Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Chicrosscup #1: Jackson Park - The Grind

The Chicrosscup season started on a Saturday this year because of a scheduling conflict in the park.  It was really different having to get ready on Friday for a Saturday AM Chicross race.  I had to bake my traditional sandwich bread in the evening, and get the Falcon cleaned and tuned up to the best of my ability after commuting home from work.

My girlfriend Morleigh had made other plans that Saturday, so I was expecting to strap on a heavy backpack and make my way south by CTA bus and by pedal.  My morning did not start out well, having awoke before my alarm to troubling dreams.  But as I was eating breakfast on Saturday morning I got a text from my girlfriend.

Morleigh: You are not going to believe who I found?
Me: Who?
Morleigh: Look out into the courtyard!!!!

So I looked out into the courtyard, and there she sat, holding one of my pillows that had ended up at her house after the WORS race the weekend before.  She had teased me about it being absorbed into her Borg-like collection of pillows all week.  Her plans had fallen through that morning so she decided to surprise me with a ride to my race.

We loaded up her car, strapping a trunk rack onto her trunk, and headed south.  We had more trouble finding parking this time than we did at the Relay, but we found parking by the golden statue, and made our way back to the venue.

We arrived in the middle of the Master's 40+ race and saw Newt crushing the field, and shortly there-after hopped onto the course for a quick pre-ride.  The course was different, with the short-back and forth section being greatly improved by being rotated 90 degrees and filling the same space with longer straights, wider corners, and more opportunity for passing. 

Chernoh and I took off for an extended warm-up, making the same loop we had two weeks before but in reverse.  We returned to the starting area and waited for our time to roll into the starting grid.  Based on my cross-results points I was being loaded in 51st out of about 90 riders.  I chose a position on the inside fence in the seventh row, in what felt like a very narrow lane.  My strategy was to sprint out in the clear as people pushed to the outside of the course to get a good line on the first turn.  The whistle blew, the field surged and I sprinted to the best of my ability.  Clearly there wasn't time to count, but it felt like I had moved up from the 50s into the 20s. 

From there on it was just a grind around the course, working on standing up on each of the corners and pushing it on the straights.  I tried to hold off faster riders, and maintain contact and reel in the rider who was in front of me.  The race was smooth and blurry with vibrant greens and blue skies replacing the dreary gray rainy memories from the relays. 

There were only two moments moments of note.  On my second lap, as I was navigating the steep off-camber hairpin turn on the far south end of the course I pedalled too soon and ended up pedaling into the ground and lifting my rear wheel off the ground.  I didn't wash out, but did lose all momentum and was standing there on the uphill straddling my bike.  It was too steep to put a foot on the pedal and try to ride, so I had that momentary pause as I wondered how to extricate myself.  Do I dismount or waddle? I waddled a few steps up this hill, and hopped back up on my saddle and kept going. 

The second moment was on the final lap, I was about 3 seconds behind a teammate, and was wondering whether or not I could close the gap before the finish.  When he washed out in the long grass I had my answer. I continued to push the pace around the corner, and just as he was getting back up to speed I coming out of the final corner and building up a head of steam.  I did have a moment of guilt passing a teammate after a moment of misfortune, but it passed as I hammered down the home straight and crossed the finish line. 

My goal for the race was to get into the top 30 and earn some ChiCrossCup points so I could get better staging.  I finished 28th, and transitioned into photography mode very happy with my performance. 

USGP Planet Bike Cup Day 2: Worst. Race. Ever.

The second day of the Planet Bike Cup started off well.  Morleigh and I slept in a few extra minutes before getting up for breakfast, and starting our day.  This compressed our time at the park before my race started so we did not see the beginning of the first race.  We arrived in the middle of the Cat 4 race, but instead of rushing to get ready to pre-ride I decided that I wasn't going to go out for a pre-ride and get warm-and-then-cold.  So it hit me rather suddenly after the lady's first lap that my race was up next and felt a moment of panic.  I put my pre-race prep into high gear getting my layers sorted out, heading out around the block for a long slow warm-up, and then making my way back to the staging area to line up at the back of the field. 

My strategy was going to be similar to the day before, work my way to the outside, and power past as many as I could around the first turn.  But I had already made a tactical mistake, in that I picked a spot in the center of the starting grid.  The whistle blew and the mass of men and bikes surged forward, I tried to work my way to the outside.  It wsa then that I discovered my second tactical mistake.  I had forgotten to shift from my small to large front chain ring while I was waiting for the race to start.  I had not been having any problems shifting so I decided to sacrifice a little speed on the pavement and power-down to shift up.  However, I couldn't get it to grab on the top ring.  It was skipping and jumping.  After about 5 pedal strokes I decided to give up, and just drop back down on the small ring, but in doing so my chain fell off to the inside.  As we rolled over the starting line the field pulled away as I was spinning my cranks trying to get a tooth to catch.  As we turned the corner I dismounted, fixed my chain, and then remounted now 100 yds back in DFL.

I shook my head and thought about the nice training ride I had before me.

Because I didn't pre-ride I was taken completely surprise by the changes in the course from Day 1 to Day 2.  I was expecting to gain some ground winding through the pine-trees and instead turned sharp left and had yet another straight-away to deal with.  Once I made it through the modified sections though, it didn't actually take all that long to re-attach to the field.  I caught back up to the first riders as we headed back down through the long straight-away that went past the wheel pit and the starting area.  I could see my friend Mike half-a-dozen riders ahead.  As we made our way down to the bottom of the hill by the playground equipment, I started to catch and pass riders.  On the way up past the playground equipment I got ahead of Mike and in the middle of four or five riders moving together.  As we speed back down along the edge of the parking lot and around the final curve before the big uphill I was on the inside line surrounded by riders.

I was aggressively leaning into the corner, at the edge of friction when the worst possible thing happened.

I hit a bump.

I did not have enough weight forward and my front wheel bounced off the bump and went airborne, and my bike went all Newtonian mechanics on me.  It flew out sideways and I piled straight into the ground.

Kudos to those riding around me that my wash-out did not turn into a huge pile up.  Somehow neither I nor my bike were ridden over, which I considered to be somewhat of a miracle.  As I stood up and dusted myself off, checking myself and then my bike for damage, I passed the initial flight check, got on the correct side of my bike, and then remounted.

I tried to pedal and looked down.  My chain had dropped again.  I dismounted, fixed my chain, and then remounted again.  I was once again DFL.

I scrambled to the top of the hill, and saw my girlfriend taking pictures of me.  I got off the main line, rolled close to her and tried to, without screaming at her, ask her to stop documenting this, the worst race ever, with photos.

I made it down to the bottom of the hill and decided to spite the course by riding up the hillside strangler.  I almost lost it, having to put a foot down after the second railroad tie, but I was able to put down enough power to get moving, clipped in, and make it up to the top.  It was one small personal victory on what was shaping up to be a very bad day.

Once I made it to the top of the hill and rolled out past the starting line, I started the difficult task of trying to mentally reengage in a race that had gone horribly wrong, and reconnecting with a pack that was long gone.  It was as I started to try and put down power on the "roadie-friendly" straights and the initial adrenaline of crashing had worn off that I discovered a host of "engine" problems.  I had a big painful charlie-horse on my right calf that was preventing me from putting down power, and my back was knotted up with spasms which was also making it difficult to pedal.  Of the 10 units of suffering I had available for pushing my bike forward, I was now using about six units coping with the physical pain I was in.  To put it in more concrete terms, on a flat straight away a tail wind I was struggling to get over 15mph.

On my second lap, as I looped back around the top of the strangler I saw the lens of my camera pointed at me again.  Once again, I pulled off the well worn line, over to the fence and asked my girlfriend as politely as I could muster to please put the camera down.  I needed no photos of myself remind me of this fiasco.  

The pain was too much and I was unable to ride the strangler a second time.  Instead I dismounted, and pushed my bike up the hill.  Running felt oddly better than walking, so I sprinted up the hill to the best of my ability.  Over the next two laps I pushed forward trying to reconnect with the end of the field, and it felt like I was able to shrink the gap on the shaded "low" technical section of the course, but I would lose those gains on the sunny roadie-friendly "high" plains.

There was another 8 minutes of suffering alone, as I wondered if I would be able to finish the race.  I kept picturing my name at the bottom of the list of results and wondered in the back corners of my mind what the difference was between DNF and DFL, and if it mattered whether or not it was one or the other.  I kept working to shake those images from my head, and self-talk myself through the course one straight away at a time.  I also thought about next week, and whether or not I would even be able to ride again in seven days.  I made the decision that I was not going to preregister for Hopkin's Park in the middle of my third lap.

When I got to the backside of the strangler I saw my girlfriend standing there, and instead of being obscured by a camera lens, I saw her face, and she had a big smile on her face as she cheered "Let's goooooo Gra!  I'm so proud of you!"  

I took a mental picture of that smile, and seeing that smile again became my motivation for riding another lap.  That smile was definitely worth another 8 minutes of suffering.  I dismounted and ran the strangler again, and pressed on committed now to finishing another lap. 

The fourth lap, I had finally closed the gap to the point where it felt like I might be able to reconnect with the end of the field, and get out of DFL.  As I was rounding the final curve to head on the long straightaway that ran out to the pine-trees, I put my head down and started to block out the pain so I could hammer as hard as I could, and instead of hammering I got hammered.  Somehow I swerved inward just enough to catch one of 2-inch square wooden stakes that was holding up course tape.  I hit it hard enough that it twisted my handlebars out of alignment with my fork.  I hit it hard enough to rip it out of the ground.  Needless to say I crashed in epic fashion.  I heard a collective groan from the mechanics in the pit, and Rosanna yelled at me...asking if I was okay.  I picked myself up, picked my bike up, and looked down to see that my chain had fallen off again.  I reached down, and put my chain back little ring yet again.  As I started to ride away and one of the mechanics yelled that I should not leave the stake at an angle like it was so I looped back, and ripped it out completely and threw it on the ground.  I then pushed off again.  I wanted to see that smile one more time.

I swung through the pit and had the SRAM neutral support re-align my handlebars, and talked with Roseanna a bit.  The mechanic finished his adjustment and said "This should be good enough to finish the race" and I laughed to myself because I knew my race was kind of over before it started.   When I made it down to the bottom of the hill by the playground equipment the leaders lapped me, and I knew from the starting instructions they were going to pull people who were lapped to make the last lap clean for the leaders.  I figure this meant it was my last lap, so as I circled the top of the hill above the strangler, I soaked in my girlfriend's smile, and passed a single rider with a flat tubular before heading back down to tackle the Strangler one last time.  I decided as a matter of principle to ride it, and without even so much as a foot down I burned my final match getting to the top.  I wound my way down the hill to the pavement as before rounding the final corner I made eye contact with the official, and she whistled me off the course after just 34 minutes.  It was by all accounts the worst race ever.  It was the most physically painful, mentally draining, and emotionally disheartening race of my short career as a bike racer.  But my girlfriend still kissed me, she still told me she was proud of the fact that I finished, she told me was amazed that I was able to finish with my head held high and she was proud that I displayed nothing but class in the face of so much pain and adversity.  Yeah, I guess I did. 

Friday, September 14, 2012


In March I sat down with my girlfriend and explained that I wanted to register for the WORS series, and see what I could do about maybe trying to win my category.  I pulled out the new WORS handbook and we looked at what it would take.  For sport racers the series was scored as a best of seven series.  Last year I made it to four WORS races, so my goal was to race seven races, and see how I did.

I was surprised when her response to my idea was "Okay, let's do it."  

I was like "Do what?"  

She told me that she would go with me to the WORS races, all seven of them.  We could make weekends out of it, driving up on Saturday to pre-ride and racing on Sunday.  She'd take care of transportation and I could take care of lodging.  So we made plans and I drew seven circles around seven numbers on the back of the handbook.  The last of which was the number 10.  Although there are 12 races in the WORS series, my MTB season ends when the Chicrosscup begins.  It was a risky plan, I would have to race well at every race to hit my goal, and cross my fingers there were no bad mechanicals.  

The last race on the calendar was Treadfest.  When I explained that Treadfest took place at the Grand Geneva lodge, she jumped on the opportunity and asked me if a stay at a nice resort, could be her treat for being good race support all season.  I told her it was a deal.  

If you've been reading any of my entries you know that she has been amazing race support all season long, so our trip to Lake Geneva started with a day off of work on Friday, and a quick drive up I-94N to Hwy 50W.  We spent two night at the resort enjoying the amenities and taking advantage of the proximity to get a pre-ride in much earlier in the day than normal.  On Saturday I was done riding by 2PM whereas many WORS weekends we haven't even arrived at the venue until after 3PM.  The extra time to recover definitely seemed to help on Sunday.  Our room had a patio off the back, and so as it rained early on Saturday night we went and sat on the patio and enjoyed the sounds of guitar music wafting over from the bar.  It was very relaxing and tranquil looking over the lake with the lit fountain in the lake, and the sound of gentle rain washing over the world.  The rain clouds broke at 11PM and I couldn't help but sneak down by the water and capture some images from the wild.  

The proximity also helped on Sunday morning.  The resort offered a trolley service so guests could get around the resort.  We hatched a plan to use this to our advantage.  I woke up early on Sunday (at 6AM) and drove our minivan up to ski-lodge and got the best parking spot in the house.  It was literally the only car in the lot.  I then rode my bike back to our room, and found Morleigh waiting for me on the veranda.  We went to the resort's Cafe and enjoyed a nice buffet breakfast, and went back to bed for a little nap.  At 9AM we woke again, this time for real, and I packed up the remaining belongings into my Mission Workshop bag, and I rode my bike back up the road.  Morleigh took the shuttle to the ski lodge.  Of course in all of my planning for our long weekend, I forgot to pre-reg and had to borrow a check from Morleigh to pay for registration.  

From there it was a pretty normal race day.  I helped Morleigh get her spectating gear to the best spot in the house, the top of the ski hill, and she camped out up there all day with my parents.  I returned to the parking lot to get ready, but there wasn't much left to do.  The weather was cool enough that I was not planning on carrying a Camelpak, in fact I didn't even fill my nutrient bottles all the way.  I figured I would take half a bottle with nutrients to start, and then if I needed I would grab water from the aid station, and a second half-bottle of nutrients from my race-support on a latter lap.  I did put a tube and CO2 into my jersey pocket, just in case.  

For my pre-ride I headed back down the road leading to the resort, and got to do something I had never done before which was ride a bicycle down a runway.  The runway at the Resort was closed this year, and riders were streaming up and down both sides.  It was an "I wish I had my camera" moment, but I had not taken any photos that morning, as I was solely focused on getting myself ready to race. I had already cut it a little close before getting out to warm up.  By the time I made it back to the starting area I had time for one quick burn up the hill to get my legs ready, and then returned to the starting line to wait for my race to begin.  

I was relieved at the starting line when Don announced there would be only two laps.  I had spent the day before mentally girding myself for three laps and nine times up the hill, and I am not ashamed to admit I was happy that I did not have to face those demons.  The leaders of the age groups get their call-ups ahead of the leaders for the clydesdales, so a clydesdale call-up is almost always worth a spot on the second row.  Its a little bit of a guessing game as to which of the riders in the front is going to get a good shot off the line, or where the best place is to be to get an opportunity to squeeze out or around someone.  I lined up behind Todd because I knew he was generally one of the fastest in my wave, but it turned out to be a bit of a mistake because he was in the middle.  Starting on an edge opens up an opportunity to go out and around, but it I chanced the middle.  I kept reminding myself to stay calm.  It wasn't the first time up the hill that mattered, it was the third.  

I love that Don reminds us "to treat each other kind" before he screams "GOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!"

As the pack surged forward I found myself kind of trapped in the middle as we went up and over the first ridge.  As we hit the second and more significant slope, a break opened up and I pushed my way up to maintain contact with the leaders.  My girlfriend took these photos of the start of the first lap:

I was right where I wanted to be, and in pretty much the same position as I was in at Cam Rock, following Aaron and Todd up the hill (I pushed the pace to keep ahead of Marcus before we made the corner at the top).  Despite my attempts to not over do it on the first climb, the cool air was very hard on my throat and I was breathing heavy, panting as we made the 90 degree turn onto the level before the first descent.  At the top of the first hill I was third in my wave, but Aaron and Todd were already at the bottom of the hill again before I really started to descend.  Thankfully I'm very good at going downhills and was able to carry momentum around the corner, and caught up to both of them at the base of the second climb.

When we hit the second climb we were already running into stragglers from the prior wave.  I pushed it a little harder up the second climb to make certain to get clear of the riders from my wave, and to get around some riders from the next wave.  I was concerned about getting stuck behind slower riders on the downhill single track.  So I got into the clear at the top of the second hill and zoomed down the single track shoot again, and immediately went to work on the third climb.  I had not shaken the competition.  I could hear gears and pedals and heavy breathing right behind me, so I kept pushing it to the top.  We passed another bunch of riders from earlier waves before we hit the top of the third climb.  When we hit the single track at the top I needed to pause for a moment because my throat was raw.  Cycling competitively for the last few years has made me acutely aware of how much of a challenge it is for my body to transition from warm weather adaptation to cold.  My throat and lungs were rubbed raw from sucking in the relatively cool air.  But there was no time to rest.

Todd was right on my tail, and anxious to keep going.  In the first few sections of single track, when we would come up on slower riders I would pause behind them for a moment trying to catch enough of a breath to announce "leader of next wave" or "when you find a spot I'd like to pass", but before I could Todd would already have announced our presence.  It was then up to me to find a place to squeeze by.  On the "Son of a Butch" climb I finally asked him if he wanted to pass me, because I needed to catch my breath, but he said I was doing just fine so we continued on, riding behind some slower riders up the hill and down through the rockless garden (they took all the rocks out of the sport section this year) into "Heartbreak canyon".  We hit some double track and we were able to jump that group of riders before getting into the next section of single track which happened to be where I was stung by a bee and crashed the year before.  By the time we hit the next pile up of riders, the course opened into a long section of double track.  I stood up and hammered, and was so happy to have taken the week off because in doing so I found my high-gear again.  I passed another handful of riders from an earlier wave.  Todd stayed right with me.  The trails were in incredible condition.  They were damp but not muddy, tacky without being slippery, and compared to the dry dusty mess they could have been (i.e., think Subaru Cup)  it was really great conditions for a race.

We continued working together like this, me in front doing the pulling, and him on my wheel calling out our presence and helping to push me forward.  It felt like we were making really great time.  As we were approaching the end of the first lap, I started to hit my first wall.  Todd made a move to pass me when we hit the first climb of the second lap.

Todd made his move, and I got a really bad "side-stitch" (i.e., cramping in my abdomen).  This was of course not a good sign for me.  Todd also started to play good chess, putting slower riders between us, but the course was still open as I struggled up the second hill.  The side-stitch had abated by the time I reached to top of the third climb, and I had only lost a few spots.  Fortunately for me, the gentlemen between us were uber-courteous and made plenty of room for me to squeeze by.  I think I was on Todd's wheel again before the "Son of a Butch" climb or shortly there after.  I followed Todd's wheel for maybe half of the second lap or a little bit longer, and all along the way we found either open space to ride at our own speed, or courteous riders who made space for us to pass in the single track.  I was a little surprised at how much the some parts of the course had dried between our first lap and our second lap.  There were places where the color of the single track changed from dark moist chocolate brown to dry ash already.  In another few hours they might even start to get dusty and slippery again.  But that was someone else's worry.  My race was "almost" over.  As we were approaching the "Roller Coaster" I had a thought that I wanted to ride that section of trail at least one time without anyone in front of me.  I called out to Todd that I was ready to take the lead and surged by him as we were transition from double to single track.

My first thought was that I just wanted to take that descent as fast as I could knowing the uphill was steeper and longer and would absorb any extra speed.  I wanted the Roller Coaster all to myself.  After enjoying that little thrill ride, my second thought was of Alterra and how I caught up to Todd at the bottom of the hill and then watched him surge away from me up the hill while I bonked.  He had a great finishing kick, and I thought I had better open up some space between us in the single track.  It felt like when I was behind him that I could ride faster than him through the technical stuff, so I took off.  It took a while for a gap to open up, and I was once again aided by the kindness of my competitors who went out of their way to work with me on tight single track to allow me to sneak by them.  I'm sure they did the same for Todd, but it seemed like I never had to wait much for an opening, and there were not that many people in the single track.  For most of the second lap it was just Todd and I riding together at our own pace, and not being slowed down by anyone.

As the course opened up into the final double-track section leading to the finish I did not look back.  I stood up and hammered up the hill passing at least four riders who were huffing and puffing their way to the finish.  As I rolled down the hill and around the last corner towards the finish my speed hit 25mph and I crossed the line ahead of everyone from my wave.  I could tell from the running time which was at 1h11min that I had a phenomenal race.  It was the perfect icing on a great WORS season.

I knew from Excel work earlier in the week that I already clinched the Series lead and the title as the "Fastest fat-kid in the 3rd grade".  This was my 8th win in my category, and my overall time of 1:03:29.3 gave me the highest finish I have ever had in a WORS race which was 16th place in the Sport category, and for the first time I came in ahead of every other rider in my age category.  This means that I met all of my goals for my MTB season (Series championship, breaking into the top 20 of sport, qualifying for Nationals next year, and taking some incredible photographs). I hope my cross season goes half as well.

It took me a while to make it back up the hill to greet Morleigh and my family as I stopped and chatted with other riders I knew from Chicago about the races they had just had and the races they were about to have.

This season has been truly blessed and I am grateful for the hard work of WORS staffers and volunteers for making the races possible.  I would like to extend thanks to all the riders who start before and after I do in different category and the same.  You are an incredible bunch of people, gifted and beautiful, and it is the generous and kind spirit of WORS racers that keeps me coming back for more.  The vibe of road racing and crits in Chicago is uber-competitive and even a causal weeknight group road-ride here can get more tense than the most serious WORS race.  As I waited to step on the podium and watch the top 60+ riders accept their medals, I can only hope that I am fortunate enough to still be racing WORS in another 25 years.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

So it begins. xXx Relay Cross

The choice was pretty easy to make.  Drive to Green Bay and race in the lone "marathon-style" WORS race, or partner up with my friend Chernoh and take on Chicago at the first cross-race in the Midwest.  With my solid performance at the Subaru Cup, my goals for the WORS series which I committed to last winter were wrapped up.  The cost of driving to Northern WI week after week was taking it's toll, and I was very much looking forward to a nice little race against friends near home.

My friend Chernoh and I have been talking about racing relay cross together for since our first car-ride to a race together in 2010 (he was out of town for RCX last year), so I asked him to go with me to the dance and he said "Yes".  My girlfriend, always the best race support, offered to drive us both, so I put the trunk rack on the car Sunday AM and Chernoh met us at my place.  The morning was nice, but as I was putting on the trunk rack it started to sprinkle.  That sprinkle turned into a steady rain by the time we hit LSD and made our way to the south side.  Our fairly late arrival (we left my house at about 11:10AM) gave us a fortunate parking spot, right in the front row about as close as we could get to the starting area.  We carried our stuff over to the Sprocket's tent and set up camp.

The women were finishing up as we arrived, so it was a quick "drop everything and get a pre-ride in" as the rain fell steady on us.  The course was fairly short and compacted into a very small, unused corner of the park.  It seems our reputation as being "non-destructive" has been damaged with the Chicago Parks District, and we lost our more prime site from the last two years. 

The first pre-ride lap was uneventful.  I got a good sense of the layout of the course, and started to get my legs back under me.  They didn't feel great, like I had never really recovered from the week before.  I took it fairly easy, and tried to spend a little bit more time warming up, but there was still something amiss.

I came back to the tent, registered, and cheered at the Juniors who were starting their races.  The rain had really picked up by that point in time, and I did not feel like trying to dodge the raindrops with my camera equipment so I left my camera in the bag under my sprawled out poncho.

After the Junior's race we got back on the course and tested out the worsening conditions.  There were a number of significant holes in the course, one of which in the starting straightaway that took out a team-Pegasus rider on this prelap.  He was a bit ahead of me so all I saw was legs in the air as he tumbled across the grass, but he was okay and his bike was okay.

I didn't feel "warm" yet, so after watching the start of the Men's 4's race Chernoh and I tooled out of the parking lot and made a loop to the west, north, east, and south making it almost to the Museum of Science and Industry, and when we got back we decided to do it again.  Riding south on the woodchip path near the lake I turned on the gas a bit to try to wake up my heavy legs.  It worked somewhat and Chernoh and I headed back to the tent to finish preparations.

The rain was steady on now, but it was still very warm both the water and the air, so it was not unpleasant getting soaked.  We headed to the starting line, got our instructions, and waited for time to tick away.  It was, as in years past, a Le Mans start.  One partner would be sprinting across the starting line, around a tree and back into the transition zone where the second partner waited with the first partner's bike.  There were a couple of new Cat 3s, and juniors who got call-ups, including one of the fastest guys there, the 17yr old phenom David Lombardo.  There was some definite heckling and chattering about one of the fastest guys in the field getting a 10m head start.  I was happy that I had a spot on the front-row, where I could (hopefully) show off some of that residual explosive power I spent all those years building back in college.

The whistle blew, and we all surged forward.   My vision was narrowly focused on the the three or four guys who had a headstart, and I closed the distance before we hit the tree to turn around.  I followed exactly in the footsteps of the guy in red and white ahead of me who made a bee-line for the inside of the tree, and grabbed a handful of bark to help pivot around and then sprint forward again.  When we made it out of the transition area, there was only one person in front, the younger Lombardo.  I had a great start, which of course meant things could only get worse.

Memories from the first lap: I did not feel any pressure behind me until we hit the second corner, then I could see the entire field bearing down on me waiting for any mistake to swallow me up.  No pressure.  I remember that on one of the early corners that was somewhat of an "S" curve, with really sharp corners and I took a line through the first one, and John Gatto came up on my outside as I was exiting the apex wide toward the outside.  He leaned into my hip with his shoulder, but I was right on the edge of traction and could not change my line.  He tried to push me, but I was not moving.  He ended up bailing on the turn and busting through the tape off the course.  Undaunted he just kept riding and busted back in on the other side of the second corner.  Part of me was hoping that the tape wouldn't break and he would be slung backwards like a cartoon villain.  It did, he wasn't, and that was the last that I saw of John Gatto until the race was over.  Well, that's not entirely true.  I got to see him charge out of the transition area every lap as I waited for my partner to arrive. 

The second memorable part of the first lap was being accused of cutting the course by someone else on the race course.  On the far south end of the course there was a single barrier right before a sharp 180 degree off-camber corner.  The well worn line followed the inside edge of the hill on the outside of a bushy little tree.  However, the course designers did not wrap tape around the tree instead routing it to the inside of the corner meaning the tree was square in the course and it was an option to take an inside line.  That part of the course flattened out earlier, so I made a move on a tight inside line and was able to re-pass a rider who had just passed me.  It didn't last long and he accused me of cheating as he sped by me again on the straight-away but I retorted that I was squarely between the course tape, and he dropped the issue.  Okay, he may not have dropped the issue, but he dropped me.  I never saw him again either.

That was really the last memory I have from the first lap.  It may have had something to do with this. Or the part of this that shows my heart rate was was flat-lined between 93-96% of max for the first six minutes of the race (note that my HR monitor slipped down my chest in the rain and was not accurate for the rest of the race.  I did not fall off that much during any of my subsequent laps).  Morleigh told me on the way home that I had somehow managed to cling to a 5th spot during the first lap. I had lost track by that point in time. 

The second lap was uneventful, or at least nothing happened that was memorable.  Rain and wet grass.  The third lap was the lap that as I was coming back toward the transition area I saw my nemesis-for-a-race for the first time.  I was riding on the straight that was immediately inside the exit to the transition area parallel to the starting line and this man was coming out of the transition area. 

Newtron Cole was, for some strange reason, behind me.  My first thought was confusion.  There was something very wrong with the natural order of things.  I have an exercise ball in my cubical, he has a squat rack in his office.  My job is pushing number around, his job is pushing people to excel.  My thought was not one of survival, I knew that he would eat up the 200 or so yards between us most likely before the end of the lap.  My only thought was "make him earn it."  I wasn't giving up MY spot without a fight.  I stood up and started hammering again.  I just kept repeating those words ("make him earn it") over and over again as Newt swallowed the gap between us. 

I almost made it back to the transition area, but it was not to be.  Newt caught me just before the wide round off-camber 180 degree turn that lead into the final chicane before the home straight-away.  I stood up and hammered on the straight but he was into the pit well before me.  I tagged Chernoh and collapsed to one knee.  Newt was standing nearby with a smile on his face.  I knew it was all an act, he was hiding the serious hurt I put on him. 

After a few minutes I caught my breath, got up and got some water from Morleigh, grabbed my portable shower and I got the built up grass off of my brakes and out of my derailleur, and waited for Chernoh to come around again.  It didn't take long.  He was looking really strong as he was coming down the home straight away, and as he rounded the corner and came over the barrier I saw something that blew my mind.  Newt was still in the pit.  Chernoh had made up the place that I had lost, and as I was taking his handoff and leaving the pit, I left with this thought.

"Oh no...not again." 

I hammered out, but Newt's partner was right behind Chernoh, and before we hit the laser gates from Star-Wars, Newt was on me, and we were piled behind someone else who was a little bit slower than either of us on the sharp winding corners.  Unfortunately I couldn't get around him, and when we reached the end, I couldn't match either of them on the straight aways.  My high-end gear fell off, and I could not get up to speed.  I don't remember how many more spots I lost after that, or how many more I gained.  I was in a lot of pain and as the leaders hit their last lap right after I made it to the pit I found myself hoping that my partner got lapped and we finished the race one lap down instead of having to ride a sixth lap mostly alone.  I would have gone out for sure, but I had already ridden my half hour (34minutes total) and I was ready for the first cross-race of the season to be over. 

The leaders pulled a few hundred yards ahead of Chernoh, he was the fourth rider to finish the race, who was one lap behind.  We finished in 22nd place overall, the 20th and 21st Cat 3 riders across the line.  That was a big improvement for me from the last year, so I left happy with our race.  I didn't fall down, Chernoh's new tubulars performed well, and left we did.  We watched the start of the co-ed race, but as the rain was starting to fall harder we took advantage of the proximity to home, and headed back North. 

WORS #8: Postlude

After finishing my race, I started the slow transition between racer and photographer. It's not easy to think about taking pictures, or anything really, when the blood is deprived of oxygen and glycogen. So I made it back to our tent, sat down for a while, ate some food, and started to feel human again. The Cat 1 race started, and I had my camera out shooting some of my friends as they screamed by.

 I also washed off the dust and dirt off of myself, and off of my bike.

By the time I was really ready and able to shoot, the Cat 1 race was over, and the Pro women had started. 

I got some great photos of the pro women coming down through "Roots Rocks" (the section of single track immediately above the hill from our tent) including a series of photos of the series winner going up and over her handlebars on the first lap.

My girlfriend wanted to take the ski-lift up to the top at least once, so we did this during the women's race, and then worked our way back down.  Morleigh had a great time (my parents came up in the lift a few minutes after us) and she hung out with them while I ran back and forth across the slopes ambushing riders on various climbs and descents.  I learned a valuable lesson the previous year at the second cyclcross race.  If you stand next to another photographer while you take pictures, your pictures will indistinguishable from one another.  So I avoided the crowded places, and sought to find places where no one else would go.

I got more beat up and scratched up running through the woods taking photos than I did racing.

We made it back down by the time the women finished, and my parents were ready to leave.  I escorted them to the parking lot, and brought our van back to the top near our tent so it would be easier to break down.  Morleigh was pretty tired at that point, so she stayed in the tent while I went to shoot the start of the men's race.

Sam Schultz (Subaru Trek) scans the course ahead as he waits for the starter's pistol.

I got some great shots of the men racing, again focusing on the places that others were not going.  The one regret I have was never making it back over to Fern Gully as I think there were some amazing shots waiting to be captured.  But even before the men were done racing, I reached a point where I felt like I had captured enough images, and put my camera away so I could pack up the tent. 

I had more than 600+ shots to sort through and edit already, so my week ahead was going to be a full one.