Caster's Cross Race Report

Last race of the cross season for me! Unlike most of the east coast, I'm not racing at Nationals. $50 to ride in a 200-person B men's field? You've got to be kidding me. I'll be there to laugh at the carnage and yell at pros, though.

My prerace warmup was, shall we say, suboptimal. The inital plan was to watch the first few laps of B women, yell at Linnea and my travelling companion Alex, and then hit the trainer and go race B men. That lasted about 2 minutes, because the first time Linnea rode by me she was yelling at me that the front brake was stuck on. Good thing we have a pit bike! Wait, we don't have a pit bike. So I run to the pit and she comes in. One look at it confirms that the problem I had earlier in the year is back -- the brake boss (I think that's the right word for it) is loose so one of the brakes is just being pulled onto the rim by the other brake. The only way to fix it is to take the brake completely off, tighten the post, and reattach the brake, which is obviously not the kind of fix you make in the pit. So we take off the front brake and send her back out. I run to the car (conveniently far away) to get the bike I was going to warmup, a bike I borrowed from a friend (she's riding my bike). Ride it back to the pit, meet her on the next lap and do a bike change. Of course this bike has my pedals on it, so we actually do a bike-and-shoe change. I bet Sven Nys never has to do that.

So now she's at the back of the women's field, on a bike without bartop brake levers and reversed brake cables. So she can't really ride it, but on the plus side, I now have almost half an hour to "fix" my bike.

Fifteen minutes of frantic mechanical work later, I have a semi-working front brake again. It has so much travel that I can only use my bartop levers (the normal ones don't have enough pull) and it's way off center, but it seems to be working, assuming the boss doesn't come loose again. So I book it over to B men's staging, take my pedals back off Linnea's bike and line up. Except I'm still wearing her shoes, so I can't clip in. This has the potential to be really bad, except I notice this just before she leaves, and then they delay the B men's start for an ambulance anyway. Awesome!

The shenanigins eventually subside and I get to line up at the back of field, where I belong. The start is fast, gradually downhill on pavement, so my goal is to not get wrecked, since the ambulance just left. The 70-strong field is already stringing out substantially thanks to some sketchy pack cornering on the first two paventment corners when we hit the sand. Whooo, 70 guys and bikes with too much adrenaline in a pit of sand! We run up the hill three people wide. People are getting hit in the face with bikes. People are dropping bikes on other racers' heads. People are kicking each other trying to remount. Cross is awesome!

From there the real race begins. The course is basically a ton of tight turns with little straights in between, so everyone's riding single file most of the way. If you want to make a pass you have to come out of a turn on the inside and hammer past the guy in front of you, and then kind of cut him off into the next turn. It's pretty fun racing, although hard to pass. I steadily move up on the first lap through a series of sketchy passes. We go into beach run #2 and someone endos trying to ride it. More chaos ensues.

After one lap I'm behind Thom Parsons (aka the amazing pink singlespeed) on the fast paved downhill, and he does an admirable job of spinning his legs off to stay in our 4-rider paceline. Then he drops us all on the next beach run.

Laps 2 and 3 are somewhat uneventful, as I head around the course suffering at the exact same rate as my riding companions. Then I end up in no man's land, riding by myself. There's a few guys about ten seconds ahead of me, so Alex helpfully points out from the sidelines that I would probably do better if I caught them. I decide it's worth the pain to shut her up, so I pick it up coming through for lap 4 and get back onto someone's wheel. And soon after that we catch Thom Parsons, who got left with no one to draft on the high speed section and has NO GEARS. Hooray! A dude on the sidelines tells us we're in 24th place.

This information is apparently too much excitement for my legs to handle, so the next time we hit the beach runup disaster strikes. The guy in front of me dismounts/crashes abruptly in the sand when I'm halfway through my dismount, and I land a bit awkwardly on my leg, hyperextending my knee. Typing that sentence makes my cringe. So I fall down in a heap in the sand and grab my knee. A few seconds pass. My knee doesn't hurt that bad, so I decide to get up. My knee doesn't want to hold any weight. I get knocked down. In an homage to my favorite band, Chumbawumba, I get up again. This time I can stand. But running up a sandy hill is another story. So I start hobbling, carrying my bike. There's a steady stream of people running past me as I gingerly walk up the sandy hill. The desire to race is rapidly leaving my body.

Nevertheless, I got back on the bike and started pedaling. My knee is basically ok now, except that my 60 seconds of sandy agony have taken me out of "race mode," and I can't get myself back into suffering. The people cheering for me are nice enough to pretend that nothing is wrong, even though I just dropped 15-20 places in a quarter lap. But the girls (Linnea and Alex) are yelling at me a lot, and I feel bad mailing it in with people yelling at me. There are definitely places to be made in front of me, so I gradually get back into the race.

By the last lap (lap 5) I feel like I'm racing again. I can tell I'm pushing hard because my cornering ability has really fallen apart. Coming off the last beach run there's a group of 5 right in front of me. The course really strings out a group so there's no way I'm going to win a sprint from the back of five people, so it's time for more sketchy passes. I get up to 3rd in the group by the time we make the 180 on the pavement and wind up the sprint. The first guy in the group has a small gap and blows us away. I dig in and beat the guy in 2nd to come in 35th place, 3:15 off the leader.

Looking at the results later, Thom and friends finished right around 25th, so I think I could've been up there if my leg hadn't malfunctioned in the sand. But you know what they say... "and if my grandmother had wheels she'd be a trolley." So I'll take my 35th place without making too many excuses.


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