The first race of the season, Jackson Park, always seems to be too hot for cross. Last year it was almost 90° and this year it was about 80° but muggy and moist. It was a sweatfest fast, and this was only during the pre-ride!
The "team":http://halfacrecycling.org was out in force. The 3's were mid-race when Dave, Jen and I showed up. Adrian passed by, followed by Zach. Kevin, unfortunately was on the sidelines. Surprised, I asked him why immediately. "My seatpost broke." He showed me a large crack in his carbon seatpost, which had clearly seen better days. Perhaps it was timely that I had just switched to a Thomson, I thought. While I'm sure all seatposts have a fatigue point, I'm glad I switched my carbon post out recently. A men's 1/2 rider, during his warm-up snapped the head of his Easton 90 post. Ouch. Better then than later.
Having no expectations, I took this race as what it was. A warm-up and sure humbling for the season to come. I knew this was going to be harder than the rest of the season as I shake out my nerves and get that first race done with. The other races may be harder but mentally, I needed to get past this one.
The fields were large. Of course, being a race within city limits will bring a large crowd and many were trying cross for their first time. I lined up with the 4A's and felt cramped. We were shoulder-to-shoulder on the line, tight as we could be and yet there were still four to five rows of riders lined up across the wide line. GO!
We were off, plenty of riders bottlenecking into the first turn, lots of people fighting for placing right off the bat. My goal was to stick with the main group and work my way up. The tight turns and barriers on the first set of hilly switchbacks started to string us out some but there was a lot of plugging. A foot down here, a slower barrier run-up as people were massing up galore. Being passed and passing. Off to the park's back-end and around and in for one lap.
Before the race started, the official mentioned that these were six and a half minute laps. So, that brought is in at about 4 laps, 5 if were fast. I saw the counter. It said 5 to go. Damn. These were fast laps indeed.
Second go around and I pick up friend "Jeff Kao":http://jeffkao.net and I've decided that now that we've been strung out some, that I was going to use Jeff as my race buddy and pacing person for the race. The race within the race.
The second lap is always the lap when you hurt the most, at least for me. The lap when you think you're the stupidest person in the world for doing a cyclocross race, when you think, "Why the hell do I do this? Why the hell am I doing this!" But then, you find your pacing and you have to give in a bit.
Over the switchbacks, about to hit the corkscrew turns and I'm trying to get Jeff on a bit of flat pavement, when we both turn into a sharp 90. Jeff slows up just a touch while I try to turn tighter on the inside but I'm too tight and I overlap Jeff and my wheel just doesn't get tight enough inside of his back wheel on the outside. We lock, we tangle and for a few milliseconds we dance awkwardly. And I go down. I take Jeff's bike out from under him but he's upright. I get up and what we're presented with is comical almost. My STI lever has one of his spokes sandwiched between the brake lever and shifter lever. My handlebar is somehow in between his rear wheel and his seat stay. We spend a minute or two trying to untangle, me, sorry, and Jeff saying, "We can do this." And we do. All it takes is us moving the wheel in reverse, exactly the opposite way it happened. And we're out. Jeff is off and I'm trying to go but the bike doesn't move. I lose another minute. My front wheel isn't moving. What?! My right canti arm is pushed in and the pad has moved past the rim and into the wheel, under the braking surface. I tug as hard as I can while flexing the wheel to the outside left and manage to get the canti arm free. I'm back on and away we go. Jeff has a good lead here. I think I've lost him.
I'm pissed. Pissed at the situation, at myself for trying to take him on a tight turn (though I'm thinking all the time, "Races are won and lost on corners and turns.") but what's done is done. I hear encouragement and everyone telling me that I can still catch Jeff. So I try to do so. I manage to eventually catch him and I realize that I'm Jeff's motivation.
We're both in the pain cave but somehow still able to talk. We're obviously not willing to push hard enough to puke at the end. But we're out of the groove now. My right shoulder starts to ache where the pavement and my right side made contact. I didn't realize until I saw the photos how dirty I was. Everyone knew I had fallen somewhere but not many people had seen it.
As lap 3 ended into lap 4, I was hurting and mentally I was almost checked out. But I'm not a quitter. I wanted to finish and the goal of any race for me is to not finish Dead Fuckin' Last. So I picked up the pace again and caught up to Jeff. The awesome Mexican kids on the backside of the course were cheering us and putting their hands out for a high-five. I slapped some skin and they cheered. That was the highlight of the race.
One more lap to go, as I saw 1 on the counter and we're going through again, the leaders coming out of nowhere and lapping us on the last lap as we passed through the corkscrew turns and into the backside. This was where I decided I need to make my move and listen to that piece of advice I hear all the time, "The goal is to pass the guy in front of you." And in this race within a race, Jeff was the guy I needed to pass. I knew I had energy so I downshifted and pushed it. I managed to pass another guy too and hit the last stretch of pavement pushing hard and over the finish line. I signaled to the officials with a neck cutting motion to see if this was it. I got no indication either way. I pull off and Jeff comes through a few moments later but keeps going.
A feeling of dread came over me as I wondered whether or not I had mistakenly pulled off the course early. But there was some contention there and later Jeff said he had indeed taken an extra lap. I'm still not sure what was going on as the Flatlandia rider who had passed me with the fella from xXx seemed to have taken an extra lap as well or some such. I ended the race confused. And pissed. Not a good feeling.
No one really talked about the race, post, aside from some trying to sort out what was going on with the laps and if people had done extra. We just soaked up the warmth, drank a load of water and mingled with everyone who had come out. The friends and support were the best consolation to a race I left not knowing what really happened.
The results will tell us the story. And hopefully shed some light for this confused racer.
Good Times™ regardless.
_All photos by "Jen Schuetz":http://treesquirrel.org. See more of her photos from Jackson Park here._