Checking a weather forecast is probably step number one when packing to go race cyclocross. Although regardless of the forecast my pack list never changes. I bring literally everything for every possible condition. Even if I’m going to a September race with no rain in the forecast my bag will have everything from gore-tex socks, winter tights, neoprene gloves, to my summer base layers and that’s more or less how it stays all season. I bring everything. Somethings I’ll even bring two of most things. Point is, I don’t care what the weather says, I always pack everything. Partly because I don’t unpack my winter kit from my bag if I don’t end up using it so mostly it just stays in and I reassure my self that I’m ready for anything. That was a really long winded way of saying I like to hold myself up to the measure that I’m ready for anything. Also — foreshadowing.
Saturday at Super Cross was unusually warm. I pinned up my short sleeve skin suit for the first time in over a month. The course was super wide, fast, hilly, and off camber pretty much everywhere at all times. Adam Myerson described it like “a big, French hilly road race, World Cup style course." I tend to think that all cross courses hurt about the same. My logic is that an “easy” course just means we’ll hurt our selves more by attacking. However, this course was just massively painful. The race broke up pretty fast under the unrelenting succession of climbs, off camber sections, and off camber climbs.
I managed to crash some one out — a first for the season. I felt horrible about it and obviously it wasn’t on purpose. I was riding second wheel in the second group and the rider leading us had bobbled a few corners. I could feel Todd Wells (former national champion) start to get antsy on my wheel. He made his move several corners later and in my haste to join him I went for a gap that closed faster then I had hoped. This resulted in Andrew Juiliano taking a serious dirt nap. This is a dude I race almost every week and like to consider a pal. Fortunately, when I tracked him down the next day he was his normal good natured self and wasn’t holding a grudge.
The next day we woke up to several inches of snow on the ground — what could possibly make this race harder? Mud. That’s what. More then a few people were over the whole difficulty thing and just decided to take off for the remainder of the weekend. The conditions were so “heavy” that the organizers removed the barriers and steps from the course. This gesture of kindness towards the racers only actually removed one dismount as the slight uphill that the steps were on was already too far gone for anyone to ride it.
With the snow, wind, and freezing temperatures the parking lot hang out scene looked way different as everyone huddled in their cars. I decided my best course of action was to try and stay as dry and warm as possible before my race. There was no sense preriding the course because when it’s muddy all the lines change from lap to lap anyway. I put on all my rain gear and went around once just to get a sense of how the course was laid out today. Mostly, I tried to avoid the big mud bogs and keep dry. The real race today was to the bike wash.
After my one and only lap of preriding I changed back into warm clothes. Pinned up my skin suit for later and tried to find something to do for the next few hours. Honestly, I’ve never thought about how much time pre riding eats up.
To quote Bill Schieken of CX Hairs, “Cyclocross is often romanticized as a soul wrenching battle that takes place in mud, rain, and epic conditions.” Sunday at Super Cross was for the romantics. After just a handful of laps everyone was in their own personal struggle against the course and the elements. Every second you had to be totally focused on minute line choices while at the same time giving it everything physically just to keep the bike moving. While I buried my self in the task at hand, Richie and Deb were hard at work in the pits trying to get clean bikes to me each lap. I’ve never had to work the pit during a muddy race but I’ve heard plenty of stories about how vicious the power washer line gets. Lucky for me I know my pit crew takes no shit.
With clean bikes every lap my race was going about as well as I could hope. I was slowly turning into an unrecognizable muddy mess while fighting for the top ten as the race wound down. I normally try to occasionally peek at the clock on my Garmin to get a sense of how many laps I have. To this day I have yet to get this mental math problem right but today I was so far off it caught me by surprise. We had been doing ten and a half minute laps so going through with 56 minutes on the clock I did not expect to see 2 to go on the cards. What’s one way to make a crazy hilly and muddy cross race even harder? Make it longer.
After 75 minutes of fighting — with what felt like everything — I crossed the line. Out of about sixty starters only sixteen finished on the lead lap. Richie was standing just past the finish line with his big red parka ready to throw it over me. We both grinned like idiots happy to be done with the days work. Days like that can be really miserable without a friend waiting for you at the finish with a big red parka and whiskey.