The Lovely Annalisa wasn’t feeling up to making this trip, but I am extremely lucky to have my best bud and Stampede! teammate Chris with me, even though he doesn’t have a bike to race yet. SO LUCKY.
Again, since I am new to this I don’t have any points to my name and have to start according to registration number. I registered late-ish, 106th out of a full field of 115 riders. So that’s where I am starting, in the next to last row. The guys around me are looking at their numbers and saying “why are our numbers 600 numbers and everyone in front of us has 100 numbers?” It is because we’re last dudes. Totally at the back.
The start is uphill on grass and very slow because THERE ARE SO MANY BODIES AND BIKES in front of me. We don’t even move for several moments after the whistle and once we do, I’m just as boxed in as boxed in can be.
As we reach “St. Luke’s Staircase”, the course’s signature uphill feature, I am finding some racing room. But then people start looking like squid on bikes and suddenly there are several of them tangled together on the ground in front of me. Cool!
I jump off the bike as I approach the corner with the cluster of cycling cephalopods, leap over a wheel, a handlebar, a tentacle, and then back onto the bike with some clear course ahead of me. That’s the easy way!
Now, this St. Luke’s Staircase thing isn’t actually very steep until the very last part. But it is turny. Way way turny. So there’s no time to really shift up or sprint between turns, but it seems like people are trying to play muscle car here anyway. They go hard, then turn slow, then go hard, then turn slow. I on the other had, play the sports car role (naturally), turning in from way out wide, hitting my apex, and tracking all the way out to the tape. This means I keep my momentum and never shift out of gear or use the brakes. It feels like a smooth controlled effort and my Lotus is picking off Mustangs and Camaros every few turns or so. Approaching the final “step” most of the guys around me are getting off and running the hill. The dude behind me yells “Ride it ride it ride it ride it!”, as if I was planning on swimming? Of course I’m riding it! More squid in the frying pan!
Now we’re going downhill, but turny turny turny, and TIGHT. There’s one turn around a tree where there are a couple of bare roots right in the middle, and the guy in front of me goes sliding, catches it, and then rides right through the tape. Calamari!
The fastest part of the course is actually an off-camber sweeping turn, one of the few sweepers, and I pedal hard and ride the high line to catch the next group of racers. At this point I’m zoning out. I’m riding carefully, ever mindful of my tires and the possibility of getting a flat. I actually go slower in some spots than I would normally, because I’m afraid of putting too much weight on the tires. I’m starting to ride scared and seem to be in a bit of a rut. I screw up the dismount for the barriers. Twice.
It is lap 2 now, I think, and I am getting a stomach cramp. I’m somewhere in the middle of 100+ riders and I really don’t know where I am placed at the moment. I am catching the guy in front of me, but not very quickly. He makes a couple of mistakes in the corners and I get by, but he just stomps on the pedals and passes me back. We do this three or four more times but I just don’t have the energy to make the move stick. Ugh. No power!
In the section that transitions to the back loop there’s a slightly uphill but still fast-ish straight that ends with a loose gravel turn. I’ve witnessed others crash here today, but think I can take it faster because it has a positive camber exit. I muster all the energy I’ve got and power past on the sketchy straight, which surprises him (and me!) and then haul on the binders for the turn. From behind me I hear yelling “hold the turn hold it hold it!” as both of my tires are sliding and the gravel is flying and in my mind’s eye it looks like I am moto-crossing the corner… With panache! Two turns later I hazard a look behind me and there’s no one!
Oh, and the cramp is magically gone too.
The rest of the race is sorta basic agony. I’m still trying to ride within myself so that I don’t make any of the mistakes I’m seeing others around me make. I keep just within the tape, maintain momentum as best I know how, and finish the final lap almost without noticing it. In fact, I’m not even sure the race is over! There is no one with a checkered flag, no bell, no clock ticking down, so how can I be sure? I keep riding, just in case, and see Chris walking my pit-bike across the course.
I ride up to him and ask “Am I done?”
Chris says “DF.”
I did finish actually, 33rd out of the 115 starters and 89 finishers. I surely don’t remember passing 73 other riders but I guess I must have. I am basically OK with that. I always want WIN but realistically this was about all I could expect from a back-row start in the first cyclocross race I’ve actually completed.