When the going gets tough....
The Tough go Belgian
With minimal preparation I once again paid money and pinned on a number so I could catch up on my allocation of suffering. I got bunny into Cyclocross configuration with wide knobby tires. Fenders, lights and bottle cages were removed and sitting on a shelf in the garage.
In sharp contrast to seasons past I am not working off of a detailed checklist of race day equipment and strict warm up and nutrition protocol. My tires felt fine in the garage and I had cold cereal for breakfast.
I arrived at Steilacoom and it greeted me like an old friend. I warmed up and the new course had it all. Merciless climbs? Check. Daredevil loose downhill? Check. Bumpy grass and lumpy baby heads that force you out of the saddle when you would rather be seated? Check. High speed downhill with sharp corner at the bottom? Check again! Stacked field of powerful, yet sinewy, racers? When I said it had it all, I meant it. This is cyclocross baby!
While I said out loud that I wanted to start near the back and hold my position, inwardly I hoped to move up a few spots compared to my last race. As we were getting seeded into our starting positions I tried to shed my relaxed mindset and get the “eye of the tiger.” I failed.
The gun went off and I found myself going faster than I wanted, yet slower than I should have been. A gap started to form early on and I moved up to avoid being in the back group. On the loose and soft downhill I put my weight back and let it fly.
Out of the saddle, I pushed on the bumpy flat after the downhill to keep in contact. Over the barriers and then a chicane leading to the steep, long, steep and muddy (and steep) run up. Shouldering the bike I moved up a spot or two as I felt my heart race. At the top we remounted and BEGAN a long curvy climb to the top of the course. The run up was so steep I welcomed climbing on the bike.
As the course snaked up and down and back up the lumpy surface was constantly pushing back and disrupting any flow that one might have hoped for. I was riding big 40mm tires at low pressure yet the surface was beating me senseless. I can only imagine what the course would have felt like in 32mm tires at 65 psi (Hayes style).
At the top you made a left turn and flew down to the bottom in one slippery push. At the end of the fast downhill the course turned from wet pavement onto loose gravel on a corner that was well past ninety degrees to the left. On my third lap the rider in front of me locked up, completely missing the turn. He went straight and blew through the course tape like he was breaking the tape at the end of a marathon. I don’t know if he ever got back on course or just called it a day. I backed off and made the corner with minimal slippage.
As the race wore on my legs, lungs and low back all complained and were told to shut up. I was glad to get the bell for one to go (meaning I wasn’t going to get lapped by the leader of the 35 plus field that had started two (or more) minutes ahead of our group). I continued to push and looked ahead for riders to catch.
On the last lap I caught a couple stragglers from the 35 plus and 45 plus fields. Those guys looked defeated and could not have been excited to have yet another 55 plus rider pass them. They were, however, totally blown and I passed them quickly.
I looked over my shoulder on some of the final curves to see if I had put enough distance between myself and the riders I had passed on the last couple laps. Sure enough there was a big gap and I could enjoy the final hundred meters to the finish line. I didn’t really back off, but I didn’t dig to gain a second or two either.
Afterwards I found The Wizard of Coz and we shared a fist bump. I continued to ride for ten or fifteen minutes in hopes of chasing the lactic acid out of my legs. I was tired and it felt good. I was racing again. I returned to my car and recognized the guy parked next to me was the same guy who had missed the turn at the bottom of the downhill. His knee was bloody and he realized I was the guy who was about to pass him when we miscalculated the turn. We shared a few encouraging words. It struck me that if I had to choose to be the one who crashed trying not to be passed and the one who had chased down that guy, my preference was to be the one who survived and finished.
At times it seems foolish to dress like a superhero and race other old men with similar obsessive behavior traits. Back at work on Monday I compare weekend experiences with the other middle aged men I work with. After listening to guys whose weekend highlights were beer and television, my trivial race seems to make more sense.