Photos of everyone else can be found here
After having my wish for true Cyclocross conditions more than granted last week, I was foolish enough to be back for more. A rainy week had saturated the marvelous venue of Woodland Park and all it needed was riders doing warm up laps in order to transform into a slippery course worthy of a series finale.
My bike commute is now dark on both ends and my short sleeved jerseys won’t be used outside for several months. Intervals are done on the trainer downstairs and the proof of a good trainer workout is condensation on the windows and soggy laundry. This boys and girls is Cyclocross season.
Despite working harder this season than any of my previous seasons my results have been unaffected. I’ll deal with that issue in another post. For context, all you need to know is that my motivation to continue racing beyond the MFG finale is nonexistent. I’m not saying I won’t race anymore this season. I’m just saying that I’m not planning on it.
Injuries, age and apathy have combined to make 2014 an unusually sparse year for racers from our team. This has resulted in a smaller and thus more intimate group of racers. The dynamic of the same twelve racers coming and going during the day is much different than when we had thirty plus racers who stuck around for most of the day. It has been enjoyable seeing our small band of men, woman and girls persevere, but I do miss the days when our team was both large and loud. Perhaps if those days did return I would pine for this small group of stalwarts. I guess I’m just a whiner. You’ve been warned.
I was looking forward to the return of Big John who had just worked himself back to racing fitness following a late summer wrist injury. Everyone has more fun when John is around. When I got a text Friday morning that he was in the hospital ER following a bike crash I was devastated on so many levels. John is a good guy. In a fair world something this bad would happen to a guy like, say, Scott. Scott deserves something like that. John just doesn’t deserve this bad luck.
I was a little off in that I hadn’t felt warm for a couple days and my back was stiff. I’d also read two articles that contradicted my pre-race routine. The upshot from that newfound knowledge was the static stretching I did just before the gun, as well as my hour long warm up, were outdated and were shown to hurt my race performance. Oh well.
Hottie and I arrived early and set up the tent during a perfectly timed break in the rain. As soon as the tent was staked down the rain returned and the wind picked up. Perhaps I would be lucky this day.
Teammates trickled in and soon the tent was buzzing with brown awesomeness. The rain let off and then came back as a polite drizzle. I kept my zipper pulled up to my chin and didn’t even wander around the venue talking to everyone as is my normal way.
I quietly made my way to the car and put on my costume and additional layers to keep me warm until it was time to strip down and race. I rode the course and the route was mostly the same as prior years with just a couple small but well designed tweaks that added some pain to a part of the course where there used to be a brief chance for recovery. Though the majority of the route was the same, the rain and early racers had made the course a muddy slippery affair that was different than prior years.
I kept riding and solicited Mr. T to come and collect our clothes from our starting line striptease. He gladly agreed and met us in the starting area.
They staged the 35 plus, 45 plus and the greybeards. I looked across the starting line at El Pirate and noted that he was not sporting his yellow Lion of Flanders wristband. He had brought back the wristbands from the World Championships the year they were held in Louisville. If Cyclocross has a Patron Saint it is the Lion of Flanders. When conditions are particularly Flemmish, we don these wristbands to shield us from the elements. I pulled off my band and called to El Pirate and tossed him mine. He shrugged and slipped it on. His lead in the series was slim and today’s race was double points. He needed a strong race to win the series. He needed the protection of the Lion. He spoke no words but his gaze told me he understood I was perhaps saving his racing life.
The start was half a lap away from the finish and those were the only two paved sections of the entire course. The balance was mud, gravel and some pulverized grass.
At the whistle we were off and I finally had a good start. The start featured 150 yards of asphalt and I was about sixth wheel in a ball of riders. El Pirate was in front and he got out of the saddle to accelerate and he went down on the slick glistening black pavement. He slid like he was on a greased skillet and we split and went around him. It seemed like forever before he came to a stop and picked up his bike which had accompanied him on his slide. He must have covered fifty feet. I shouted, “You’re okay, don’t panic.” Three seconds later we hit the muddy grass at top speed I leaned left and felt my wheels fighting to maintain some traction on the slimy left hand sweeper.
I settled in with some fast guys and felt okay. The run up was loud and I could hear someone shouting my name the same way Big John usually does but I knew he was home in bed. My race focus didn’t allow time for speculation on who was yelling for me. I tried to gain ground on the run up rather than just hold my position. Other racers tried to ride another five feet up the incline and then bailed having lost all momentum. I got off early and tried to keep my speed up the soft muddy climb. I passed a rider or two each lap.
I was dueling with Pete K. so I knew I was going fast and I tried to just hang on. After the run up there is a brief bit of mud before anther soft run up preceded by a double set of barriers. The course then takes you up a gradual uphill followed by a deceptive uphill on gravel that hurts more than it should.
PLEASE note some muscle definition in my legs !!
Big John had asked me to channel him and suffer a bit extra on that hill and I thought of him and hurt for him each lap. I found myself fading near the top but managed to punch it over the top and take back any ground I lost on the short downhill where I relied on my discs to save the day.
Go Matthew GO !
Finally El Pirate caught me and I let him through and followed him for a bit. He was going well albeit muddied and bloodied. I shouted to him not to try and get it all back at once.
The course variant they threw in this year removed the short generally flat section that preceded the final paved finishing straight and replaced it with more serious elevation drops and climbs that ensured you were gassed when you hit the pave’.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of the course was the greasy uphill corner that followed the finishing straight. Leaving the pavement you hit short uphill of soft mud that stole all of your speed and then you had to negotiate an uphill turn and accelerate from a near standstill on slickkery mud which just sprayed behind you as your mud caked rear wheel spun fruitlessly.
On one lap I was in the corner trying to pass a rider from the 45 plus cat and I was on his left shoulder and though I was pedaling for all I was worth I wasn’t gaining any ground. It was like a dream where you’re running but barely moving. By the time I had traction we were into the next corner and I had to wait and get him on the next corner.
Through the miracle of cellular communication Big John was able to watch our race live through the camera phone of one of our teammates.
My second favorite part of any cross race is seeing 1 TO GO on the lap board. It means I haven’t been lapped and this is the final lap. My smile was short lived as I was soon on the greasy corner and fighting just to get moving again. I dug deep and nabbed a rider and looked ahead for the next one. I was chasing Guy whom I had caught earlier but he had returned the favor in typical brown style.
PAIN IN MOTION
I powered the paved section where we had started and took my momentum onto the mud. Soon I was attacking the run up and then gasping on the dirt that followed. On the long gravel climb I channeled my inner Belgian Thug and got out of the saddle fighting my way up. To my horror I was passed approaching the top. At the top the other racer let up and I charged past noting that he wasn’t running discs and figured chasing me might be a bad idea. I kept it upright through the Hodala smoke bubbles and whatnot corner and took an excellent line entering the final drops before the climbs to the finishing straight. I had a bit of a gap on the rider who jockeyed with me on the hill but somehow when we hit the final finishing straight he was right behind me. Out of the saddle I dug for the line and had a good gap as I crossed.
DONE DONE DONE DONE DONE !!!!
I was done. I was so done. I found El Pirate who despite the crash had done well enough to win the series. I hugged him and congratulated him.
He had blood on his leg and knuckles. He then showed me the Lion of Flanders wristband. It was perfectly yellow except for the side with the Lion. The Lion was covered in mud from his sliding fall. The Lion had taken the brunt of the fall. The Lion saved him. It was a true Cyclocross miracle.
In stark contrast to last week it wasn’t raining and we didn’t have hypothermia looming over us. I was able to cool down a bit and change into dry clothes.
Soon our young women were racing and when it was reported that Lily had left it all out on the course (including her lunch) I knew it was a great Cyclocross day.
We took down the tent and listened to the Seahawk game on the way home. I unpacked and staged the team stuff to dry. I washed the bike and my clothes. My sealing of the entry points with Silicone seemed to have kept everything dry.
I was tired from my race and was in bed early. Although I wasn’t happy with my results this season Hottie did remind me that I wasn’t on crutches like I was this time last year. Okay, ......not all bad.