Before I get into my weekend, I want to take a moment to congratulate Anthony Clark on his first UCI podium this past weekend. I’ve been racing with Anthony for three years, and he’s one of the hardest-working guys I know. In fact, because he’s also a dad, I’m sure he’s the hardest-working guy I know. He’s also probably the most unfiltered. I’ll bet he’s freaking out right now on Twitter at @tweakn101.
I always struggle a little with rooting for my competitors. Part of me is happy that guys I consider friends are doing well, but it’s much easier to do when these guys aren’t direct competitors. Sometimes it feels a little bit too much like accepting defeat. That might sound a little dramatic, but bike racing has a tunnel-vision effect on life for a lot of guys who race at the elite level (myself included). When you step back, though, and remember that it’s just riding bikes in circles, then you’re damn happy for your friends’ success.
My recent two days of racing were another up-and-down affair, in part because the race at Ellison Park in Rochester, N.Y., is the hilliest cyclocross course on the East Coast. I totaled over 2,000 feet of climbing this weekend. And to sort of make it up to the riders, Ellison offers incredible production. The organizers try hard and it shows. This was the third year Rochester hosted a UCI event, and it was by far the deepest field to date. The only other challenge was, with 750 miles of driving over the weekend, Rochester is far from Brooklyn.
My teammate Dan Timmerman graciously offered to host BrittLee and me on Friday night. His place is 60 miles from the race, in the Finger Lakes region of central New York, and it was the second time we’ve stayed at Dan’s. He lives in a cabin in the woods. His guest room is a yurt; it has a wood stove and a cozy bed. Since we’d visited him last year, he’d gotten chickens and ducks. The bathroom is still a bucket with some sawdust on the floor, but the view from his place is hard to beat, especially in the morning.
So we started Saturday with Dan making us pancakes from acorn flower, before caravanning to the race.
The course was well laid out with fun technical features, but it would all come down to the long, winding switchback climb and the tricky descent that follows it. Both presented opportunities to open or close gaps, but this assumes the legs are cooperating—a big ask on this course. Anything less than a good day would likely result in steady backward progress through the field.
When I’m suffering and going backward all I want to do is quit, but that’s never an option. I try to convince myself that this miserable hour will make me stronger, and so I keep riding, trying to ignore the riders going past me. The good thing about pedaling around the course this slowly is that I can hear the announcer. This weekend it was the same guy who called the local race I’d done in New Jersey the previous weekend. When I would ride by him he would tell some complicated story, like how I raced the single-speed race last weekend against a guy on a carbon belt-driven cyclocross bike and won by putting him in the bushes. Of course none of it was true, but we all got a good laugh over it. So Saturday I learned that announcers tell stories, the factuality of which is not the primary concern.
That night we went out with the JAM Fund crew and celebrated Anthony’s well-deserved podium. Anthony bought dinner for Stephen Hyde (mentioned in this column before), as he was the team’s highest finisher of the day. Then Stephen Hyde bought dinner for their mechanic, Stephen Pierce, as it was his birthday. But seriously, that whole team is way too nice to one another.
Sunday the course was much the same except it went backward and the descent became the climb. I was positive that no one was not looking forward to another hour of what felt like constantly riding uphill—I wasn’t anyway. This time I started slow and chilled for the first two laps. After the early dust settled I realized I had better legs on day two, and my race became a steady forward progression through the field. I didn’t make top 10, but I was content with 13th.
The only obstacle left was the 350-mile drive home.