After six seasons of professional cyclocross racing I’ve finally mastered the art of packing the car for a race weekend. The system is perfected. I know what order everything comes downstairs to get loaded. What order the wheels go in. How the frames sit. The duffle bags nestle the trainer. The tools box secures the wheels in place. I feel very accomplished but also slightly defeated that it’s taken me six years to figure all this out, which if you think about it is bike racing in a nutshell: alternating between the feelings of accomplished and defeated.
The reason I mention the car packing is because this was the first long-haul weekend of my cross season. Five and a half hours one way from Philadelphia to Rochester, NY for the first UCI weekend of US racing. It also happened to be the first C1 weekend of the domestic calendar so pretty much everyone who fancies themselves a professional cross racer was going to be there. I was definitely looking forward to seeing the cross family but also not looking forward to the hurt.
I broke up my drive Friday by stopping at Dan Timmerman’s cabin in the Finger Lakes. Although at this point it’s really starting to be more of a house with all the additions he’s been building on to it. The latest project is a workshop for his endeavors sewing custom, lightweight, down jackets, and sleeping bags. We spent the evening drinking wine and chatting about the bike/life balance that dominates both our lives particularly in the fall as our racing commitments are at their most intense. We even speculated a bit on what we would do with our fall months when all this bike racing is behind us. I think our enthusiasm for waking up the next morning to drive to a bike race was pretty low. But I also knew that no matter how much we joked about not going to the race and hanging out to work on the new cabin additions instead, we weren’t going to do that even if you paid us.
I was tired enough from the drive that falling asleep outside in the three sided yoga shack looking over the woods in my sleeping bag wasn’t an issue. I looked forward to the view of the sun streaming through the trees the next morning as I went to sleep. Instead, I woke up to rain and a horrible amount of humidity. Time to go race cross bikes in a sauna.
The course at Rochester was feature-packed. Two run ups, a staircase, barriers, a weird down and around run, a few logs, several drops, and a jump just for good measure. Not sure whose idea that last one was but it was pretty benign compared to the box jump Providence used to set up on one of the off-camber sections. Anyway, in case you’re counting that’s five forced dismounts per lap. Six if you weren’t comfortable with hopping a log. The rest of the course was crazy fast. Like over 25mph down every grass straight-away fast. It was going to be a scorcher out there.
The field was stacked too. All the front line hitters, a bunch of fast Canadians, and one Belgian dude to round it out. I lined up on the 4th row of the grid and tried not to think about it. It was amazing how much calmer I felt in the start grid of one of the biggest cross races in the country compared to a local race just a week ago. Then the whistle blew and it was time to go fast.
The usual race dynamic played out. A large front group formed early. I was just off the back of it on my own with scattered riders behind me. I decided to air on the side of caution and not blow myself trying to close the gap but instead back off slightly and settle into whatever group would eventually catch me. This is where things go a little fuzzy. I mean it was so damn hot, it felt like I had a garbage fire burning inside my helmet. The only reprieve was a hose the organizers set up just after pit one that we could ride under. It kind of worked. But I honestly cannot remember who I was with. I was just hanging on for dear life in the group I was in. I can’t even remember how the race played out. I crossed the line and immediately preceded to dump ice in my skinsuit and pour water over my head.
I found out later that I ended up 20th. My best C1 result in a few seasons.
That evening the team (minus BrittLee who’s still recovering from a broken ankle) gathered for our first Saturday night banquet. Cheap strip mall Italian food, a few beers, and a little whiskey. It almost felt like Nationals was just a week ago. We got caught up on Richie’s and Deb’s new house. Deb told us a story about forging for wild rice while Richie discussed the set up of his new workshop and how soon he thought he’d be able to get back to frame building. I thought it must have been 11pm by the time we decided to call it a night. But it only turned out to be 8. Hopefully I’d feel better in the morning. It rained through the night but the forecast for the next day was in the mid seventies. I was looking forward to actually being able to remember my race.
The second day of racing actually played out in much the same way. I missed the front group but landed in the chase group early. We rode together for a bit until Darrick St. John came by like a freight train. Seriously, if you miss the front group, just wait for Darrick and then try and hold his wheel, it’s just as hard. Darrick was just spraying us with watts Tommy Gunn Style and cut the group down to just four. He didn’t ask for help or ease up. He just sat there in front of me and powered out of every turn and down every straight away at break-neck speed. It felt like I’ve never ridden my cross bike faster. We hit 26mph down the gravel start stretch every lap. I’m trying to think of some kind of formula for cross where if your speed exceeds your tire pressure… I’m gonna keep working on it. The point is it was fast and then on the last lap it got faster. We dropped one guy early in the lap. Then the other rider who wasn’t Darrick or myself attacked out of the barriers hard. I did my best to go with him but I was fading. My effort was enough to gap Darrick by two seconds at the line though which ended up being good enough for 23rd.
Covered in dust, I hugged Richie and Deb. The season had finally started and for some reason I was kind of looking forward to a solo five and a half our drive home to think about it all.