by Colin Rowan
photography by Dylan VanWeelden
Cross Crusade. Oregon’s big cyclocross show. Tires, bikes, rims named after it. Children growing up—kiddie crossin’—hoping to be Crusaders. Or, something like that. By this time, I do not think we need to battle collectively for the advancement of our belief in cross, but the Crusade remains the holy grail of local cross racing. Sure, the word crusade is a little over the top for a placid guy like me, but the zest and zeal was on display this weekend.
Saturday, The Athletic Racing Squad kicked-off of the series in impressive fashion. Around here, we all think of the Crusade as the official start of the cyclocross season, but really it comes after three local race series wrapped up. While I lament the end of weeknight racing, the Crusade is a bittersweet midpoint of the season. Over 1,000 competitors, eager to race, joined us in the dirt on Saturday and over 800 joined us in the mud on Sunday. Which is called foreshadowing.
Abby, Anthony, Leland, Mike, Rob, and I represented The Athletic Racing Squad. The tente tigre was pitched and appointed with all manner of comforts by Mike. Abby and Leland navigated the course for top-ten finishes amongst stacked fields. Mike, Rob, and Anthony all crusaded admirably. As I had the beer number, I had a backrow seat to watching Anthony charge through half the field, making smart passes and finishing well. I can only imagine what Leland was doing up there at the front, but if internet photos tell you anything, he was pushing course tape, crushing corners, and hammering the straights. I guess that’s what we all should have been doing.
The course was in great condition, with rain overnight and the ground quickly tacking up, corners gave the allusion of grip only to breakaway. Challenging and relentless with a few of those moments when youre mystified by how much grip you have. Everything was great except for that porta-potty scent wafting on the paved downhill. Hold your breath.
My race report? Breathless. Suffering. Asthmatic fit. Bad attitude. For the first time in my decade-ish of consecutive cross seasons, I experienced my lungs shutting down in an asthmatic fit. If I took a deep breath (somewhat important in the given situation), I would trigger another attack. Albuterol hand-up, anyone? I did not make lemonade out of the situation. In a gloomy mood, I went through the paces and finished the race. I glowered at some friends, shook my head at the cheers of my fiancé and her family. I was a bike-racing jerk. Sorry!
When you are a solid mid-pack racer in the PRO/1/2 field, you might find yourself doing some math after the races. Take your total time and divide by the number of laps completed to get your average lap time. Now, take your average lap time and multiply by the number of laps completed by the 2/3 race. You don’t do that? Give it a go! On a good day, hell, on a normal race day, I would find myself at the front of that race. I know, the shorter race time in lower categories means…whatever… whatever. This bench racing, here! It gives you an expanded sense of self-worth or self-denigration. Depends on what you are looking for post-race. However, it’s probably a good idea to keep positive; focus on the race you can control: your own. On Saturday, I found myself running midpack in the lower cats by the math.
Sunday. Another opportunity for Crusading meet us with incessant rain. The course developed into quite a mess. I would place the mud’s consistency akin to organic, GMO-free, nut butter. Probably sunflower butter. The Crusade Crew ran the course in the opposite direction as Saturday, with new sections, some additional stairs to run up, and a “PRO addition” to the course that was fresh, unridden grass. The game changer was a long uphill slog that was nigh impossible to ride all of, making for an extended run through the mud. Ouch. In the first minute of the race we all tossed our glasses. In the first two minutes of the race our bikes gained ten pounds of mud. However, you could ride almost everything and it was a blast. Those that could hit the pits most laps for a fresh bike. Or, a slightly less mud-encrusted bike. Others, like me, continued as mud caked our very souls. (Ed Note: See River City's video recap below)
Tick. It wasn’t a pop or a crack, or anything too violent. Just a tick and my race was over. That mud, spiked with grass, clogged my derailleur pulleys and without even a sigh of protest snapped my derailleur hanger. Game over just like that. With no bike in the pits, I stopped for the day. Man, I was enjoying the bike racing. You know what? When I was focused on the enjoyment, I had no issues with breathing, my suffering was metered and within my control, and I got some smiles out at the heckles. It was a sea change from the day before. First to the bike wash was my consolation prize.
As for the rest of the Squad? I saw Rob right after his race and he had that thousand-yard stare and just repeated that it was a "gooooood time" out on the course. Both Anthony and Leland turned in even more impressive results than the day before. I think they were enjoying themselves and stayed focused on how much fun the sloppy conditions were. Alternatively, maybe they focused on their suffering and found some masochistic drive impelled by the pain. No matter the motivation, those two would have fared well by the bench-racing math.