Normally, I attempt to make race reports less self-indulgent and, hopefully at least, somewhat more readable by someone who isn’t deeply interested in my development as a cyclocrosser (i.e. anyone else besides me). This week, not so much on that strategy. I just had one of my most inspiring races (running included), and I need to basically make myself some notes for future mulling. If you’re gonna read the whole sucker, I suggest a good Belgian beer and these guys for musical entertainment. I had one brief section of this song of theirs stuck in my head for the whole last lap and it did me right.
The race this week was at Lan Oak Park in Lansing, and as we rolled up to it, I was pretty bummed. It was absolutely flat and tightly contained in a small park. There was a 60ft or so sandpit, but it was the absolute highlight on the course. I knew before even riding the thing that I was going to get lapped — it was just that short and utterly fast. All the turns were pedal-able and there was almost nowhere to recover. The weather was bleak and cold without any precipitation to liven things up. There is a certain calmness that comes with resignation, and while doing my practice laps I felt this settle in. I think this probably helped me out.
My goal for the day came courtesy of crossresults.com (down, no doubt due to Sunday race postings, as I’m writing this), which I discovered earlier in the week. I wanted to beat a person on my nemesis list, and I figured I’d start at the top: Brad Dash. He has finished better than me in every race we’ve ridden together and usually by a margin of 3 or so places. I was actually hoping to see Brian Karlow who shows up as both a nemesis and a victim (i.e. achieving arch-rival status) but his brother Bob said he’d decided not to make the drive down. Bob is on my nemesis list, but by a large margin. Bob’s fast. As we lined up for the start, I noted Brad on the front row. I opted for a second row start behind one of the fast dudes I knew wouldn’t slow me down.
Lined up next to me was Patrick Meyer, a fellow UCVCer and Tatito. Patrick and I had ridden a “shake out” ride the day before with a number of other guys. As sometimes happens, the ride turned interval-y, and I confessed to Patrick that my legs were feeling pretty shot before we lined up. He agreed that while fun, it probably wasn’t the best pre-race prep. I think this could have been better for us than we imagined.
We started, and by the half-way mark we’d strung out. To my surprise, I was holding Bob’s wheel with Brad just ahead of us and Patrick just behind me. Normally Bob disappears into the distance very quickly. Brad was looking ripe for being picked off. As I was doing my practice laps I developed this (utterly genius, no doubt) strategy: I was going to serious bury myself for the first 2 laps. Just 2 laps. No matter what, I was going to remain over redline as much as I could muster. No thought of future laps, and nothing held in reserve.
Coming into sand pit on the third lap, Bob was gone ahead despite an unfortunate intersection with a tree. Brad was safely behind me by a sustainable distance and Patrick was right on my wheel. My strategy had been executed: I’d ridden the hell out of the first two laps and I was seriously hosed. A word about the sand. It was too deep to ride, I think. I attempted to ride it four times with only one successful attempt — the rest had ended in some variety of me falling and running the rest. I would eventually run it on the last two laps after figuring out that no matter how deft you were at navigating it, it was still faster to run.
But on this lap I tried riding it and faltered. Patrick surged ahead, and by the time we passed through the start/finish soon after, he had a serious gap opened up. Under most circumstances, I’d have written him off at this point. I had Brad behind me, and I was really hurting.
In life, I am generally the sort of person who is more likely to adapt to circumstances than to try to utterly change them. I heard the voice inside suggesting that I focus on maintaining my spot rather than trying to climb up. I was already pegged anyway and I had my goal of beating Brad was in the bag unless I did something dumb (or he did something heroic, I guess). My overarching fear is of overdoing it and really blowing up. Over the next lap I decided that wasn’t going to be the game today. I made a deal with myself that if I burned four of my remaining five matches catching up with Patrick, I’d leave it at that. By the time I’d worked up to him I was slobbering and really ruined. He looked over his shoulder, saw me, and put the hammer down. Damn.
I stayed with him, reminding myself that a bike length gap turns into being dropped in the blink of an eye. This period was really the crux of the race, and we were both all sorts of on it. At some point I pulled around him, as we suffered through the last few laps. We both took shots at each other, trying to open a gap and see where the other stood. Nothing stuck. I slowed up, trying to recover for what we could both see was coming. He didn’t come around, and I knew he was sitting in to recover as well.
The bell rang as we crossed the start/finish for the penultimate time. The above song was on continual repeat in my head. I had a plan: I was going to hammer with whatever I had left for the first half of the course to cause some damage before the sprint, and then summon every flake of smooth I had left to bring it in. I hammered. Patrick hung. A barrier and then another. Still right there with me. He was going to make a move. Was he going to wait until the sprint? I just needed the lead at the end of the sand and a perfect remount. If I came out of the sand ahead, I could hold him off for the full out crank to the finish. I told myself this over and over with the song playing in my head. We hit the sand together. I ran like I was finishing my PR 5k. I was back on the bike, feet dropping into place. I heard him clip in just beside me. I stood up and we rounded the last tight corner. I knew it was mine. Knew it. When were we going to go? Now?
Now. Coming into the finish straight, I could hear him breathing just alongside me, only inches back. Time seemed so slow. Maybe I downshifted. Someone yelled “Stand up on it!!” but I was already on it with everything. My vision was blurred and tunneled and the whole world was crank. Literally everything I had was in my legs, making them go. Where was the finish line? There, just right there. I waited to see him slide ahead in slow motion like in the book, but it never happened. I looked over my shoulder. Why the hell did I do that?! Nothing made any sense. And we were across. Did I get him? My brain was jello, and my stomach heaved. I tried to keep the bike upright. My vision cleared and the last seconds of the race clarified in my mind as I tried to navigate a corner, heaving. I got him.
Thanks for an awesome race Patrick. There is no doubt in my mind that I was able to ride so close to the edge of my ability because of us pushing each other. Given identical circumstances, I wouldn’t bet anything on coming across first again – it’s that kind of competition which makes for an epic race.
14th of 19 doesn’t sound spectacular, and I will spare you an analysis (especially if you made it this far!) of who those 19 people were. In all respects, I am as proud of today’s race as any I’ve done.
Al, totally a trooper for coming out in the uncomfy conditions and putting up with my pre-race grumps, got more footage, and we’re moving along with the video. Depending on how next week’s weather looks, we’ll decide if we’re going to shoot more or move along with editing. Thanks for all the kind words about the project!