The fun part about racing in an “elite” race is the people who are there to watch. If you’re warming up or walking around in kit just before the race, random strangers smile & wish you good luck. It’s pretty cool, and I needed all the luck I could get.
Unlike crit racing where you have a “race to the race” in order to jockey for front line position, cross racing is staged. Since I was added to the roster on Saturday rather than pre-registered, I was staged last. Not really a great place to start a cyclocross race- especially one with an early mud pit where less confident riders were sure to take spills and cause traffic jams.
When the whistle blew, I started well and moved up into the back of the heard. However, after we rounded the first two corners and dove into the mud, I was momentarily overwhelmed… first off, the crowd was huge (ok, maybe 40-50 people huge) at that point. The sound of yelling and cowbells combined with a solid wall of spectators on both sides of the course overwhelmed/distracted me for a fraction of a second. At the same time, the woman next to me lost control of her bike and fell on me, forcing me to put a foot down as I exited the mud. Rounding the next corner, someone else shouldered me out to get a better line through the turn.
CRAP! I’d forgotten just how physical an elite race can get- the big-money crits are the same way- ladies won’t hesitate to throw an elbow/shoulder/knee your way in order to gain position. I had to snap myself out of the surprise and remind myself that I could throw elbows with the best of them. However, by that time, I’d fallen back to nearly last place going over the first set of barriers.
For the next 40 minutes, I rode to the point of stupor. I chased and passed and, at some points, had no idea where I was on course or how many laps were left. It was the most wonderful pain that only cyclocross racing can give… where you’re fighting and riding until your eyes almost bleed just to go from 21st to 20th.
Something I’ve noticed ever since leaving the Metro Volkswagen cycling team is that whenever I’m struggling or riding at my limit and it’s just not fast enough is that I can hear my former team manager (Nathan Rogut) screaming at me in my head. Somehow his breath traveled through the race radio and implanted itself in my brain tissue like some sort of symbiote… or is is a parasite? Hmmm…
“Don’t you dare f***ing stop pedaling!!!!!”
“GET THE F*** UP THERE AND CATCH HER!”
Yeah. I want to dig it out with an icepick sometimes.
So, I finished 20th out of 32 starters. Not bad for my first UCI cyclocross race, but with plenty of room for improvement. I think that starting a few rows up and not getting distracted during the first two minutes of the race might have gained a place or two for me, but I mostly need to work on just getting faster. Hopefully I can find a few photos from the weekend.
I’m looking forward to some more racing next weekend… hopefully some good competition will show up this time so I don’t have to race by myself.