The Canton Cup highlights one of the things that makes 'cross so different from mountain bike racing: it's one of the least interesting courses around, but as long as you can find a group of dudes to mix it up with it's a BLAST. If you get stuck time trialing around by yourself on the mostly-straight, minimally-technical, 9-minute laps, I'll forgive you for thinking that it sucks. But 'cross was meant to be social, so an unselective course can still be totally awesome.
See how I just said nice things about Canton even though I *hate* the course? Coffee makes me so positive sometimes!
This year's Canton was on SNOWPOCALYPSE EVE and every race on Sunday was cancelled. The only chance to look for one's power animal was Canton... so when the weather turned from "45 and overcast" to "40 and effin pouring" two hours before the elite race there was nothing to do except take that lemon mother nature gave us and take a big old bite of it. Yes. This is going to suck. We are going to be cold. We are going to destroy our bikes, our clothes, and possibly our will to pedal -- but it's better than waking up with that antsy didn't-race-bikes tension on Monday. Right? Or is that just me?
ANYWAY. In a rare instance of using my brain at a race, I pinned my number to my team jacket, wore my heaviest gloves, wool socks and booties. I was *never* hot enough to want to unzip the jacket, and I still lost feeling in my hands and feet by the 45-minute mark. No wonder some of the dudes in skinsuits got peculiarly slow in the second half of the race...
The whistle blows and we have a BLINDING holeshot on the puddle-covered road. I think I had debris in my eyes within five seconds of the race starting and would repeat this experience several times per lap for the rest of the day.
So sprinting over speed bumps and around wet corners with one eye closed is not my forte, and thus my start was not very good. Wasn't I just saying something about how the best part of Canton is finding a good group to race with?
Yeah, well, when it's pouring rain Canton gets a LOT slower, and drafting becomes a totally gross endeavor, so the groups were not anywhere near as fun as usual. However, what few turns did exist on the course had achieved ULTIMATE RADNESS and involved actual bike handling, bringing the fun-meter back to acceptable levels.
I spent a lot of lap one riding behind Al Donahue (!!) as he was warming up the nuclear reactor that powers his legs. He was actually holding me up quite a bit for the first few minutes, and I passed him by hopping the mini barriers (AWWW YEAH!). Of course he soon came steaming by me and was never seen again. DOESN'T MATTER, PASSED AL.
At the end of lap one the sadness was confined to my legs and my lungs, which was refreshing given the weather. Last time I raced in conditions like this I dropped out 10 minutes in.
However there was still significant sadness to be had, as Mike Wissell rode away, and Jeff Elie easily bridged up to me on a power section.
Wait.. Jeff Elie? Who?
OH SHIT, IT'S A TOP-25 CAT 3!
I WAS JUST BLOGGING ABOUT HOW THESE GUYS CAN HOLD THEIR OWN IN THE ELITE RACE!
Damn. A guinea pig for my own blog post, how unfortunate. I'll be playing the role of "mediocre cat 2 with delusions of superiority" and Jeff will be playing the role of "guy who would be fine if he upgraded." Sadly, Kerry Litka was not there to enjoy the epic battle that was about to ensue.
So then I rode fifty more minutes with Jeff. Like everyone else I end up evenly matched with, he was a little more powerful than me but a little worse technically. He'd pressure me on the road, and in the soggy fields, and I'd close the gap back down by riding the barriers, corners, or nearly the runup. For a while, I thought it was going to be desperately painful to hang on, but then the lap cards came out and they told a sad, sad story: we were only halfway done.
This dampened our already-wet spirits and the pace slackened just a bit, and I realized Jeff was probably just as sad as me.
We caught the first of several frozen shells-of-men and I lifted the pace a bit as I went around. Jeff went right around as well and back onto my wheel. Damn. What we have here, I'm afraid, is "equal sadness." So we will be sprinting this one out in about 30 minutes, unless someone makes a mistake, I decided.
Jeff may not have been as resigned to a sprint and thus we continued to ride quite hard. We caught a now-hypothermic Wissell and also a Corner Cycle dude (Sam Morse? Too much mud to tell), neither of whom appreciated the Elite/Cat 3 bragging rights that were on the line. Near the end we were even in sight of TWO Keoughs (fully grown ones!) which made me think we were doing pretty decently. However there was a still a Cat 3 riding easily behind me, which doesn't fit the "Colin is having a good race" storyline. I was confused and frightened.
My finish sprint success rate is *shockingly* high (of course, my make-it-to-the-finish-line rate is shockingly *low*, freakin UCI...) so I told myself "just don't eff something up and you should be fine."
Then we went over the final set of barriers and I effed something up! I did that thing where you accidentally downshift your front derailleur when you pick the bike up by the hood. It's ok, though, just get it back in the big ring quickly before the sprint starts...
A really good way to blow a front shift that ordinarily works fine it to do it while PANICKING. It took me three tries because I was mashing the lever like an idiot while jamming the pedals to stay with Jeff while he accelerated. FINALLY it went into the 44 just in time for the real sprint to open up, and I freaked out to win it by a bike length.
BEAT ALL THE CAT THREES AWWW YEAH. Keepin' that Elite street cred (just barely) intact!
As is required in 2011, we both tweeted pictures of the epicness:
|My face is dirtier because I draft more.|
This was definitely the most fun I've had in a 40-degrees-and-raining race, so I'm gonna keep racing in my jacket when that happens. Not like anyone was out there taking pictures of me anyway!