"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


Yo, Adrian!

It was tough to get out of bed this morning. Tougher still go through my race-day regimen and pack the messenger bag. I wanted to do nothing else than sleep in until 9, drink coffee until I got the shakes, and listen to NPR and watch football. Looking out the window sucked the motivation out of me; the thinning leaves – now dull and robbed of their once fiery color – were stark on their skeletal branches against the slate grey sky.

I felt fat and stiff. It is getting late in the year. Fitness is waning, darkness is coming earlier, and Halloween candy and cookies are taunting me at every turn. Only four races remain before training completely goes off the rails in a head-on collision with the month-long holiday party of December. What harm could it do?

But Jack needs the exercise and socialization (so do I), he’s always dead tired after a day pulling on the leash, peeing on bikes, and snarling at little kids. The day was soon sunny and glorious mere minutes after arriving in Bartlett, and the Bears ended up laying an egg, as well, losing 45-10 to Cincy. Upon returning home with William – and Jack passed out cold in the back seat - I was really glad I had gone and done two races.

The 30+ was a flat out joke, flat on my back. I had the wrong tires and the wrong fork for this race. I am clueless when it comes to road gear, so with a loaner cross bike, I just show up and ride no matter what.

“Dude, why are you using file treads?”

In the muddy turns, the shallow tread filled up with mud quickly, and I rode as though I were in a Three Stooges short. I also got my first road rash of the entire year, losing my back wheel coming back out onto the pavement before the hill at the end of the lap. I was up quickly and the skinsuit was fine, but that was going to be a big strawberry on my ass; added injury to the insult of being covered in mud.

The fork clearance above the tire is less than a centimeter, and I’d pick up about half the forest floor each time to and from the back section through the trees. The rider in front of me would hear a loud buzz/whir from the woodchips, leaves, mud colleting behind my tire, and then I’d fade out, slowing to grab handfuls of gunk adding handfuls of watts to my race effort.

I was mercifully euthanized by the two lead riders Tom Burke (Lathrop/Giant) and Scott McLaughlin (SRAM) passing me at the end of my fourth lap, their bell lap, and I pulled over to find I was riding on a flattening tire and broken spoke. Thankfully, someone – I didn’t get his name – from Rhythm Racing loaned me a wheel, even changing out my 8-speed cassette so I could ride later in the 4Bs race. The tire on the back was also much better suited for the course conditions. Huge thanks to you.

I got through the first two turns sitting top 6th or 7th and stayed top ten for 2.9 laps out of three. Race winner Jake Teitelbaum (Spider Monkey) blew past halfway through the first to catch the leaders 100 meters in front of me to drop them all on his way to a solo win. I was never alone however, a few other riders right on wheel, including teammate Dave Hudson. They all passed me on a catastrophically bad uphill remount after the last barrier early-on in the last lap. Both muddy shoes zinged off the muddy pedals and I nearly crashed the bike. I had slow down for a second to get it together, consciously clipping in. Then I was hanging on to 10th.

(photo by Liz Farina Markel, Tipping Point Photo)

In the backside, heading back to the trees for the last third of the lap, I hear behind me, “I’m coming for you, Morrissey!” It’s Adrian Redd, my old mechanic from Boulevard Bikes, racing for Pegasus and closing fast. I am already on the edge of redline and vomit, and I try mightily to add watts and increase the gap. But as we approach the hill, he is on my wheel. A tight u-turn, and then you are looking straight up.

On any other day of the week, this place would be an inconsequential bump in the terrain of a boring, suburban park.

Sunday, it was as big as Alp d’Huez. Slick and treacherous, a deafening echo-chamber, a gauntlet of screaming mouths, hunched bodies extending clenched fists carrying hideously contorted faces; megaphone sirens; all of it willed into pure energy – quashing the doubts of lost momentum and thrown down to the pedals to wrench yourself to the top. At the crest, the roar rose to absolute cacophony.

(Photo by Newt Cole)

I could see a wheel in my right periphery as Luke scrambled out of the way, camera in hand (I hope it’s a good one!) and then Adrian passed me. Three turns to go his gap seemed to grow and I stamped down the sense of futility as I took the corners as fast as I dared. Through the last turn I was closing. The finishing straight opened up, closing. The catch, the pass, the throw. 10th place.

How unbelievably fun to finish this race in a two-up sprint, let alone against a friend of mine? I pulled over on the grass to dry heave three times in front of five or six complete strangers – thanks for the water! – as Adrian rolled back, hacking up chunks of lung. We chatted and relived the last half-lap. Cross Cup director Jason Knauff may be joking as he calls us to the line, but the 4Bs really are the main event and such a carnival because everyone who raced earlier makes it so. That’s the kind of enthusiasm and spirit that makes cyclocross so much fun, and makes the curmudgeonly whiner I was back in July totally unrecognizable. It’s the reason I am now a confirmed cross maniac for as long as I breathe, no matter how laughably bad I race.

Because cross-racers know that it's good to be alive:

(Photo by Luke Seemann)

No comments: