One last chance to make the top fifteen, one last chance to get a Verge point, once last change to be halfway respectable before packing it in for the season and admitting that all my best rides come in 3/4 races on MTB courses.
Oh, what's that? I got Verge points yesterday and there's another race next weekend? Well then, let's just go race bikes and have fun.
The NBX course was mostly the same as last year, lots of turns, two hard sand pits, and one fast road section. The one difference was that this year we staged at the bottom on the hill, not the top, so no crazy 30 mph downhill pack cornering was required. I like to think that I can handle myself pretty well in traffic for a MTB'er, but I sure didn't miss that part.
I lined up on the far right side in the third row, after getting stiffed on callups (come on man I had six Verge Points, surely that's top 15?!). The whistle blew, Brendan Cornett and Ryan Kelly let out some kind of crazy war cry, there was the sound of fifty cleats hitting fifty pedals, and we were off.
There was only one problem -- Brendan and Ryan finally pushed John Peterson over the edge, from the realm of "insanely fast" to just plain "insane."
Let me back it up... all the way to yesterday.
So yesterday I'm preriding with Ronnie down in the parking lot area, I'm not really paying attention because I think I've got a slow leak, and as I lazily swing around a 180 turn he T-bones me and I go sprawling onto the pavement, smashing my knees and elbows. What an asshole!
One problem. It wasn't a 180 degree turn, it was a 90 degree turn, so I rode straight into him. If I hadn't hit him I would've hit the tape 2 seconds later. Apparently, I'm the asshole.
In summary, you can get disoriented down in the parking lot, especially if it's your first lap of the course. Or if you're John Peterson, and you've just lost your f-ing mind.
Halfway down the start straightaway, Peterson is leading it out when he decides to take a left hand turn about 50 yards before the actual left hand turn, and for a split second we follow him...then the field erupts in a chorus of squealing brakes and screaming madmen. Only a few lucky souls are so far to the right that they don't have to lock 'em up. Four figures shoot out of the pack without touching their brakes -- Ryan Rumsey, Brendan Cornett, Josh Lipka... and me.
So I'd like to thank John Peterson for gifting me a 5 second head start on all but three guys. Maybe he was going for some kind of sandbagging degree of difficulty score.
The first lap was insane. I hit the sand in fourth and something goes wrong for Lipka on the remount... and now I'm in the 3rd...and I'm actually drafting Brendan Cornett.
I'm such a nobody that Richard Fries is temporarily left speechless as we come by the barriers, eventually recovering enough to call me "Rider 205." Apparently I'm not on his "Killer B's to Hype Up" cheat sheet.
The difficulty with the 3rd place start is that there's not many places to go but down. Even had I ridden flawlessly it would've been hard to stay on the podium -- and I was too shell shocked by my sudden fortune to ride flawlessly.
Mistake #1 -- not having the confidence to kill myself to stay on Brendan's wheel. I knew he was a better overall rider than me and I only made a token effort to stay in contact.
Mistake #2 -- Failing to jump on Josh Lipka's wheel after one lap. I knew he was coming and I knew he'd be ridiculously fast on the pavement. I looked back and rode easy, waiting for him, except I was going too slow and by the time the jam-related
power was coming by I needed a good 10 mph jump to get his draft. I missed it and he took 5 or 10 seconds in that section alone.
Mistake #3 -- Not providing Rudy with a red-carpeted tow to the front of the race. Apparently, that's how certain sandbagging dignitaries expect to be treated as they recover from a poor start. No, seriously. He (and Peterson) come up behind me as I'm tailgunning a group with Sean Mannion and Chris Bagg, and Awerbuch announces his presence by growling "If you don't hold that wheel I'll..." at me at we corner on to the pavement.
I'll let his words speak for themselves (if it's not the exact quote it's close, and yes, he did trail off instead of specifying the threat) but it's not like we know each other or something. Would you say that in a dead-serious tone to someone you didn't know in a bike race?
He and Peterson quickly blasted by on the road anyway, and I think Chris Bagg disappeared with them.
Much like the previous day, I had pretty good luck burying myself on the road to stay in the draft. Pete Smith gave me a good pull (after he realized how slowly I was going to pull) and I think Jeremy Dunn dragged me along for a bit as well. Somewhere along the line Isaac St Martin caught onto a group with me, Sean Mannion and Pete Smith and slowly worked his way through us and slightly off the front. This was yet another mistake on my part, recognizing that a marginally faster rider was passing through and letting him go, instead of trying to ditch the group and go with them.
I was still in "just happy to be riding top 10" mode. Except there was another problem -- I wasn't top 10 any more. A miserable sand pit ride where I stalled early and ran almost the entire thing left me in 11th, with the other three pulling away.
In the ensuing panic I dropped my chain on the rideup and the gap widened -- but at the top of the rideup, as I ran through I saw a hand holding out a dollar and a hand holding out a brownie. Wait a minute...I'm here to have fun.
I quit worrying about who else might be catching me and got back to railing corners. Smith uncharacteristically cracked and dropped back to me, and some hard running in the first sand pit got me all the way back to Sean's wheel. I was sitting comfortably behind him (well, as comfortable as one gets in the 45th minute of a cross race) planning my finish strategy when we got to sand pit #2 again -- and for the 5th time (in 6 tries) I botched it pretty badly.
He had three seconds at most, and we were entering the twistiest part of the course, I should have been able to fight back on. But he could see Isaac just ahead, plus Bagg, Lipka and Dunn just beyond. He wanted it BAD. He wanted it more than me.
He didn't get it, but I didn't get him.
Whatever. It was still an awesome race, Richard Fries had to actually learn my name (I heard him say it later!), Ryan Kelly screamed straight in my ear after he broke his bike, I got ten more Verge points (can I have an ebay auction yet?) and most importantly, I will always have the story of the Funniest. Start. Ever.