Winter Cross

  Cyclocross. The word strikes up so many emotions. Saying “cyclocross” to a bike racer between March and August will conjure up nostalgic memories of months past. The pain has been long forgotten, with only the muddy mess and screaming fans and mud and beer burning the deepest memories. Mention the word in any of those other months, and everything is fresh; that hour spent gasping for breath like a fish out of water searching for the faintest puddle of water, the mud that cakes on you and your bike, slowing you down like you’re riding through molasses, the penetrating cold, and the embarrassment of being in the wrong gear up a hill, or your rear tire slipping resulting in a fall, or tripping over a barrier.

  Cyclocross is to road bike racing as carnivals are to normal day-to-day life. Everything is larger than life and has that “rounded edge” ;  You’re racing on grass, mud, gravel, sand, baseball diamond mud, and mulch, with a liberal dose of wood barriers that you have to get off your bike and jump over, as well as steep staircases. You reluctantly leave the race, usually held in a park, either elated or defeated, humiliated. You hesitate to put your muddy clothes and shoes and wheels and bike into your car at the end. You kind of look around to see what everyone else is doing. After a while it becomes normal.

  The ‘cross race I did today wasn’t exactly like that. Held in Akron, OH in a snowy field, it was like no other race I’ve done. The ground was frozen, the pavement was all snowed on and packed down hard into a nice and slick surface, the mulched section was chunky and frozen but loose, and the barriers were really challenging, not only impossible to bunnyhop on the bike because of their abnormal height, but they were in a hairpin; one at the entrance, one at the exit. My short wiener dog legs made it hard to get through there with any speed.

  I finished fifth. I wasn’t last, but I finished alone. Fourth place was far ahead and sixth was gapped pretty far back. After a decent start, the race was pretty well decided. 1 & 2 took off by themselves, and 3,4,5 and 6 (including me) were all bunched up. 3 laps in, I slipped to the back of the single-file line, and in the mulch section my front wheel slid out from under me and I hit the ground bum-first. I wasn’t gaining ground on the now distant group ahead, so just rode to finish. Ahead, another rider fell back and rode solo. The gaps in between us kept growing.

22 seconds….. 25 seconds…… 32 seconds…..

  Around 35 seconds, the gap stopped growing. He was just driving it to the finish like I was.  My legs and lungs didn’t hurt that much anymore and I set off to catch him. After a lap, I kept hearing “12 SECONDS! 12 SECONDS”.  With the paved, snowy section coming up, I let my bike have it and I made up 8 or 9 seconds as we headed into another slow hairpin….


  The race was over. My grand vision of two riders battling lap after lap to the finish was over. There would be no sprint finish.

  I kep on riding, looking back at the other rider in disbelief. I couldn’t believe that he crashed just as I was about to catch him. I soft pedaled as he got back on his bike, just when he started pedaling his chain fell off and I went back to riding hard. The next 4 laps were uneventful. I think we both gave up and rode our own “races” Those ahead were far ahead, and those behind were far behind. We were separated by 30 or 40 seconds and it was unlikely that we’d catch back up.

  I know how it feels to crash. The last race I did was like that. In the front group, I’d just moved to the back. We came up on a lapped rider, on an uphill part, she crashed and took up the only line that was any good. The guy in front of me made it, but I lost it. I dropped my chain twice and lost all motivation and rode just to finish. No emotion, nothing binding me to get the the finish line ahead of anyone else.

  Racing is full of disappointments. You’re bound to crash or flat when you’re feeling good. The important part is to forget it. Never ride your last race. Don’t do things the same way you did last week, expecting it to work, and don’t think of this week as “revenge” for last week’s misfortunes. Each race is a new experience, completely different and unrelated to the last. No strategy will work twice. Just sitting in and following the leader doesn’t get you anywhere, it’s what you do that matters.

Image credits to


~ by Mitcholo on December 20, 2009.

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