Time for some more self-centered, narcissistic reflection on my racing year. Actually, it’s pretty easy to pick out the best moments, there haven’t been too many that stand out. Hopefully my self-indulgence can provide some benefit to someone else, somewhere.
Looking back, my first race (Granogue) may have been my best overall race, beginning to end. Crossresults would confirm this, but I’ll say it’s certainly among the top three, regardless. As for the best moment, I have to say I’m extremely stoked that my friend and amazing photographer Bruce Buckley captured the precise scene as it unfolded at Rockburn Cross this year.
Allow me to set the stage. Before the race at Rockburn, I had a wonderful conversation with a good racing friend, Eric Lundgren. I call Eric a racing friend because, like many of us I suspect, I have cultivated relationships with people I sincerely call friends with whom I have an unfortunately small amount of contact with outside of cyclocross-related activity. I can’t tell you Eric’s cat’s name or where he went to high school, but I can tell you what kind of tubulars he has glued up on his pit wheels (Challenge Grifo with more than one season’s worth of glue residue on the base tape).
I saw Eric before the race and we asked each other how we were feeling, etc. – regular pre-race banter. The topic of the previous race (Tacchino) came up, and he gave me The Straight Dope (NO, that that kind of dope). In so many words, he kindly and firmly informed me that I start too fast. Period. Before I could even get my own self-assessment out of my mouth regarding that race, he knew what I was going to say. I went out too fast and couldn’t keep pace with the front of the race, then spent too much time in damage control mode in the first lap, which set a bad foundation for the rest of the race from which I never recovered.
With this kind and firm intervention-style epiphany, I lined up at Rockburn feeling good, but determined to start with a governor on the throttle. Starting in the second row, I clipped in fast and had some room to move up. Rather than blow my way to the front, I eased up and settled into the bunch, hoping to slot into the top 10 at the first turn. Instead, I got boxed in and everyone in the back surged up the outside. By the second turn, I was near the back.
I didn’t panic here, but I put my game face on and prepared to work my way up slow and steady. No fast fizzle today, I was determined! Unfortunately, one of the downsides of a slow start struck hard and fast. At the third turn (an off-camber u-turn, slightly uphill), someone 2/3 of the way from the front got caught up somehow, unclipped, and stopped. With everyone behind making their way slowly through this awkward turn with dudes on either elbow, most of us (myself included) were forced to stop and unclip as well. There go the leaders and the front half of the race. Nice.
Frustrated and fighting a torrent of negative self-talk (“That’s what you get for starting like a wimp! What did you expect you idiot?!”) I rode by the pit which was fortuitously only a few meters past the site of the aforementioned debacle. Eric was there pitting for another good friend and coaching guru, Chris Mayhew. As I rolled by, I made eye-contact with him and was shaking my head, in some sort of sub-conscious attempt to convey the tongue-lashing I was giving myself. When I passed I heard him say something in the neighborhood of, “use what you saved now, GO!”. As quickly as I had fallen off the psychological cliff, that comment helped me focus on the task at hand. Eff this! I wasn’t goin’ out like that, HELL NO. One turn at a time, one rider at a time, I was in chase mode.
And after just a few more turns, we approach what could be my highlight moment. For those who raced Rockburn, they are familiar with the start I’ve described, which leads to a few downhill twists and turns, routing around to the first real bottle-neck, the volleyball court sand pit. Course designers set it up as they usually do, where you have to turn a slow off-camber to get into the sand, then make a few turns through it, and back on toward the single track section.
As we approached the sand pit, I was third from last. I may as well have been last. We were going slow, and passing was too difficult, if it was even possible at this stage. Things were stringing out at the front, and getting congested in the back, a bad spot for sure. I noticed that the back half of the bunch started to slow dramatically at the entrance to the sand, almost coming to a standstill. Instinctively, as folks around me ground to a halt, and made what I am pleased to say was a completely instinctive maneuver to dismount and run.
In doing practice with juniors, one-on-one sessions with friends new to the sport, or anytime my opinion is solicited, I always say, “do what is fastest for you”. If that means that you can’t ride the off-camber “M-turn” at DCCX cleanly, get off and run it. Who cares if everyone around you is riding it. Ultimately, you have to do what is fastest for you, not do what others are doing. This moment at Rockburn was the ultimate expression of this idea in my own riding, and I barely even thought about it. After I unclipped while riders in front were almost track-standing, I glided to the side and shouldered my bike, trotting around riders in the deeper, un-packed areas that no one was riding in. By the time I exited the sand (in just a few seconds) I had passed 5 riders in one fell swoop.
Buoyed by the daylight ahead and the satisfaction that I had just made a killer move, I hit the gas and kept on moving up. It was at this point I realized that Eric was right. Rather than feeling like I was hanging on, I felt like I had something to give, so I went. Toward the middle of the race, I would find myself settling in against the guys I’ve been racing all year (Evan and Ed). I finished between the two of them, but in the end, it was a solid race for me considering how poorly the first few minutes went. If I was able to manage the start a little more cleanly, who knows what could have happened.
So, bottom line – big thanks to Eric for the pre-race talk and the honesty, I really appreciate it. I hope to finish the year strong at Cap Cross and maybe come up with at least one more highlight to reflect upon, and I hope to see all of my CX friends there!
Photo credit – Bruce Buckley