Friday, December 19, 2008

Cyclocross Nationals part IIa: The Race Report (long)

Well first of all, thanks to everyone who has posted a comment, signed up to follow the blog or sent an email to say hi. For those of you out there with your own blogs, feel free to tack me onto your link list. And if I haven't already, let me know if you want me to do the same.

So to wrap up nationals:
Saturday was a race that was really easy for me to get motivated for. Over the course of the season doing UCI races, often against some or all of the best guys in the country, I am not realistically racing for the win most of the time. The Master's 30+ race at nationals is an opportunity for guys like me to race for a big win, and I had been looking forward to this race all season. I had a lot to prove to myself and, while the W wasn't looking too likely if AJM decided to race, (reality is reality) I was confident that I could podium, all other things being equal. In the end I didn't have the best legs, the hill was hard, I got schooled in the sprint, etc. but I told the rest of that story yesterday.

On Sunday, however, I started really feeling that it was the last race of the season and the temptation to spectate and just cheer for my friends actually started to loom pretty large. Not so much because I didn't want to race, --although the temperature did drop a dramatic 20+ degrees in a matter of minutes and the prospect of a windy race in the high 30's, following Saturday's mid October weather was a bit hard to take--but because I didn't want to feel superfluous.

I remember last year lining up way the hell in the back, something like 12th row and looking at the guy in jeans, and the Rolling Prime dude who had dollar bills pinned all over himself, and thinking that I wasn't really racing, I was more part of a circus.

/Begin Lengthy Philosophical Digression/
Yes I know there are 'cross nuts out there that really feel the costumes and shenanigans are more important than the competition, but I absolutely do not agree. I think 'cross should be fun, and I think that goofing it up is fine, particularly at local races. But I also think that part of the appeal of heckling, mocking competition, and not taking racing seriously, stems from a generalized, postmodern social apathy and post-Gen X ennui that dictates irony and sarcasm as the shibboleth of humor.

Or more simply, it takes a bit of sack to stand up and be counted, to pin a number on and give a damn, and to take seriously--and enjoy, yes enjoy the hell out of it--the business of finding out what you're made of on a given day. Isn't that why we race? Racing bikes is one of the only things I have ever experienced that genuinely stops time, and brings me face to face with the core of who I am and what I can do. I am a pretty lighthearted guy, I appreciate a good prank, and I can take the piss as well as anyone. But I'll be damned if I'm going to drive halfway across the country to act the fool in a national championship.

And understand, I'm not slagging anyone for experiencing racing the way they want to. But I have a 10 year old, and I notice things. It seems like it just isn't cool anymore, in mainstream American culture, to actually try hard. I see a level of pre-teen disaffection in my daughter's peer group that I find kind of sad. So many of our experiences of life are mediated, medicated, softened and made indirect, that I think there is real value in immersing yourself in The Genuine when you can find it. That's one of the things I love about cyclocross.
/End Lengthy Philosophical Digression/

So. Sunday, cold, sitting in the car with Justin laughing, 30 minutes before the race, finally getting psyched to race because, dammit, it's nationals. Watching Will Dugan win the D1 Collegiate race had been pretty inspiring--that boy can hurt when he wants to--and I had actually started to have some of those Great Moments In Sports kinds of feelings.

We stage, we line up, we false start (no it wasn't Myerson's fault) and we're off. And I'm moving up, and I feel pretty good, and my measly handful of UCI points got me a 6th row start, but I'm up with the third row guys 20 seconds into the race. Then the first crash happened, just traffic, someone rode across my front wheel, no big deal, lost a bunch of spots, up the hill, a guy goes weirdly wide, I'm in the tape, the hell with it, I ride it out, break the tape, a spectator says quietly, to himself "that's gonna hurt" I keep it under control and get away clean, leaving Mr. Wobbly Wide-line for good. Down the descent, through the first s-turn, almost t-bone a guy crashed in the middle of the track, next corner and someone else is down in front of me, I lost a lot of ground with my mishaps but now I'm picking up steam and picking off guys in clusters of 1's and 3's.

Eventually I put in as inspired a chase as I could muster and hitched onto a group containing Brandon Dwight, who had just impressively repeated as 35+ national champ, Adam Myerson, Justin Robinson, my good friend and race-dueling partner this season, Matt Kraus, who had been a strong 2nd behind Brandon in Saturday's 35+ race, and Spencer something from S&M racing out West. While farther down than I would have liked to be, realistically this was a good group for me, and those are all guys I respect and feel good about racing with. So I settled in for a lap, trying to recover. A lap later and a couple of guys were shelled, a bobble in the run/ride up buttonhook at the top of the course cost me a few seconds and I lost the group, which was basically how it ended. The S&M kid and I played touch and go for awhile until the last lap when I put in a few hard accelerations and he popped, and I came upon Adam, demotivated and soft-pedaling it in after his now much-publicized run in with Jon Baker. For all of that, I ended up, once again, rounding the last corner onto the pavement just a few feet off of Justin Robinson's back wheel. He got me again. Funny how in 'cross, as I said to him later, your guys are your guys and, most of the time, good start, bad start, call-up or not, you'll find your group by the end of the race. Sure there are exceptionally good and exceptionally bad days to be had, but the statistical consistency of cyclocross is pretty interesting.

So I landed 31st out of 76 finishers, 94 starters. I was one of 33 guys to finish on the lead lap of the race, and as Adam pointed out to me later, that puts me, I suppose, in the top half of elite riders in the country. The thing is, though, all I can see most of the time is how hard it seems, how unimaginable hard at times, to move up from top half, to top quarter, to top...where's my ceiling?

Well that's the thing isn't it? I keep racing because I haven't found my ceiling yet. And when I do, I hope and suspect that I will find new ways to make meaning from racing my bike. But man, running a 4 minute mile is infinitely harder than running a 4:30, right? And in rock climbing, Chris Sharma's new 5.15b route is exponentially more difficult than any 5.14d out there; and Ryan Trebon put 7+ minutes into me in that 60 minute race. That's humbling.

All things considered, I am happy with my season and my ride. My goals this season were to score UCI points, place top 10 in a New England Verge series race, and podium in the 30+ race at nationals. Two out of three, and missing the podium in a sprint feels pretty good for my second season of UCI elite racing.

Nationals part IIb will follow, including my eyewitness account of the now infamous hillbilly throwdown.

You just can't go getting a bunch of white people together, shit always jumps off...



  1. its so much easier not to try...its any easy excuse and defense. but as you say, its pretty lame. when you try and succeed, great. when you try and fail, even better. keep on writing, these posts are awesome.

  2. Periodic shenanigans are a great thing in cross. The occasional party race and accompanying crowd interaction is one of the funnest times you'll ever have racing a bike, and I'm not just saying that because I inadvertently hosted a party race last weekend.

    That having been said, people clowning around in the National Championships Elite Race are goddamn attention whores who shouldn't be allowed to even start.