Guns for a Gunfight. Giros in Vampire mode.
At the last MFG race I was lamenting that maybe I had changed to mud tires too early. Tubeless is great but tire swaps are messy. I was hoping for a wet course to justify the installation of the mud tires. This week I got my wish. It is a cruel God that grants our wishes.
I am an almost religious follower of the NOAA website and the forecast graphs in particular. The graph shows on an hour by hour basis; the temperature, cloud cover, wind velocity, chance of precipitation and amount of precipitation per hour for your selected location. My race was looking to be a slippery event starting the Tuesday before the race. As the week progressed the variations narrowed but the predicted deluge remained the prediction.
With my Stan’s Raven tires (gravel/dry cyclocross) resting on a hook in the garage I had my only other cross tires (Kenda Kommando X Pro’s) installed. I had purchased them strictly for muddy cross races and although they had a much more aggressive tread than my Raven’s they sure didn’t look as mud hungry as say, Clement PDX’s or Challenge Limus’. A last minute search for something with more bite did not yield any results so I tried to embrace the Kommando X’s.
My training included some skills practice the Thursday before the race. It was bombing rain and I welcomed the chance to get some time on the bike in muddy conditions. I went out just before sunset Thursday evening with a light on my helmet and rain falling on my shoulders. I was feeling pretty badass riding in the rain (Rule #9) until I made it to the school where I planned the majority of my practice and found a team of ten year old girls practicing soccer. I concluded we were all badass. I discretely kept my potty mouth perspective to myself.
One outcome of that practice was that my disc braking wasn’t as awesome as it had been in dry conditions. I swapped out my pads and installed some sintered pads that I think are made from metal asbestos, cancer and kitten bones. I bought them on the black market. They came in an unmarked bag. If I recall correctly they are made in Poland and are shipped using Hazardous Materials protocol. They do, however, stop me very well.
With the race schedule both shuffled and starting four hours later than normal I packed the war wagon the morning of the race. I got there early and set up anticipating wind and rain. I had the team sprayer charged, full of water and ready to spew.
The ground was soaked from a week of rain and over the span of four hours the riders chewed up the course and it transitioned from bumpy grass to greasy peanut butter-like mud. I checked my phone for the radar image and saw a mass of green and yellow that stretched from Vancouver to Corvalis bearing down on Redmond, Washington. It started raining lightly about seventy five minutes before my race. Later the rain changed from a soft rain you could see to rain you could hear and feel as the skies opened up completely about ten minutes before the whistle for my race. This was going to be epic.
My time on the course before my race had only served to confirm the race would feature a lot of improvisation. There were stretches of off camber that I could not ride. There was a puddle the size of my car that could not be avoided. Even when pre-riding there were riders going down like drunken toddlers. This was my kind of course.
The beauty of Cyclocross is the application of a rider’s handling skills, raw strength, conditioning, prior race experience and judgment combined equipment selection and preparation on a course that can be different not only from prior years, but from prior laps. You can’t practice riding in forty degree rain on a muddy course in July. There is an odd fragility to such a rough sport. I’ve raced at Marymoor a half dozen times and never has it been anything remotely like this.
Scott bombing it !!
I accepted my call up with joy and reverence. I stood on the line still in my plastic jacket and thirty year old (1984, really) Nike nylon pants. I peeled them off at the last minute and was at least for the moment warm in the falling rain.
When the race started my mind was blank and my start reflected it. I quickly drifted toward the back as we made our way under the finish banner and onto the slick straightaway by the team tents. Willard was cheering and ringing his monster cowbell. Thanks. I hear you and appreciate the cheers. At the first sharp corner I could see there were still a couple guys behind me. I needed to move up.
Through a narrow gate and we were onto a greasy straight with a slight off camber where I slid downhill and to the right without wanting to do so. There would be a lot of “hook and ladder” riding this day. I kept pedaling and finally hit some steerable slop and was back on solid-ish ground. My rear wheel was spinning out as I ramped up my effort. I shifted my weight back to keep traction. This was the beginning of fifty minutes of bike wrangling this day. A slick S-curve downhill (evil) and then a wicked trio of uphill, traverse left, then down, greasy right, repeat - slaloms that required a ton of perfectly timed power or you would either slide out or stall. I had to avoid riders who did both.
A single high line that could be ridden with a constant and controlled pedal stroke was the only way to avoid sliding down and ultimately under the course tape. Then we zigged and zagged on the velodrome infield, jumping barriers before exiting and hitting the off camber of death.
The carnage was everywhere and even on the first lap we were working our way through the back of the Cat 3 45 race field. On the off camber of death there were two lines of riders. On top there were riders gingerly walking their bikes trying not to shoot down the slippery slope and below were riders who had slid down and were clawing back onto the course.
Mud is a many spotted thing..
In anticipation of such conditions I had installed wickedly long toe cleats that made my shoes look like vampires. Using the vampires I dismounted early then I shot in between the two lines and passed a handful of riders. I remounted and headed for the final off camber of glory which came just before the log obstacle.
There was a low line on this off camber that could be ridden if you kept your pedal pressure constant and didn’t get greedy. Then a rutted cream cheese downhill followed by a 180 degree turn before the uphill with the logs. The beer garden was positioned here so my log leaping was cheered by soggy mildly inebriated Cyclocross fans.
Remounting on the slippery slope after the logs was tricky and I felt I had a good solution of remounting and clipping in my downhill foot while using my uphill foot as an outrigger for the off camber downhill. I could hear fans yelling from the beer garden but the slick slope demanded my full attention. On later laps I would catch a glimpse of beer hand ups out of the corner of my eye.
More zigs and zags and a final power straight and it was onto lap two. I was working my way through the 45ers and catching other old guys in my category.
On the second lap I hit the post-infield off camber of death in back of a group of seven riders and emerged in front of them all. I heard swearing behind me not because I had cut anyone off, but because the mud was almost like quicksand in that the harder you tried to go fast, the more you slipped and went down. My vampires helped me pass slipping riders and they didn’t like it. Welcome to Cyclocross.
The course was described by another rider as a greasy nightmare. Riders were down everywhere and avoiding them was just one of the course challenges this day. I dabbed multiple times every lap but didn’t go completely down. My brakes were working which enabled me to control my speed with some confidence. Instead of braking at the top of a downhill and hoping the brakes would grab about the time I needed to slow, I could wait and squeeze the levers when I needed to slow. Sweet !
I kept working up and cursed my slow start. I had some traffic issues and getting around riders when long mud sections had only one viable line hurt my lap times. I was chasing Scott and found myself close to him on some parts of the course and losing contact on other parts.
It was now past sunset and the stadium lights illuminated the bombing rain. The charcoal colored mud and my wet glasses made the darker parts of the course an unexpected adventure. My HR was maxed and I was warm despite being soaked to the bone and caked with mud. The bike wasn’t feathery light as it was carrying eight pounds of mud. I felt like I was doing well and knew I was well ahead of the racer closest to me in series points. I would keep my sixth place call up for the final race. Nice.
Despite my crap start I managed a top ten finish and was glad to be done. The rain was still pissing down as I went back to the start line and collected the rain jacket and pants I set aside just before the start. I saw Brad warming up for his race and felt sorry for him. It felt kind of like I was seeing someone waiting for their execution. I wished him well and looked away. As I got back on my bike to ride to the tent I realized I was already in my second race of the day, the race with hypothermia. I was losing that race.
I wrestled off my sticky wet and muddy clothes then rubbed off the mud off my legs using a brown towel (smart eh?) and pulled on some dry clothes. The sprayer got the chunks of mud off the B2 Bomber and I loaded it into the war wagon. Despite breaking a spoke, El Pirate snagged 4th on the day and remains the point leader in the series. That guy is my hero.
Adam came over and we compared war stories. I was still freezing and wanted to get out of the rain so as soon as we broke down the tent I headed out wearing all the clothing I brought in an attempt to get warm. I discovered my car heater was not working and I just gritted my teeth.
Once home I attacked a hot meal Hottie had waiting. Then I unpacked the war wagon and set up the tent, team flag, chairs, table and stools in the garage to dry off. I hosed off the Bomber again with more water pressure and dripped some lube on the chain. The bike would get more loving the next evening, but that was the triage for race day. Then I pulled my muddy clothes out of my wet bag and hosed the mud off and dropped the soggy clothes into a bucket. Then I dumped the bucket into the washing machine and put the shoes on the boot dryer. Finally I got the hot shower I had been dreaming of for three hours.
My body ached everywhere. My shoulders, neck and biceps were sore. My feet and hands hurt. The mud wrestling had taken a toll. My legs weren’t too bad, but everything else was throbbing. That was a race. That was awesome. This was a great feeling.
I looked forward to looking back on this day.
As a footnote I started cleaning the Bomber Monday evening and found water and mud in places it didn’t belong. Before I was done I ended up pouring water out of my frame, servicing my BB and replacing derailleur cables. That was a race that will be spoken of for years to come.
Like it or not, I got my wish.