Cyclocross week two done and the groove is starting to come back. The traveling circus that is NECX—depending on where you live, you can interpret that as North East or New England—headed to Baltimore for two days of UCI racing. I liked the course last year but didn’t like getting robbed (both my and my teammate Dan Timmerman’s cars got broken into while parked near the racecourse). No such crime this year, though, thankfully, so I was able to focus all my anxiety on racing.
Bike racing is hard. That’s obvious to anyone who has ever tried it. But it’s impossible, at least for me, to communicate it to anyone who hasn’t. I mean, how do you tell someone what having your heart rate at 190 beats per minute for one hour really feels like? What most people can relate to the feeling of accepting defeat. On Saturday I did not finish my race. I hate that more than just about anything. I’m willing to limp through some atrocious shit just for the sake of finishing, yet sometimes you just have to swallow your pride and call it a day.
Looking back, the race started to go bad for me two laps in. I was struggling to stick with the leaders. This is actually normal enough because the lead group in a UCI elite race is pretty fast, but this time it felt different. I was struggling to push the pedals even on the downhills. I started to think my brakes were rubbing. Anyone who has raced has had that thought, or experienced a “mental flat.” Ninety-nine times out of a hundred it’s all in your head. Still, you look down anyway, just to check. And sure enough there it was: my brake spring flapping in the wind, decidedly not pulling my brake pad away from the rim. Mocking me.
At that point I had dug so deep into the red trying to ride through the problem that I was seeing double. I made it to the pit and hopped on my spare bike. A few corners later I was on the ground, having washed out in a sandy corner and landed on my side. My first thought was, Get up. My second thought was, You can’t breathe and your bike is right in the middle of the racing line—at least move it so it doesn’t get run over. This is when I quit.
As soon as you make the decision to stop, your body turns off the pain suppressors and lets you know just how badly you’ve been hurting yourself. I sat on the side of the course for a while, laboring to get my breath back, hoping I didn’t crack a rib. Eventually I got up. Now I was disappointed and angry with myself.
I walked to the car and slowly started to change into civilian clothes. The race would come by and I would see my teammate, Dan, in the lead group, smashing it with the U.S. national champion, Jonathan Page. Part of me wanted to cheer him on, but I couldn’t bring myself to watch a race I knew I should be in. The good news was that I didn’t have any fractures, and I suffered no real damage in the crash. I was also convinced that I got all my bad luck out of the way and was all set for a great ride the next day.
On Sunday I finished 11th, just missing my second UCI top 10 of the season. My power file
told me I had good legs, but still I wanted more from myself. I know I shouldn’t complain. There are plenty of folks who would be beyond themselves to finish 11th in a UCI elite race. Some perspective on the whole thing is important, but the desire for more is what keeps me training hard—the stubborn and statistically misguided idea that I think I can do better and go faster. The drive and unwavering support of Richard Sachs and the team, regardless of what place I finish in the pedaling-bikes-in-circles contest, keep me coming back weekend after weekend, to do it all over again.
Page won Saturday, but Stephen Hyde got the better of the U.S. champ on Sunday, out-sprinting him to the line and fulfilling my prediction from last week. I would have congratulated Hyde if he hadn’t chopped me in line at Chipotle after the race.
Bring on Gloucester.