Rain had been predicted for the whole weekend and Saturday had been surprisingly dry. My faith in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is strong, so I put the mud tires on the cross bike and loaded it in the war wagon for an early Sunday departe’.
Dark, threatening clouds greeted me as I set up the tent on the grass along the edge of the course. “This is a pretty prime spot,” I thought to myself.
My mud tires are on some beat up carbon rims so I had changed out brake pads to yellow carbon friendly ones and was reluctant to take out the bike as I was unsure if I would want the mud tires or my “pretty darn good for just about everything” Challenge Fangos. After watching a race or two; I put on the Fango and in the process of swapping pads when I ldropped the retention spring for the brake pad in the grass. Gone forever. Improvising, I clipped a few millimeters off of a spare derailleur cable and pushed it into place and it served me well all day.
Riding laps revealed the course to be a complex assortment of wicked improvisation.
Fall means Cyclocross here in the Northwest !!
Here is a course description beginning at the starting line: The starting/finishing straight is actually a gradual left hand arc on parking lot pavement. The bunch is quickly funneled into a puddle that is best ridden to the left just before a nearly 180 degree right hander turn. Those who bombed it on the right were set up well for the corner, but were also trying to smile while riding with soaking wet shoes.
The right hand turn put you on speed sucking grass that had you trying to figure out if your tires were flat, or if your brakes were rubbing because you couldn’t understand why you were working so hard and going so slow. After you managed to build up some speed you hit a sloppy left hand turn that again slowed you down requiring you to work to get going again. Then you were on a short series of off camber slalom turns that claimed more than a few victims during the race. Then you hit the most unique feature of the racecourse, a couple corners from the BMX park. You hit a series of whoop-de-doos followed by a high banked turn and another set of whoop-de-doos and then a crazy narrow descent over piles of clay and rocks. The whoop-de-dos saw some riders styling them and others being thrown all over. Then we went across a road and onto a series of off camber sweepers that were scary when they were dry. The rains came in force for my race (details to follow) and those corners saw dozens of crashes.
This was followed by a short pavement section that dropped before sending you through some loose gravel (at high speed) and onto more technical grass turns. Then a descent into the forest where we were out of the mud but the loamy duff made cornering a challenge. Lots of “around this tree, now around that tree” stuff at low speed and some short steep climbs and correspondingly steep drops before more winding around more “this tree, now that tree” wrestling.
A short straight gave you a moment to build requisite speed before a short but steep climb up soft dirt to the parking lot where a mistake would cost you places and perhaps blood. Then across the parking lot and more grass turns and hillside fun before a barrier on a climb at an angle on the hillside. Hoittie said that spot had the best facial expression as riders (Evo included) would dismount and then our feet would slide to the right as we tried to run uphill to the left. It took a step or three to over-correct each time and then a remount and sprint to the finish line.
Evo leading Big John
Although I took several warm up laps the variety of features made it really hard to get into any kind of rhythm and I will acknowledge that I although I enjoyed the various parts of the course, during the warm up I never got comfortable linking them together.
As we warmed up for the 12:25 start the skies started to share their hydration bounty. The rain continued to increase in intensity and as we lined up the rain was coming down with near-biblical intensity. Cyclocross was about to get real. To ensure we weren’t cheated, they promised us five laps of suffering.
The pre-race rain had driven most of us to hide under the trees that lined the start area so when the start whistle blew many of us had sluggish legs. I avoided the puddle in the first turn and went wide and was slogging my way up from the back as riders went sideways on the slippery grass.
I moved up in the grass and likewise in the BMX park until we were funneled down to single file. I took some initiative and dismounted and carried past a line of riders who had been forced to straddle their bikes as the narrow procession slowed to a walk. It was, after all, a race.
The grassy off camber sweepers were dodgy and I saw I was just behind Big John. I decided to try and stay on his wheel and let him pull me up into contention. John moved up and so did I. We took some places on the pavement and then more on the grassy turns. In the forest I had to dab and John got a gap on me but nobody filled in the gap so I worked to close it. As I came to the short, steep and soft uphill that led to the parking lot, John lost traction and his bike went sideways. I went left and rode past as he expressed an appropriate level of frustration (no swearing, just some verbalized self-talk and apologies to those around him at conversational level decibels). What a classy guy.
Banked turns and Evo is moooooving !
Soon I passed the team tent where teammates and relatives were sheltered from the rain. I hoped they noted I was (for the moment anyway) ahead of Big John. Later when the course switched back on itself, I heard John shouting, “Go Davo.” Man I love that!
I looked ahead and worked to catch and pass the group in front of me. On the second lap I pushed and continued to pass riders as we were now filtering through the back of the Cat3 35+ field. You tend to race those around you so I had to concentrate on looking ahead of those I was catching and pushing past when I could. It would have been easy to settle in with the slower riders, but like I said, it is a race.
When I saw three to go the gaps were growing and the rain had soaked in and the course was changing drastically. The course was different not only from what it had been when I pre-rode the course, but it was a slip and slide compared to how it had been on the earlier laps.
The BMX course is mostly clay, so it wasn’t too different, but the off cambers were no claiming victims without mercy. Bikes were doing “hook-and-ladder” slides at best and riders going down and tangling in heaps at worst. The grassy sections on hillsides saw slide outs and a majority of riders had the telltale signs of crashes ranging from torn, flapping numbers to mud covered limbs to bloody knees and shins.
Evo trusted in his tires and his pressure guesses and leaned into the hills. Aside from a handful of dabs, I kept it upright. I passed the Pirate at the same spot (each of us going different directions) on each lap indicating that there was some combination of my having a good day or him having a bad day. He later reported crashing seven times.
With over two hundred racers on course it is almost unfathomable that at times you can’t see anyone in front of you, but that is what happened. I couldn’t see anyone to chase and Big John had fallen way back deciding not to chance crashing on the slippery course. I focused on my pedal stroke and taking good lines and kept looking ahead of me.
When I crossed the line with one to go I again celebrated another race where I didn’t get lapped. I looked for riders to pick off and on the speed sucking grass I claimed another place. There is a point late in races where you avoid eye contact as you pass. The rider getting passed is cooked and eye contact only adds to their misery. Kind of like when someone yells to a fading rider to close the gap. If they could, they would. The fact that they are dropping off is an indication that they gave it all they could and now are paying the price.
The mud was flying and I was glad I was wearing my "working in the factory" safety glasses as they had clumps of mud stuck to them that would have blinded me otherwise. The best ten bucks I never actually spent (Thanks Bombardier).
Behind me I could see a rider whom I had been chasing on lap four until he crashed twice in fifty feet at which point I passed him. He wanted to get back in front of me and I liked him behind me. I was aware that in order to keep those who were behind me to stay behind me, I needed to focus on the course and riders in front of me. I looked ahead and spotted an Apex rider who became my target. He was in my category and I was feeling “frisky.”
I started to close the gap on the grassy portions and held on through the forest. My chaser was closing on us as well. When we emerged from the forest I surged past the Apex guy right in front of my team’s tent as “The Beast” screamed, “Tear their legs off.” I kept pushing and after fording the mud bog for the final time I looked up from a loose off camber turn and could see my chaser coming up on the Apex guy. I knew the gap was such that if I crashed they would be on me in a second. I rode the slippery stuff conservatively and then pushed where I could get traction. Up and over the slippery devil barrier one last time, then sprint to the finish and I was ALL DONE.
When you see leaning over the bars after a race you can rest assured I rode hard. When you see me get off and lean over the top tube that is when you can tell that I gave all I had. Last week we all had dust on our faces and the front of our legs. Today we all had mud from head to toe and front to back.
Because Seattle Cyclocross is a USA cycling event they have to follow a rather rigid protocol regarding upgrading and the result was some of our fast guys had to race down a cat. We had guys who race Cat 3 in the MFG series forced to race Cat 4 and some guys who race as Cat 2’s down in our race. With Cat 2’s in my race I was pleased with a mid pack result.
Despite being my biggest fan, Hottie wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of watching the Seahawks this day so she drove separately to the venue that was a short twenty minute drive from Casa de Evo. After my race she congratulated me and drove off thirty seconds later. It worked out well for both of us.
As I rode a warm down lap I realized the rain was letting up and by the time I got to the tent and we started to pack up the rain had stopped. By the time I got home there were even sunbreaks. I set up the tent in the garage, turned on a fan and hung the team flag to dry. I hosed the mud off the bike and my clothes. After lubing the bike and defiling the washing machine I settled down to watch the end of the Seahawk game with Hottie.