Saturday morning, I woke up—an hour late—feeling like my stomach was full of lava. Or magma. Or maybe just hot pumice. Not making excuses for my poor result in the race, just trying to set up a video.
One of the guys I work had some Naga jolokia, also known as ghost chilis. They are the spiciest chilis in the world—401.5 times hotter than tabasco sauce (not a misprint—four hundred one point five times). Or roughly half as hot as Mad Alchemy medium cold weather embrocation. In conjunction with our Halloween chili cookoff at work, this colleague brought some of these chilis in case anyone was game to eat one straight up.
After coaxing some people to open their wallets ever so slightly (they’re nowhere near as generous as the guys at Adobe, but this was also nowhere near as hard as downing two 10-patty cheeseburgers and a gallon of milk), two of us each ate one. Here’s the footage.
As a result, I had a bit of indigestion. Going to a Halloween party Friday night and chasing it with party food and drink and then dancing with the wife (in my Paul Stanley platform boots) for several hours probably didn’t help. But it was all fun. And fun is what cross racing is about, even if I never really felt good racing.
Then again, I never feel good while I’m racing. I hate cyclocross racing while I’m actually racing. But the rest of the time I love it. The course at Wheeler Farm was awesome, too. If by awesome, you mean “insanely hard with no place to recover.”
Speaking of places to recover, during the B race on Sunday, I had just drilled it through the tight, twisty trail trying to bridge up to the leaders. When we got onto the wide open dirt road, a fine young gentleman in UVU kit who’s drafting behind me starts yelling at me to go faster. Seriously? WTF? Yell at me if you want to pass, yell at me for not pulling through. But when you’re sucking my wheel, don’t yell at me to go faster—come to the front and take a pull. He’s very lucky I’m not the kind of racer to close the door on him coming around a corner and put him in the trees.
That effort chasing the leaders was all for naught, unfortunately. Steve and I were together and in pretty good position coming around a 180 off camber turn. Steve was looking to take a pull on the front, so I went wide to let him through then turned the wheel sharp to get back on line. I should have used a lot more finesse because I rolled my tire. It was my second race of the day and third of the weekend, so I thought real hard about abandoning. But I couldn’t bring myself to quit. I ran back to the pit and got another wheel. Then proceeded to flatten it in almost the same spot two laps later. I ran back and got a neutral spare. It was a file tread. On a muddy course. Not the best combination.
Not that it would have mattered. Steve and I working together with no flats would have never caught Nate Drozd (Salt Cycling) who won convincingly. The announcers said that the lap times for the top five B racers would have put them in the middle of the A field. This was Nate’s third win in five races, and it wasn’t even close. He’s finished second a couple other times, never worse than that. Perhaps he’s in the wrong category?
In the 35B field, it’s even worse. As we approached the barriers on the first lap Sunday morning, Art O’Connor said from the announcer’s booth “this does not look like the front of a B race.” Denny Kalar (Cole Sport) has won three times and finished on the podium two more. John Uibel (3B Yoga-Parks) has lined up for three races. He’s won two and finished second in the third. Travis Mickelson (Contender) has won one and finished on the podium four other times, which wouldn’t be so bad, except that he was top 5 for the season in 35B last year. Kevin Gardner and Cortlan Brown are similarly dominating the C flight.
I get that winning is fun. I love to win. You owe it to yourself to race to win (even if you have no chance of crossing the line first) every time you put on a number. But if you’re racing for nothing more than a number, what are you going to do when the inevitable happens and someone faster comes along? You owe it to yourself to truly compete. And since we’re not sanctioned and people don’t face mandatory upgrades after two wins like they would in a sanctioned race, it’s up to racers to self-select (and up to fellow competitors and organizers to apply pressure if they don’t, natch).
Sure, this is coming off as sour grapes. I’ll freely admit there’s an element of that. I expected at the start of the season to race a few B races just to get the hang of cross and then move up to A. I was self-conscious about racing B at all and told myself as soon as I won a race, I was moving up. It’s a short season, so it’s not very sporting to drag your feet about moving up. Obviously I vastly overestimated my own abilities, but perhaps I underestimated the propensity for sandbagging as well.
If you haven’t moved up but should, what are you afraid of? AnneMarie White won the first two races in Women C, moved up to B, and was on the podium within a couple weeks. Tim Az (Church of the Big Ring) and Peter Archambault (RMCC) duked it out for supremacy in the 35B field last year (until Peter moved to A, that is). This year, Tim has been on the podium in 35A, while Peter has been throwing down in the elite field and finishing top 10. Cody Haroldson never finished better than sixth racing B last year and is racing elite this year. Talk about sacking up.
In road racing, I moved from four to three this year right before the state championship races. I failed miserably in the state crit championship where I thought I could win as a four, but I applied what I learned to come within half a wheel of the state road race podium. Next year, I’ll enter those races in the Pro/1/2 field. I raced with the elites in the Raleigh cross series, even though I finished DFL.
My hat is off to guys like Todd Neumarker (Biker’s Edge), who had never raced cross before this season, and lined up in the elite race his very first time. Todd is an outstanding bike racer and wanted a fair fight. Single speed is an open category, Rick is new to cross, but he’s still willing to throw down with the likes of Rico (Kuhl-Specialized), Matt Ohran (Cannondale), and Bo Pitkin (Church of the Big Ring), all guys who are experienced cross racers and make it the focus of their season.
Even my little JunkieBoy at age six, in his second cross race ever, wasn’t content to fill his bag with sand. He rides a 16 inch kids’ bike that weighs more than my cross bike. It has one gear and a coaster brake in the rear only. We lined up for the kids race, which is divided into A for older kids (two laps) and B for young ones (one lap). He was up front with the A kids, and I started moving us back but paused to ask him if he wanted to ride one lap or two. “Two,” he said. If he wasn’t last, he was close, but I don’t think any of the other six-year-olds did two (if they did, kudos to them, too).
Even in the elite category, where Bart has dominated nearly every week (rumor has it his bike handling skills were had by making a deal with the devil), he’s not content to just win. After Sunday’s race, he told me that this was the kind of course where he could have sat in and then made a late move. “But it doesn’t feel like a bike race if I don’t have to suffer.” So he went early and soloed to the win. Daren, who finally lost Sunday to John McCone (Cole Sport) in the open Masters 45 category, had shifted his focus from just racing to racing the first lap and a half as hard as possible, even if it means blowing up and losing, in order to better prepare himself for nationals. In both cases, even though they’re racing open categories, they’re taking risks rather than getting a win however they can.
As for me, well I’m in no way a dominant B flight racer, yet I still feel like I should be racing with the big boys. It’s just that if I should be in the A’s, so should a lot of other guys. I’m thinking about moving up even if it means getting lapped by Bart and half a dozen others. If I’m going to get my ass kicked anyway, I’d rather have it be by the best than by a JV superstar.