I think that’s what was going through my head as we started the second lap. I was ready to pull out right there. Seriously, I could see the car. I had totaly blown the start of my debut into cross racing: back of the pack at the line, slipped up clipping in when the whistle blew, timid take off… pretty much everything about my start was wrong. And when that’s the game you bring to the table, all you’re left with is the dusty scraps of the back of the pack.
But then that little voice popped up again. Kind of faint at first. Sort of like when every Who in Whoville started to sing on Christmas day. And the Grinch came to his senses and high-tailed it down that slope. But instead of the Whoville and the Grinch, it was the competing mentalities of my own head. And instead of christmas carols, it was “What the fuck are you doing… (sorry, I curse a lot when I’m talking to myself) …crying like a baby in the back of the pack? Ride like a man and get up there, punk ass bitch!” (Oh, I seem to be misogynistic, too… again, I apologize. I just want to be accurate. )
It was time to stop riding scared and get some game on! Grrrr! So I turned on the machine that makes all the pain go numb and I got down to business. Relax the face, shake out the arms and shoulders, open the mouth and let the dust-textured air flow. It’s kind of like religion in that it only works if you don’t think too hard about it…
Focus on the target.
I could care less about the people right in front of me. The guys I care about are right…up…there…
Everyone else is just part of the course.
I found passing people in a cross race to generally be easier than mountain biking because the usable riding area is so much wider. Just the intensity is greater. Wait for a sweeping turn and take the inside line to pass 3 or 4 guys at a time. That seemed to get me up the pack pretty well. Plus, I had really been nervous about how I would perform at the barriers in a race situation, so I practiced a lot at night which helped. About 3 laps of that and I finally had a good position.
By then however, those 3 guys I had my sights on had a nice little rhythm going and they were off the front. I was so beat from getting where I was. Another guy started to bridge up and I had nothing. I let him go. Had to recover.
“4th, that’s OK isn’t it? I can probably hold on to that.” I checked my watch. “30 more minutes like this?! Oh fuck.”
In 4th place limbo for what felt like eternity. No one catching me, but I wasn’t making progress. Every time check: “8 seconds!”
Jesus, 8 seconds might as well be eternity. Then I saw it. One of them up there was cracking, falling off the back. Little in bike racing is more motivating than seeing people in front of you cracking.
Then, like that. On the next climb, I was up there. No fan fare. It just was. I wasn’t sure If I’d caught everyone, we were passing through a lot of the field by then. I kept pedaling. “Focus on the target” a climbing friend used to say when I was at the crux.
Focus on the target.
People weren’t giving me time checks anymore. Where was that guy?
Was I that guy? Oh shit.
I check my watch. The race is supposed to be over but we’re still riding. If we have to do another lap, I quit. I take the run up slow, it really hurts and I’m pretty sure puke is in my future. The guy in orange passes me. “Go on then” I think. “I’ll catch you on the down hill.” He looks at me, it seems inquisitive, as he runs past. I’m delirious. Back on the bike down the hill, he’s in front as we ride over the roots and hop the curb. I push to keep him in sight up the short climb when a thought occurs to me.
“Is this the final lap?” Oh shit.
And like that it’s over. I come around the bend and make the left onto the finishing straight just in time to watch as he raises his arms in victory.
Wow, cross racing is rad.