In the center of the US, there are a few days close to the end of October that are, without doubt, my favorite of the year. These usually come after a little cold snap brings out the colors in the trees. Suddenly one day, the sun comes out, it’s just cool enough to need a sweater and the greenish orange trees are all thrown into a fiery sparkle against the cobalt blue sky. Heaven. Sometimes only a couple days long, I’ve realized that these days signal that the cyclocross season is about half over. The days of short sleeves at races are over. As much as we don’t want to think about it, we’re one gloomy, windy day away from bare trees and the time when cross starts involving lots more gritting of teeth and just doing it.
Like last year, the fiery trees and cobalt sky days landed right on the Carpentersville race weekend. And really, what a perfect race to get the high point of the autumn. The course was technical, had a new and improved version of the dreaded Big Sandpit, and sported the CCC’s first “pump section.” This course was, seriously, Just Right.
I get my callup, and yes it’s pretty awesome. It isn’t false humbleness at all when I say that the other dudes on the line near me are by far my superiors cross skillz wise. It’s a good day to get callups too: probably due to the nice weather, the M30+ is twice its normal size. Jesse points out that I am the only person on the line without carbon wheels.
My early race is marred by a chain drop on my first trip through the sandpit, barely a couple minutes into the race. I’m sitting around 10th before this, but rehanging a chain when in “start mode” is a good way to dump lots of your “alloted time over lactate threshold” down the tubes. I stand there with a pegged heart rate fumbling with the chain. I get mega-passed. I chase back up knowing that I’m trading good pacing for a chance to stay within contact of the frontish group. I remind myself to breathe.
The front group is gone. I’m just not hooking the corners as well as I need to, probably because I’m still thinking about the chain drop. I crash going over the rut near the start/finish and drop my chain again. The Iron Cycles dude who has been near me jumps when he sees me go down. I chase back on, not wanting to lose him and knowing that I’m tossing any hope of good pacing. At least I’m still in front of Dave Pilotto, I think.
Twoish laps to go. I am cooked literally and figuratively. I’ve sorta dropped the Iron Cycles dude coming into the start/finish road section. I sit up just a bit and try to unzip my jersey and push up my long sleeves.
Pilotto comes hammering by me.
I scream an obscenity (I can’t remember what it was, but I’ll bet Dave does) and jump after him. I get his wheel half-way through the twisties, utterly cooked. I bump him when I pass and then proceed to start running through tape like I’m blind. Dave asks me if my garmin unit is telling me which direction to go. Damn. Somehow Iron Cycles dude is back.
I lay it down on the flat grass and open a gap. I’m thinking that I don’t have a whole lot of gas left in the tank to battle for 20th place, but I have two big power sections left in which I am going to punish these two. By the time we get to the off-cambery hill, Dave is off the back but Iron Cycles is on my wheel. Cresting the last hill I fumble after striking a pedal on the off camber. Iron Cycles gets in front. I’m kinda angry.
I hold a really really close line on Iron Cycles through the toilet-bowl section because I’m gonna nail it and pass him on the hill before the pump section. I do just that. If I just make it through the pumps I have a nice laying-it-down section waiting. Iron Cycles is on my wheel, as we hit the pumps. Exiting the last one, we connect but don’t go down. I stand up to go, and I realize that something is wrong. My bike is heavy. Iron Cycles’s bike is tangled in mine. I don’t even look, I just lean forward and pull.
Pilotto comes hammering by.
Our bikes are free. I still haven’t turned around, but I stand up and kick. I have no rear brake, and there is a rubbing noise from behind. I listen to the noise for 10 seconds and decide I’m going to get off and throw my bike into a tree. Just before I do this, I hear Iron Cycles say “it’s just a cable rubbing.” Well it FEELS like a brake rubbing so either this guy is a: diabolically clever for misleading me or b: a really nice guy for telling me the truth. In either case, just the sort of standup dude I like to be crashing into out on a cyclocross course. I’m utterly ruined now, and the crunchy buzzing sound has put me in an ill-humor so it’s not long before he comes around me.
We finish 22nd and 23rd. The brake wasn’t rubbing. Matt Larson, aka Iron Cycles, is a nice guy.
Next week: a little less chain drop and a little more CCC (calm, cool and collected) is what I’m shooting for. Oh, and no more faux paux on the callup line — I’m bringing the carbon wheels.