Sunday, February 1, 2009
SNOTCYCLE - The GOOD, The BAD and the UGLY
Had my first race of the 2009 season yesterday - big thanks to the Plum Grove Cyclery guys who put on the first annual SnotCycle race in Leesburg, VA. Another big thanks to one of our team's new sponsors - Dogfish Head Alehouse for sending me to the event with 6 cases of their finest to hand out. As I approached registration with a case to exchange for my race number I was greeted with fat smiles. THen I was handed #13. Emmac suggested I turn it upside down like the guys in the Tour do but I figured I'd tempt fate and run it proper. Gripped Racing (click link for more team photos) had a huge turnout which also made me happy. If you're gonna suffer in a race, best to have friends to be there with you. This was GOOD.
Here I am trying to be optimistic about my number. Things to note in this photo - flannel lined Carharts, Sorrels and ski gloves - none of which you will ever see at a road race let alone on an athlete warming up. Also of particular note is the front tire of Matt Lough's bike propped up on a frozen cowpie.
Who says you can't have a beer with your warmup?
So there I was, #13 lining up beside Colby Waller whom I had ridden the course with the week before - a solid racer I really wanted to hang with. But I had #13 and it just wasn't meant to be...the number delivered on it's superstition. I lined up behind a racer I will affectionately refer to as Racer X. This fellow had massive legs and a fresh looking 29er so I thought he's probably a seasoned racer who would not likely slow me down. He chatted with the gentleman beside him on the front row who wore a Harley kit as if they were old friends and I figured them both cat 1 roadies - who on this flat course would surely dominate. However R-X didn't pay much attention to his surroundings, particularly the ice under his tires while at the start line. When the whistle blew he put down one half a pedal stroke and his bike violently slid out and down. He splayed out in front of me like a starfish, leaving me little room to get around as other racers plowed past on both sides. My fairly decent start position turned into a major handicap and after way too long I was around him and in about 20th position hammering back to the front. I couldn't help but laugh at the wonderful start to my season and just made my way through the pack as best I could. Once we entered the woods it was long straight away with fast turns that often found racers missing and trying to limit the damage of having to pedal through crusty snow and frozen pine needles. The typical bottlenecks backed up the pack whenever there was a tight turn or tricky rock drop but for the most part I could still see the leaders. The course dumped us back out onto a long, flat straight where the R-X passed me like he was shot out of a cannon. Roadie for sure. I was quite impressed with R-X's speed and tried to give chase but my legs had other plans, ignoring that request so I just settled in. Before long R-X was out of sight, impressive show of power for sure.
The field fractured and my legs felt like exploding so I settled in and tried to limit anyone passing. Then it was back into the woods and here's where things got interesting. We were already catching some of the sport riders who were were on their 2nd lap. I noticed R-X was a little ways ahead but behind a few sport riders which he was not passing. This is the part of the course that had a few log crossings and slightly technical sections - where I hoped I could gain back ground on the leaders. In my typical fashion I announced to the riders ahead (including R-X), "Expert back, coming up to pass" and R-X found the motivation to then jump around the 2 riders in front of him. As I passed I thanked them both as I do every rider I pass (until this day). I was tailing R-X closely and it was no surprise to have him slow down at anything that looked slippery, rocky or required riding over like a ramped up log cross. I actually gave him some praise as he kept from crashing around one corner but my frustration with seeing the train behind me stacking up led to 3 attempted passes. Each time my dear friend would hit the gas and hold me off. Don't get me wrong, I'm a sporting guy and love a good battle on bikes but when you are clearly slower than someone who is being nice about asking to pass - let 'em pass. If they are not worthy you can always pass them back and this being LAP 1 of a 4 lap race I figured WTF? The 3rd time I went to pass I was determined so I called "LEFT" and took off into the deeper snow to get around. I knew my boy wouldn't move or make room for me so I rode accordingly. Well he gassed it again and in a very unhappy tone exclaimed, "What the @#$@ are you doing, Jackass!?!" This was BAD.
We banged shoulders and I yelled back, "I'm passing you - this IS a race!" At this point his bewilderment with my tenacity had led his eyes astray for a second too long and as we approached bookend rocks on both the left and right of the trail he slammed into the right bookend and stacked into the ground. I took a mental photo of it - wish I could upload that.
You might think this made me happy but it didn't - I've seen enough aggro racing in Europe and I never want to be one of those guys. In fact thoughts of Adam Craig mixing it up with a Spaniard at Houffalize (and later regretting it for the spike of adrenaline that he said destroyed his race) raced through my mind. I instantly felt the need to defend my pass so I yelled back (probably fruitlessly) "If someone is faster than you in the woods let them by!" There was a rider right behind me who witnessed the pass and I figured if I needed to I could call on him to defend against any potential protests.
End of race mud buildup - didn't know I'd be racing singlespeed but wasn't too surprised about it either.
I pressed on trying to limit wild thoughts of this guy catching me on the flat sections and wanting to mix it up. I had more adrenaline coursing through me than my first Muay Thai match back in '94 or so it seemed. I wondered what would happen when he caught up to me, I wondered what I would do if he wanted to mix it up. My mind was not on racing but defending - more BAD. Surprisingly it took him till a bit into lap 2 to again blow past me on the flats. As he did I first complimented him but also pointed out that I wasn't bitching and moaning about him passing me. He then sat up, looked back and waived me on which didn't make sense since this was the part of the course he was faster on. He yelled for me to set the pace and I wasn't going to argue in fact I was glad he didn't want to make more of it. I launched a small air off a rock and smiled as we ducked into the pines.
The shade dropped the air temp in there about 10° and just enough to turn the recent coat of mud and cowpie on me and the bike into solid ice. If felt like R-X was holding onto my seat post as I pushed through the woods with futile but increasing effort. I looked down franticly and noticed a massive clump of mud frozen to my derailleur hanger - more BAD. I knew R-X was chomping at the bit so I pulled over to let him pass and he totally surprised me by looking back with an encouraging "C'mon, let's get up there!" I was so floored I pulled over and stopped to knock the ice block off my drivetrain with hopes of catching back to his wheel and indeed 'getting up there'. In the 10 seconds it took for my trailside repair 3 racers passed but it seemed to solve the problem and I was off again chasing.
Matt finished a strong 3rd amidst a phantom racer who wasn't seen until the end of the race claiming to have won. Geeze Matt - was he that fast off the start or were you just not paying attention? Here's my boy finding the best use of his SPD's post-race, well done.
By the end of the race I had regained those positions but I never did catch R-X. I pulled into the finish with team mates high-fiving me and there was Emmac with a DFH beer in hand. I was smoked, spent, shaking and smiling. I could barely speak but I took a swig anyway, my numb lips let it spill down my mud-encased jacket. I was stoked to have finished top 10 and wondered (as racers always will) what I might have scored if the start went better or if R-X had not entered the equation. Either way I was happy to call it a day with good friends, good beer and a good result. What more can you ask for? In the end I never did see R-X but I was happy he didn't seem to hold a grudge when I pulled over. I would have liked to have handed him a beer to make our truce official. Another race perhaps. Official results are here.
All is well that ends well and hopefully he'll give way to a faster rider next time without the hoopla. I also learned a lesson - that I need to work on my power! But it's mountain bike racing and I love every gritty, tough moment of it. Truth is I wish I had found cycling sooner in life because even a freezing cold, muddy, icy day of racing is better than a good day in the ring.
This is UGLY.
Posted by Jason Berry at 12:24 PM