The preride showed that the course was a bit more technical, but even more painful than before. This time around the descent was straight down the fall line, so all your suffering on false-flats and log-runups was erased in a few seconds flying downhill. It was the epitome of "nowhere to rest."
The combination of high aspirations and a serious bottleneck 60 seconds into the course made me decide on a plan that went against everything I stand for -- the reverse reverse-holeshot. I lined up one place uphill of yesterday's winner James Tosca on the front row, remembered how to clip in, and crushed it off the start line. It didn't matter that almost every bad mountain bike race I have start with going out too fast -- it's a Verge B race and I'm on the front row, there is no other choice.
Soon everyone had faded from my peripheral vision and I had the holeshot. I leaned into the first uphill turn to hear a terrible sound -- "pbbbpbbbbpbpbpbpb." That's onomatopoeia for my tire folding over, in case you aren't familiar with it. Luckily I have uber-glued gewilli tubulars so there was no chance of it rolling, just chattering horribly and sending me incredibly wide on what should have been a slow, uphill turn.
I'm not actually a complete idiot, or maybe I am. My tire had slow-leaked down to 20psi during staging (it should have been 28) which is apparently well below the holding point of a Grifo sidewall. Desperate to hold onto my holeshot, I went even harder to come back off the outside of the corner and stay in the lead.
I chattered across the long off camber, riding almost down into the grass. Went harder again to stay in the lead. Dropped into the down-hairpin-up, dropping a foot as the tire folds at the apex, killing it back up the hill because I don't know what else to do.
Putting some hearts in the microwave, primarily my own
The first short descent finally got me to snap back to reality, because my heart rate was maxing out and I had to drop a foot on every corner as the tire let go.
"What the hell am I going to do??" my brain asked me. I did not have an answer. I did, however, start dropping places. Two more tiptoed corners and it was time to ride the runup, my front tire making a nice "clunk" every time I dropped it on a log. At the top Linnea was spectating so it was time to call in the cavalry.
"IHaveASlowLeakINeedAFrontWheel" I gasped as I went by. See, we don't have pit bikes, or pit wheels, but we both ride 54cm frames with SPDs. Her bike is my bike, and vice versa, when necessary. She ran for the pit, which I'm sure is exactly what she was hoping for as a warmup.
I nursed the tire for the rest of the lap, hemorrhaging places on the corners because I couldn't turn and on the straights because my legs were blowing up due to the excitement. On one of the straightaways I looked down to check on something, and when I look up there is a gnarly crash happening -- somehow, while riding in a straight line, someone got caught in the groove worn into the trail and put a foot down, then got t-boned by Ryan Rumsey, and I had just enough time after looking up to try to swerve by. No luck. My shoulder slammed right into Ryan's back, taking his number off and bruising both of us. Ouch. I stayed upright and managed to pick up a place, at least.
After one lap I rolled into the pit to do the bike change. Linnea is trying to say something but I can't hear her over my own gasping -- just dump the bike and run to the new one, right? Except there is no new one.
"WheresTheBike?!" I panic.
"MattsGettingIt" she says. Turns out that first her and Matt were going to do a wheel change, but then decided to do the whole bike -- so he was putting the wheel back on as we spoke. Adrenaline trumped patience -- I grabbed my previous bike and was back on course ten seconds and ten places later. Hmm -- is that legal?
Probably not, knowing UCI/UCSF. But no one caught that I actually left with all the same equipment I came in with.
Panicked and tiring I rode another ugly half-lap. This time the bike was there, at the secondary pit. It was a non UCI-legal (OMG) right-sided pit so the exchange was hardly a thing of beauty, in fact, my awkward remount got a passing Rosey to comment "too big! too big!" as I apparently struggled to get on top of her saddle.
Once on the bike things weren't exactly great -- I've been experimenting with the crazy-upright hoods a la Adam Myerson and now that I'm used to it, normal hoods feel like they're pointing at the ground. I rode another shaky lap feeling like it was my first time steering a cross bike, and was rewarded with some back pain thanks to my unease.
By now I was back to around 20th. After a lap (and a half?) I got my bike back with a new wheel. "Same tread, 32 psi" was the word from Matt at the exchange -- jeez that sounds pro, huh?
Back on a familiar ride, I was committed to making the pit crew's efforts not be in vain. I settled in and starting passing people back, and soon got word I was in 17th. Somehow this race might actually be salvageable.
Into the twisty little downhill I flew, zigzagging like Alberto Tomba. Unfortunately the wooden stakes were not as forgiving as slalom gates -- I pitched the bike wildly around a left turn and the stake hit my chainstay, hard.
I fell forward and left, clipping a foot out but pushing my bike harder against the stake and lifting it up. It hooked agaist my rear skewer, anchoring me nicely. I fell further forward -- something had to give.
"Something" turned out to be my quick release. It flipped open and, free of the stake, the bike returned to earth. I lifted my foot to clip back in -- but a wheel out of a dropout doesn't roll so well. I fell onto the handlebars.
Then over the handlebars.
And finished it off by having my still-clipped-in foot fling the bike over my tumbling body for good measure.
A passing Chris Bailey was suitable impressed by my wicked wreck.
It took a while to get sorted out after that. Back down to 20th. Less than two laps to go, but a steady line of people ahead -- there was no excuse not to go back in the hurtbox.
I passed Bailey back, who later described my pass-crash-pass stylings as "Jamneresque." Who should be more insulted by that?
One by one I moved up. With half a lap to go I was back in 16th -- ahead of me was Colin Murphy and yesterday's third place finisher. I was closing on them at the exact rate as we were approaching the finish. I feel like I've done this before.
Colin and Sheldon were too preoccupied by one another to notice me closing, but they were too motivated by each other to slow down. I was still 10 yards behind Colin when we hit the finishing straight -- and unlike last year, he went full gas at this point. It's a really long uphill finish on grass, but if they were going this early I had to go too. So I went all out.
Colin pulled alongside Sheldon and I fought my way slowly into their draft... 10 yards became 6 yards which became 3 yards. We were running out of course as fast as we were running out of gas.
Colin edged about half a bike length ahead, and Sheldon started to give up, just a tad. Colin's lead got a little bigger and he might have backed off just a little. Neither one knew I was there.
It was almost an amazing repeat of last year's sneak attack, but this time I came up just short, throwing the bike in vain about a wheel behind Colin and passing him after line. Then I lay down and dramatically flopped about trying to get oxygen for a bit, because that's my M.O, learned from xc ski sprinting. Guaranteed to get attention, or your money back.
So I ended up pulling out a 15th despite three trips to the pit and the awesomest crash I've ever had on a cross bike -- that's not really too bad. I'm looking at a front row callup for the big show in Gloucester, which makes me nervous and should scare you too.
As for my better half, how did she fare after missing most of her warmup running from pit to pit for me? Good enough to snag the last UCI point, in 10th, by half a wheel over Sally Annis... she should run between pits more often!