I raced the D.C. CX, promoted by City Bikes MTB Team yesterday. I have to give major props to several folks who made this a delightful day.
- Promoter Matt Donahue, a friend of Squadra Coppi;
- One or both of the Gwadz’es’es, who with teammates laid out a beautiful course that had amazing flow to it;
- the Armed Forces Retirement Home for letting us enjoy a great day of racing in a lovely setting;
- DrinkMore Water;
- Eli Hengst, a good rider and even better restaurateur, who *always* supports the sport, and yesterday coughed up some lovely craft brews. Mmmmm… 60 Minute IPA
A special compliment also to the Officials. They seem to have sorted out the scoring system and I didn’t hear anything about anybody being pulled while on the lead lap. There was an adjustment in the final placings in the packed C field after the podium ceremony, and a handful of lapped riders – lapped right as the leaders came to the finish – were removed. Well done, Officials. Cross is total mayhem to ride, it must be to ref as well, and I appreciate the extra effort the MABRA officiating crew is putting in to get it right, that extra effort is appreciated by the riders. Yes, we talk about you behind your backs…
The course was basically an uphill grass & root fest for the first mile, then a false-flat, semi-technical power test for the second mile. The start/finish straight was 300 yards uphill, spitting riders out onto a 20 foot, momentum sapping grass kicker. From there it was into a series of three gradual uphills over grass & roots, a hairpin around a tree, followed by a drop-in into a grass straightaway, then a transition into another uphill/tree hairpin/drop-in combo. Thence onto a pave sidewalk – my favorite p-p-p-art of-f-f-f the c-c-c-ourse, I closed so many gaps here. Cross the road, down another drop-in into a tight right, up a steep runup with barriers. Steepness factor: just steeper than the height I can run quickly. Remount, and *another* drop-in, up some grass, onto a brief downhill patch of pavement, then onto some marshy grass, punctuated by barriers. Cross a little bridge, left onto a slooow grass false flat, which transitioned to pavement. Up a 3-5% grade for maybe 600 yards, into a stiff, stiff headwind; turn a hard left onto a gravel false flat downhill. Dogleg right at high speed up onto an off-camber straight sloping right to left. Hairpin drop-in at the end, onto pavement then grass, hairpin in the marshy grass, up a little kicker, 180 around a tree with big roots up a hill, then pavement to a sharp left up a 6 foot steep kicker you could just clear pedaling if you hit it at a sprint. Down through a nearly identical section, absent the kicker, down the one smooth path through the roots of a huge maple, then onto the start-finish stretch.
I started in the third row, which was nice, gridded 20th out of 82 (!!!) starters. I had trouble clipping in and lost about 8 positions, and that’s about where I’d stay for most of the race. The first half lap was Godawful – my mouth and sinuses have never been that dry before, and I once spent six months deployed in the Arabian desert, camping rough if you will, so when I say it was dry, it was bad. It was mouth-cracking, sinus-bleeding dry. I guess the adrenalin really got to me, that or the 195 BPM heartrate.
The course wasn’t particularly suited to me – there was a lot of uphill on the first part, punctuated by short, 5-7 second breaks down steep drop-ins, so you’d do 30-40 seconds of hard uphill effort, relax for just a few pedal strokes, then get right after it again. I rode as hard as I could on the uphills for most of the race, figuring that if I was hurting, so was everybody else. Well, yeah, that’s true, but everybody else isn’t hauling 250 fat-assed pounds up and down those hills on a 28 pound bike. I had some troubles with the root sections on the top of each of the three hills on the first part of the course – I simply couldn’t find a smooth way through, and more than once thought I’d pinch flatted, having hit a root so hard it jarred my fillings. I didn’t feel real great yesterday, and that was before the stinkin' uphills. But enough excuses.
On the first lap I kept up fine through the uphill barriers, and the field started to thin on the muddy remount by the second set of barriers. I lost a couple spaces there and next year will consider running to the bridge if it is that wet again, it’s simply too tough to spin up to speed in the marshy stuff. Anyhow, out onto the uphill tarmac. Since it’s a false flat, I could crush here. I think only one guy passed me on that all day, it was on the first lap and he was quickly up with the leaders. A couple people tried to grab a wheel so I guttered ‘em, and in fact did that repeatedly. Between that and closing the gaps on the pave, I think I’ve found my calling. I appear to be a mean, big, fat, strong, frites-eating, Ommegang-drinking, flatland, bouncing’ down-the-pave strong headwind-riding Rouleur. But you knew that. (Total self-worshipping narcissism fest, I know, but cut me a break, there aren’t many bright spots out there for me most days).
The race sort of settled down once we hit the gravel, there was a big sorting out. The only problems were the roots at the hairpins around the trees, and the six foot kicker. I carried a lot of speed into the corners, and this worked most of the time, but about every fifth or sixth hairpin I hit a root, lost all traction and had a violent slide toward the tape. A couple times, it actually knocked the wind out of me, and I was amazed that the rear wheel – a two cross paired spoke Xero Lite 4 salvaged off my Giant OCR – held up. But it did, in fine form.
As for the six foot kicker – it sort of proved to me that in cross, you don’t ride your own race entirely. In places, you *must* do what the course tells you to do, you ignore what it says at your peril. The kicker came after a tree/roots hairpin and a 60 foot 7% grade, and 20 feet of pavement. To clear it, you needed to keep a decent turn of pace up the dirt grade, then do a little sprint on the pavement, then pick a line and commit totally. The kicker presented two lines – an inside line that was straight up, and a bit of a gamble, or an outside line that was easier, but required a “square” left hand turn right near the top to make the hard left just at the top of the kicker. Either way, you had to pedal up it hard. It was still a very fun section.
So it went for most of the race. I can’t stress how tough the uphill side of the course was for me. I passed through it most laps immersed in a black mood of self-loathing and self-hatred, numb hands and aching head, because I wanted so very badly to quit. It was not a pleasant feeling. On the third lap, I believe I hit the low point. I was heading up the second little root hill and I reached for another gear, and there was none. No pain pills remained. My back was cramped, my wrists hurt, and I had nothing left right then. Probably out of pure dumb stupidity, not knowing when to quit, I managed to keep my dripping nose stuck in it, kept my fragile will from blowing apart, and moments later started to see the bright side. I hit the pave and closed a gap for the third time in a row, and beat up on some people on the uphill/headwind false flat, passing two or three guys who had tortured me up in the hills. Though I was hurting bad, going cross-eyed when I hit the gravel, by finding a couple places where I consistently had an advantage I found a mental anchor, points I could look forward to knowing I could spring a move and knock some folks out.
In the end, I rested a little, just a shade on lap 4, tried to keep up a moderate spin where I could, and conserved energy going into the first half of lap 5. A group of four or five was approaching from the rear and I tried to hold them off; we really ratcheted up the speed for the last 2/3ds of a lap. Along the way I passed a few more guys on the false flat, sticking the knife in. I was in pretty good shape through the final hairpins section but spun out on the 6 foot kicker. I dabbed and lost time on the kicker – spun the wheel out – and this was a critical second or two. I hit the start/finish straight, pedaled up it in absolute agony, and got pipped at the line by Chris from Racing Union. It was a tough debate pedaling up that hill – did I have enough footspeed to stand and sprint, or was I too gassed to stand at that point? I figured I was too gassed to stand, and he got me. Oh well, he owed me one from Charm City I guess.
I have two final results as I see it – one is 34th out of 82. Not terrible. Not great in light of the fact it’s still just the C’s and basically a front-of-midpack finish, but steady improvement for me, on a course I’m not suited for. The other result is the level of effort I put out. Technical mistakes you can’t account for, but effort level you can and I try to hold myself accountable for my work rate. I look at my effort level yesterday and think maybe it might have been possible to move up a spot or three with a bit more hard work – but I'm not certain of it. I was pretty gassed. It’s not like other races this year where I screwed something up and lost ten spots or I walked away questioning whether I paced it correctly or held too much in reserve. This one, I look at it and know that I did about as well as I could given my current fitness and the nature of the course. The day-long migrane headache confirms that my work ratio was about as high as it’s ever going to get. Knowing you gave all is a deeply satisfying feeling. I could do without the migrane though.
Special props to Dave Battan who had a great race and is turning into a good cross racer, in spite of a propensity to attempt to eat his front tubular on the final lap; Alan Leung and Ryan Newill who raced really well and beat me (and others); Jim from Proteus who looked HOTTT in the fishnets, and his teammate, the large dude (who is still smaller than me, I note) whose doc told him he needed to Ride, or Die and who fended off DFL yesterday. I hope he hangs in there – I’ve been where he is, and know he’ll be bringing the heat as he continues to beat up on that weight problem. Bikes are cool like that, they can make your day hell and save your life at the same time. On a good day, it’s a little bit of both.