First, the history piece. At the end of 2011 I picked up one of my Dad’s old bike frames from his days of touring and racing and converted it into a malfunctioning single speed. Despite coming from a family that was semi-cycling obsessed when I was very young, I hadn’t ridden a bike with any seriousness since the late 90s (mountain) and I hadn’t been on the road since the early 90s.
In early 2012 I got a proper bike, again, and started riding. A lot. It was shortly after that that I decided what I really wanted to do was start racing ‘cross. I bought myself a very inexpensive Blue, and built it up around Christmas in 2012, too late to do any races that year, but I started to practice and learn some things in anticipation for 2013. I remember practicing on Valentine’s Day.
My Mom got sick in July of 2013, but I thought learning to race and racing might bring me some much needed distraction. It didn’t really work out that way. Sometime in late August or early September I went to an organized practice by our local race promoter/coordinator. It went ok, but I was still wildly inexperience and not in cyclocross shape by any stretch of the imagination. On the way home, I drove through a Jack-in-the-Box drive-thru for a Diet Dr. Pepper, and ripped my bike off the roof of my car. I was calm at the time but inside, with everything going on, I was melting down. I wrote off the season. More practices and practice races, but no real races. My Mom had her massive surgery in mid-September and passed away in November, never recovering, and I was coaching Soccer for my Son at the time and struggling at work and home. No time for anything else, but it’s fine. Priorities.
I made racing cross a priority in 2014. I did a handful of races and finished last or close to last in each. I was ok with it. I got lapped every single race by the front half of the field. Nonetheless I had fun and I knew it was about learning how to actually race, but I wanted to get better. Badly.
So, this year. I resolved to lose weight and just get better at this damn sport. As of the first race of the year, today, I am down 30-35 pounds since the last race of 2014. My riding on the road has improved, but I had fully planned to practice skills much more and do more work on intervals etc. I’ve been running and that has been improving and has helped a lot. However, I really should have been doing more cross-specific practice and training. I also, thanks to two awesome friends I have made in Washington DC, Jon and Travis, I was able to join a really, really cool team who do a lot for cross locally on the Mid-atlantic seaboard, Crosshairs Cycling.
Today, I raced. The first of 2015 at Verdugo Park in Glendale. I sucked, and I DNF’d.
The day started off shit, I actually got up at 2:30am, unable to go back to sleep, and decided to do my leg/vascular-opener ride for about 40 minutes and 10 miles. Nice and easy, but in the dark. I ended up double-puncturing because of bad rim tape on my clincher/training set of wheels and had to walk home about a mile and a half, at 5:30 in the morning. I got home, fixed everything, and realized my race wheels which I run tubeless, had lost a lot of air overnight and need more sealant added to it. No time to take care of that now, I am running my clinchers.
I got to the race nice and early, my mood started to shift to the positive. I had a good warm up. I saw lots of lines in the pre-ride that made sense to me through learning and practicing; predicting ruts, cutting apexes in turns, going tape to tape, running a little further before remounting when i needed to, etc. It’s not an ideal course for me, there is LOTS of soft dirt, a shitty bending sand pit, and drops I have to run instead of ride. Not ideal, but I felt ok. It was pretty warm, but not too hot. I felt sort of confident. I was using knowledge gained from the holy bible of cyclocross training.
In the call-up for my group, I got into the first row. Now last season this meant I was getting passed and shelled out the back on the hole shot before the first turn. It didn’t bother me much last year, I was learning and expected it. I wanted better this year.
I got a good start, but still bobbled by not clipping in quick enough. Nonetheless I jammed it out and didn’t really feel my heart rate rising too much either. I kept on the tail of four riders who got an even better start than me, and took a look over my shoulder.
I had a gap. A good one. Probably 3-4 seconds before the first turn. After the turn, leading into the barriers, I extended it by a second or two. By my standards, I was flying.
During pre-ride I never ran the barriers, never looked at them, never knew where they were. I came in on them WAY too hot, and didn’t brake enough or dismount quick enough, or some combination of the two. I was desperate to hold on to the gap I’d already gotten. In cyclocross, position is everything. It was stupid of me. As Jon later commented on my instagram “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” Rationally, I know this. I’ve read it in the cyclocross bible tons of times, practiced this way, etc. In the heat of the moment, it never occurred to me. I knew the course a bit, and I knew my limit and I would have been wiser to give up a few places and go smooth…picking people off, or just getting passed through the course.
Instead, disaster. I clipped the first barrier, crashing between the two, and taking out some riders with me. Face down in the grass and amid the screams of “GET UP CROSSHAIRS KEEP RACING” I dislodged myself from other riders, tried to remount, and realized I’d dropped my chain. Got off, got chain back on and started jamming. While the entire group passed me in the interim, I was able to get onto the back thanks to a long straight away immediately after the barriers and a turn. Didn’t do much good though as the crowd was pretty thick with some of the features (deep dirty, twisty, terrible sand pit with a 90 degree turn in the middle of it) and eventually I got caught behind a crash and never was able to get back on.
Before that, I had to run up some stairs and I realized how I’d strained my knee considerably in the crash, and it was a knee that was already bothering me thanks to riding with a lower saddle the day before (bad idea to change fit the day before a race). I came around to where my wife and kids were waiting with a bottle handup of water for me, and picked off a couple of women’s riders from the group that started in front of us, but the men were in the distance to me. Feeling my knee swelling and realizing this was the first race of the season, I pulled the plug after one lap. It’s a long season and I was pretty worried how my knee really felt. Sitting here this morning, it’s better, but not great and I’ll stay off the bike today.
They say cross takes at least 3 seasons to “get.” I definitely felt more confident in this race. I had no nerves, and no expectations. Just wanted to do better than last year and I had the sole goal of finising on the lead lap with the group I start with, even if it was at the very tail end, 7 or 8 minutes down. Based on the lap times I heard, minus the big crash and getting caught behind the second one, even on a course that didn’t suit me, I think I would have accomplished that or at least come pretty close. I have pretty modest goals, I think.
This next week’s track is much more favorable to me, and then I get a break for two weeks until the next time I toe the line. I’ve got some priorities in training over the next three weeks before that particular race. Namely: practice, practice practice. I’ve got at least one “organized” practice with some race intensity this week, hopefully two. I need it. Live and learn right? Fight another day? All that shit. It’s a long season and only #2 for me. Brush it off and get back out there. Gotta work on those barriers. I’ll leave you with a video of my main dude handing me some water during my only lap. See you next week (and every week thereafter) with another race report.