The cyclo-cross nationals course in Kansas City was the toughest cyclo-cross course that I have ever raced. Set on the side of hill, the course consisted of a flat concrete start/finish that hooked right onto the hill. The course can be broken down into 4 parts, long grueling uphill, off-camber muddy descents, slippery run ups and sticky peanut buttery mud. Having registered as soon as the registration opened a couple of months ago I had a primo first row starting position.
With Kevin Clark and Al Urbanski in the pack I had some fast locals to mark, as I am not known for my my stellar starts regardless of starting position. Lining up with a 50+ pack on a long straight start I knew that it was gonna be tight fast and physical. 30 seconds to go the official said there would be no countdown to prevent false starts. After the longest 30 seconds of my life the whistle went off and the pack roared through the start.
Shoulder to shoulder, it was full contact with other riders as everyone was aiming to hit the hard uphill right turn. As I approached the turn several riders went down right in front of me. Luckily, I was able to stay up but I lost a lot of momentum going up the hill. With a bunch of riders passing me on that uphill it was going to be a battle. I saw Kevin Clark pass me.
All cross season long Kevin was my marked rider as I struggled in almost every cross race to beat him. This was the last chance of the season and I was not going to go down without a fight. My legs were feeling decent and I was able to pass riders on the climbs. The technical off-cambers turns, however, were not going in my favor. After about two laps in I started running out of gears. My legs were giving up on me even though I could see that Kevin was only about two riders in front of me. Each and every time when the course went up my legs kept getting weaker and weaker. Somewhere in the third lap near the highest point of the course I looked up and away from my own temporary pain cave to see KC suffering. He was looking down at his front wheel, pedaling squares, and riding painfully slow up the hill.
As soon as I saw this the killer instinct went on and I put in a big effort to pass him. I let him know that I was passing and he acknowledged. Knowing very well the power that I've seen him put down on those pedals I knew that I would have to fight to stay ahead of him for the rest of the race. For a brief moment my legs stopped feeling pain as I flew up the hill towards the run-up barriers at the top.
At the very top of the course there were three barriers that required a dismount. When you finally ran to the top you would remount your bike and descend into a turn. The ground at the bottom of this turn was hard and bumpy and had given me trouble remounting smoothly on previous laps. Perhaps filled with adrenaline and riding too hard, I remounted my bike after the barriers and clipped in my right leg. Keeping my left leg out for balance I was unprepared as I hit the bumpy bottom of the turn. My left foot went into my front wheel causing a me to endo pretty hard over the front of my handlebars. Luckily I got up and remounted again feeling only a temporary pain in my foot. My front wheel however, was toast.
With my foot I had managed to bend a spoke and throw my wheel off true. The wobble in my wheel was so big that it was rubbing pretty hard on my brake pads. After a brief try at trying to get back into the race I slide out on a muddy slippery off camber turn taking it way too hot for my skills. This pretty much ended my race. I rode the second half of the race conservatively. I had lost sight of Kevin and with a wobbly ineffective front brake I rode the rest of the race as an easy training ride. My cross season ended when i wiped out on the turn but my race would not finish until I crossed the finish line.
After half a lap debating whether to pull out of the race I came to the conclusion that I was not going to sit in a car for 8 hours only to dnf. Although the cyclo-cross season ended on a bittersweet note (I can beat Kevin, but I didn't) I want to thank all my teammates, those who I traded places with in the 3s Kevin, Zach. and to those who rode there first or second cross seasons and implemented a very humbling reverse sandbagging policy. I want to thank all my teammates, and rival teammates (Paolo and Luke from xxx) for giving me something to chase for all season long. See y'all at Jackson Park...