It can be catching your favorite jam band - say, Rusted Root or Dave Matthews in a bar that's really too small to host them, on a day you didn't expect them, and they're just drinking Dogfishhead and rocking and talking to the crowd. If you like auto racing and you happen to catch some lower category dirt track NASCAR event on a Saturday night while you're traveling through the midwest or mid-North, and you see a bunch of amateur Bubbas tradin' paint, and fans hootin' and hollerin' over it, you know what I mean. If you are out for a walk one day and see the local Legion ball team playing hardball, and sticking it to the team from the next town over, and you notice, "hey, this pitcher is really, really good..." That's what today's race was like.
It's a new race, so I didn't know what to expect. I've raced against promoter Scott Cernich for a couple years and chatted with him now and then, he's a nice guy, and strong on the bike. The former Route 1 Velo / Capital Hill Bikes crew (now sponsored by Arrow bike shop) are good folks, putting on the long running Wednesday night training race at Greenbelt, and generally being a good humored club, just a solid, steady presence in the MABRA community. Good guys, the sort of club that as a Coppi, I can look at and see a bit of our ethos in. But what kind of a cross race would they put on?
My questions were answered when I showed up to Magruder Park in Hyattsville to pre-ride at 8:00 AM. The Park is located in a very nice section of Hyattsville that my wife and I had considered moving to a couple years ago, not far from Cheverly, a lovely area that has the kind of neighborhood feel that a lot of people really long for. The Park is flat, and the course was also flat, with minimal elevation changes, but they made good use of the little off-cambers that line the park like a bowl's sides, running the course up, down and across them repeatedly. The course twisted around a parking lot, a tennis court, a beer garden, and some light poles, and it had a Spiral of Death (Wissahickon vets will know what this is) to break up the back side. It also had a sand pit that was very rideable in practice (more on that later). Registration was low drag, as you'd expect from a club that has run a weekly race every Wednesday night for maybe 20 years.
The crowd of racers were pretty much all locals - most of the higher profile racers you'd expect in any given class, but few of the Philly / Richmond / Pittsburgh crew that you'd see at MABRA events and none of the NYC crowd that show for MAC races. There was a local barbecue vendor out of Bowie, MD, and buying a ticket to race meant you also got a free beer afterwards - either a Sierra Nevada draft or an excellent Dogfish Head long neck of one type or another. Race proceeds would go to benefit the Special Olympics of Maryland. Nice.
When we lined up for the B Masters (er, sorry, the 3/4 35+, old naming habits die hard) we had 45 or 50 racers on the line, a little smaller than the usual MABRA race but still a respectable showing for a first year race. I got a call-up that I meekly protested, based on promoter discretion. Cernich warned me I was getting a callup, so I wasn't shocked. I had thought I'd decline, but then noticed I had #215, which in addition to being the net weight of my lower legs when weighed in tandem, was low enough that I was going to start on the second row anyhow. So I took the callup. My teammate Steve Robinson was lined up directly behind me, and since he's No Shit Fast, I told him I was going to veer a little left at the start and that he should be ready to jet through when I did. (Sorry if I curbed you guys inside of me; I would throw myself teeth first onto the barriers if it would help a teammate or a friend reach the podium, so I didn't have a choice here).
At the start, Steve jetted through, and I tried to keep up. Usually I have a pretty good start, but the legs were feeling it after a long ride tempo ride Saturday with anaerobic efforts on the hills. This was a C race in the priority list so I didn't even try to come in fresh (not that it would have mattered much) but it was a shame to waste that gratuitous callup.
I settled into the main group pretty comfortably, until I blew a turn combo coming off the pavement - a left/right/left deal that just vexed me. I literally rode into the effing tape on the "right" portion of it. There goes three guys... I settled in again and tried to find a rhythm, getting through the "natural barriers" section in okay shape, but having trouble clipping in. There goes somebody else... and another guy, my friend James K., passed me going into the Spiral of Death. Not good, but we had a group of four or so, such that it seemed reasonable to stick in. Coming out of the middle of the spiral, James got totally out of shape, stalled, and tried to move to the outside very politely. I yelled at him - something about "there's no stopping here this is racing" or some shit like that. a few guys squirted by as I ran into him. We eventually got going but my Patton-esque joke on the line - "this is not a retreat, it's an attack in a different direction" became prophesy.
Once again, I found a rhythm with the group of 4 or 6, and was settling back in. Confession - I'd rather ride in a little group than in the main pack. I seem to attract trouble when I stick in a large group and find I can ride a lot better in a grupetto. So it went fine until I hit the sandpit. Having nailed it in practice, I knew I could just ride on through. I hadn't counted on 86 C racers, of whom 53 were certainly bewildered, chewing up the sand and churning it to a depth of 1.3 feet. I hit the sand at a high rate of speed having closed a gap to James K's wheel, and endo'ed.
If it makes you feel better, I'll say what happened in Flemish.
Ick was overkopt.
When I remounted and got rolling again, my grupetto was gone 35 yards or so up the road, and I was, where I was. I tried to move up for a couple laps but couldn't gain substantial ground. I did have some luck decisively dropping Bega, who had haunted me at Charm City, along with a small group of four or five guys racing around him. But I had no luck moving forward and raced alone for the next four laps and finished around 31st or so.
It wasn't a terrible performance - I was heading into the Spiral of Death when the announcer was discussing Steve Robinson winning the race (by 30 seconds... Rock on, Robinson!) Last year and earlier in the year at Charm City, I considered it a pretty stout performance if I didn't get lapped by the very front runners. Since Ed Sanders - admittedly a short time span, I haven't been lapped, and in this race, I was maybe a bit more than a half lap down.
Steve Robinson Takes Another One:
The Nicest Badass You'll Ever Meet
The Nicest Badass You'll Ever Meet
The whole field is getting faster though; my finishes are not improving relative to the field. Everybody is getting better. I think this is a good thing, although it doesn't do the ego any favors. And more good news - I saw a few pictures of me riding. The dieting is doing me a lot of good - I'm now merely Fat as F***, which is an improvement over "Oh My God I Hope He Has A Thomson Seatpost and Isn't Riding on Carbon" Fat.
I spent the rest of the day cheering for teammates. Ken, Peter and Scott manned up bigtime and rode a second race, the A Masters alongside Steve, Coppis managed podiums in the C and B races, and JeanBean turned in a great performance taking a third in Women's Elite. My kid enjoyed racing the Li'l Belgians - a lot - and it was great to see local folks from Hyattsville and Cheverly coming out and entering their kids in the Li'l Belgians race. It's not just for bike racers' kids any more... The beer was tasty and cold, the food nice, and the atmosphere...
Well, it was perfect. If you've raced a little bit of cross you know some races just hit you where you live. There's something special about it when the promoters and racers get it right; they create a warm fuzzy blanket of suffering and fun and silly behavior and bicycles and just everything there is to love about 'Cross. Scott and the Arrow Bikes crew managed that yesterday, and the great day they created will be one of the standout memories of this season for me, when I look back next August and think about which races to commit to.
Thanks for a great day, guys.