Sunday at Northampton I faced a new dilemma -- how to get motivated when you didn't suck on Saturday? Usually I have a crushing defeat from Saturday motivating me to KILLKILLKILL on Sunday, so there was definitely a big, empty hole where my motivation should be. I remember sitting at breakfast, thinking, "no matter what happens today you got 27th yesterday. You're a decent bike racer. It's ok, buddy" Not exactly fire and brimstone, and yes, I call myself "buddy" in my head.
I think the real turnaround in my desire was due to the fact that the Northampton Day 2 course is awesome, the weather was perfect, and the spectators were out in force. Even the grinchiest curmudgeons would have fun. And if you're having fun racing your bike, everything else just works out. Funny, that.
So we lined up with a palpable sense of fear in the field -- after yesterday's start issues, most of us were just hoping to make it through the first turn intact. Our reaction to the $200 lap one prime showed it -- when was the last time you told guys they could have extra money for riding fast and heard groans from the crowd? We were SCARED.
And of course, scared racers are definitely more likely to go down. Adam Craig pleaded with us not to kill him. We tried anyway.
I was in the crash, but I stayed on my bike, upright and unharmed. I was on the brakes early (good reflexes or scaredy-cat?) and thus got pushed into it by guys who weren't on 'em as fast. In the end, all cameras on the bike survived (phew) and I got a bit of a jump on much of the field.
Unlike the day before, though, the front group got away completely clean, so I was on my own from the beginning. On the first lap I came across Dylan, who was getting up after stacking it behind the sandpit (kinda like me the day before, actually) and I got on his wheel and thought, "take me to the front, baby!" Then Dylan dusted me so fast, I had a 2008 B Men flashback. He is strong. I bet you already knew this.
I ended up behind Dave Wilcox, who unlike Dylan at least stays in sight while beating me, and I heaped all the pressure I could on him about riding the runup. Shockingly this didn't help him clean it in traffic, and thus, I was running too. Bah.
On the top of the course we picked up the Embrocation train of Pete Smith and PVB, with PVB's "apprehensive race face" making a great seat cam appearance. After the pavement we discovered Pete had a softening rear tire, because it was making that awesome fart sound whenever he tried to turn. At least his glue job was solid.
So we dropped Pete off in the pit, Ethan Gilmour and Manny Goguen came through, but eventually things settled out into the regular crew of guys I have ridden with this year - Wayne Bray, Todd Wheelden, Dave Wilcox. Somehow Wayne and Todd got up the road (as usual) probably while I was trying to think of something dumb to say to Adam Craig as he passed me. In retrospect it would have been the only time I could ever say "Adam I love your blog" and pass it off as a joke. God, why didn't I say it?? And his blog is awesome, by the way.
Around the midpoint of the race, John Burns caught Wilcox and me, and he was MOTIVATED in the way that only a guy who DNF'ed Saturday could be. With his Mainer buddy Wheelden just up the road, Burns wanted to GOGOGO, and since I was already suffering to hold Dave's wheel, I wanted to STAYSTAYSTAY. So Burns flies by, saying "come on guys, we can get there," and I shoot myself in the leg to stay with him. Basically it was the friendliest attack ever. I want to try that some time, attack the shit outta someone but say "come on, let's go" as you launch. But I digress.
So I hung on to Burns and Wilcox, just barely, and only because I could roll back onto the group in the corners (told you it wasn't a pure power course). At one point I railed a corner and had a shot at leading, so I took it. After a 60-second pull I was DONE. I cleaned the ride up (showing the guys behind me the line, I might add) and then went up in flames. They both passed me back with WATTS, but once again I was able to hang on by letting it hang out on the 180s.
Soon after that I noticed how big Dave's calves are, and I decided that if I had any hope of staying in this group I couldn't pull ever again.
They hardly ever asked me to, luckily, Burns and Wilcox just kept hitting it and I kept getting oh so almost burned off, only to get back on under braking. Soon we picked up Wheelden, and then Wayne Bray (public enemy #1!), to make a group of five with 3 or so laps to go.
solobreak and he said to me, "you're the smartest guy in this group, make a plan!"
Of course I have three years of blogging about stupid things I do on a bike to dispute the first part of that sentence, but whatever, the second part is what matters. You mean I have to use my brain? Yes Virginia, there are tactics in cross. Ok, I'll make a plan.
Wayne was also using his brain. With the lap cards ticking down, cooperation was becoming less desirable, so he sat in for a half lap and then attacked. Of course I could do nothing except spectate, but Dave "two laps to go" Wilcox and his giant calves shut it down. So Wayne sat in some more, then attacked again. Dammit Wayne, stop thinking!
After 60 minutes of this I was dying, but in a "I can die a few more times" kind of way. So I started with the plan, which wasn't rocket science -- don't get dropped, move up in the sand, win the sprint. The sand was the only place on the whole course I was dominating the group, and it came 90 seconds before the finish, ideal.
Of course before the sand on the last lap, Wayne attacks again, and with the finish coming up no one is as keen to chase it down. He gets 5 seconds and it looks like we're racing for 2nd (there was no one else in the race at this point in my mind), but then has a huge crash over the bars, almost like riding a sandpit at a higher than usual speed when full of lactic could be difficult or something.
Obviously I was last into the sand, but due to sand magic/adrenaline/luck I slayed it and came out first. It was actually too good, because I had never planned on being first wheel from this far out. The only thing I had going for me was a bit of a gap, and hesitation from Burns to close it (the seat cam knows all!).
My calves had been twinging for the last few laps so I was definitely not sprinting from that far out. Burns and Wilcox rolled back onto my wheel before the last 180 onto the start loop, when suddenly I got a great idea -- "this 180 is only about 250m before the finish line, and a launch from 200m is no problem on the road!"
Yes, because cross speeds are just like road. You're the smartest guy in the group, Colin.
But anyway, cornering had been saving my bacon for an hour, may as well work it. I punched it for all I was worth out of the last corner and looked back -- 3 bike lengths, so they aren't drafting much -- oh sweet, I am going to hurt REALLY BAD for a bit now.
So I did! But it worked! And it turned out to be a sprint for 17th place!
Let's be fair here, without Dave dragging me around for 30 minutes I would've had no chance. I basically did nothing except chase back on four times a lap until the last two minutes -- but as they say, "that's bike racing."
Picture-in-picture video coming one of these days.
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