Sunday, October 18, 2009
In most races there is a moment that defines the race and maybe the whole day for you. My moment at Granogue came, as it does most years, on off camber hill in front of the tower that is the course’s signature landmark. I was a ways back in the pack, probably somewhere around 45th or 50th in a field of maybe 65 or 70 starters. The field was tougher than usual; 41 degree temps, gusting winds up to 30 and rain that ranged from drizzle to medium downpour kept the soft people at home. I was unspeakably amped up for this race, and much to my amazement kept contact with a long string of riders through the first lap and a half.
In the middle of the second or third lap, I got to the top of the ridiculously brutal walk up (even the pros couldn’t truly run the damn thing) and was hyperventilating extremely badly, literally going cross-eyed at that point. I decided it was time to ease off just a touch, before I had a heart attack. I’ve never hyperventilated in a cross race before, only puked. I was breathing like a wild animal being chased by a pack of hounds and my heart was pounding. It wasn’t nice.
I came around the feature behind the tower, pedaled back uphill and then turned left down into the swooping off-camber. Unlike the first lap, where I held a high line and railed it, I tried to hold a middle line and drop from the inside of the turn (high) to low, to pick up speed as I descended and to go into the next section on the gas. This was a bad choice and my front end tucked under almost immediately. I had some speed when the front went under and yardsaled over the bars Superman-style, landing flat on my stomach and scuttling like a salamander in 6” deep slop. Picking up speed as I slid down the hill, my arm hit something – a rock, a root, a dead rider from the C race – and I spun around a bit. Then I was sliding feet down the hill for a ways. Eventually, the rugby cleats in my shoes caught some solid-ish ground, I stopped, clawed myself up to my knees, and started to toe-run back up the hill to my bike. I dug the handlebars out of the mud, punched the STI back into position and remounted, listening to laughter and cheers from the large crowd. I didn’t even look up, didn’t see a single human face through this part of the hill, I just kept going and tried to ignore the stabbing pain in my shin and the mud in my mouth. Recounting this, it seems like it took minutes to lose traction, faceplant, slide and recover, but it only took a second or two. An intense ride, focus, a test of skills and fortitude… that’s what it was about this year. That bobble defined the race for me.
The racing itself was pretty good. I kept in contact with a long string of guys for most of the race, getting isolated a bit on the third lap; I just can’t keep traction pedaling in mud uphill. Downhill is a different matter though and I could pass just about anybody on the sloppy downhills and flats, sliding wildly along, not hitting the brakes, powersliding around turns. It was *awesome*. The slop got to me eventually though, utterly clogging my cassette and derailer, causing constant ghost shifting and forcing me to do a couple very long runs to get to the pits to avoid breaking the chain. When I got there, Nystrom was in the pits – but I didn’t have a spare bike. Not wanting to get DQ’ed (can a racer go into the wash pit? I didn’t know…) I asked him if he could step off the course into the wash pit and get me a quick wash and he did – but while I stood there several guys I’d put to rest came back to life and passed me. Nystrom came back with my bike, tossed it to me and I got going, passing back a few of the guys who had just passed me, but getting passed by the race leader as I got out of the pits. When I got to the big off camber hill I ran the thing, and passed a guy who was riding it tentatively. Yes, I outran somebody who was actually riding. Down onto the tarmac and I was pulled since the leader had finished, and I finished around 60th, a bummer placing considering how well I’d been riding, but that shifting issue had killed me. I wasn’t unsatisfied with the result; I knew it was going to be tough and not suited to me, but didn’t care. The goal was to leave it all out there. I know damn well I couldn’t have done any better on the day – not unless I’d brought my spare bike anyhow.
Bill Schiecken took some amazing video of my race - and BTW, if you're not checking out his blog regularly you're making a big mistake. I feature prominently in the first half of it until he dispatched me. My large ass is right ahead of the camera for or just next to it for a half lap and at some point I'm probably shoving the cameraman out of the way in a turn. Sorry Bill! Didn't mean to be a dick there, I was just getting flogged by those damn bushes, and picking up a ginormous splinter in my hand. The video does a brilliant job of capturing the flavor of the race, and the impromptu mud on the lens effect, while blurring, is about what my vision was like during the race, since I had mud on my own lenses throughout the race. And in my mouth, and ears.
Pure sweet hell there, eh?
The rest of the day was stellar. After cooling down on the trainer, I changed into a bunch of wooly clothes, and enjoyed our encampment with a popup, camp stove, French press coffee and jambalaya, sharing some with Micah, Jon Ivins and Lindsey, and I guess with the DC MTB guys too. We spent time cheering for people riding by, drank some beer, and eventually hit the course to cheer and heckle, bringing hip flasks of bourbon and tequila with us. We watched every rider in the B race stack it on the off-camber hill except for this kid from Rutgers with madd skillz. Seriously - we must have seen 85 dudes eat crap on that hill. I bought a pink FiZik Arione from Beth Mason, which was cool. During the A race, at the runup, I told a staggering Barry Wicks that he looked so damned bad, it just wouldn’t be right for me to heckle, and he started laughing so hard he almost came to a complete stop. I offered lapped riders whisky handups. We pushed stuck cars out of the mud in the big parking field Then we drove back home, waving to every crosser we passed on I-95 with muddy bikes atop their VA, MD and DC plated cars. There were a lot of smiles.
My friend Trevor put it really well today when we were talking about the race yesterday. He said, “of all the racing experiences I’ve ever had, that may have been the best.” I know my accounts are sometimes a bit hyperbolic, but I think Trevor nailed it. Conditions conspired with DCCOD’s superb course and smooth race promotion to make for a perfect racing day. It was grueling, unsparing, painful, and uncompromising. It was the maximum voltage you could put across all the circuits for 8 hours. If we lived in Plato's Cave, all the other races would be shadows of cyclocross. This one would be the cyclocross race we see when we leave the cave and experience reality. It was simply mind blowing.