EMMAUS, PA – Sunday, December 14, 2014
The night before…
8 AM? Wait, I thought all MAC series events started at 9 in the morning? Damn, I have to get up EARLY tomorrow!
Chris and I decide to take the Suburban so that we can pre-pack it and save time in the morning. It isn’t as economical, or comfortable, or fast as my Viggen, but I don’t have to worry about the bikes being out in the open overnight. This is a good plan, except it is now late and Chris’s bikes are still at Chris’s house and Chris wants to go to bed. So do I. Screw it.
It is in the low 30s outside but nice and toasty inside the Suburban as we trundle on up I-476. We arrive at the site, fall out of the truck, and stretch.
Hmmm. I’m glancing around as we put air in our tires and this looks like an interesting course. There is definitely some elevation change and technical stuff. Chris points out a set of stairs that look like they go into a trail in the woods. After that, it is parts unknown.
The practice laps prove our suspicion. It is definitely technical. The trails cleared in the woods sections (there are several) are recent and raw, so the soil is soft and there are lots of bare roots. There’s a sizable high-stepping log-up that heads into a STEEP uphill trail. The hill is soft and already covered with shoe-prints that show how hard you have to kick into the soil to keep traction. I try to ride it, but my 38-28 isn’t low enough and/or my Michelin Mud2 tires aren’t aggressive enough. Time to shoulder the Salsa. It is a 100′ (according to the organizers) climb. How much is this going to hurt on lap 2, 3, or 4?
Elsewhere there’s the usual Pac-Man course taped off, but it does dive occasionally into the woods and under a pavilion with a paved floor, so there’s real variety. This looks like some kind of fun!
Cyclocross in the Cat4/5 race is a little different from the upper Cats. We line up according to when we registered rather than by our standing in the season points tally. Guess who was first to register for Limestone Cross at the Kiln? Yours truly! I’ve got bib number 501 and am awarded my first front row start for my obsessive checking of bikereg.com. Oh, and #502? On my right is the other half of Stampede South! Chris lines up next to me again and we look a resplendent pair in our arrows and polka dot kits and matchy orange Salsa La Cruz bikes.
On my left is Mr. Gormley, the runaway MAC series points leader who has already tied up the season. I suggest to him that he could just sit this one out. It would do him no harm.
We have an electronic starting system here and the green light means GO!
I don’t have my best click-in, but it wasn’t bad. I’m third leaving the pavement but move into second on the grass and then figure since I came this far, I might as well go for first and see how that feels. Boom. 1st place by the first turn!
I hold that spot for several turns but then one of my weaknesses starts to show… I jump off the line OK but my first lap is sorta slow. I’m guessing this is an issue with my warm-up routine. Whatever it is, I’m falling back rapidly. I see Mr. Gormley go by and say “Shaun! What took you so long?” I probably drop to 10th or so by mid-lap.
Chris and his SPDs had a disagreement at the start but isn’t far behind me.
I start to think we’re going to have a teammate battle but by lap two and my pace is starting to come back to me. I’m catching folks and feeling better. Then comes that damn hill. It was merely brain numbing agony on lap 1 but now, on lap 2, my vision narrows to a tiny muddy tunnel of pain. I just can’t force myself to run the whole hill. I have to walk the last 20 feet or so before the boulder scramble at the top and enter cyclo-zombie mode. Descending down the other side is fast but I am totally winded so I hang my head over the bars and pretend I’m getting “aero”.
I’ve recovered a bit on the flat and am eating up the grassy ground between me and the next guy. I think it is time to start really driving this course. I need to take advantage of some aggressive cornering tactics and close the gap. Here, this hairpin corner, I’m going to carve this sucke-WHOMP! I’m down! I’ve fallen! The crowd makes a loud “Ooohh” sound so I guess it looked a bit harsh. How embarrassing.
It didn’t hurt. Really it didn’t. I’m back up and riding but there’s a clod of turf in my pedal. That does NOT look pro. I have a bunch of work to do over again too.
I finally catch my target just before the pavilion and when we hit the pavement I sprint past, applying the “go hard where the going is easy” rule and skid around the corner onto the carpeted bridge over the creek.
More Pac-Man, another dude passed. I think I’m up to 5th now. Up the steps, into the woods, and I’m spat back out onto the grass on a fast off-camber descent to the high-step log-over.
I start running the hill. I’m running it all the way up in my head but in reality I’m walking, and not fast either. This is what’s referred to as a “plod”. I don’t even feel the bike on my shoulder, just the searing heat in my legs combined with a lightness in my head and a darkness behind my eyes.
Cresting the top, I wobble back onto the saddle and while searching for the pedals hear a tiny “pop”.
“Pop” is followed by a quiet “hiss-hiss-hiss”. I expletive at my front tire. The damn thing is deflating, needlessly donating precious Delaware air to the expansive Pennsylvania commonwealth. I take a risk and descend the hill at full chat, hoping the speed and extra centrifugal force will aid in getting sealant to the hole. I enter the woods and I think it worked. I can’t hear the “hiss-hiss-hiss” anymore as I dismount to run a small hill. I remount to ride down out of the woods and turn the wheel for the curve at the bottom when the front tire rolls over and makes that horrible flat tire “worble” sound!
There’s a gap in the fence. I’m going to fall right through it into the mechanics pits!
Instinct kicks in and my foot kicks out. I stay upright, riding right into the pits on a flat tire like a boss! Dropping the Salsa I grab the S-Works and jump into the B-Bike saddle when I hear a question yelled from behind me “Hey! What’s wrong with your bike?”
I yell “Flat front!” in the general direction of the voice and look around to see if I’m getting passed.
Yup. I lost a spot changing bikes and now two more guys go by me in tight formation. I can discern no reason for this. The S-Works doesn’t feel slow but I’m dropping through the field like a drone-copter blown through with buckshot!
My cloud does have a silver lining though… The much lower mountain gears allow me to clean the tricky spot after the pavilion without dismounting!
As I am approaching the pits on the other side of the course I see the SRAM neutral service mechanic standing there with the Salsa pointed at the exit. As I get close, I hear “501 your bike is fixed come and get it!”
I roll into the pits, smoothly dismount the S-Works letting it glide into the hands of someone I don’t know, grab the La Cruz, and jump back on in one totally pro bike exchange. Thanks Super SRAM Neutral Service Guy!
Now I’ve got a new SRAM front wheel (with noticeably more air pressure than I was running) and I’m totally happy to be back on the orange steed… Right up until that damn hill. OWWIE!
The grass in the tread of my shoes is reaching a ridiculous degree and when I look down it seems like I am pedaling Chia Pets instead of Pearl Izumis, but I feel like I owe it to the Super SRAM Neutral Service Guy to do something with this wheel he gave me. There’s still a lap and a half to go. I give myself a pep-talk and get on with the business.
Long story short, I catch some dudes, have a back and forth battle with them, make them suffer, and leave them. I finish 7th (out of 30) and as I coast and cool down someone on the sidelines says “Nice recovery” and a bunch of the guys I raced with ride alongside. We shake hands, bump fists, and breath heavily together.
Chris had his best race, finishing in the top 50% and riding himself right out of his leg warmers.
Hell of a job dude.
I take note that Mr. Gormley, newly crowned season champ, was among those who I passed late in the race. He claims he ate too much Turkey.
Watermarked photos are embedded via the code provided by Sergio Garabito Photography. Thank you!
Other photos you might be interested in are http://www.pbase.com/dens/limekiln_mac_014&page=all and http://www.leisterimages.com/Bicycle-Racing/2014-Racing-Season/Limestone-Cross-Dec142014/46372056_C7vSPd#!i=3763342965&k=9gCQbKr.