I am having a blast this cyclocross season. I’m up front in the Category 3 race. And I have the good fortune of racing with (and against) some really great people. Honestly, it’s a pleasure lining up against my nemeses. Andrew Haala (Tuxedo Thunder) has been tearing it up. Brian Piotrowski (xXx Racing) encourages me, even when he’s the person I’m pursuing. And Tyler George (xXx Racing) keeps beating me for the holeshot. While Andrew and Brian often get a gap on me and keep it, Tyler sometimes fades off the front after a lap or two. But just when you think you have him beat, Tyler finds a second wind and overtakes you in the final lap or so.

This weekend I raced at the fourth ChiCrossCup race in Carpentersville, where I went from being in the lead group to the chase group. With Andrew sitting this race out, I was excited to be the second racer called to the starting grid. Beating my call up position would have meant winning the race. I knew that wasn’t going to happen. But, I felt pretty good about my chances for a podium spot. The course was fun and technical. The ground was moist and tacky and only a little bit leg-sapping. Plus, a cardinal landed right at the official’s feet, delaying the whistle for a couple of minutes. (I have no idea whether it was an omen, but it was an interesting little event.)

Once the bird was safely in the hands of a spectator, the whistle went off and we were racing. I got a good start. I was second into the holeshot. I followed Tyler’s wheel in second place for half a lap. But when we got into the back section of the course, four racers came around me. This time, Tyler didn’t fade. He and Brian worked hard to build a gap and keep it. I passed one of the riders in the lead group, but then I soon lost touch with my friendly competition. By the end of the first lap, they were no longer in view. I didn’t see them again until I heard their names being called for the podium. Instead, I fended off attacks from the rest of the chase group of six or seven riders, most of whom were right on my wheel for the entire race.

The excitement came in the last lap of the race. I thought I was in the clear. But there was PJ Cavoto from Spider Monkey. He’d fought through the crowds to end up on my wheel. He got past me somewhere on the back stretch with one and a half to go. I passed him briefly on the banked turn, forcing him to take a high line, but he caught me on the straightaway. The bell rang as we passed the official’s tent. One to go. I chased him through the twisty section, down and up the little gully, past the back stretch and into the corn field. I gained a bit on him on the rollers, but he pulled away on the pavement. I followed him over the first barrier and into the grassy section. He pulled away again on the paved path, but I caught him again on the little bump of a hill. Around the off-camber we went. I was right on his wheel. He pulled away on the descent, but I caught him again on the barriers. He beat me to the banked turn this time around and took off down the home stretch. I came off the bank and got into my drops. Pumping the cranks, I did what I could to catch him. My heart was beating about as fast as it could. The long right arc toward the finish line had a little kink in it at the end. PJ braked at the kink. That’s all I needed to get right on his wheel. As we approached the finish line, I started to pull around him. I hoped I had enough course left to get past him. We threw our bikes at the line. I had him by half a wheel length.

It was the first time I had successfully timed a sprint. In fact, I don’t really think of myself as a sprinter, but I guess I have a little of it in my blood. The effort earned me a fifth place finish. Five seems to be my lucky number this year. I’ve gotten fifth in all but one cyclocross race I’ve done this year. I’ll take it. Last year, I managed to finish that high only once. I’m having a breakthrough season. Hopefully, I’ll earn my way onto the podium at some point this year. But even if I don’t, I’ll be out there going as hard as I can and having a great time while I’m at it. See you at the races.

by Paul-Brian McInerney