Monday, November 17, 2008

State Championships

Finally! I had been trying for this all season long, and it couldn't have been better. Not only was it a race where all the top guys were there and avoided any major mechanicals (as far as I know), it was a neck and neck battle to the final hundred yards. On top of it all, it was the series finale' and the Oregon State (more precisely OBRA) Championships. It also came at a perfect time for me.

With all of the mishaps (colliding with Butler), bad luck (being sick, broken derailleur)and mistakes (hitting the barriers, loose shifter)I was feeling a bit down about my season and feeling like I had lost some of my excitement for cross. I really wasn't even motivated to race on Sunday. The course looked kind of boring; real flat, soft yet bumpy grass, and a livestock corral of nasty mud/manure. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?. But I was there, and I had already paid for the series, plus I had to try to beat Tre to defend my third place series standing.

After a half-hearted warm-up I was off to the line-up. Once I was standing there, I decided I should focus, and thought "what the hell, let's see what we can do". I got off to a good start, somewhere around 3rd going into the first turn. Most of the race is a blurr, but I took the lead for a while having no idea who or what was still behind me. At one point Jeff Bannik, a strong rider who had been racing in the A's, came around me, which was impressive as he was lined up in the back of the field. Once he got on the front, the pace really picked up, shattering the large group at the front, and leaving Tim Butler, me, John McCaffrey and Erik Schultz (maybe Tre was still there?) with him. We kept up for several laps trading off at the front. Slowly, Tim, Jeff and myself opened a gap on Erik and John. The three of us continued to battle, each trying to attack, but unable to shake the others. With two laps to go, I managed a gap in the mud section as we tried to ride through some A riders. I decided this was my chance and I gave it all I could to try to open a lead. No Dice, Tim was able to get back to me near the end of the lap. As he took the lead I remember hearing that voice in my head try to give up, saying, no, more like pleading, to 'just hold off Bannik for second'. Luckily I ignored the pleading and followed Tim's wheel. I caught back on to him as we passed the pits for the second time in the lap. This was a stretch that I felt strong on every lap, and I decided then that if I was with Tim when we came through on the final lap, this is where I was going to make my move, if I could get around him, it would be tough for him to get back in front until we hit the mud corral, and even there, passing would be tough. I might have a chance.

As we passed the finish line for the final lap, I heard the announcer say that Bannik had dropped back a bit, so it seemed like it would come down to Tim and me. As the final lap progressed I tried to get around a few times, but Tim always managed to counter and hold the lead, while at the same time Bannik seemed to be closing. Finally we were approaching the pits for the last time, I carried as much speed as I could through the preceding corner, got out of the saddle and gave it all I had to get past Tim, and hold him off to the next corner. As I came into the corral Margi was at the entrance cheering me on, Tim was on my wheel, with the race on the line. It was like the showdown at the OK Corral. I hit the mud thinking “don’t ‘f this up, just keep pedaling’. Out of the corner of my mind I thought I may have heard Tim bobble, and did I hear someone yell to Tim to run? No time to think, just pedal. I got through the hole in the first puddle, caught the inside line, and had to pedal through 10 feet of very thick mud. As I hit the thick mud it was a grind and I almost came to complete stop, I could hear Tim’s footsteps behind me, and I gave it all I had, I pushed through the last few feet of thick mud and into the easier going puddle. Then like a man posessed, fearing Tim would pass me, I pedaled as hard as I could the whole way to the line, Victory!

Tim came in a few seconds later followed by Bannik, John McCaffrey and Erik Schultz. One hell of a race. Had to be one of the most enjoyable and exciting races of my short career. While Barton was a similar back and forth to the finish race, that seemed to be a cat and mouse sit and wait type if race. This race felt more like 60 minutes of constant battling. And of course, battling it out with Tim made it even better. And hats off to him as well, he was just as congratulatory afterwards as
anyone. I am sure he wanted the win as much as anyone, but you wouldn’t know it after the race. Thanks Tim. And congratulations on the Series win.

With the victory, and double points for theseries final, it looks like I may have moved into second palce for the Cross Crusade series. But most importantly I'll get the all important call-up for the USGP races in December.