Jacob, Evan and I got to Bartlett about 9:00 - just enough time to get our numbers, do a "mini" pre-ride, and hike-a-bike all the way back to the car to get suited-up for the Masters 50+.  Felt good to finally get a call-up, and its great to really start to get to know some of my foes.  Well, like a dumbass, i determine while standing on the line that my pressures are too high, so I bleed-off some air, but my glove gets stuck in the front valve, and by the time I get it shut, I have like 10 psi in the tire - sheet!  Whistle blows, and we're off!

The group seems slow by the time we get to turn one, so I take the lead down to the hairpin, where my front tire is trying to peel itself off the rim every time I turn, and is bottoming-out on goose turds.  Wayne and Tom go around, as does some "other" guy (one of the Wisco series transients).  I am waddling around in 4th or 5th trying to decide if I should pit for a wheel swap, but decide to wait-out the lap till I see Jacob or Evan, as I would rather have a couple pumps of air and keep the tubies on.  There they were at Heckle-hill, screaming ride it, ride it!  I yell “get me a pump – to the PITS!” and ride the mud-coated hill with surprising ease.  I finish the lap and there is Soupy and Evan at the pit-in with pump in hand – I yell “on the back side” and start lap two, loosing another position to another Wisco transient in the fear of peeling-off the tire.  However, I feel I got a decent gap on the balance of the field and pull in on the back straight.

About 10 pumps later I am off and lost two more spots.  I get one back before the muddiest turn, then get the other after the woodchips into the back course.  The view on the back course shows me the work ahead, and I try to put my head down and get a few good laps in.  However, the sun comes out, and I start to overheat, my breathing becomes labored, but I soldier on. I hit the hill again, time it perfect and climb again without trouble, but a bit of wheelspin.  The encouragement from Evan, Jacob, Soupy, the color commentary team from Cuttin’ Crew and anybody else I failed to see really, really helped me get up that hill, and I knew I was gaining ground there every time.

Lap three wasn’t much rest as I could see I was gaining on 5th spot, so I pressed a bit – still overheating, I was beginning to question the back-to-back routine for the 3’s, then I mentally slapped myself in the face and said suck-it-up, punk, and kept pushing.  The hill was now my favorite spot (like the pump track at Carpentersville), as I had the perfect line figured out and knew that if I timed it right, I would nail it every lap – which I did.  I caught the 5th spot on the short back straight on the last lap, but was too far back to make a run at 4th.  I found out that the two Wisconsin guys in front of me were two guys I had a great race with in my hometown a few weeks back (where I finished 3rd), so I guess I once again finished 3rd to Wayne and Tom, with two cheeseheads splitting them and me.  It was bittersweet considering my mistake on the start line. 5th of 24, and I move up to 5th in the points!

Race number two, 3’s – got some hydration, stripped a layer off and lined up behind the Half Acre clan for what I knew would be a good slog in a big group.  Got a pretty killer start and knew the sheet would hit-the-fan at turn one and chose the tight inside for a change...it worked pretty well till I got to the tight lefty following, where I lost a couple spots – had a good run to the barriers with Helge and could see Soupy, Kevin and Adrian nearby, and Zach and Chris a few spots up ahead.  Coming round the hairpin, I hear expletives from Chris standing on the side with what turned out to be a blown chain – damn!  Meanwhile, having had 4 laps under my belt, I had a pretty good feel for the course and capitalized nicely on it, taking a few spots here, and a few spots there as we start stringing out a bit.  Kevin made a nice pass stick in the run down to the back twisties, but I made a good return at him on one of the hairpins – but pinched him a bit on the exit (sorry Kevin).

As we come to Heckle Hill for the first time, I can see a pack hitting it and knew there would be some mayhem, so I backed-off a bit on the asphalt to ensure a good roll into the hill, and once again my boys and the CC cheering section helps pedal me up the hill while others are running up the inside, and the exit speed off the hill worked nicely as well.  Oddly, although I wasn’t quite “feeling it” in the first race, I was feeling much better for this one and was really racing with a bunch of guys, so I just kept punchin’ it – while having “fun”.  The course didn’t give much of a break between all the soft ground and the increasing wind, but what it did give you was a good read on your competitors positions.  I could see that I was closing a bit on Zach, and it looked like Adrian was closing on me, so I pushed it that bit harder.  Zach went down in the muddy corner, which closed it up more, then we worked together for a bit till I went ahead.  I caught Ted Burger, which surprised me, caught a couple more, blasted the hill once again, went down my ownself in the muddy corner lapping someone, but felt really damn good for my second race...I came across the line to a high-five from Chris, 28th of 74.

However, the real excitement of the day was the carnival at heckle hill for the 4’s.  Absolutely nothing in the sport is more inspirational the the sheer energy for everybody that hit that hill, and the true excitement was watching my son Jacob (on Sarah’s bike) try to ride it every lap and nail-it on one of the attempts to the roars of the crowd and his teammates – all I can say is that EVERYBODY on the team has to at least witness a CX race, if not participate in one – its the closest thing to Belgium we got here in Chicago!  Hats off to CCC, Jim Nowak and ABD for another awesome event!

 -Al Thom