Not Going to Stop

Heart slamming in my chest, sight greyed out beyond 50ft with pin hole vision starting to creep in, legs and lungs were searing but now are silent – I think the nerves signaling pain overheated and had to shut down for a bit.   Pick myself up off the ground and start to run with my bike, ditch coming up,  jump the ditch, get back on my bike, pedal like heck,  dart around flailing guy in front of me as he slips off his pedal.  Look up to see next guy ~20ft ahead, head down and focus on getting more power out of legs that long ago realized complaining was fruitless, head up, hard corner to the left in soft dirt feeling the tires bite, start to slide, and bite again; put in more power.  Sand section – shift weight back and hit the gas; feel the tires hop up on the surface and whole bike accelerate.  Slight left hand turn on soft dirt off-camber section, ride lightly to not slip down into ditch.  Exit soft dirt with 90 degree turn and back to the sand drag strip – I swear I need a turbo or something to get more air in my lungs; hang a hard right and keep accelerating. Log barriers coming up, line up to the left where the logs are a bit lower. Bam!!, dust everywhere, bike tires in the air, legs above heads – crash!  Oh boy, I’m going way too fast and way too close; oooph, hit the dirt and see my bike careening off to the side.  Get legs back up under me and look for bike; crack – sproing, oh man someone just broke some spokes!  Find my bike………..  those were my spokes! barely done with the first lap and now my race is over?!!….

Yep, cyclocross season is here!

Backing up a bit to start closer to the beginning – I decided to start off my cyclocross racing season yesterday at the first of the Boulder CX series races.  I was pretty psyched all week for this race as it was at one of my favorite venues in Colorado, Xilinx!   This course has lots of possibilities for technical riding with a lot of single track, sand, off-camber, dirt, grass, ditches, logs , stairs, pavement, and if it’s snowing or raining some great mud!   Yesterday however was a dry sunny early fall day, luckily at the start of my race it was ~65F so it was comfortable without being too hot.

log barriers on warmup lap

For once I actually got in a good warm-up!  I found quite a few surprises on a warm-up lap as the promoter found some ditches and other areas that we hadn’t raced on before, providing numerous areas for miscalculations and crashes (or seen from the other view point, many areas to pass other riders that aren’t ready).  After previewing the course; I knew that I needed to be toward the front early in the race as the masses would get tied up behind crashes, causing some major splits in the group.  I was also given some tips by a teammate as to where some of the major log jams would be and some tactics to help out (thank you Blue Sky!).  Since I wasn’t likely to get a call up, this meant I needed to redline it with a full out sprint as much as possible from the start to get up the field.

At the lineup before the start, we all got a pleasant surprise in that most of those with a call up had upgraded (or not shown up) so instead of 7 -9 rows of racers called up, there are only 2.5 rows.  Those that helped setup were next and then we filled in by race number.  I lucked out and made it into row 4 of the start!  I lined up to the right as the start was an uphill section of pavement that made a sweeping turn to the right before heading into the woods (had to have good position before here).

As the whistle was blown, the guy in front of me barely went anywhere, so I was watching guy after guy going ahead on the left side, finally the road opened up and I took off with all I had.  Made it from ~40th position into ~20th by the  hop into the woods.  The curbing there had a section of sandbags allowing an easier transition over a curb, however that was clogged with racers, so I took a line to the right and bunny hopped the curb, gaining a few places.  Next was a short uphill of dirt to the left and then a right turn around a tree – the course narrowed a good bit here and three of us all locked shoulders to squeeze through, barely missing the tree; luckily no one panicked and we all stayed upright.  Then hammer down to move up some more through a slight depression and come to a hard right dirt corner that leads downhill around another tree with a barrier at the exit of the turn.  Lots of people were sketchy in their balance here and further down the hill;  so I picked my bike up and shouldered it over the barrier, keeping the bike on the shoulder all the way down the hill and around the next corner to the bridge (Thanks for the tip John!).  By doing that, I passed at least another 6 people.  As I went to get back on my bike, I was hit right as I commited for the remount causing me to hit the back of my seat and land on my tire; oh boy, not a good way to start the first lap!  As I extricated myself, I’m passed by at least 6 other racers, dangit!

Ok, time to gather myself and stay in the race.  As I got back on my bike there was a group of six of us all vying for a line through the trees in a nice s-turn single track section that barely fits two – I decided to let the guy right next to me go ahead and then followed his wheel, ensuring my position through the slot between two aspen trees.  The course then darted out of the trees with a hard left turn that required us to hug the last tree to hit a path of grass, or fly out on a concrete sidewalk and be forced to slow down.  As the turn exited, we were faced with an uphill climb of ~50ft that is ~8ft tall, then another left turn in loose dirt and then an uphill  right hand turn in the Aspens with a barrier in the middle of the climb requiring another carry of the bike.  Once we got over the barrier and toped the hill, there was a loose dirt ditch that the course went diagonally though; its rideable, but if you miss the line, then you are going down.  I chose to ride it and made the line, allowing me to pass some more.  I was starting to feel the effects of my effort here as the pain in my lungs and legs was starting to go numb.

The course made a slight right onto a ridgeline with course tape to the left and a soft dirt embankment to the right;  all of a sudden dust was everywhere and the people in front of me were stopping, so I decided to try my luck on the off camber embankment.  Turns out the side is too loose of dirt and I tumbled off my bike quickly, then barely scrambled back up to the course at the end of the ridgeline.   The course then exited the forested area with a slight left hander down a grassy, bumpy hill and onto a driveway.  Somehow after all this, I was still around the top 20!

Rather than providing a break, the driveway and following parking lot were really a drag race to go absolutely all out (like we haven’t been doing that already!) and get good position for the run onto a quasi grassy dirt lot .  The bumps here were of the magical variety – hit them with speed and you skip across the top of the bumps and are able to accelerate; hit them slowly and all of your speed is sucked out of you worse than hitting quicksand.  After the lot was a small bridge over a ditch and then a sweet downhill path of crushed red rock that flows back and forth beautifully;  this part rips!  On the exit of the path is dirt single track that flows nicely down a small hill and then across a rise and around a tree to the left (hug the tree tight as there is a concrete culvert if you swing wide), then a hard right and down into the sage grass. All of this section was a dream!  I had ridden this section many time before and knew it well, allowing me to rest a bit while sticking to the wheel of those working much harder in front of me.

The course then did a couple nearly 160degree turns in the field grass with an exit across a ditch, another great place to gain position as one line was very ride-able and that line was open for me! After a couple more corners we hit a double ditch section that was evil – fast run up then corner to the right to a ditch that looks ride able, but rarely was for me and then a second ditch that could swallow an entire bike; I chose the conservative way and ran both of them.  Then there was a hill in about 20feet, so you had to get on the bike quickly, power up the hill, down to the left and then come to the double ditches again.  For some reason I tried to ride the first one and superman’d over the handlebars – huh, didn’t really feel the impact; gotta love hypoxia!  As I got back up and grab my bike – that’s where I was at the point of the intro to this post..

….circling back to where we left off..

Dangit – I have a wheel that is non-ride able, a mouth full of dirt, my eyes are still crossed from the effort (which way does the course go again?) and I’m about three quarters a mile of a soft dirt and heavily weeded  course from the pit where my spare wheel is. No chance of wining for sure, heck chances of top 20 much less top 50% are gone, is anything other than a DFL (dead fracken last) possible? Son of a monkey; my race is over…..

Wait – I entered this race to race and I’m going to race!  I raced duathlons this spring and summer and have been wishing for a bike -run-bike version; guess I got my wish – just didn’t really envision it in soft dirt, carrying a bike with spokes that occasionally stick my thigh and carbon cycling shoes that aren’t really the best for running in.  Oh well, beggars can’t be choosers – So I picked up my bike, put it on my shoulder, and started to run.   For some extra motivation, I had some Ozzy Osborne playing in my head; “I don’t want to stop” and “never going to stop”, I’ve used those before during hard sections of duathlons, so it fit here.   Metal goes well with cyclocross, especially hard stuff with a lot of distortion, it kinda mimics the brain with hypoxia…ok, well, enough of that tangent, and back to the  race..

I had to do some cross country running to stay out of the way of those that were actually still riding their bikes in this bike race.  After what seemed like 20 minutes, I came to the final switchback before the pavement stretch to the pits – here a course marshal took pity on me and instructed me to cut the last switchback and head straight to the pit.  Small victory, though the last guy in the race was already close to a quarter mile ahead of me.

After getting my spare front wheel on, I head back out on the course; riding my bike (novel idea, I know)! As I’m going up the pavement, I see the back end of the race heading down the hill on that sweet red crushed path; that makes me roughly a half lap behind.  Oh well, head down and race my race – bad situation as I don’t have others to push me, great situation as I get to pick my own lines and don’t have to deal with other’s bobbles.  Several other racers are on the course warming up and all pull over nicely allowing me to continue my solo flogging session.

Another pass by the pits and I hear three to go called out right as I spot another racer from my wave in front of me.  I used that as more incentive to accelerate and am able to pick off a couple more by the time I head into the woods.  At the back of the pack, the racers are pretty well spread out and with some heads up racing , I time it so I come on each next racer as I’m able to pass so I can take all my lines through the technical sessions and not worry about another crash.

The lead racer passes me right before the logs where I crashed and had to start my run.  I had hoped to hold them off, but considering how long I had to run, I’m ok with being a lap down.  For the next lap, two more from the lead  group pass me, but I hold it at that and hang with them all the way around.  I finished the race in 84th out of 96th. (official results showed 86, but chip showed 84??)

I’m actually pretty dang happy with my placing; by all rights, I had every reason to call it a race and quit, but I decided that I wasn’t going to stop and fought my way back to the field and even up the field some.

As I sat in the grass eating a Belgian waffle covered in Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut butter (umm, recovery food), my body started regaining sensation.  Oh, ouch – apparently I had cuts and scrapes all over, some bloody and some not; a couple good bruises forming; dirt still in my mouth, sand in my hair, and one heck of a dirt tan making some of the still trickling blood a very dark shade of reddish brown.  Just about every muscle is sore and a few joints are getting stiff as I sit here with a big ol’ dumb grin on my face. I realize how much fun it was and ride the exercise induced high that is flowing pretty good by now.

Yup, it’s cyclocross season, and I love it!

(pictures to be added tomorrow)

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