Being the HAC/North Central Cyclery event, and having missed Jackson Park, I felt compelled to enter both the Masters 50+ and the 4A race. Then Chris and Tobie conjured up the “Officially Unofficial Illinois State Cyclocross Single Speed Championship” (OUISCSSC) and I knew I had to break out the Lynskey Pro29 SS Mountain Bike for that one and do the triple play!  One of my sons, Jacob, was set to lug his Specialized Hardrock over the barriers in the Juniors race and my other son Evan wanted to "bang on his drums all day", so what the hell?

We met the team at the tent, got the Apfel Kuchen desert that Kristin made up to the bake sale, then sent Jacob out on the course to get a feel for it. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to pre-ride, as once the drum and cymbal were set up, the 3's race was set to kick the day off. No sooner did Evan get to banging, an official walks down and asks that the drums either STOP, or move elsewhere...arrgh!  Considering the scoring difficulties at Jackson, I could understand the desire for a bit of “peace” in the area.  So I asked where the Cuttin’ Crew was, as I know they always like a party, and Evan, Jacob and I lugged the drums up the hill on the back side of the course, where Evan was welcomed with open arms.  That left me little time for a good warmup for the Masters race, but I did get the legs moving a bit.

*Masters 50+*

A week ago, I was lining up for my 3rd and 4th cyclo-cross races ever at Planet Bike UCI in Madison, and I here I am “strategizing” how to line up for this one?  Seeing the layout of the short straight into the first hard-left turn, I chose to line up on the left, as the one thing I learned in Sports Car racing is that when the shit-hits-the-fan, it always pushes to the outside of the turn.  After the call ups, slot 1 and 2 were still open for no shows, so I go right up front next to Wayne.

At the gun, I get a good jump and sho’nuff, turn one clogs up, then stops again at the second left.  However, Wayne, the Alberto’s rider, another guy and me sneak through and start pushing.  Feeling pretty good, it seems these guys are getting more of a feel for the conditions as opposed to a flat-out charge, and it helps as I have know idea where I am going anyway.  However, about 3/4’s of the way through lap one, Wayne starts turning it up, and we respond.  I realize that I am in fourth, we appear to have a bit of a gap, and I say to me-self “feelin’ good, lets get going!”.  About this time, Wayne steps it up another notch and gaps us.  I pass for third, but the Alberto’s dude starts bridging between me and Wayne.

It's about now that I realize what an incredible course these guys created – it had a little bit of everything including the aggravating barriers in the woods...too far apart to run between them, and just close enough together to kill any momentum between them – clever.  Meanwhile, I notice that we are increasing the gap on the guys behind but knowing I can’t run with Wayne, I just keep my head down hoping to maintain a podium, or possibly catch Alberto’s if he fades or falls?  We start passing some of the womens’ group, then some of the 3’s, and I come up on Tim on the backside, where he says “Al, you’re near the front”, to which I respond “3rd – I think!”.

Still feeling strong, I have Wayne and the Alberto’s dude in sight, but I am not closing.  The bell lap went well – great encouragement throughout from the HAC tent, then Evan on the drums by the bus, then Kristin, Jacob and the Shiv at the barriers, then the Meinig’s in the trees, then finally Dave and Jason of Flatlandia when you get onto the front straight, it really helped me push hard enough to close-up the gap on the Alberto’s dude a bit, but certainly not enough to change anything.  Regardless, I was stoked to get a podium (3rd/25) out of a strong ride, and now felt much more confident in the bike, tires and myself.

*Race 2, OUISCSSC* – so no-sooner am I done with the Masters race, and they are lining up for the OUISCSSC!  I quickly pin my number on my “team pizza” vest, grab the Lynskey, and Kristin says “are your really gonna do another race NOW?”  I tell her, that this one isn’t “serious”, and as it is running with the juniors, I’ll probably just use it as a cool-down, catch up to Jacob and encourage him along.  I get to the line and pretty much all 25+ riders are already there, so again, I line up to the left, but near the back. We start talking “smack” between Jason, Josh, Kevin and me and have a quick “Hi” with Dan-the-scoring-man just before we are off.

(Photo: Michael Campbell)

Once again – same drill – shit falls apart at turn one-two complex and I somehow benefit.  A group of a dozen or so of us get a bit of a breakaway, and I feel remarkably good, as does my Lynskey Mountain Bike!  Looking over my shoulder, I see that I am in the “better half” of the group, and I start getting in the groove and I feel really surprisingly good.  Same encouragement from all the same gang (plus Tim now at the bus), and I feel like racin’ as opposed to cruisin’.  I catch, pass, and encourage Jacob, but press-on.  Eric is screaming at me to catch the dude in the Blackhawks jersey with the storm trooper helmet – so I do.  I am having a blast, so I cannot slow down!  I haven’t seen any “official”, unofficial results, but Jeremiah said I finished 11th, which would be awesome if true.  All I can say is that the crowd really charges you up and helps you along (mountain bike racing has NOTHING like that (except of course the HAC cheering crew)), so it is truly appreciated!  So, a great strong finish again, and I have to admit – the legs were starting to feel it.

So...I was now starting to have those “I really want a beer” feelings and was questioning whether I’d do the 4A race or not...I didn’t feel wrecked, just satiated to a certain degree and I just wanted to have some fun. But, everybody started asking “your not really gonna do another race, are you?” and the motivation came back – sort of.  Then Sarah asked Jacob to try on her bike for size and Julie suggested Jacob enter 4B, and I was totally motivated to race – again.

*Race 3, 4a* – lined up near the back, and again – to the left.  I did want to get closer to the front knowing there were 75 riders, but I got stuck somewhere in the middle of the pack when the gun went off.  Getting used to the routine now, I snake through the turn 1/2 bit unscathed.  I try to get a feel for the legs at the start of a pretty hard-charging group and realize I just have to give it what I got and hope I don’t run out of gas.  I am having a great race – feeling the hurt, but not that bad really...I am racing with guys, and feel competitive. The backside drum and cymbal section (Zach, Helge and Evan) push me that much faster through lap two and Per usual, I am getting all the encouragement I need to stay in the hunt.

Coming into the bell lap, I see that Jonathan is in front of me which tells me I must be somewhere near the front, but it was not to last. Last charge up the hill and although Tim and the “crew” are cheering me on, its about now I run out of leg...I lose one position after the hill toward the baseball field, then after the barriers, where I was able to hit the big ring and charge all-day, I hit a wall and 9 – count-em 9 guys blow by me on the asphalt!  I tried my best to hang with them, but literally died on the last barriers.  I did everything I could to not lose another spot – and didn’t, but had nothing left to fight with in front of me.  At the end of the day, I got 30th out of the 70+ riders, so having finished my 7th career CX race (3rd in a day), I was quite pleased.

The 4B race was a complete gas over by the drum section, and in addition to enduring the 115db Ben Popper cheering section, Jacob scooped 3 dollar handups in that same section of the course – on the same lap – hooked indeed!  Thanks to Chris, Tobie, Bob and the entire HAC crew for an incredible CCC weekend.  Wish we could do Dan Ryan, but we are gonna do the double and get a Wisco CX race on Saturday and the WORS Sheboygan closer on Sunday...cheers!

 -Al Thom