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It’s always a good idea to pre-ride the course if you can. I sneaked onto the dirt climb and liked it. It was long and not too steep, sure to wear people out who had to do six laps around the 1.7-mile circuit. I came to a whoopty, and rolled down and up the far side with no problem. Then there came a second whoopty, deeper and steeper. “No problem,” I confidently grinned to myself just as the front wheel smashed against the far side and came within inches of pitching me head-first into the wall.
Seth Davidson/Yuzuru Sunada
A nice red blob oozed out of my ankle as I came out the other side, hands shaking from the nearly catastrophic falling-off-bicycle-incident.
The far side of the course had been designed to take into account each of my many inner fears. The first was a long patch of soft, downhill sand chopped in half by a gravel pit. I sailed over it, wildly veering from tape to tape but staying upright. Then the course took a hard right through a deep sand trench that dropped you off into a thick layer of mud. Beyond the mud lay the lakeshore, where a wrong turn would result in a bath. I thought about the warning signs posted alongside the lake: “No fishing! Fish Contain Mercury and Heavy Metals!”
After the mud trap there was a soft, nasty sand pit that went on for a hundred yards or so followed by two small barriers where sadists with cameras gleefully awaited my arrival. Over the barriers, you could remount if you were in your XXXXS gear, or push through more knee-deep sand to firmer ground. Oh, and there was a flyover.
Some people get nervous before races because they don’t know what awaits them. I never get nervous before a ‘cross race because I know exactly what awaits. Pain, a few bad turns, and then a solo slog in last place for 45 minutes. As I stood at the start line thinking about exactly where my first difficulty would separate me from the herd, a weird thing happened during call-ups.
“Seth Davidson,” the ref said. I looked around to see who else in the 45+ A ‘cross race could possibly be named “Seth Davidson.” No one ventured up to the front row, so I shambled up, proving that merely by appearing on race day and pinning on number miracles can happen. Whoever was behind me was going to have a serious clogstacle to overcome.
The race started and I quickly gravitated to the back, then the far back, then off the back. At the sandy barriers I’d caught the tail of the main field, which mostly consisted of a giant sausage squeezed into a too-tiny patch of lycra. The giant sausage waddled over the barriers and I hopped past him, which is where my problems began.
I tried to get back on my bike but the sand was too soft to pedal, which kind of made sense since I’d parked in the deepest section of the sand trap rather than over on the edge, where it was firmer. After providing several dozen amusing photo ops for the camera folks, most of whom have by now posted clever and amusing memes on Facebook such as “Exhorts Others to Race: Stands Forlorn in Sand,” I made the bike move. By this time the peloton had relocated to a different county. I was about to get depressed until I powered by the SPY support team headed by Tait, which had already prepared a can of quality beer for me as a hand-up.
On the hill I overtook giant sausage, who appeared close to bursting out of his skin. For a very long time I rode by myself, with sad-faced onlookers viewing me with pity, or contempt, or both. Even my friends were too embarrassed to shout,with the exception of the SPY Beer Squad. With each partial can of high octane fermented recovery drink, I felt better and better, or at least less and less fearful. Each time I came through the mud and sand and gravel pit I picked up a few seconds until another hapless sod, someone so slow and inept and devoid of ability came within my sights. We traded pulls until the barriers, at which time I heard a whirring sound.
Glancing back it was Phil Tinstman, who had started two minutes earlier in the 35+ race and had now lapped me on a 2-mile course in less than forty minutes. The beautiful thing about this was that getting lapped meant that I’d have one less lap to ride around this course from hell.
After the race I staggered over to the SPY tent, where Sam Ames was washing away huge clots of blot mixed with gravel and sand by pouring cold beer over the open wound. “That’s a waste of good blood,” I said. Then, collapsing into the beanbag chair, Todd Parks wandered over and blamed me for his terrible start. “I thought you were going to take me out!” he said.
“The fact that you were behind me speaks for itself,” I said.
Phil, who didn’t look like he’d ridden his bike yet en route to his state title, chatted with some of his peers, not that he has any. “Once I had a big enough gap, I pulled the plug,” he said. “No sense in killing myself before the pro race.”
I thought about that as a kind of reverse strategy, you know, pulling the plug once everyone had ridden off to Mexico, and saving myself for the beer competition afterwards. “It’s an old Paolinetti tactic,” Phil added. “It’s okay if you win by just enough.”
“Hmmm,” I thought, “there’s wisdom there. Maybe if you’re losing, it’s okay if you lose by a few laps, too, rather than immolate yourself to only lose by, say, a few minutes.” Then I thought about giant sausage dude and how he’d cunningly sat up once I passed him. “Wise, wise man.”