Doing a little catch-up here with reports. Three weeks ago — time is flying this cyclocross season! — was Whirlybird, in nearby Pennsylvania, and three of us from the team toed the start line: Sam rode the Cat. 3s, Fred the Cat. 4s, and Daniel the masters’ 35-plus.
I’ve always heard the term “race into shape” but never believed it was possible. In my mind, a day racing was a day racing, and for some reason I could not wrap my head around the idea that it could also count as training. My first round of racing was not what I expected it to be. Of course, I have plenty of excuses. I have gotten good at that. So as the season is now completely underway and about 25% done with it, I had the feeling I would be more of a participant than a factor for the remainder. The “go” and motivation of last year has been missing since the last weeks in August. Word is it was last seen in the woods somewhere in central Mass.
Then came Whirlybird. I feel like my lost pet has come back home! I’m allergic to cats, dogs, and horses, according to my internist, but if i had a pet (other than my wife’s little shit of a bird, which I love AND hate to death) it would be a dog, most likely a big ole Newfie. He would wear a big red handkerchief and pant a lot while I would spray him with a hose. I would name him Django. No, wait. I would name him the Duke. Django is reserved for when I get a coyote half breed. Then there is the Italian greyhound I want that I would either name Fausto Coppi or Campeonisimo.
Anyway, the point I am poorly trying to get across is that motivation is like a dog that I was super excited to have at first, than as a few years go by I started to take it for granted, until one day that dog got fed up with being ignored and yelled at when it shit on the rug, so it ran off. When that sweet little pup finally came home, boy was I happy to see her! Soooooo, either I found my motivation again or I raced myself back into shape. Either way, Whirlybird was a good race. A great race even. Jed is out of the picture (rest his soul) and green skinsuit man was nowhere to be seen (and you can spot him a quarter mile away without trying). So I was out to “ride” the race.
To my surprise, I was fortunate enough to battle it out with my old nemesis Blake Bedoya. With the Duke back by my side I was not losing Blake’s wheel. Eventually Chris Esnes was also in the picture. I felt like the high-school quarterback who gets to play his old rival one last time, even though he is all washed up and his rival still plays at the intramural level, has a hot wife, and a fancy German car. Somehow I got a gap on their group. This whole scenario was giving me flashbacks of last season, and something magical was happening: I was smiling while racing! Well, at least smiling on the inside. THIS is why I race. Doing battle with my pals and trying as hard as I can. So what if we are racing for 19th place. It’s fun as shit! So anyhow, I had that gap for about a lap and a half and the fellas were right about on me, but there was only half a lap to go, so I thought I could roll it in for 19th. Then something tragic happened. PEDAL-STRIKE! Damn. Every race so far. I am going to write a letter to Specialized about that. So I got 23rd, which I am SUPER happy with, ’cause that means POINTS. One more thing to cross of the list for the year.
I took this past weekend off to have some minor cosmetic surgery done and sell all my old crap at T town. Anyone have any idea how hard it is to sell used shorts? I am hoping some momentum remains for WWVC on Sunday. With the Duke back I even started to get on the rollers on these awful, rainy days.
*Sigh* The race this weekend was the sort of race that every bike racer has and just tries to forget about. Did I place well? Probably not. Did I feel good about the race? Definitely not. Can I blame it on some illness or broken limb a la Cadel Evans? Nope.
The race started out tough. Got there a bit late and didn’t get to pre-ride the course. So I lined up having no clue as to what I was walking into. Consequently I didn’t really try the first lap because I felt like every corner was a surprise. By the end of the first lap, between not working and not handling the course features well, I’d lost a lot of position. So much that I basically checked out for the remainder of the race. Tried not to let anyone get past but that was it. That was the bad part. The good parts were pretty minor but significant. A couple remounts that went well. Riding some off-camber stuff and run-ups well. I didn’t hit the deck, which was nice.
But — and here is the beautiful thing about racing — there is always next week.
A somewhat surprisingly good day out for me. My Yeatsian dragon had been profoundly perplexed all the week before after a shitshow showing at Charm City Cross, where I had such crap luck and severe lower back pain that I thought about throwing in the CX towel and calling it a season and just riding my road bike up to Nyack and back every weekend. In the days that followed I decided that since I was now out of contention to do anything in the overall in the MAC that I would just roll on and do the races and not worry about results (as much) and just try to have fun, get a good workout, improve my skills, and learn more about the enigmatic cycling discipline that is cyclocross. And so it was that I got to Whirlybird, and it was my first time doing this race, one I’d heard good things about from teammate Ian and others.
I worked on the lower back issues during the week a bit with some stretching, but to add a little insurance I popped two ibuprofen gel caplets an hour before race time. This seemed to have some effect, too. While my back has been plaguing me all season on the ‘cross bike, and acting up like a demon at the start of every race, this time it bothered me only in the closing laps of the race, so that was actually kind of awesome and a relative success. I even smiled at one point, just because I was able to actually do my damn race and not worry about my slipped disc. Oh the little joys of life!
Now I was actually pretty stoked for this race. I knew I was racing just one day this weekend as there was nothing of interest the next day, Sunday, so I wanted to leave it all on the course and ride 100 percent with no messing about or excuses. I wanted to go full gas, then go home, and that’s it.
I had a shitty start position, somewhere in the middle to the back rows, but again, I didn’t give a hoot, and I just tried to stay focused on having fun and racing hard. My goal was to pass a slew of guys on the way to the holeshot, then just hammer for a lap to see how far I could move up. Then ease off the gas a bit in the second lap, check my placing at that point, then TT to the end. This actually worked for the most part according to plan, too, amazingly.
I got clipped in fast and passed 10 guys without trying, then some riders went down right in front of me, and I had to clip out with one leg and sort of dance around them a bit before I got going again. I guess I got passed by all the guys I had passed moments earlier. Such is ‘cross! On I sprinted as about as hard as I could without popping and settled into a big effort. I managed to pass some guys but not a ton, and I just focused on staying ahead of Mitch Jacaruso, a friendly nemesis who now rides for Adler but was originally going to ride for cyclingreporter. Mitch is a strong roadie but is new to ‘cross, so I wanted to make sure I at least beat him in this race. I kept checking behind me for his unmistakable blue Adler skinsuit, and he was making his way up to me. I kept at a good pace.
After a couple of laps, Mitch rode well and made it up to me, and we got in riding with another guy, so the three of us settled into a steady but hard pace. I was leading for a good while, trying to take the turns as fast as I could but going a little conservative on the gravely turns, of which there were a few. Didn’t want to go down on that stuff, as some guys had. Sure enough, Mitch got antsy and passed me between two turns, but I stayed on his wheel within a bike length or two. But next thing I know Mitch wipes out on a gravely turn and is stopped on the side of the road. That sucked. Hate to see anyone go down and I was really hoping to duke it out with him to the finish. His luck would not improve either as a he had problems with his derailleur, which was now not working.
The other guy and I kept cruising. I would drop him on the way up the short climbs and on the flats, and he would catch up in the turns and technical descents, where I was riding more conservatively. I finished 33rd out of 103 or so, and considering I started at least 60th or so, and that my back didn’t hurt till near the end, I considered this a good day, at least relative to all the earlier races this season on the ‘cross bike. Like all racers, after a bit of a warm-down, I started wishing I’d have gone harder and broken the top 25 for some MAC points, but I told myself to just enjoy that I had a relatively good day out. I hope to see Mitch back again soon, too, so we can continue the battle.
Every cyclocross race is brutally hard, and this was no different. Each ‘cross race you work really hard and turn yourself inside out, puke through your eyeballs, and die a thousand deaths. In road races you can hide and go pretty easy actually, but not in ‘cross. No way. There is no such thing as an easy ‘cross race, though how many of us can say they have done easy road races? Probably all of us. This is what makes ‘cross so different from road, at least for me. Each time you race ‘cross ‘cross is going to make you respect. And respect you must.