Yesterday I made it out to Augusta for the third race in the Georgia Cross Series. I had cracked a rib in an unplanned bellyflop in Pisgah a few days earlier so I didn't have high expectations. I was ok to ride but expected cx would hurt. Sprinting, pulling up on the bars, remounts, run-ups, would all hurt.
I went from declaring I couldn't race, to maybe I could race, to telling people not to let me register for the race because I thought I could but I shouldn't, to planning on going to just do a practice lap and then do beer handups. So I showed up at the venue too late to do a practice lap, took a fast look at the course and decided I could race without it hurting too bad. My enabler friends didn't even try to talk me out of it, the next thing I knew I was putting down my money and signing the waiver. There was still time to yell and heckle the men's Cs, women's Bs, and singlespeed categories before my race start. We had our team tent in perfect location for handups so I went about doing both PBR and pop tart handups for a while.
Right about when I noticed how little time was left before my race start I realized two things: a) while my cx bike had never looked better with fresh white bar tape, a new white saddle, and new lime green cable housing, I had forgotten to dial in the shifting after recabling the bike so would really be racing on a 2x7, or possibly even a 1x7, instead of 2x9. And b) I was hungry and thirsty, there was no food or drink at the tent except for beer and poptarts, and I didn't have time to go back to the car. Both a) and b) might slow me down. But given that it was my first time racing in the As and I had a cracked rib and wasn't expecting much I decided that going slower might not be all that bad. So I drank a PBR, ate a strawberry pop tart, and rolled down to the start.
Women's As and Men's Bs raced together, and suprisingly on the starting line there were only 5 women. Turned out the serious women cross racers were up in Louisville for the big-money UCI race. Some casual discussion drove home the fact that with 5 people in the category, the guaranteed payout of 3rd place might actually be in reach for me. I sandbagged for a while, mentioning the cracked rib, the fact that I only race endurance mtb, and the fact that this was my first race since upgrading. I didn't mention the PBR and the pop tart.
We were off and I led into the first corner, then got passed by 2 women before the first run-up. It turned out it actually does hurt to clamber up a steep rocky slope with a bike in one hand 5 days after a cracked rib. The course was decent, there were some fun sharp turns and some nice rideable steeps to dig into. First and second were way ahead and I was probably not going to catch them. Near the end of the second lap I threw the chain to the outside of the chainring and couldn't ride it back on, when I stopped to fix it fourth place almost caught me, but back on the bike I opened the gap again. Sprinting away brought up an unpleasant memory of my beer and poptart pre-race snack and as I neared the spectators heckling at the run-up I had to give myself a serious pep-talk to keep from hurling. When I got in range of my team's tent I yelled that I needed some water when I came by, but they were busy chatting. The Loose Nuts guys nearby heard me and said they had beer or wine but I yelled water! When I got over there I was dreading a wine handup but they actually had water-- then I dropped it and didn't get anything after all. Thanks anyway guys.
In the fourth lap I managed to have a second shifting problem. Remounting after the barriers I caught the rear derailleur cable on my shoe tread which pulled the derailleur all the way to the smallest cog. Which was a problem, since this was one of the cogs my maladjusted derailleur wasn't reaching. I had to stop and move it back over manually, and again fourth place almost caught up to me. I sprinted away and railed all the turns at top speed. The women's field got lapped by the Men's Bs lead group right near the end of this fourth lap so mercifully I was spared a fifth lap. A podium spot for less than 45 minutes of work seems so decadent.
Big ups to my teammates despite them totally missing my need for a handup. Eric won the singlespeed category on a fixed gear bike and had a strong finish in the Bs as well. What else would you expect from the official holder of the title Most Bad Ass Mountain Biker In The World? Alex fought a good race for sixth in the As. I think our team actually had at least one racer in every category this race which is pretty impressive.
The controlled environment of a cyclocross course pretty much demands risk taking and the payoff is a nearly unadulterated high. That clean, fine burn of a total redline effort is fantastic. Standing around after finishing we were all stoned on endorphins. It's easy to see how cyclocross gets addictive, as that post-race high fades you start looking around for the next hit like a dirty junkie.