As Frank and I walked across the field to registration at yesterday’s PACX Rivertown ‘Cross race, we encountered a small boy on the tiniest-sized pedal bike available being chased by his 1 or 2 year-old sister. He was maintaining a lead of about one bike length and kept looking back to taunt her. Then he crashed hard while looking back, and knowing that he wasn’t actually hurt, we couldn’t help but laugh. I said to Frank, “A significant part of winning is staying upright”, and that sort of set the tone for the day.
I was actually pretty excited for this race, as once again Crossresults.com had me slated for a podium performance. However, unlike last time, I had enough knowledge to actually sort of believe it, as there were only seven women pre-reg’d and only one first-timer. I did my research and Google image searched which jerseys I should keep my eye on.
When I saw that the course was significantly more technical than anything that I’d encountered so far this season, I felt even better. It was right next to the river and was similar to Eva Bandman in that sense: one side going up and down the levy next to the road, some meandering on the flood plain, and some singletrack-esque stuff in the woods directly on the river’s edge with some nice drops in and out. There one sketchy corner into the woods with a gravel-to-loose-sand transition where I almost crashed on my warm-up while I was chatting, so I made an extra effort go back and scout it a second time by myself. This effort proved fruitful later on.
I went for the holeshot and took it successfully, although I didn’t really have much intention of holding it. I just wanted to throw the first punch and see who responded. My legs felt kind of awful on the first punchy climb, despite my most extensive warm-up efforts in a long time, and I was passed by two girls, followed by another two on the next climb. I made it into the first woods section in fifth place and was able to stop the hemorrhage there, and recover a bit. Coming back out to the switchback climb up the levy, I could see two girls still within catching distance, and I started to reel them as we bombed back down to the woods.
Approaching the first sketchy little scramble up to the back part of the course, I passed a girl who had crashed and did a mental happy dance to find myself in fourth. “Just one more place to podium”, I thought. The back part of the course was almost all twists, turns, and singletrack, so I was within a few bike lengths of third at the end of the first lap. She gapped me again on the levy during the second lap, and I was beginning my campaign to reel her back in on the back section when she crashed on the loose sand corner that I had carefully planned in my warm-up. I couldn’t help but celebrate how my ability to stay upright was paying off.
I passed her, motored through the singletrack, and hammered through levy section of the third lap. The last hill of this section was a double-barrier run-up with a turn into an off-camber remount. I was a mere remount and drop into the woods before I could start building my lead for a last-lap assault to the podium. Then I kicked my rear brake open just and helplessly fumbled to close it while three girls passed me.
So it was not my fitness, my handling skills, or an impact-induced mechanical such as a flat or ripped off derailleur hanger that ruined what was probably on one shot at a podium for the season. It was a stupid little problem that I was aware of all season and never fixed. I even pointed out that I would need to be careful remounting on that hill, because I wouldn’t have the room or speed for the kind of clean remount that would my rear brake safe.
Of course, it was idiotic of me to put myself in the situation where I had to worry about something dumb like that on top of normal race exertion. I had kicked my rear brake open on a remount exactly once during my cyclocross career prior to this season, and yet it happened almost every lap of the relay cross race, several times at Wednesday CX practice, and of course, during the first day of Nittany Lion Cross when I wasn’t so upset about having to stop for a couple of minutes to fix it. I’m afraid that this is the result of my resorting to the Salt Creek Cycle’s “Post Death March Overhaul Special” during my super-broke single girl desperation last spring. Since then, both the front and rear brakes are stupidly hard to close, and yet the rear brake opens with the tiniest of bumps. I should have been more insistent on doing something to fix the problem after the relay cross race, but Frank kind of acted like it wasn’t a problem, so I didn’t push the issue.
As a result, this was the most devastating race that I’ve ever experienced. As hard as it has been for me to go all in during races the last couple of seasons, I was finally able to see the tiniest bit of success back within my reach, and I was gutting myself to try and get it. I know that getting a podium in a tiny local race with a not particularly strong field shouldn’t mean that much. I know that even though my license says that I’m a 3, that I’m not even a good 4 right now, but that silly little podium would have made me feel like I was on the road to maybe being one again. So to have it be so close and then be ripped away because of something so dumb was heartbreaking.
Despite last night’s railing against Frank’s attempts to comfort me by saying that I’d have other chances this season, because realistically I probably won’t, I still registered for Charm City this morning, ran the race predictor, and started plotting all over again. So I guess I’m more resilient than I thought was, and I have, in fact, still managed to stay upright once again.