It was twenty-six degrees and as dark as midnight when I looked at the thermometer Sunday morning. Our team had course clean up, so I knew would be around for the duration. The high was supposed to be in the thirties, so there was no need to pack cargo shorts.
My mum and Tim were in tow and we picked up Dave F on the way. We had tent duty and I had Mr. Heater packed as well. We arrived and secured a spot for the tent and soon were signed in and ready for the pre-ride.
The course was wonderfully different than prior years. Long straights followed by sharp turns meant lots of accelerating and brief breaking. There is really only one hill and we managed to climb it five different ways. More on the course later.
Despite the cold temps I dared to ride in what has come to be known in my house as the “unitard.” I did add knee warmers and a hearty long sleeve undergarment and a beanie along with full finger gloves.
Tim agreed to gather clothes for Dave F and myself at the start and we both had front row call ups. We peeled down and Dave realized his number was on the wrong side.
“The timing chip on your helmet is what matters, don’t worry about it,” I offered with the sincere belief it would be just fine. For a moment Dave acted as if he was my mother and didn’t hear a word I said and began unpinning his number. I pulled off a glove and helped him. Soon his number was off and in my hands as the starter, Marshall Will, made his way back to the front.
“Ten seconds,” he shouted with authority. We usually get two or more minutes notice, but not this time. I told Dave not to move and I tired to pin a second pin on his number. Once again channelling my mother Dave kept moving and I felt like an idiot trying to pin him as he fiddled with his other number.
“Davo, grab your bars,” I heard in a calm tone from Scott who was lined up behind me. My internal clock told me it was about time to hear the words, “racers ready.” Instead I heard the whistle and I had both feet firmly on the ground (not clipped in like I should be) and forty-five guys wanting to get in front of me. Most of them would succeed, at least for a while.
I went about one hundred and fifty yards before I was even clipped in. I was about thirty riders back when we hit the first one-eighty corner. The glove for my right hand was still gripped in my teeth. This cluster would have been funny if it had been someone else. If it hadn’t happened in real time it would have been upsetting, but it just was...what it was; Cyclocross.
While I have been an absolute non factor in both my US Cycling Nationals Cyclocross races, if there is one thing I learned it from the experience, it was that you can pass just about anywhere. I worked through riders and on a straight I took my glove from my teeth and stuffed it down the front of my jersey (actually, the ‘tard for you careful readers).
At one of the corners after a long straight everyone slowed for the single-file turn. I usually get a good enough start that I’m not in a lot of traffic, so it was a different experience for me. The fast guys don’t tend to bunch up as much either, so I felt some of the energy I expended on the straight was wasted.
Just past the first sand pit, Evo would ride out of the picture and come back for the pit in the foreground..
The course had barriers on a run up and there was a lot of traffic there so I had to choose my line wisely. A short downhill led into a sand pit. “Power on Evo,” I said to myself as I let the bike kind of go where it wanted. Arguments with sand are always won by the sand.
I kept moving up and I was just outside the top ten at the end of the first lap. On a short road section I pulled my glove out of my jersey and stuffed my hand into it. I had thought I would toss it to Hottie, but my hand was getting cold and I needed the warmth.
I tried to settle down and ride smart. I grabbed a wheel and hung on for a while. When I saw a chance I took it and moved up. The course went past a big climbing structure on a series of easy grassy turns. The grass just past here was a mush of frozen grass and dirt that was getting slower and slower each lap. A pair of barriers in the middle of two one-eighty turns kept your legs burning and your brakes squealing. Then some dirt trail and more grass. A series of switchbacks precedes the hill, and then it is into the sand.
Evo on the Orange Crusher chasing Dave F and the rest of the old men
After the sand a series of sweeping dirt turns leads back up the same hill and then a downhill that I took without fear every time. Another barrier infested climb and a long gradual downhill that got us moving again. More grass led to a long power section that had a single line that was smooth with bumps on either side, so passing here was a high stakes affair.
A wicked off camber led to some sweepers and then around a baseball field and then it was pave to the line. After the third lap I heard the bell and I thought I was in about eighth.
I had two races where I opted not to pass at a given point on the last lap only to never get a second chance. My promise to myself was that on the last lap, I would take any opportunity that came to me. I moved up and was behind a SCCA rider and closed on him and when we hit the long power section we were both out of the saddle and the guy I had just passed was on my tail as well.
I buried myself and drilled the pavement and made the last chicane and then was across the line. The announcer said I was sixth, which I thought was an error, but I was indeed, sixth. By the way, it is awesome to hear your name over the loudspeakers when you’re riding.
Spinner John ended up eighteenth and was spewing excuses like a fire hydrant. It doesn’t mean a lot to me, but he seems to have to justify finishing behind me as if it matters. It does not. Dave F grabbed 13th and was content considering the calamity that had befallen us.
I was sixth in the race and now I am fifth in the series. If you drop your worst race (which you get to do in this series) I’m fourth. If I geek out and project finishes in the double point finale, I still think I’ll end up fifth or so, but we’ll see. There was a race in 2007 where the guys faster than me didn’t show up and I scored my one and only win. Maybe that will happen and I’ll podium. Fun to dream.
Because I was sticking around, and just because I thought it would be fun, I raced up with the faster old guys two and a half hours later.
That was a six-lap affair where I started dead last with Dave F. I just worked my way past a few guys and hung on. When I watch this race from the sidelines it seems to be a confusing mess with riders getting lapped and stringing out so you can’t tell where anyone really is. There are four different races and it gets crazy. From inside the race I knew where I was and I kept passing a rider or two each lap.
I settled in with a group of five or six guys. We jockeyed for position for the third, fourth and fifth lap. My “plan” was to hang with these guys and gas it on the last lap. It seems that was everyone else’s plan as well. When we heard the one to go bell I was at the back of the group and the pace was picking up.
I picked it up as well and took advantage of a bobble and took a spot. Then I poached a rider on a long straight. One of the riders had a chain come off, and while it might have been nice to stop, I just kept going. This was when I would make good on my promise to show no patience or mercy on the last lap.
After the sand I was on a rider and passed in the dirt. Then I took another spot on the post hill downhill. I was chasing a wheel as we began the long power section and the two of us passed a rider and then I passed the wheel and hit the baseball field in front of my group. I was in the drops and picking good lines. I was in a big gear and downshifted as we approached the final corner. I took it smart and drilled it to the line wondering why nobody came around me.
It turns out six guys came in at one second intervals behind me. I was 27th out of 42 old fast guys, which I was pleased with. I rode back to the team tent and put on a jacket right away.
My face was cold and my legs were burning. My teeth hurt, which reminded me of hard runs in cold weather in my youth.
In no time the last race was over and we were taking down barricades and rolling up course tape. I was wearing a ton of clothes and hungry like a hippo.