G-Ster. The big one. That big grass crit they call New England Worlds...
I hadn't done anything to try to peak for Gloucester, so combining that with the super-roadie-friendly course, I was on the start line in just-happy-to-be-here mode, surrounded by 123 insane B men and Lyne Bessette.
I had a start that was decent, riding Tal Ingram's wheel for the first half and then sprinting up the left side to make a ton of places before getting squeezed down. But as we hit the path along the seawall I could already tell that this wasn't going to be a record setting day.
Before the runup there was a crash, and guess who's down! Lyne Bessette! This is it, this is my big chance to beat my Canadian overlord, my brain said to my legs. But not 2 minutes later she tore past me like a bat out of hell, and I had no chance to raise the pace to her level. She was gone, on her way to a ridiculous 7th place in 2/3 Men despite crashing on the first lap.
Heading into the big headwind, all the alarm bells in my body were going off. People were streaming past me on both sides and I was already heading for survival mode. Things got worse on the second lap, all that water I'd been swilling in the morning was sloshing around my stomach and I had a cramp in my side. The bumpy downhills became agony. Deep breaths weren't so great, either.
For while I fought, digging to stay with groups, passing those damn roadies back on the few corners out there, but my body was breaking down, I was choking on phlegm and my side was killing me. At the end of the third lap, I started to think about dropping out, saving my energy and coming back tomorrow.
But come on, you can't drop out, that's for lamers. So I dialed it back a bit and quit fighting the crowds. A kid from MIT came around me and he seemed to have good legs and bad cornering -- I gave up trying to corner and instead sat on him and tried to bring it back together.
It kind of worked. By the end of lap 5, I could breath again, and I could go down the bumpy hills without getting stabbed in the gut. I left my traveling companion and went hunting for more places.
I was still in extreme pain, but it was the kind of pain that is what makes cross great -- horrific muscular pain. There were lots of people yelling at me and nowhere to rest, so certain things like "keeping my head upright" fell by the wayside in favor of "putting out some watts."
The wasn't much course left, but I got some people. With half a lap to go, I dug deep into the wind to get onto a group with a Corner Cycle and IBC guy. I was sitting at the back, trying to recoup and plan a final move, when the IBC guy crashes in the sand. I rode over/around/through him and got back up to the Corner Cycle dudes wheel in time to hit the pavement for a final sprint.
"Ah," I thought to myself, "I shall play this correctly, like dirty roadie, and force him to lead it out instead of going early." So we headed up the finishing hill, steadily picking up speed. I waited. Eventually we hit what seemed like terminal velocity, but right as I downshifted and stood up to go... click, click, down two sprockets he went and ok, now we are sprinting, apparently.
I've never, ever, finished a race that hard. I inched up the outside, gaining a few inches per pedal stroke, I could feel my calves starting to cramp with each revolution but there was no time to worry about that. Twenty yards before the line we were almost even, I was rasping and snorting with every breath but I kept the power on to beat him by a wheel.
I rolled to a stop at the end and something was very wrong inside my chest, I was still breathing as hard as I could and my chest felt tight, I needed air and my throat wasn't cooperating. My body was freaking out, I could feel a vomit coming on if my airway didn't open up soon. I panted as fast as I could, unable to take a full breath for probably a minute.
I have no idea what it was. I seem to be kind of sick, and it was very dry air. I was having phlegm issues the whole way. On the other hand, my dad has exercise-induced asthma that he didn't develop until later in life -- did I just have my first asthma attack?
I sure hope not. I hate cross, I love cross, see you back out there tomorrow!
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