikki Cyp)

Greg's course was pure inspiration. Once the opening sprint had decided the leaders, the sand of the softball infield punished any too slow to be up front. From my perch at the third set of barriers in an earlier race, it looked like a distant cavalry charge from an old western movie, or perhaps CNN footage of a tank procession from the first Gulf War. A huge plume of dust arose, through which you could barely see legs, arms, and wheels flailing everywhere as racers lost their footing.

(Photo by Nikki Cyp)

From there it was into the brush and trees of the far stretch, snaking and winding, dodging whipping branches from the shoulder in front of you, where riders must have felt like Alice chasing the rabbit into the forest and down into the hole. Then the real technical fireworks started.

(photo by Gavin Gould)

A barrier just past a hard u-turn, followed by another sandy one-eighty, and then it was through the gauntlet - four or five team tents (Pegasus, Cuttin' Crew, Tati, Courage) - sweaty and screaming among the metallic scent of beer foam and clanging cowbells, they egged you on until you fell over the event horizon...

...the carousel was a work of genius. I wish I could've seen it from above - it must've looked like a ballet. The course swirled in upon itself, seemingly to infinity, before doubling back out. Surrounded by fans and racers, a sense of vertigo overcame as you passed the riders coming in or out on the other side of the tape. It was almost hypnotic as you coasted in, trying to hold your line in the tightening spiral.

(photo by Bloomington Cycles)

Your reverie was then cracked wide open as the pitch kicked up and a series of tight turns - over soft dark sand from old charcoals and around trees - led to the next set of barriers. The jump back on the bike while pushing uphill was too much for many riders. Huge gaps opened up and poor technique was taken advantage of, as next was two stretches on which to really get some speed, interrupted by another miniature vortex of swirling tape.

(Photo by Nikki Cyp)

Some easily rode and hopped over the three uphill log barriers after the long sweeping turn, others not so easily. Others ran it, and made up a place or two each time. Then a final hammer swing down the straight and open stretch to the line, if you still had the legs.

(Photo by Nikki Cyp)

I'd made it the whole road season without going down once, today I crashed three times on the first lap. Perfect planning. Passed the sandy infield, I closed the small gap to the leaders while on a brief stretch of pavement, before going down hard on a left turn back on the grass. The shifter was banged inward and the bars crooked, and I'd instantly lost about 20 places. But everything thankfully still worked so I just got back on and rode as hard as I could.

There were other crashes at seemingly every corner, and finally, one epic bottleneck just before the second set of barriers at a u-turn. I just pushed my way through the tangled mass of legs and wheels and continued to try and make up ground. I ran up the log barriers each time, and picked off a rider each time as well.

On the second lap I got a licorice hand up from Seegs, but on the next one I declined his offer of the $5 bill wedged in his plumber's crack. As well, by then things had stretched out considerably and I was able to take all the turns at speed and my comfort level, passing a lot of other riders anytime it straightened out.

(I passed on the dirty bill...photo by Nikki Cyp)

I can't imagine doing this for an hour as the Pro/1/2 fields do, for closing in on thirty minutes at the end of the fourth and final lap, I was about to lose the bratwurst I'd eaten two hours earlier. I had a piece of licorice caught in my throat, dirt in my eyes, blood on my shin, and snot stretched across my cheek and huge grin as I crossed the line 17th.

(Photo by Nikki Cyp)

Thanks so much for Newt and the team for providing me with the bike to ride this season.

All around me it was evident these people had been waiting nine long months for this day. There was laughter and screaming, smiles and hugs, cowbell and bass. A first-class event to kick off the 2009 Chicago Cross Cup and cyclocross season in pure style.

And my team had pulled it off with barely a hitch. I've never been so proud to wear the white, black, and red of XXX Racing than today.

(Photo by Nikki Cyp)

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