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The Ring: A Collection of Voices

Mud, Bikes, and A Little Whiskey

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Richard Sachs, my team boss, just sent me an email with a YouTube link to “Excitable Boy” by Warren Zevon and the line “ps-sing along.”

Words by Dan Chabanov // Photo by Keith Snyder

You have as much context for this as I do. So if anyone has any ideas what Richie is trying to tell me, please let me know.

So this past weekend it was back to business for the team at the Cycle-Smart International. For so much of the New England cyclocross community, this is a home race. I drove up Friday night to Richie’s house. We had some whiskey and speculated about Season 3 of Netflix’s “House of Cards.” A productive Friday-night team meeting for sure.

On Saturday we woke to rain and cold. Everyone at the race seemed to be psyched about the “cyclocross weather.” I was just cold and wet. Don’t get me wrong: Racing in the wet is fun. But preriding, warming up, and setting up in the rain isn’t that much fun. In five years of racing this was also the first time it has rained at CSI. And then there were the “pro-only” sections of course.

Honestly, I can’t praise this concept enough. It’s ridiculous to me that the best riders are competing on the same course as beginners. Nothing against beginners, or the inclusive tradition of American cyclocross, but a course suitable for beginners is just not challenging enough for the elites, and a challenging course for the elites is going to be downright discouraging to someone who are just starting out.

The first day’s pro line was hard earlier in the day, and it took me a few attempts to get it down when it was drier. My teammate Dan Timmerman rode it once, said it wasn’t that hard, and moved on to the figuring out the rest of the course. As the rain came down harder I decided to just commit to running because I wasn’t finding enough traction to get going fast enough to make it. (I really shouldn’t have spent that much time on this one obstacle, though. I paid for it with sloppy riding in my first two laps while I figured out the course.)

I mentioned how I’m not a huge fan of preriding when it’s raining. Well, there are a few reasons for this. One is that, as it rains, the lines inevitably change. So there isn’t really much of a point to learning the perfect line, because it’s going to be different when you race anyway. A big part of being good in the mud is adapting quickly.

So on Saturday, after the sloppy first two laps, and seemingly missing a few steps in my “pedaling a bike hard” game, I ended up riding most of the race by myself, in 12th place, which is where I finished. Still, it was fun getting sideways in the mud.

The thing about muddy Saturday races is that they are never over when you cross the line. I’m going to guess that most people reading this do their own bike maintenance. So you know what I’m talking about. After a muddy race I know I’m spending at least a few hours after dinner and before sleeping digging mud out of every nook and cranny. Then methodically trying to get lube back into those same nooks and crannies.

Usually a few cables get replaced along the way as well. On the bright side, I got to do all this with my teammates in Richie’s beautiful workshop while we listened to Woody Guthrie. Team time more than makes up for the late bed time.

On Sunday the CSI course greeted us with yet another pro line. This time we scaled a rutty, root-filled wall, only to plummet down what was yesterday’s run-up 20 feet later. This chute took us straight down into a more than 90-degree lefthander and straight back up. Hopefully you can carry enough speed to make the turn around the tree and manage not to lose your front wheel on roots on the way down. Brilliant.

But some people did not think so. A few racers had a bit of a freak-out over it. I heard some that people decided not to start because of it. I know there was one crash down the chute in preriding. But that seemed like the worst of it and I didn’t hear of anything worse then a bottleneck happening in the section during the race.

I was definitely stoked on the challenge, and I know a lot of my competitors were excited to be able to show of their skills.

Sunday’s weather was cold but dry. It was the first time I raced in leg warmers. I tried to remind myself about choking on dust in 90-degree heat just nine weeks ago, to cheer myself up, but I was still cold.

With my newly scored points from HPCX, I started on the second row and sat comfortably in the top 10 during the first lap. But I wasn’t feeling great. It could be the training I did last week or it could be missing racing last weekend. Things like that can be hard to pinpoint. The power meter actually said I pedaled all right. I just didn’t feel great.

Fortunately, I have a few weeks before my next UCI race to figure it out.

I spent much of the race with Adam Myerson. I like working with Adam in a race when we are riding the same speed, for a few reasons. Adam is smooth and he knows how to pace himself. With two laps to go, Derrick St. John bridged up and promptly attacked us. Adam went with him. I stayed where I was and rode the rest of the race by myself in 14th, which is where I finished.

Not my best weekend. But I was happy to hug Richie and his wife, Deb, and thank them for everything. When they’re happy, it’s easy to forget the pain in my legs.

When I got home to Brooklyn I pulled my bike out of my car and immediately realized one of my derailleur pulleys was seized, adding a ton of friction to my drivetrain. I wonder if that had anything to do with how crappy I felt in the race? I’ll never know.