I was feeling good. Not “riding with no chain” good, but good enough to take the front row during staging of the Turkey Trot cyclocross race. The Scott felt good and I was knew how it would react in most circumstances. That was my first mistake.
“Go!” and we were off. I tucked in behind a few racers and was fourth or fifth wheel. The course is run on a mix of grass, fire road and pavement road. With several 180 degree turns as well as a sand pit, this course was technical in nature. I stayed in this front group watching riders and just settling in. I hadn’t gotten a great warm-up so I figured I’d draft as much as possible and use some of my cyclocross skills to stay with the front group. Coming into one of the several 180 degree turns I saw my chance to move up a few spots. I dove hard into the apex of the grassy turn, hoping to cut off the rider in front of me. Unfortunately my front wheel had other plans. Suddenly I was in a heap on the grass as my front wheel washed out. So instead of moving up, I effectively lost a few places. No reason to panic yet, it was still the first lap. I chased back and got on the tail end of this small little group that had torn away from the rest of the field. “Okay just relax,” I told myself. After a loop through the grass, the course transitioned up onto a dirt road then zigged onto a dusty single track which took us out to the pavement. It was a little tricky, but using my patented “tripod” method I was able to maintain most of my speed through this tricky chicane. The riders in front of me were stepping on the gas and like a limpet, I attached myself to the rear wheel of a rider in front of me. As we rolled through the finish line the announcer said we were seventh and eighth place on the road. Okay, a win was out of the question as the top three were gone, but possibly a top five if I feel good and gas it on the last two laps. Another mistake.
Onto the dirt road I stayed glued to the rear wheel, but I knew the time had come to move on and attack him. His pace had slackened a bit and I could feel riders getting closer to us, so his usefulness as a draft was done. As we came down the slight down hill section of the dirt road I hatched a plan. I’d stay close as possible to him, carrying some speed speed, drop into the narrow single track chicane and pass him when we hit the asphalt. That didn’t quite work out. As we came into the single track I realized that I was about to hit a small concrete lip that marked the entrance to the technical section. For that half a second before impact I knew I was going to crash and I thought, “Did I fill out the emergency contact section on the entry form?” My front wheel hit the lip, jerking it savagely to the right which launched me like a scud missle to the left. I landed with a thud and instinctively I curled up like a cocktail shrimp, trying to make myself smaller. I fully anticipated that there were riders in full chase mode behind me and I’m about to be slashed with someone’s big chainring. And sure enough, I could hear the clatter of bikes bearing down on me. I quickly get up, grab my bike and start to run with it. Behind me there are yells of protest as I was I blocking the single track, but this is racing and I’m not here to make friends. They would have to slow down and wait. As I stumble out of this section, two riders pass me and I’m left to sort out the damage. The bike is fine, I’m covered in dust and unharmed. I remount and chase again, but there is not much power left in the legs. A buddy of mine happens to be spectating as I ride by. “Hey Neil! You’re looking dirty!” he yells.
I complete another lap and pass a rider who started out too fast and has blown. But I’m not doing so good either. My breathing is at a pace that would have a cardiologist concerned, I’ve got twin snot rivers running down my face, and it looks as if I’m foaming at the mouth. Yeah, I’m looking good. I complete the dirt road section for the third time and I’m about to drop onto the asphalt for the pavement section. As my front wheel hits the road, it washes out and I’m thrown to the floor for a third time in 40 minutes! This time it hurts. My left elbow is bleeding and I can see blood seeping through my shorts again on the left side. Great! I take a few running steps with the bike and remount. As I land on the saddle and put my weight on the bars, pain shoots through my left shoulder. Great! In this span of three seconds I completely reevaluate my race strategy. I need to complete one more lap and I need to stop crashing. There is no way I’m going to catch anyone and I think I got a big enough gap that no one is going to catch me. I’m just going to ride steady and finish this damn race. As I roll through the finish area the announcer calls out my name and place. I’m in 11th on the road, I can live with that. Remarkably the bike is fine: the bars are still pointed straight ahead, the shift levers aren’t tweaked inward, and the derailleur is still shifting crisply. The bar tape isn’t even torn! Bonus!
I roll back to my car and wash some of the dirt out of my wounds. It isn’t so bad, but sleeping on my left side is going to be a pain in the ass, no pun intended. Monday morning quarterbacking my performance I know what I did wrong. In an attempt to eliminate pinch flats, I was running almost 60 pounds of pressure in the tires, which was too much. A more reasonable psi would have been in the upper 40’s. The SRAM Rival is still working great and now I’m seriously thinking about running tubulars.
Next race, Camp James in Irvine…