This weekend I got my 2013 cyclocross season started a little earlier than usual while most of the Indiana racers were capping off their mountain bike season at the DINO series finale. This year marks the first summer since I've owned a mountain bike that I didn't do a single DINO race. It was pretty liberating, really.
I'd been wanting to do Relay Cross in Chicago the past couple of years, but was never really able to get friends on board. This year I really wanted to make it a priority, and since I knew a lot more Chicago people after the Gravel Metric, I figured I could find partner(s) up there if no Indiana friends wanted to come along. As it turned out, Isabel, with whom I rode back after getting lost on the grass part of GM, asked me if I wanted to be her partner back in June and also said that I could do the coed race with her brother David. So my plans were set early on, and then it was just a matter of waiting for late August to arrive. And it did, more quickly than I could have imagined.
I was nervous, because I hadn't ridden tubulars on grass or put out an effort even remotely resembling 'cross intensity since last December. In fact, I only removed the gravel accouterments from my bike the day before the race.
It was a very hot and dusty day, even more so than normal early-season 'cross, and the women's race was unbelievably rough on me. I took the first lap, didn't make too impressive of a Le Mans start, and spent most of the lap trying to move up through traffic. I still managed to feel like I might throw up, or worse, poo my pants after the set of barriers near the end of the lap. And so it went: ride super hard, gasp in the pit, ride myself into oblivion trying to pick girls off on my next lap. There was a very conscious battle between the part of me that was screaming "just slow down" and the part of me that was screaming "you're faster than these girls; you have to pass them". In the end, my competitive instincts won out, and I finished the first race having ridden myself into cold chills in August and looking "a little blue". I have no idea how I did, really, but at least I reminded myself, in the harshest way possible, what 'cross feels like.
After the women's race, I had a few hours to eat and try to rest while I reflected on how badly the first race hurt and come to terms with the fact that I had to do it again. I was feeling a lot of pressure because my partner had been on the winning coed team the last couple of years, and I didn't want to let him down. I felt so icky getting redressed in the heat that I wondered if I would end the second race with a trip to the hospital, but I was determined to give it a shot at least.
Once it started and David come around in the top five or six after working his way through from the back of the pack, I realized that he really was fast enough to get us on the podium if I could just not screw anything up. I did sorta okay at that for most of a lap. I couldn't hang with the women from the other top-five teams, but I only had one pass me and she really wasn't getting much of a gap after coming around. Then we got to the barriers and this happened:
I think I hit my leg with my bike and started to lose my balance or something, but I'm not sure. Regardless, I dropped my bike on the front end hard, and knocked my right brake hood way out of whack. I also lost my chain and it took a really long time to get back on. Bye bye, podium. The rest of the race was just about trying to do my best and still ride hard with my messed up hood and having had my rhythm messed up. I think I did pretty well, except for that my chain bounced off going into the transition on two of the three remaining laps. Once I noticed before it was my turn again and once I didn't, which forced me to fixed my chain quickly before going out for my last lap. WORST ARRANGED COED PARTNER EVER! Luckily David was very nice about it and even fixed my messed up hood after the race.
Despite the heat, the pain, and the mechanicals, it great to back into 'cross season again. I'd heard some disparaging "hipster grass crit" rumors about Chicago cyclocross prior to experiencing it for myself, but I thought it was a great race and a great scene. The coed race was the last one of the day, and thus the most spectated. It was awesome because I feel like I had nearly as many people yelling my name around the course at that race as I would at an OVCX race, and plenty of strangers heckling me and offering me beer. So even though I still think OVCX is the best series in the county (whatever, coasts), Chicago 'cross gets a thumbs up from me!