Tuesday 8th: The Flight Out
Arrived in Bend, Oregon after a 12hr trip. Why is it that the cheaper the airfare the more circuitous the route? How do airlines make any money flying me from Boston to Dallas, Dallas to Portland, Portland to Redmond? Maybe it is just their way of punishing cheap travelers. The plane from Dallas to Portland was packed with soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. Most of them had been traveling for 60 hours straight. They were in high spirits, nearing home after their tours, and spent a lot of time apologizing to fellow travelers for the way they smelled. Really, I had nothing to complain about.
Wednesday the 9th: Good Exposure
After crashing on a friend’s couch for the night, I awoke to find Bend in the throes of a deep cold snap: highs in the low teens, nighttime lows well below zero, five inches of firm and Styrofoamie snow on the ground. I rode down to registration to grab my race packet and then pre-ride the course. As luck would have it, a news crew for KOHD Portland was setting up as I left registration. Being the only fool to ride to registration in the cold, the newswoman must have decided I was just the sort of psycho for an interview. Proudly donned the Rapha jacket for the camera. Answered her questions about what is cyclocross and why would people want to do something like this, much less travel across country to compete. Must have said something interesting, as I heard later that the segment ran at 5 and 6pm that night. Good exposure for the journal.
Wednesday the 9th: Pre-Ride
The pre-ride was an eye-opener. After a long drag race up pavement, the course turned left and up a short grass rise, and then snaked through what can best be described as an industrial back lot, with lots of bumps, rocks, and sweeping turns. The course then crossed the main drag and wound around the Deschutes brewery. This section had more traditional grassy terrain, with several tricky off-camber sections, a set of barriers by the beer tent, and a long stair climb. The stairs were super slick with snow and ice, and since the approach was from an angle people were eating it hard on the first few steps. (Thankfully the course designers nailed down some tar shingles for traction before racing began the next day.) The final feature on the course was a steep run/ride up behind the brewery. A sharp left turn at the bottom of the climb kept people from carrying much speed into the hill. With all the snow the hill was unrideable, but I had hopes that as the course burned in the snow would be scraped off before my race the following day. If not, the off-camber and slightly-downhill remount at the top of the climb was going to get hectic tomorrow.
For a sense of what the course looked like, here is a video of the first lap.
Thursday the 10th: The Call-Ups
The temps came up slightly, with lows around zero and highs around twenty degrees. As I had hoped, by the end of the day the course had been cleared of most of the snow, leaving icy grass and ground exposed. Still really slippery, but at least we were doing more riding than sledding. Today I raced the Masters 40-45 B race. Some said there were 191 entrants, but I think it was closer to 160.
Call ups were a fiasco. I don’t know if you recall, but back in the early fall USA cycling and Sportsbase totally screwed the East coast with their registration procedure. As riders would be called to the line according to the order in which they registered, those who were fast with the keyboard and registered on-line first would be lined up first. So, the night before a big Verge race last fall, I hauled myself out of bed at 11:55pm to register for nationals. The clock strikes midnight, I push “register,” and what happens? The website crashes because so many other riders were doing just the same. And of course, for those on the West Coast it was only 9pm. They had plenty of time to get their beauty rest. Frustrated, I tried and tried again for over an hour, with no luck. I dozed off, only to wake with a start at 4am and finally register successfully. By then well over ninety people had gotten in ahead of me.
So, when I showed up for staging on Thursday I was not optimistic about my placing. But wouldn’t you know it, the officials had another surprise. Instead of staging us by number, as expected, they staged us, wait for it…, RANDOMLY! They held up numbered cards, and once the last digit of your race number came up, you could line up. But I should not complain, because as luck would have it, I got a fourth row call up, which was pretty good considering we had 191 entrants. I think only 160 riders actually lined up.
Thursday the 10th: Go Time
The gun went off and I was able to work my way pretty quickly into the top 20. With a few more laps I was in the low teens. I did have one spectacular crash, where my front wheel slipped in a turn and I took out two wooden posts. Landed on my back, with my bike flying over me. I thought I had skewered myself, and judging by the gasp from the crowd, others did too. Lost a few places, but recovered quickly and got them back within a lap.
At that point the racing really started, as the guys around me were about my level. I was especially hounded by a Specialized rider in red. We traded places several times, reeling in a few more riders as we fought. With about two laps to go the sun dipped below the horizon. Bend is in the high desert, so the temps suddenly dropped. Within one lap sections that had once been wet and tacky suddenly glazed over with ice. About the same time the sun went down we began catching the slower riders at the back of the field. Officials said they were pulling lapped riders, but I guess that never happened. So with all the ice and the traffic the last few laps were pretty exciting. Lots of two-wheel drifting with the inner leg out for stability. Mr. Specialized and I were just killing each other. As we caught more and more riders, we took turns slipping around the slower traffic and then attacking, trying to drop the other amid the clutter of riders. But to no avail. Neither would give and we went into the last lap with him in the lead.
With about a half lap to go I passed him though some slick sweeping turns and opened up about a ten-meter gap. He closed that down to a few bike lengths on the grassy sections, and we hit the final ride/run up with me in the lead. I was able to ride the hill, but he ran it, so as he took the time to remount and coast down the back side, I could hit the gas. And that made the difference. I crossed the line about twenty meters ahead of him. Took 9th place.
If you have raced cross you know that every race is really a race between you and the riders around you. For Mr. Specialized and me, it was the World Championships.
Luckily, a few shots (photo 1, photo 2) of the race made it up on Cycling News. Many thanks to my friend Bill Hurley for posting one of them.
The guy who won the race was a Cat 1 riding for the SRAM factory team. Almost all of the others in front of me were Cat 2s. Sandbaggers.
Surprisingly, only a few of them would go on to race the open Masters 40-45 on Saturday. Sandbaggers and wimps. The SRAM rider would place 5th on Saturday ( Roger Aspholm took 12th).
Friday the 11th: A Day Off with my Bro
A day off to hang out with my brother and some other friends. We checked out Sasha White’s exhibit of amazingly beautiful Vanilla bikes. Those bikes have all kinds of style. I also got to meet Jeremy, the creative genius behind the Embrocation Cycling Journal and my title sponsor, and admire the new Vanilla kit that he designed. Also super stylin’. Checked out the PDX Cross photography exhibit and got to speak with photographers Mike Davis and Thorsten Kjellstrand. PDX contributed some amazing photos for Volume 3 of the Journal, and were great folks to boot. They took some amazing images through the weekend, including a few of me going fast and suffering hard (more on that later). Check out their site. It is worth the time. And, as luck would have it, an editor for Travel Oregon magazine asked for an interview. Must be the Rapha jacket. Not sure when that article will run, but I will keep an eye out for it.
Saturday the 12th: National Championships
My call up for the big day was not so lucky as the B race. Order was determined by number this time, so I was mid pack in a field of about 160. Surprisingly, officials did not first call up riders who had placed well last year, so I am sure Curtis and others were a little frustrated. The gun went off and within twenty meters some poor soul went into the fencing and busted his collarbone. I got around the crash safely and stepped on the gas. The course had softened a bit, and several of the sketchy corners had become more positive. Spent the entire race picking through the field, not really racing as much as chasing rabbits. With such a large field, it is hard to get to a place where you really feel you are in your element and really competing. After 45 minutes my time was up and 41st was as good as I was going to do. A little frustrating, but I am satisfied with the effort.
Sunday the 16th: Watching the Pros and Saying Goodbye
Chris, Jason and I watched with male and female pros compete on Sunday. It was great to see Tim Johnson take home the win. It was even better to spend more quality time with my brother. He and Jason competed this weekend as well, and both fought hard in their races. In the end the racing was great, but I wish I had more time with these boys.