CycloCross was back in full force this weekend, starting, yet again, with the double race weekend of Starcrossed on Saturday night and the Rad Racing Grand Prix on Sunday. Always a tough way to start the season, head first into the deep end off the high diving board. No dipping your toe-in first here. Actually kind of reminded me of the first time I went to jump off the high dive as a kid. It was a hot summer weekend at the public pool and there was a line up the ladder of the high dive as usual. I got all the way up there and out on the board, and promptly chickened out. Having to climb backwards down the ladder through a line of older kids. There were definitely times on Saturday when I wanted to back down the proverbial ladder and go buy a ticket to the Dead show on the other side of the park.
Fighting the urge to feign a mechanical, I picked up my number from registration. Apparently I had some kind of decent result last year at this race, as they gave me a front row start for the race. Such a shame I put it to waste. Not too surprising though, since I have been doing more 5 hour MTB rides than any kind of short effort to prepare for a sprint off the starters pistol. Had this been a 5 hour cross race though, I am pretty sure I would have fared better. All in all it wasn’t that bad I guess. My start, as expected, was pretty sad. I thought I tried but even riding as fast as I could, guys kept passing me for the first 30 seconds. With the wind taken out of my sails I just road along for a bit until I came out of the initial daze of racing. For the rest of the race I managed to slowly track riders down and move up, but the front of the race was long gone and I didn’t have a ticket for the train that was trying to chase it down.
As for my “race”, I think I ended up in 14th or so. Not sure and it doesn’t matter really. It’s how you race, and I felt like I was as much a cross racer, as that concert on the other side of the park was a Grateful Dead show. It may look like the real thing, but it’s missing something. That’s ok though, it’s only the start of a three month season, plenty of time to get there.
One nice thing about the weekend was the weather. OK, maybe most people wouldn’t consider it a nice weekend, but for cross it wasn’t so bad. It rained all day Friday and pretty hard Friday night, but that didn’t seem to make things too bad, and with morning sun it looked like we were in for another dry start to the season, until the black clouds rolled in for some rain by the time my race started. It wasn’t too bad, but enough to make a few corners slick and to keep it honest. As for the Pro Women and Men, it just dumped and things were nice and muddy.
The rain continued on and off through the night, and Sunday was filled with plenty of torrential showers. Like serious monsoon, let the heavens open up, downpours. This year, the course was a new one for this race. Going from the longest and steepest run-up in ‘cross to the uber flat lakeside course at Lake Smammish State Park. The course had plenty of off-camber root filled turns and two long sandy beach sections to make sure we got our fill of running in. We got there early as Margi was in the first race, so while she waited in the check-in line I got her bike ready and rolled around on it to check out the course. Turns out they set the course up on top of a Hornets nest and for some reason they don’t like bikes riding over their nest, and unfortunately I was one of those riders who rolled over said nest. I felt a sting in my lower back, right in the plumber’s zone and high tailed it out of there, but kept feeling a sting. When I went to show Margi, lucky lady that she is, I found the bastard was still in my shirt and even managed to nip me on my hand as I crushed the life out of him. In total, I was stung 5-6 times in my lower back. Ouch. Ironically, it wasn’t the first time I have been stung at a race. I once had a hornet get in my jersey at a MTB race. I just thought it was a stick or thorn stuck in my jersey until the end of the race when I pulled it out of my jersey. He stung me like 10 times. Over 24 hours later my back is still itching like crazy and slightly swollen. Luckily the course organizers changed the course to move it away from the nest.
Anyway, the racing. As I mentioned it continued to rain off and on all morning, and after several races, the course was pretty slick and muddy. I didn’t get a front row seat this time, I started in the 3rd or 4th row, yet still managed to get passed right from the start. As we left the pavement I heard a horrible crash behind me on the pavement as three guys went down in front of me on the grass. I managed to slip by ok, but had to pretty much stop to get around. From there I continued to ride too safely and got passed by guys on all the technical sections. Then we hit the sand and my running days came back to me as I just ran right past handfuls of guys. That managed to light a fire under me, and I went from thinking this was going to be one of the worst races of my life to actually moving up. I was able to pass guys on the straights where I could lay down some power, while giving some spots back in the slick corners. Even though I was just riding a little too hesitantly, I had a net gain on spots overall. I managed to somewhat settle in with a guy from Seattle known as “The Body”, or at least that’s what the announcer called him, and I was pretty determined not to get beat by someone called “The Body”. I would pass him on the sand and he would claw his way back through the twisty stuff and slip past me. I managed to follow his lead and after a few laps I felt I was riding it all a bit better. On the last lap I was determined to drop him for good and was pretty bummed to see him on my heels at the end of the sand. I drilled it the rest of the way not wanting to enter the pavement with him on my wheel. Luckily I was able to open enough space before the finish straight and he wasn’t able to catch me. In the end I think I was around 11th. Overall I felt better about the race on Sunday. It was definitely a fun race, and surprisingly my legs felt good before the race, hopefully all my long rides have helped with my overall fitness and will help carry me through a long season, something I think I was missing last year.
Aside from racing for two days, I also was the pit mechanic for Sean Babcock and Spencer Paxson both Saturday and Sunday. While I feel like I miss some of the spectating being in the pits all race, I also enjoy hanging out there. It’s definitely a different view of the race scene, watching the real pro squads and how they manage the pits and their racers. And it’s great to be able to support these two guys. They were both Team S&M young guns members, sort of our development team, and have both just been picked up by Kona, Spencer for MTB and Sean for Cross. And they both were killing it this weekend, Spencer was 21st both days, considering he just finished up MTB season making it to the US worlds team, it was really impressive. And Sean was 15th and 13th, Sat and Sun respectively. For awhile on Sunday he was in 7th right in the chasing group. It was a great performance. It’ll be fun to watch those guys this season.
Check out this classic Babcock interview
The only picture of me from the weekend:
Compliments of Sue Butler