As I lace up my shoes the camphor and menthol fumes billowing off my legs are fiercely watering my eyes. The 42 degrees isn’t that bad, but the 10-15 mph wind gusts do a great job of cutting through the layers I have on. I’m grateful for the protective power of a thin layer of paraffin petrolatum on exposed skin.
Two things happen in this race that made my ego proud and my joy soar. All in due time.
I got warmed up and settled into my usual laps of course recon. Overall the course wasn’t too technical, and seemed like it would be very very fast. The major difficulty point looked to be a section through the woods that was a meandering downhill-ish course (most of which we rode up in CX2) into a set of two barriers at the bottom of the hill. This was followed by a 70-80 yard gradual uphill into another two barriers, set super high, at the top of the hill. The first one was nearly knee high on me, and at 6’2″ my knees are quite high. I like that Surf City sets their barriers in a way to really discourage trying to bunny hop. On both practice laps I remounted after the first set and rode up the incline to the second set. With the incline the remount was definitely wobbly and it was difficult to hold a line and get back up to speed. Several of us congregated to discuss the mysteries and meanings of life: would it be faster to just run that section instead of remount? Or would running the barriers at race speed give you the momentum to remount up the incline? Experience, as they say, is a great teacher and we were all about to get a thorough lesson.
The groups were lined up like usual, but then we had a ten minute or so delay on the start. I think there were some issues getting all the registrations in order so that timing could be done properly. I’m pretty sure the delay cost us a lap of racing because it ended up being a bit short. Such is the life of someone racing in the first race of the day. The juniors were sent out first, followed 30 seconds later by the open class, and then 30 seconds later our 35+ whistle was blown and we were hammering out of the gate.
The start section was just slightly uphill on a stretch of bumpy open field and you could hear a lot of missed clips and frustration in getting started. I decided to not set my second clip and just mashed the pedals into the first sweeping right hander and was somewhere around 5th coming out of the first turn. Got the second foot clipped in and it was full blast downhill into the first tricky turn of the course. A hairpin 180 left, sort of downhill away from the apex in loose loamy freshly dug soil. The back end of the open group was still negotiating the inside line as we barreled towards them. The first couple riders in my group went for a non-existent outside line and, while it wasn’t a good line and burned some energy early, we passed up the riders from the earlier group while mostly staying on the bike. A short punchy little upslope led into a few swoopy turns and then into a really fast mostly flat section around the outside of the course.
Being that it was the first lap and everyone was excited and energetic, the top 8 or 10 riders were shoulder to shoulder heading into a set of fast sweeping lefts. I’m still not super comfortable banging elbows at high speed so I coasted for a second or two to get a bike length back from the group. Despite some really dicey looking bumping and jostling, everyone stays upright around the corners and we are flying. After a couple of zig zagging 90 degree corners that get the speeds down we head into the woods and towards the big challenge of the day. The section before the barriers is pretty loose and proves to be a good selection point as several people are unclipping as the soil gives way beneath them. I unclip and jump the first set of barriers and the view in front of me looks like chaos. Multiple people at near standstill trying to get clipped in on the incline. I set my bike down and keep running and pass two or three people who are slowly wobbling up the hill trying to get clipped. I settle into a good pace behind someone riding up the hill, and can mostly keep on their wheel. The run is tough, but doable, and we are over the second set of barriers.
I remount and it’s another really fast slightly up and downhill section with sweeping turns through some trees. A sharp nearly 180 left goes up a short punchy hill. Then it’s a flat section, a tricky little left into and out of a ditch, and then a flat high speed blast back towards the parking area. Then it’s onto a bumpy hayfield that we rode in CX2, going the opposite direction today, and it’s impossible to get a good rhythm going so I’m just mashing the pedals and trying to stay on the wheel of the rider in front of me. We go into some tricky cornering sections through oaks trees on really loose soil and then it’s back onto the bumpy open field for some spine hammering. One fast straight, a sweeping right on loose gravel, and then it’s up through the start/finish area and around the course again.
The field is getting a little stretched out and we have so many mixes of groups that it’s hard to tell what place I’m in. Heading into the beginning bumpy field section I know the rider in front of me is from my group (we had lined up next to each other, and I recognize him from previous races) and I’m feeling pretty good so I wind up my legs and try to blow past him at a speed that I hope is high enough that he won’t try to follow me, like I’ve been doing to him for the past half lap. This will lead to Ego moment #2 but I won’t know that until after the race. After the really fast outside section we head back into the barriers and again I run the whole thing and again I pass a person or two struggling to get going up the hill. I have no idea if they are from my group or not, but it always gives a little phycological boost to be passing someone. I can see another rider that I know is from my group about 20 seconds ahead of me so it becomes my new goal to bridge that gap…
…which is a goal that I don’t quite realize. But first, ego moment #1. Crossing the start line for lap 3 I hear them announce my name, say I’m in 5th place, and then the announcer comments that the jersey I’m wearing looks freaking awesome. Being proud of my team kit already I am very pumped to hear that others find it as fetching as I do so I throw the announce table the metal sign and pick up my pace a little. Our little duo is passing slower riders from the earlier groups but our running order stays pretty much the same this lap. While going up the barrier hill, which I run for a third time, I am able to gain another 5-10 seconds on the guy I’m chasing by not getting on and off the bike, but we seem pretty evenly matched on the other sections and I can’t quite get any closer. Going into the last section through the bumpy open field, a guy on a mountain bike passes both of us and I am briefly deeply envious of front suspension and large width tires. We are all pulling hard for the finish and are within 2 seconds of each other on the line.
As we slow and regroup, the guy I’ve been trying to catch all lap looks back at me and says “dude, good race! I think we are 4th and 5th again, just like last month.” Which turns out to be one spot off as we are 5th and 6th. Somehow there was a rider we lost track of. As we are chatting, the guy I passed at the start of lap two rolls over, we high five, and he looks at me and says “that was unbelievable how fast you passed me, I felt like I was standing still”. That’s ego moment #2. I’ve been training really hard for this so its nice to hear that my riding is appreciated and respected by others out doing the same thing. We all literally and figuratively slap each other on the backs and then wander off to do recovery spins on our own.
An hour of so later I’m chatting with a couple of my CX mentors, who are racing later, and semi-ignoring the podium presentations, other than clapping as names get announced, when I’m surprised to hear “4th overall riding for Twin Six, Brad Cramer!” I’m stunned. Apparently consistency pays off because I’m 4th overall in the Surf City CX series! No flats, no mechanicals, never blew up and had to soft pedal in on fumes, and despite never finishing higher than 5th, I also never finished lower than 7th, and some other folks had one of the races go really poorly. So, 4th overall and only 1 point behind 3rd place (the guy who finished one spot ahead of me the last two races, his name is Josh I find out later, super good dude). Not too shabby for my first full series of racing, and I’m riding a 25lb bike not exactly designed for CX racing. I’m very glad I decided to just race what I have, because now that I’ve tested myself out in a few races I think I have an idea of the type of race bike I might want…
‘Til next time!