So the good news is that I’m getting really good at pedaling my bike fast this season. I might be on the form of my life right now actually. I don’t think I’ve ever had the kind of consistency that I’ve experienced during the last few races. But the bicycle racing gods have also been cruel. In the last 8 races I’ve had 4 mechanicals, I’ve crashed once, and have been stuck behind a crash once. Two of those things happened in the same race so with some quick math I figure I’m at a 62.5% rate of mishap. Despite this other kind of consistency I’ve managed some good rides. This Saturday at HPCX was another lesson in never quitting.
Things were actually going well in the race on Saturday for about 22 seconds. That’s when a few guys came together right in front of me and tumbled to the ground. We haven’t even reached the first corner yet and I was at a dead stop behind folks trying to untangle themselves from each others bikes. Several thoughts go through my head at this point.
Thought one is that I should just stop and try again tomorrow. This is quickly ruled out because it is a stupid thought and there are at least 59 minutes of racing left. The second thing I think about is how pretty much everyone I know is at this race. HPCX is one of the closest UCI races to NYC and Philly. So even though I generally try to think of myself as someone that doesn’t care very much about what people think of me I also don’t want to disprove everyone's idea of me as a bike racer. Thought three could be summarized as fuck it, no pressure, go as hard as you can and see how many people you can ride through. This seemed like the best idea my oxygen deprived brain could come up with in the first 45 seconds of the race so I decided to go with it.
I was definitely feeling great. Krista had come to the race this weekend so I had an ample helping of happiness watts. I started jumping from group to group and trying to make passes where I could. I heard Krista cheering for me every lap. At one point she told me I was 20 seconds out of 10th. With 4 laps left in the race I had a chance to turn this mishap around into a result.
At this point I had caught up with Christian Favata. Together we managed to find a pace and started riding down 10th place. Then a bunch of different things happened in the race ahead of us. Since I wasn’t there I can't tell you exactly but the end result was that suddenly there was one less racer in front of us and we were now chasing 9th.
We caught the lone rider in 9th with 2 laps to go. So what started as a no pressure race of let’s see how many people you can pick up was now holy shit if you screw this up you’ll end up in 11th (which by no means is a bad result) and just out of the points. I get anxious when I’m in a group like this. I definitely feel the pressure of trying to win out of the group. I also don’t want any chasers to catch us especially this late in the race which would decrease my odds but at the same point I don’t want to tow the group around which also decreases my odds. So going into the final lap I put in a big dig on the start/finish hill. This gapped Eric Thompson of the group and now it was just Christian and I in 9th and 10th. This is the moment in the race where I silently high five myself in my mind because things are now looking good. Pressure is off again. Christian had taken over lead duties in the first half of the last lap and I kept an eye on our tail to make sure Eric wasn’t making a comeback. On the final climb I took to the front and made my final push for the line. Not so much an attack but just a concerted effort of I’m going to ride as hard as I can for the remaining two minutes of the race. I got separation on on Christian and rolled across the line for 9th. My second UCI top ten in a row.
Obviously this was awesome. I pulled a good ride from the jaws of a holeshot crash in front of a whole bunch of people I care about very much. But at the same time I was left wondering what could have been. I try to be positive in general but as a bike racer I tend to dwell on the things that went wrong in my race more than what went right. I have a suspicion that I’m not the only bike racer like this. But that isn’t to say it’s a good quality. It makes me less appreciative of when folks tell me I had a good race which makes me look grumpy and I want to be less grumpy in life. Fortunately I had another shot at it the next day.
Sunday I played it safe and just won the holeshot. After the first few corners I settled in and put it in cruise control. Being first at this point in the race is good because you can just do everything at your own speed. It’s a real cushy way to start a cross race. The danger is going to deep to early with all the really fast guys on your wheel. So I tried to stay calm.
Then I hit a rock just after pit 2 and got really mad at my now totally flat tire. At this point several thoughts occurred to me. The first thought I won't share with you because it’s mostly just expletives. It has been pointed out to me that hitting a rock is technically not bad luck but simple user error on my part. This is true. But it didn’t make it suck any less. The next though I had was again about quitting which I ruled out pretty quickly as I had a perfectly good pit bike waiting for me half a lap away. The third thought was simply here we go again.
Riding a flat tire on a cross bike is not fun. It’s slow and everyone you pass on the side of the course as well as everyone that’s passing you in the race is giving you the same “oh that sucks”. After I got on my pit bike I tried to rally again. But I just don’t think I had it in me to do a ride like that two days in a row. My legs certainly didn’t feel amazing after the start/stop of a flat tire but I kept racing mostly on anger at my misfortune but also because on this team we don’t quit races because of bad luck or a bad day. Getting all these chances at racing is a privilege so regardless of how I feel in a particular moment I’m not going to stop.
At the end of the day I ended up 15th. Again a solid ride for sure. Everyone was really nice and complimented me on not giving up and fighting back. Again I felt bad because I was dwelling on the race I had in my legs and how a moment of bad line selection on my own part ended it for me. For me the come from behind ride is getting a little old. I want to race at the front.
Fortunately I’ll have two more chances next week at DCCX. Don’t call it a comeback.