Sunday Cyclocross: The Only Kind of Holy – Barton Park
At 11:15am I look across the Portland Velo tent and notice a very trashed half-bicycle near the tailgate of our truck.
I move in for a closer look.
Upon inspection, I see that this mangled would-be bike is, in fact, my own. It is upside down, missing the rear wheel, absolutely covered in mud, and without pedals. It looks like it should be on some abandoned back-alley set up on blocks.
My bike’s been stripped!!
I race in T-Minus 1.75 hours and must start my warm-up in T-minus 45 minutes. My mouth reacts before the censors are able to get their bleeping machine on the ready, "Oh. My. God. What the fuck happened to my bike!?"
Of course, I know exactly what happened to my bike. JAVAD happened to my bike.
Not a few hours earlier I’d offered her up to my good buddy Javad, one of the sweetest PV racers around. The course was ill-suited to his fatty-tire mountain bike and I wagered there was enough time between the finish of his race and my warmup for us to get the seatpost re-adjusted and swap out the pedals.
I did not count on him getting a rear-flat before his race even began. (Yep – it was pointed out to him by a guy lined up behind him not 30 seconds before the start whistle… but that’s a story perhaps more worthy than my own – he managed to battle back after replacing the rear wheel in the pit and finished a miraculous 21st of 98!!!)
So, while the shock of seeing my bike abused, battered, and naked sets in, Javad is high-tailing it back to the pits to replace the rear wheel (Sal and I share pit wheels) so that it is available for Sal, who is already on the race course.
While he does that, I grab the portable water-pump and begin spraying down the brakes, brake pads, and derailleur. 25 frantic minutes later and the Poprad is back in racing action with a new tube, replaced pedals, and methodically adjusted gears. She’s still muddy as hell but when I ask her if she’s ready to go she says, "Yes, Ma’am!"
And so the warm-up begins.
It’s hot. And bright. And sunny. I spin and sweat and compose letters to God in my head. In each letter I promise some outrageous sacrifice in return for rain. I sign each letter, "Xo, HeidiPants" and then mentally crumple it up and throw it in my cerebral waste basket. Who am I kidding?
I hit the line nice and sweaty and line up in a prime front row position. Then I wait. Ten minutes later a huge group of women who have lined up in the wrong place just ahead of the start line realize their mistake. So, instead of going around and lining up behind us, they simply back up, creating a new front row.
This did not in any way affect my result and we are all beginners, so it’s not a huge deal, but I’m putting this out there for the record: that’s bad form. As cyclists we are guided by a certain set of unspoken agreements that prevent people from doing crappy things like sucking-wheel non-stop without pulling. I’d place "creating a new front row on the start line" in this category. Not against the rules, per se, but kind of dodgy.
We wait some more.
The start line is in the shade and I’m freezing. I am covered in goose bumps. We jump up and down and rub our arms in an attempt to stay warm.
The race starts 15 minutes late and I am colder than I was before I started my warm up.
I’m top ten as we race down the first hill into a gravely right-hand turn. It’s not my best start to date, but I’m in contention. I’m close enough to make it work.
But I don’t make it work. I take the right hand turn extremely wide, losing 5 or 6 positions. Then I lose a few more as we chase into the first run-up.
I feel like shit. My legs are lead. I check my tires to make sure I’m not flat. Are my brakes rubbing?
Nope. I’m just slow.
We hit a long pavement section on the back and I put it in a big gear, grab my drops, put my head down and crank. I feel like I am going as hard as I can and people are passing me like I’m still back in the tent on my trainer.
"Jesus Christ," I’m thinking, "This is embarrassing!"
I battle. I stay in it. I take a few people on the next run-through of the barrier by running around them as they are trying to remount their bikes. I take a few people on the run-up. I take a few people on the long gravel hill.
I’m gaining steam. The field starts coming backwards at me – rider after rider growing larger and larger on the horizon as I chase them down. Slowly but surely I’m making up ground.
I feel great. My legs have finally (!) come around. I pass the OBRA truck and the card says, "2 to go".
Perfect. I have two absolutely crushing laps in my legs and I can feel them. I stay on the hunt, reel people in one by one, and realize I’m making headway when I finally catch my friend Emily.
"Good job, Emily." I gasp as I pass her, "Come on… come with me!"
She is suffering but sputters out, "Go… go… motherf@#-er!"
So I go.
Coming up the long gravel hill in the back I am juiced for the final lap. "This is the lap of your life, Heidi." I am telling myself. Blow this shit up!
But as the finish line comes into site I see people pulling off and stopping. They’ve ended the race! Goddamit! I pull over with another lap in my legs.
I’m disappointed. Convinced I must be buried in the results. Hoping for a top 20 position. Cursing my first two excruciating laps and my inability to start fast.
I mope around the team tent lamenting my lack of beer and power.
Only the power of Steve Brown’s debut in the Master A division is enough to cheer me up. I watch him put in a top 20 performance (on his mountain bike!) and we pack up the team gear and hit the road.
Sally prescribes two Jubelales to cure my letdown. He is a good doctor.
The beers work a little but not as well as getting the preliminary results… which put me in 8th place in a field of 50 riders!
I had no idea I was able to work my way up that far. My "worst" race turned into my second-best result of the season. Go figure.
Sal always reminds me that every race is a learning experience and he’s right. Every Sunday I feel like I get a little smarter, a little faster, and a lot more confident.
More important than any personal result, I am elated to be surrounded by a team full of people who are falling in love with cyclocross.
Mitch calls it "cross crack" and he’s dead on.
Emily says, "I don’t go to church anymore – they won’t let me in."
And so we race.
Because cyclo-crack is the only kind of holy.