Pulling out of the driveway for the 30 min journey into the hills for Sunday’s race the thermostat reads 36 degrees. For us coastal Californians, that equals cold. Like cancel-all-your-plans-because-nobody-can-survive-in-these-temps cold. We are well spoiled by our temperate climate. All I can think is that I am grateful for two things: 1) I have a hot cup of coffee 2) My Twin Six long sleeve thermal skin suit is newly arrived and about to be put to good use. By the time the race started the mercury had climbed to 45 making it a fairly pleasant morning to ride hard, and much more acceptable to my pampered constitution.
5 inches of rain earlier in the week provoked a last minute venue change from our local fairgrounds to a wildland fire training facility. Surf City CX pulled it off great, and we wound up with an absolutely magnificent course. Granted, I’m new to CX so my sample set is a little lean. And this was a very difficult course, really varied in terrain, obstacles, skills needed, etc… All in all, every ingredient for a great Sunday of spectacular bike racing. I arrived early, got signed in and kitted up, and then had a good 40 mins of warming up before going to the line. I had a goal of starting well this week and felt ready to put that to the test.
The whistle blows and I pull hard to stay with the top 5 guys. We make a sweeping left on gravel and head up towards a weird banked turn up and over a small hill. Everyone is lined up semi-half wheeled on each other and the 4th rider starts to run wide, so the guy I’m following too closely starts to run wide and then locks up his brakes as he’s drifting toward the barrier tape. I hit my brakes to keep from running him down, and 4-5 people go whisking past on the inside. I try to stay calm, get clipped back in, get up to speed and tuck back into the line around 10th or 12th position. We zig-zag through some trees, and dismount for a hairpin right directly into a short steep run up (my favorite!), and I pick two spots back up on the run.
There is a short bumpy straight followed by some technical turns, then a nice medium length pretty flat straight that you can get up to speed on. Then a fast sweeping left hander into a short steep hill you can ride with the right momentum. It’s also a spot that tripped a few people up and you could easily get caught behind someone if you followed to close. Then another short flat stretch into a couple of quick turns and then into a downhill section. The line-up stays the same through all this, nobody jostling for position and trying to pass, nice and orderly wheel following. The downhill through the woods is pretty fast on really tacky packed single track and it’s easy to let it fly. The difficult part is that the bottom of the downhill goes into a tight off-camber right hander in really soft loamy dirt and up an 80-ish yard hill that climbs 30 or so feet in the same soft loamy soil. If you don’t get your power going up the hill early its probably faster to dismount and run. I hear my wife somewhere in the woods around me yelling encouragement and I get excited to try to show off for her. I’m able to power hard and pass two people by taking a really poor line up the outside and just hammering it out.
You break back out of the woods and onto a dirt road briefly, then over a concrete pad, then a pretty nice false flat on a really good surface dirt road for a hundred yards or so. A couple of tight turns in really soft soil, and then a bumpy mown hayfield strip takes you to a frustratingly brief barrier section. Only two, one on each side of a 180 degree turn near the parking and start/finish area. Lots of people watching and lots of incentive to really get your knees up so you don’t rag doll in front of everyone. Then it’s another bumpy hayfield section, another pair of turns in soft soil, more potholed hayfield and then back through the start/finish line. I think I’m in 6th after the first lap and I’m feeling pretty good.
For most of lap 2 I can see a guy in a blue and lime-green kit maybe 5-10 seconds ahead of me, but I can’t seem to gain any ground on him. Going into the turn at the bottom of the downhill I can see that his wheel slides a little and he has to un-clip for a moment. I hammer hard up the hill and get within 15 yards of him. The effort takes a lot out of me and I’m thinking of pedaling soft and just trying to hold this distance when I see my dad right next to me and hear him yell “Get after it!”. So, I go a little deeper into pain and push hard to close the last 15 yards. Then, almost blown up, I ease up a little and just focus on staying on his wheel as my tunnel vision relaxes and I can try to control my breathing again. Coming into the finish stretch I hear that it’s two laps to go and I start to think of where my passing opportunity on blue/lime-green guy (We chatted a bit afterwards. His name is Todd, but at the time he was blue/lime-green guy so I’m sticking with that for the story) is going to be when one of my training partners materializes on one of the fences and yells “Let’s GO!”. I stand up, pedal hard, and take over 5th place with two laps to go.
We start passing people, but I don’t think they are from our group. I start trying to process how to pace myself for the next two laps as I’m starting to feel just a little rubbery. But, every time we get to a tight corner I can see that the blue/lime-green guy is right behind me so I can’t figure out a spot to recover. Somewhere on lap 3 I see someone stopped with a mechanical and notice he’s wearing a Twin Six jersey. Somehow I find the wind to yell out “Yeah Twin Six!” as I pass and then keep pushing hard. We are starting to lap some of the junior riders and, rather than get stuck behind them and let blue/lime-green guy get a rest behind me, I take some risks going off the single track and into really terrible surfaces to pass while keeping speed. I keep hoping like crazy he won’t follow and just settle in behind a lapped rider, but no such luck. Going through the barriers near the end of lap 3 he is right over my shoulder.
As we start lap 4 I start to lift the pace and try to find where my redline is, see if I’m able to handle it. We fly through the tree zig-zags, and going over the top of the run-up I’ve gained a couple of seconds. I attack the flat sections really hard and start to feel the oxygen depravation tunnel vision come on a little so I keep my pace right there. I go into the off-camber at the bottom of the downhill really hot and almost overshoot it through the barriers. I’m able to correct, and at the top of the hill I’m up to 5 or 6 seconds. I pedal hard, but just under my limit through the flats and down the bumpy section into the barriers, and I can see that I’ve kept the 5 seconds over blue/lime-green guy. I push myself back into the red through the final hayfield sections and go across the finish line with a comfortable gap.
5th Place on a really difficult and amazingly fun course. Good enough for the last spot on the podium and some free bars and stroopwaffles from Honey Stinger. I’m a sucker for stroopwaffles and receiving them gratis as a reward for racing hard is just so much fun. Thats a damn good Sunday. I’m starting to feel comfortable racing ‘cross, and I’m getting more confident pushing my bike and myself through corners at speed. It’s coming together and it feels so great.
Right after the race, while riding on the entrance road trying to cool down and catch my breath, I see the other Twin Six jersey guy again. We take a photo, because it needs to be memorialized when we kindred spirits of impeccable looking bike kit meet, and trade small talk, and I was still so blown from the race that I don’t remember his name. Cheers Twin Six Speedy Bike Club jersey guy! Whoever you are. 🙂