Where to begin?
How ‘bout chronological order? That’ll do, right?
I picked up teammate Lindsey from her friends’ place at 5:20 AM or so, just around the corner from my house. A special shoutout for her, she’s one of the best roaddogs evah, a lot of fun, zero maintenance, a great conversationalist, and if there’s an outbreak of dread diseases or dangerous warping in the time space continuum or you lose your last Gu packet into a black hole that suddenly opens in a vortex of turns at Wissahickon, you’re in luck because she’s got a PhD in physics or astrophysics or metaphysics or something with math n stuff I’m not smart enough to understand. I would think of her like a sister, if my real sisters weren’t in a modern-day version of the Hundred Years’ War with me.
So anyhow we tooled up I-95 to Granogue, the old 400 acre DuPont estate outside of Wilmington. We rolled in, had a laugh about the UCI numbering system – pin numbers on the right side, and both arms – parallel to the cuff. The numbers shall be readable from the side, but not vertically readable; verily, shall they be readable horizontally. And the horizontal is not the vertical; nor is the vertical the horizontal. First shalt thou stick the big number on with the Holy Pin, then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three… Kinda reminded me of something but I can't say exactly what. Glad Lindsey has a great big brain because I was having some trouble with the number pinning rules.
I did a few practice laps and was duly impressed, in the way that I’m impressed by scalpels, dentist’s drills and the tax bill showing up. I carefully noted the pits, the beer & sausage tents, the lovely atmosphere provided by the Verge flags and various team tents, then the somewhat technical roots, rock, runup section. We’re talking a **brutal** runup that was slippery and muddy like some basic training hill in the Army. Next year I have to find some crappy ridiculous grade to practice running up – it hurt just to watch other people running up it. There was also this longish uphill section that started in a field with twisty turns, up a little kicker, up a false flat past the pits (I usually love false flats) up another shallow, short hill, then straight into a steep kicker. On the second kicker, I was spinning my rear wheel every lap, even with Michelin Muds. Dammitall, if this hill wasn’t about 15 seconds longer than what I have in the tank ***every*** frickin’ lap. Oh my, this was going to be bad. The rest of it was pretty easy, some technical stuff, hills and what not, but the kind of grass off cambers I can ride pretty well and just flow through.
So knowing Wissahickon was coming the next day, I decided I’d take it easy, along with deciding to do a lot of other things I have no chance of doing, like dating Pam Anderson and winning a Nobel Prize.
Before the race we got in the pen and waited for the start chute to open up. I was sitting about 80th. Right before the race I was looking for Trevor, my buddy from the LBS ride and both Assaults on the C&O. He comes running up and says “I’m flat. Do you have any idea where I could get a rear wheel?” Rather than giving him the wheel off my Surly – which would have been the smart move in retrospect – I told him to go to my car and get the spare rear, which wasn’t in the pits because I didn’t want to go too hard. Saving myself for Wiss, right?
So we start. Thanks to my Maddd Roaddd Skilllz, I passed a lot of people on the start finish straight and went into the roots/barrier section in good shape. Until my buddy Trevor totally schweens me and runs me into a tree. Thanks buddy! Next time I'm going to give you my spare wheel... sideways, right up...
Anyhow I tried to settle into a routine while traffic cleared. This was hard on the first lap, guys just go like hell. A few guys passed me, and about half of them got passed right back, they couldn’t hold the line on the turns and rode into the tape, crashed and stuff like that.
And so it went. I tried to keep at an 8 or 9/10ths effort, which in retrospect was sheer jackassery. There were hills on this course you simply couldn’t get up doing less than a 10/10ths effort. In particular, the series of hills and rises I noted above, ridden easy, were tougher than if you rode them all out. Riding them hard put me in the red by the top; trying to ride them easy had me in the red near the bottom. Either way, the string of little uphill grades put me so deep into the red zone I felt like Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
So I rode along for a while pretty much right where I settled in after the start, around 40th or so. Trevor was a little in front, I just kind of went at my own pace, it felt like a threshold effort, and I concentrated on not blowing up my legs. Too bad my concentration sucks and I have no discipline at all, because other than that, it would have been a workable plan. Worst of all my rear tire was going flat, it was only a little bouncier than my legs. But it wouldn’t quite go down all the way. So there I am on this course that was totally brutalizing me, for which I’m totally unsuited, and there was this constant temptation to bail out with a ‘mechanical’ because Trevor had my spare rear wheel. Oh yeah, I had a mechanical alright, the friggin’ engine wasn’t working.
When the bell rang the leaders into the last lap, I was just getting across the top of the silo hill. I was wayyy back. I had a near disaster when I failed to clip in on this steep downhill sweeper, and there was so much mud in my shoes that I couldn’t get firm contact with my pedals. And stupidly I resolved not to feather my brakes, so I was bouncing down the hill, totally out of control, doing a two wheeled slide. I remember my vision being blurry because I was getting shaken so badly, but I recall seeing the road leading up to the start finish, watching it whizz by on the right and thinking, “if this is where I go down, I pray that I lowside and can dig my hands into the grass, else I’m looking at some baaaad roadrash.
When I got to the top of the hill, by the start/finish, Trevor was just coming around the other side of the pits with a couple other guys. I thought about where I was sitting, what I wanted to do for the weekend, and pulled off to watch the finish of the C race, and to save my legs. Oh yeah, that was a f***ing winning strategy. More on this later. I was sitting in around 40th or so in a 80 or so rider field, not great but better than I expected on this course, so i didn't really feel bad about bagging it. It seemed to me the smart strategy - I don't have any problems with pulling myself or being pulled where I think it makes sense. So that's what I did. After Wissahickon, I'm not sure I did the right thing, today I think I should have finished, but oh well. Live and learn.
So we hung out a bit, ate some food, drank some excellent Fordham Tavern Ale, and just took in the vibe of this wonderful event. I mean, many, many thanks to the DCCOD folks and the promoters and the sponsors, plus all the riders and tifosi. This was one of the coolest sporting events I have ever been at, it just blew me away. Bonus was getting to cheer for some of the good guys like Nystrom and FatMarc, and my teammates Judd and John Brewer, Ken and former Coppi (now Velo Bella pro) Melanie Schwartz, who had an awesome finish in the Women’s Elite. But the best part was getting to see Barry Wicks ride. He didn't win the elite but he rides with amazing style, and that is worth something. In warmups, he rode up the runup that was killing the people trying to run up it. Granted, it was drier than it had been earlier, but still, it was a display of beastly power.
But that wasn’t the best part. Damned if Wicks wasn’t riding around the course with this enormous grin on his face for half of it, having fun. I’m talking in the hotly contested A race too, against a pretty strong selection of professionals and hot amateurs. He looks like he rides with a kind of joy that I only feel once in a while. Hey, is it possible that in addition to having some real physical gifts, the reason he is so good is he loves the hell out of racing and riding? Could be. You know how enthusiasm can be contagious? Watch Wicks ride, and understand that.
The other highlight of the Elite race was seeing one of the Colavita guys do a super duper double header on the first lap. The pack was pretty tightly clustered, albeit way off Wicks’ wheel. The Colavita guy – maybe it was Davide Frattini – low-sided on the second tight off-camber on the Silo hill. The pack was bearing down on him, so he quickly remounted, stomped a pedal on the downhill to get up to speed, and it looked like he got his foot caught in-between his front wheel and his pedals. He immediately went ass over nose. This sounds like a slow process. It wasn’t. He went down bounced up remounted stopped flipped and remounted, all in the time it took you to read this sentence, maybe less. He lost about six positions in the tightly packed front group.
After watching a couple laps we took off for the hotel, a much needed shower and nap, and in my case some heavy duty foot and ankle icing. Oh yeah, that bastard still hurts and it’s not real flexible, but the hurt is manageable. Mainly the steeper runups are what really, really, really hurts badly. Other than that it's okay. Laying up and taking a nap I had a chance to reflect on what a wonderful event Granogue is, how much I like the way the UCI sanctioned MAC races are run, and how much I enjoy the whole cross scene, and how much of a debt I owe to the people who put on the races. We talk about hosting races to “give back to the sport,” but what hosting a good race is about is making all your buddies – and by that I mean racers and tifosi and everybody who loves the bike - have a ton of fun and enjoyment.
Even though the course and around half the riders kicked my ass, I’m grateful to all that put the race on because it was a great event. Thanks folks. This event had More Cowbell out the wazoo. You gave back on Saturday, guess I get my turn to chip in a little that way at the Tacchino Cross in a few weeks. I hope to see you all there.
More on Wissahickon tomorrow.