Well it’s been a while. School/work was super busy this summer with conferences, time consuming experiments, working on up and coming publications, and taking my comprehensive exams. I basically was off even commuting by bike for about 7 weeks. I gained some weight, and as I found out this past weekend, I lost quite a bit of fitness over the summer months.
Friday night I went and saw Travis Book and his band (The Infamous Stringdusters) play a killer show and the Rhythm and Roots festival in Bristol and hung out a bit after, which put me home quite late. The first day of racing was a good learning experience, and was the first time I tried to elevate my heart rate since one of the Knoxicross race in February earlier this year. I started the day dehydrated and tired. At 90 degrees I was in a water deficit for the entirety of the day.
The start was gradual…for the first 30 feet and I felt good, then someone up front decided to rev the field’s collective motor and I was instantly deep in the pain locker. The CX1/2 race basically left me in the dust after about 100 yards and as I suffered and watched, I remembered these guys had been training and were always much faster than me, however at the close of last season I could usually hang with them for at least ¾ of the first lap. I figured there’s still more honor finishing the back of the 1/2 field than doing well in the CX 3’s, which I don’t think in my dismal shape I could even do now. Shaggy got me about halfway through the race in the face with a good beer spray and this combined with an already increasing feeling of nausea I was having was enough to make me throw up on the back half of the course. The laps following this were actually my best of the day I think. Stephen Basset had a great start to the CX1/2 season riding a solid performance in the upper part of the pack for a good part of the day. Alex Dayton got a flat somewhere around halfway through he race and after I passed him, we played cat and mouse the rest of the race, with me trying my hardest to maintain the gap and him closing ever so slowly until the end of the race, with me barely holding him off.
The single speed race started what felt like a slow pace as well and feeling a burst of energy I shot off the front of the field on lap one with an attack that put a good gap on the group. This lasted for about 20 seconds until they promptly reeled me in and the rest of the race I was giving everything I had to stay mid pack. There was a painful amount of climbing, for which I was over geared, and as I cranked away like Conan the Barbarian pushing a large wheel, people danced by me with more appropriate gearing. Stupid me, in my pre-riding the course I forgot that legs after an hour of hard racing just don’t push gears with the same tenacity of a fresh test lap. I somehow clawed my way back up to 4th on the day, minutes behind the top riders. I was satisfied I hadn’t given up and quit however. After the races Saturday I definitely questioned my “enjoyment of cross” and thought about hanging up the CX bikes and buying a floating fishing chair and beer instead. My skin was dry, hot, and I felt like I was getting mild heat exhaustion. I also didn’t pee until 11PM that night further confirming the level of dehydration, which I stupidly allowed myself to get into.
With Saturday’s performances I decided to pony up and double up again. If I wasn’t going to do well, I was at least going to die trying and attempt to work my way back into cross shape or at least tolerance of anaerobic fat man efforts. The CX1/2 field once again left me however this time I managed to stay with them a full 500 yards, which made me feel...less inadequate. At least at this rate in 5 years I might be able to keep up for a lap. As the race wore on I started to get my rhythm back, breathing under control, and people started dropping that tried to hang with the big boys up front. I ended up passing 2 people on the day, and even though I was way in the back still, it made me feel a lot better about the race aside from the obvious obligatory suffering.
The SS race started off faster than Saturday’s and I immediately slid into 6th position. There were some fresh legs in the group from guys who had rests between races earlier in the day, and rather than try stupid attacks on my own I followed for a majority of the race. The group eventually whittled down to Scott Smith (TVB), Mike Seek (MSG/TCRC team), Kona Guy in black (Pirate team?), and me struggling to stay on the back of those three. Kona guy, who had dominated the day before in commanding fashion, launched many attacks through the whole event spending the majority of the race on or off the front.
Kona guy and Mike took turns viciously attacking but nothing stuck, as the four of us seemed more or less evenly matched. I was suffering lots, but tried not to show it. There was lots of shoulder and bar bumping and the race was very physical from the get go. The TVB cheering section was once again wild with excitement, as Knoxville had good representation in the top of the field. On lap 1 Phil Burgess got me pretty good with a beer spray in my left ear on a slow uphill U turn, which made the cheer section sound like they were under water the following lap, and made me most of all want to quit for said beverage. However, their tenacity and volume added greatly to the excitement of the race and I decided the faster I got done the faster I would get that which I desired.
Mike Seek leads the Steep U-turn. I try to hang on in back.
While the race was only 4 laps, it seemed like an eternity and I can play all the minute highlights back in my head. This was by far one of the most exciting SS races I’ve ever had the opportunity to do. The course was dialed in at this point and some areas were beginning to get really loose on the corner drift. My slick/low profile tread tire choice on the day was beginning to look like a bad idea, but things were reasonably predictable.
On the second lap I had slotted myself in 2nd behind Kona guy with Mike and Scott both hot on my heels. Coming into a series of sharp 90 degree S turns I stupidly tagged my inside peddle and went down, slowing up Mike and Scott quite a bit. Sometimes when you’re pushed to the edge the anaerobic juices get to your head I think. Kona guy took advantage of the situation and attacked gapping us all. The three of us with Mike leading gave chase, and by the close of the second lap, we had closed the gap and were back together.
Kona Guy trying the patented Contador "I didn't know he fell" attack.
Scott and I didn’t really throw in the attacks as much as Kona guy and Mike. I think at the end of the day this may have helped us stay with them. On lap 3 I was back with Mike trailing Scott and Kona guy, who were still leading by about 20/30 feet. I saw when we came to the barriers Kona guy was a bit slower than Scoot and me and took note. After the barriers there was a series of about 5 s turns, before a long finish stretch and I knew whoever had the best position off these, would have the best chance at the end of the race if it came to a sprint to make the line first.
As we came through for the 4th and final bell lap, Kona guy and Scott put in a nasty dig that gapped Mike and myself by a good bit. At the backside of the course on the top of the 90 feet of climbing the course had, they had an appreciable 3-4 seconds on me and what looked like an uncloseable gap descending down the hillside. I had managed to get a little room between Mike and myself at this point, however this was not helping, as I was all alone with empty space in front of my noodle legs. I took a lot more risk on the final descent before a loose corner near the pits and pulled about half of it back. From here the course had one more super fast descent, a 90 degree right hander, and then began a straight drag into the barriers at high speed before dumping into the final tight S turns. As we rounded the final 90 I was just about to sit up and feel very satisfied with my 3rd placement on the day and decided to say screw it and drill whatever I had left out of my legs. I decided I could always take the bus to work come Monday if I couldn’t walk and I didn’t want to have an ounce left in my body when I was done for the weekend.
As Kona guy came into the final barriers it looked like he checked up a bit to make sure he had a clean dismount. Scott was trailing right behind him on the left. I went right and dismounted way too fast for comfort and almost closed my eyes as I dismounted and jumped for my life. I cut in sharp off the last barrier to the ensuing left hander that led into the S turns and my rear wheel grazed the front of Kona guy’s witha satisfying "brrrap!". At this point I was pegged and had nothing left. I concentrated on clean technical riding through the turns and came off the final turn right in front of Kona guy for the sprint. I put my head down and gave it all. With him breathing down my neck and gaining, it was a very close and welcomed win. I think another 30 feet and he would have had me. I was hoping to have pulled Scott with me through the barriers, but he was just right behind Kona guy at the finish I think. At the close of last season I was in much better shape. This race win was not because I was the fastest or strongest rider in the field. I had played my cards just right and caught a lucky break, which is generally rare. Often guys ride off the front at the end of a race and you don't see them again until they hand you a beer at the finish.
It definitely feels good when a race plan formulated mid race in your head comes to fruition in such a fashion. I couldn’t think of a more exciting end to a race and start the 2010 CX season. Had my attack failed, it would have been just as exciting knowing the race came down to the wire. I know there are much stronger competitors in up and coming races in addition to these guys again, so this season I will have to approach the SS classes with a little more strategy and a little less leg. TVB has a strong CX team, so I’m hoping we can work together to collectively distance the Knoxville SS scene from the rest of the field. It was a good close to a rough weekend and wake up call for my fitness. I also found the uncomfortable truth that wearing the TBRA jersey from last year’s point series makes you a target, which adds to the excitement and level of competition around you. Here’s hoping for a good competitive race season.
Thank you Shaggy!!