Wednesday, December 7, 2011

End of the Line

There is a photo that Edmond White took at Montrose Harbor on Sunday that sums up my day pretty well.


I am the faceless, nameless, numberless body. I am the red and white helmet, the black sleeve, and the matt black/brown bike. The thrill of victory is not for people like me. We ride by after the fact, after the race has been decided, and form at most a backdrop for other peoples' victories. But neither are we vanquished to live with the agony of defeat. There is no defeat in cyclocross. There are no losers. There are only your friends and acquaintances who rode either faster than you, or slower than you on this particular day. There are the people who had mechanicals, who were hung over, who were burned out from doubling or tripling, or even those rode their best race of the season and are super excited with how high they were able to finish no matter how low it is in the field.

The only people who lose in cyclocross are the people who do not let themselves have fun doing it.

And I should know because I have lost my fair share of races. There was the day in DeKalb that I got stung on the tongue by a bee. The last two races I rode in October were also losing efforts for different reasons. Thankfully despite the anonymity of my performance, Sunday was not a loosing effort. Let me explain.

Sunday morning I woke up at a fairly normal time for me. The race was a scant 1.6 miles from my house, so there was no hour drive in a borrowed or rented car to get there. I ate breakfast, and spent more time than necessary trying to figure out A) what to wear and B) what to bring. I consulted the weather channel, rummaged through drawers, made piles, sorted piles into new piles, and finally decided on what should be stuffed into the bottom of my newly warrantied Mission Workshop Vandal. I packed lighter than I did last year because the weather was a touch warmer, and I have dialed in my race/post race clothing needs much better this year. I don't over pack as much because I have enough experience to know exactly what I need.

I threw the pack on, pulled down the freshly washed and lubed Falcon, and headed north to the lake.

When I arrived at the park, the Master's 40+ race was already underway. Those guys generally get the short end of the stick with photography so I made a concerted effort to get out with my camera and find some shots. It took me a while to get warmed up and my equipment dialed into the lighting conditions, but I was able to get a few good shots. After their race I ran my first pre-lap of the day. The course could be described in three words: Sand, mud, hill, and not in equal portions. It was about 50% sand, 25% mud, and 25% hill. The winds had drifted and blown sand up from the beach over the barrier berm, and there was 2-3 inches of sand (thankfully it was wet) across large swaths of the course. It was a hard ride, but the difficulty of it did not make it less enjoyable. Everyone who I talked to about it said it was "Miserable", but they all had the same silly little grin on their face. It was the kind of misery we live for.

During the Master's 30+ race I went back out with my camera. I know more of the Master's 30+ racers, and it is always fun taking pictures of people that you can tag later on Facebook. I was on my bike, riding to different parts of the course, and spent a good bit of time on the hill trying to capture a "money shot" of someone coming down the hill silhouetted in front of the city skyline. My teammate Brad hammed it up a little bit for what I believe was the best shot I took that day.

After the 30+ race it was time for another pre-ride. It went smoothly, or as smooth as possible. The women's 1-2-3 race is one of the harder ones to photograph when it's cold, and I did not get out with my camera. Instead I focused on my race preparation. Getting the right layers on, getting my number pinned on, getting my number taken off when I decide that I really don't need full leg tights and realize that my number is pinned through my skinsuit into my baselayer, and then getting my number pinned back on. Before I knew it, Jason was calling for staging for the Cat 3 racers.

My staging for this race was the worst of the season. The system that was used to filter in individuals without CCC points left me back in the fifth or sixth row. The one "beef" had was that there were guys who I have raced against in CCC races, who have never finished higher than me, and who's cross results points were lower than me, who ended up being seeded higher than me. I don't know how that worked out, but I decided that I was not going to make a stink about it. Instead, I lined up in the back of the pack with my friends and teammates as we shivered, laughed, and bantered with the riders in the front who we would not see again (until they lapped us). In short, I was having fun no matter what.

I lined up on the far left side of the course. The starting grid was open, meaning there was no fence immediately to my right, but the officials warned us that trying to jump outside would result in a not-automatic disqualification. They would let you suffer for 40 minutes and then DQ you. But regardless I knew that I could jump past some of field on the long home straight away, and when the whistle blew I did just that. I burned a match and surged out and around, pulling up not with the leaders but certainly in the top 25 people going into the first set of barriers. As was typical my match did not burn for all that long, but the tight technical sections kept the pack close together and we jostled amongst ourselves for positions through the sand and around the corners. I was right where I wanted to be racing in the cloud of people that I wanted to be racing with. Not just that but I also felt pretty strong going into the second lap. Even when we surged up the hill the first time I was able to keep pace. The leaders of course were starting to pull away and open a lead, but I was holding my own within the top 25. I remember being close to Paul-Brian, because I'm always close to Paul-Brian at some point in the race, especially if I am doing very well. We passed the finish line and surged down the straight away again. We hit the barriers for a second time, and made it through the far south end of the course still in a pack. Riding up a small hill with a 90 degree turn to the left in a sand pit, my front wheel washed out and I stepped / tumbled forward. I think I might have put a hand down, and maybe a knee, but I didn't roll. I was dead stopped, so I grabbed my bike and started running. I made it about 20 ft and someone behind me was kind enough to yell "Your chain" and I looked down and saw I had dropped it. I tried to do what I did at the USGP and put my chain back on while I was running. I did that for about 30 yds and had no luck. So I stopped and started to try and get it back on. I couldn't. I tried again. I couldn't. 10, 20, 30, and 40 riders swarmed past. The bulk of the pack went by while I stood looking at my chain, feeling stupid because I could not figure out how to make it go where it went.

I took some deep breaths and looked back at the rear sprocket. The rear derailleur had shifted up about 5 chainrings from where the chain was. It was putting so much lateral pressure on the chain it was pulling it off the front ring. Only after I shifted back into alignment was I able to get the chain back onto the ring, but the race had literally passed me by. There was only one thing to do though, and that was finish. So I hopped back on my bike and started pedaling. The first person I remember passing was my friend Chernoh. He said after the race that I just blew by him, and I kept going. I would see someone ahead of me, and I would reel them in. One by one I just kept picking off riders. I felt strong, I was riding a lot of the sand pits, and I might have looked tired according to one spectator, but I didn't look as tired as the guys I was passing. I rode hard and I felt pretty good about my effort, my speed, and the number of people I was passing.

When I was talking to Paul-Brian (who did awesome) after the race I told him that it was kind of fun riding from the back and have the feeling of reeling guys in and passing them vs. the last few weeks where I started closer to the front and then watched as guys blew by me, one after the other. I caught up with and passed my teammate Sean, and even Brent who finished two places ahead of me at Ted's Double Track adventure. As I noted above, I ended up getting pulled one early like the race before, but this time I was less happy about it because given another lap I would have had at least one more place. Instead I settled for a fairly anonymous 50th place.

It was my worst finish in any CCC race, but by no means was it my worst race. For 38 minutes that I was in the saddle, I felt like I was moving. Had I not failed at Chain 101 for 2 minutes, I think I would have even been able to hang onto a top 30 finish. Shortly after I crossed the finish line the leaders of the race blew threw with much cheering and fanfare. I made sure to congratulate them, as I am in awe of how fast those guys are.

John Keating (Robin William's character in Dead Poet Society) said:
Now, devotees may argue that one sport or game is inherently better than another. For me, sport is actually a chance for us to have other human beings push us to excel.
And excel we did. Even though we did not get to stand on a podium today, and though we may never see a podium we, the nameless faceless masses excelled. I am proud to be among you my brothers and sisters.

Now, I just need about 49 of them to Cat up so I can dominate the 3s next year.

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