On my to-do list all week, number one has been occupied by writing this column. Obviously, I need to write about Nationals. After all, I was in Madison for a week straight, watched almost every race, attended almost every event, and actually raced the Elite Women’s race. But honestly, sitting down and typing it up in any coherent way is almost too much. So, in the vein of Wallace Stevens, I give you Thirteen Ways of Looking at Nationals
I. New England Takes Over the Race
When I got to Nationals in Madison, Wisconsin, after 20-odd hours of driving from Rhode Island to New Jersey to Ohio to (finally) the Cheese State (that’s what it’s called, right?), I realized something: I didn’t have to leave in the first place.
Why? Because apparently, New England picked up and moved to Madison when I wasn’t looking.
Looking at the results after the dust has cleared, ten of the races were won by New England natives, including one Mr. Jeremy Powers of Easthampton, Massachusetts, and there were countless other “wicked fast” athletes who made it to the lower spots on the podium. Nationals felt like almost every other weekend race I’ve been to, and when announcer Richard Fries took over the mic on Thursday, I was almost dizzy with deja vu as he started reeling off facts and figures about upstate, NY racer Emma White’s season, as he has at nearly every race I’ve been to this season.
And of course, it wouldn’t be a New England race without at least a few spectators shouting at racers to, “Go hahhhhder, kid!”
II. New England Takes Over the Rest of the World
In fact, during the week I was in the Midwest, I saw more of my Boston friends than I typically see when I’m in … Boston. Women’s cycling event at night? Massachusetts’ Mo Bruno Roy is the guest speaker. Cyclocross Night? Justin Lindine and I hid amongst clothing racks in the bike shop and gossiped.
In bars at night, you could hear “wicked” and “f#!*in’” being tossed around casually, making me pause and glance around to reaffirm that I was not, in fact, at a sports bar in Boston. (Give Dylan McNicholas a beer and suddenly that New Hampshire accent comes out in full force.)
So does that mean New England needs to be renamed New Belgium? Well, that’s at least part of the reason I moved here to begin with.
III. The Dane
Let’s talk about the things that mattered at Nationals this year. And by things, I mean beer. And afterparties. Those two are inexorably linked, especially considering the place to be (and by that, I mean the place I went three nights in a row) was The Great Dane in downtown Madison, and they consequently provided beer at the race as well. We became acquainted.
IV. The Beer
Madison is certainly into the IPAs, Belgians and Pilsners, for starters. Sure, there were a few porter and stout offerings, but frankly, they fell a little flat. Muddy flavors, not enough carbonation, just not on point. But the Imperial IPA that I finally gave in and tried was stellar: bold, crisp, and perfectly carbonated every time I ordered it. So when in Madison, stick to the light beers. At least, from what I experienced.
V. The (Other) Beverage
Anyone who’s read this column knows that I’m a teensy bit obsessed with coffee. (See: The Power of the French Press. ) Therefore, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the one thing that I heard quite a few New Englanders complain about during the week: the coffee of Madison. Apparently, after lengthy discussion with an Ohio-native who straddles the line between being “East Coast” versus “Midwest,” Midwest coffee is weaker in general. Think tea-colored coffee coming out of the urns. Combine this with Madison’s overly chlorinated tap water, and it’s a recipe for disaster. Upon filling my thermos up the first day with (gasp!) hotel coffee, I thought said thermos was emitting some kind of weird metallic taste. So, I did what any sane person about to go sit outside for eight hours straight and report on racing would do: I bought a new thermos. Nope, that didn’t help. Filling it with coffee from an actual coffee shop? No such luck, still had that weird taste.
Caffeine- and sleep-deprived, I was not a happy camper, railing on and on about coffee. And maybe it was the deprivation that caused me to temporarily forget, but I had my secret weapon stashed in the truck. Yep, I travel with my French Press, coffee from Whole Foods, and, after another trip to the store, a few gallons of drinking water. Suddenly, the day just got a whole lot peppier.
VI. The Spectators
VII. The Crashes
In cyclocross, the one thing I’ve learned this season is that to be scared of crashing is to go slow. In this race, since it was the last race of the season, I was filled with a grim resolution to do one thing: to crash. While at first glance, that seems like a ludicrous plan, it actually had a lot of merit. I would go into the race with the knowledge that I was going to crash, it might hurt, but ultimately, I’d be crashing because I wasn’t riding slow, or overly cautiously. And even from the whistle, my normally tentative start was replaced with what I’m sure didn’t look as intense as I imagine it, but what I believe was sheer ‘no guts, no glory’-style sprinting, dodging around women in front of me as I moved up from my almost-last-row starting spot. Because it’s Nationals, and what better time to give it everything and worry about the consequences later?
By the way, the consequences were as such: I fell. A lot. But I went as hard as I could, and I’m happy with that, even if my body wasn’t quite as thrilled post-race.
VIII. The Pit
Karma will come back and reward those who pitted for others; the ground in the pit was so slick and muddy that racers were falling just trying to trade bikes. The pressure washers were constantly running low on water, and what water they did have was serving to make the area in and around the pit more of a deathtrap.
IX. “When the blackbird flew out of sight”
The hardest part of the elite race? Being caught behind a crash right after the pavement, and putting a foot down in order to get around the people who had already fallen. Not falling, but watching as the front of the field steadily powered away, knowing how hard it was going to be to catch back on, less than a minute into the race.
X. The Game Face
XI. The Parents
A tableau here: the 10-12 Junior Men’s race is complete, the winner, a pint-sized kid by the name of Andy, who crossed the finish line and beelined for his parents. His mom, crying and smiling and hugging him. Him, grinning ear to ear, going to hug his grandmother, who’s pushed over in a wheelchair. Me, interviewing him while random family members and friends gather around to congratulate him and he says in a very manly way, “good race,” to the second place winner, who also can’t be more than four feet tall, as he slaps him on the back.
XII. The Weather
Who would have thought that Madison would be warmer than New Jersey? While in Madison, I was catching up on my Internet-ing one day in the Media Center, and seeing all of my Northeast friends complaining about the negative-ten-degree weather. These are the people who didn’t want to go to Madison because of the cold, so admittedly, I was a little tickled by the fact that I was sitting outside in 40 degree weather under sunny skies.
Of course, as one person pointed out, this is going to come back and get us next year when, upon returning to Madison, we’re greeted with Arctic conditions. Which leads me to…
XIII. A Preview of Next Year, Courtesy of Wallace Stevens
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.