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Cross Racing Week 4 | Black and White

Black. And. White. Two complete juxtapositions in every sense. And it’s the only way to describe my experience at the USGP’s in Fort Collins this weekend…

~Sideways rain versus glorious sun.

~Greasy mud track versus pristinely buffed and tacky ‘hero dirt’.

~Minimal crowds who I do not blame for passing on standing in sleet and rain versus hoards of fans, New Belgium beers in hand screaming their guts out.

Black and white.

E V E R Y T H I N G was different between these two days for pretty much everyone, but for me in particular it felt amplified. It was extremely memorable…

Dejan USGP 2

The pain face in full effect (Day 2)

The USGP’s are huge for National Cyclocross racing and Colorado in particular when the circus comes through. We have no Super Prestige or similar trophy event here in the States, so this is really it. And given it travels from coast to coast of our great nation, the logistics, weather, varied local racing series (which are integrated with the GP’s) all adds complexity to the good folks who put on the show. Lots of racers converging on Fort Collins, the second GP stop. For me, it was a solo-parenting weekend as well, minding my two young Spitfires to add to the dimensions of such a big weekend. Amy had a work event in the  mountains over the weekend so bribes of Legos and pancakes for breakfast were laid out and the boys capitalized on it by being fantastic for me.

USGP Day 1…

We awoke in Boulder to the first real weather Colorado has seen this fall. Snow at 6000ft and sideways rain everywhere else at lower elevations. The boys and I made the hour trek up to ‘Fort Fun’ with the weather following us off the Foothills. Zach Edwards from Boulder Cycle Sport had set up the up the BCS ‘encampment’ like the soldier he is early in the AM all by his lonesome. The 35+ Master’s race would (as I thought) mercifully take place at 1:30…much later in the afternoon than our local series…but the irony was that the earlier categories had an almost dusty course it was so dry in the AM.  The weather chose about noon to blast its way in. With my boys tucked away in the BCS Sprinter (for HOURS…bless ‘em) we attempted pre-rides, dialed in bikes, warmed up as best as possible and head for the call ups. Ward Baker was there to collect our items like a true friend (out in the howling rain by this time) and we all sat there in a shivering bunch.

Boulder Cycle Sport came armed and ready. All are feeling good. We had to get Pete up there for the win again this year (he won both days last year)…but Brandon was amongst us ‘old guys’ as well this year. All told we had Pete, Brandon, Brian Hludzinski, Tim Faia, Mark Wisner and myself ready to do combat. All of us were in 3rd row or worse of the large field and the rest of the Colorado mafia had stilettos in our pockets for the knife fight to duel against the best in the country.  Michal Robson, Jon Cariveau, Jeff Cospolich, Jeff Wardell and the rest of our gang were interspersed in this large field. It was stacked to say the least.

USGP 2011 (2)

Exhale... Ariel Brown next to me recovering from a crash and on to a great 20th. 

The waiting in the start grid was intolerable. Bodies shivering almost uncontrollably if not full out of control. An ice rain like the 2010 Nationals was picking up steam as we waited for the UCI official to send us on our way. With the sound of the whistle, we are ALL glad to start rolling and forget about being hypothermic and start to feel some pain. We hammered up the pavement to get good positions into the chute off the pavement. I remembered last year’s frequent crashes in that start chute and I stayed wide. Good thing as about a second after hitting the mud from the pavement, mêlée ensued. Bodies everywhere and somehow myself, Brandon, Brian and Pete squeaked by. I rolled in 16th for the first lap, friends who were brave enough along the tape calling out the spots as we chicaned through the initial turns and up the run up (or ‘ride up’ as Jeremy Powers demonstrated). I wanted to keep the tempo high to dispatch the rest of the guys who could potentially bring me down…but I unfortunately wasn’t fast enough to accomplish that…

USGP 2011 (5)

At least the running felt good. 

I complete the whole first circuit in a place I am confortable with, free of danger I think. I can get to racing. I watched the smartest and the strongest (Brandon and Pete) absolutely rip with aggression to put out incredible efforts to smash their way to the front. The selection was made and gone on the pavement into lap 2. By now, I am in a group of 3. On the first lap, the experienced of us realized that you COULD NOT use brakes. You let those side knobs of your chosen brand of tubular rip into the earth, take lines in the grass for better grip…generally just ‘drive your bike.’ So a guy in front of me of course taps his brakes coming into a corner. Yup, he goes down, I then have to lock ‘em up and down I go and finally another body flies over me and lands directly on my bike. It sounded awful.

USGP 2011 (1)

Looking ahead - listening for the bell lap. 

I get up and assess stuff with the bike while running up the hill, bike on my back. The frame seemed in tact, the chain still on, etc. All appeared good. I remount and hear god-awful noises. Can’t figure it out though with glasses full of mud and humanity yelling ‘on your left’ passing me as I am heads down trying to see what’s wrong. Finally I see it: The SRAM/Avid Shorty brake arm on the left side of the front fork is bent around the fork, the caliper jamming itself into the wheel. I climb off and bent that mo-fo back as best I could. It’s nearly 3rd lap now and I am nearing the pits. Ward is yelling at me…lifting my spare bike up in the air to tell me to come in and exchange. I yell at him (which he can’t hear over the rain and loudspeakers): “Thanks man! I don't feel like washing that bike tonight!”. Ha! So I just saved my matches, rolled in the mud and tried to calm my head down.

My day ended in 33rd. I was angered but honestly, only blame myself for not being strong enough to stay out front and away from sketchiness. I could hear Dave Towle wailing that baritone voice of his on the mic about Brandon and Pete going for the win together, after they put on a complete clinic Saturday on how to ride in the badness. This lightened me up and I remember smiling finishing my ride. Brandon took the flowers but I’d like to have overheard that conversation between those two on who was going to take it. BCS rode fantastically, Brian and Mark all up there in top 20.

I made my way back to the truck to cool my jets. My boys were there…ever patient with me still…sitting in the truck all that time. I inspected the bike, the custom painted fork on my Ridley now damaged by the brake caliper wedged into it. On a whim, I rolled the bike over to SRAM Neutral Service. There, working away, is Jose, Chief NRS Guru clearly he can tell have a black raincloud hanging over my head. I showed him the brake and asked if there is anything that can be done. What he said is the voice any stressed-out racer would love to hear: “We’re going to get you set up for tomorrow. Just relax, leave the bike here and come back in a bit You’ll be ready.”  Instantaneously my mood went from piss poor to not being able to wait for Day 2 of the GP. Needless to say, 1/2 hour later, my bike is waiting for me, dialed and a completely new brake arm installed, straightened and tuned. What the shit?? I am in awe of these guys. THANK YOU Jose and SRAM NRS!

The boys and I pack up the mud blobs we call bikes, equipment and ourselves and make the trek all the way back to Boulder…after treating my boys to a mad dinner of course. We make it home, I get them settled for bed and another two hours of bike cleaning and washing later and I can finally focus on planning my mind for Day 2. The weather was going to clear out and I knew instinctively a LOT of guys would be as hungry as I was to improve their performances. I tossed and turned all night. In fact getting up at 3:30AM and never able to get back to sleep. My mind was on overdrive.

USGP Day 2...

When I saw the sun rise (and yes, I saw it rise), it was beautiful. I was tired but still so amped to go. My eldest son, Aiden came down dressed in his Boulder Junior Cycling kit. He was so excited to race that I could not help but start my tail wagging too! It motivated me deeply. It was cold out and would be chilly most of the day and he had no leg coverage, so we scrambled and reached into mom’s cycling bin and pulled out her size M arm warmers. PERFECT! Aiden now had tiny but PRO looking leg warmers! It was classic.

USGP Kristin 2

The USGPs are bigger, louder and scarier than any race Aiden had ever done. He lined up amongst these HUGE 10-14 year olds (he’s 9) and simply put, he got it done. He took 20th and he made no mistakes against the big kids. He just rode on what he kept saying was the coolest ‘track’ he’s ever been on. So kudos to you USGP for stoking out the youth. Great time of day for their races as well to race (12:45) to ensure crowds cheer them on. And they were cheered on hugely.

The weather remained ideal…New Englandy in fact…with that crispness in the air and a hint of dampness. My warm up felt super good. Za sensations (as they say) felt awesome. I wanted to prove to myself I could go fast. The course was SO PERFECT it was incredible. Perfectly tacky dirt…’hero dirt’ if you will. Simply lean over and the bike ripped that beautiful sound only tubulars can make through the corners. The dirt the perfect combination of water and earth. Not any residue on your tire, but soft enough to leave tire marks. Perfect.

Keller USGP - Lortie

With the same number used for both racing days over the weekend, 22, I got 3rd row again. Brandon would be absent today due to family obligations but the BCS boys were there in force again. The sun was on our backs on the start line…just 24 hours before we were shivering uncontrollably. The start this time was fast. REALLY fast and I find a hole as guys were ramping up to speed and got into the chute  with the initial group cleanly. I was about 14th as I heard again from friends lining the tape keeping count. Thanks folks!

USGP Kristin 3

Brian and I drilling it on the tacky goodness. 

I was absolutely determined to do my best Sunday and make it a success. My idea of success for October and lining up with the best Masters in the US was to be top 15-20 but most importantly make ZERO mistakes. Seriously: race MY race. with no one f-ing up my day…especially me. With the tacky dirt, the perfect weather and a gaggle of racers who wanted redemption from Saturday, I could see early on this race was becoming a crit. And it was indeed smoking fast. Blistering. I did my best for 2 laps to stay with the same lead group but I simply could not stand the pace.

USGP Ft.Collins - Saturday 35+ open from Dale Riley on Vimeo.

Dale telling me to move up. Thanks man. No seriously. (ha!)

Eventually the group of 14 shattered into splinters...3 (Webber, Case and Feldman), a chase (Savery and friends) and then my group. I continued to push hard, pushing to my limit. I never felt bad , in fact quite the opposite. I felt really good. But the intensity and strength of the leaders was absolutely incredible. If I attempted to go any harder, I knew I’d be way too in the red and pay for it and start to get eaten by chasers. So I just measured and re-measured and measured again.

USGP Kristin

Flow in, flow out. No brakes. 

The race for me, lap after lap was Zen-like. Just stay focused on my lines. Watch for the same rocks every lap that could flat me. Perfect the barriers and run ups to put time in on chases as I knew I’d be faster there…and do that all while trying to maintain every piece of momentum possible. I stayed in control, I stayed smooth and stayed at my limit. Happy. Ward and Boups were yelling their guts out for me in the pits and what seemed like HUNDREDS of friends around the tape yelling at me as well from around the course…namely Dan Farrell who as a racer knew exactly where the suffering would be (on the climbs) and positioned himself there strategically yelling at me lap after lap to stay connected and to keep it together. Dan, you rule.

Dejan USGP 1

Bell lap. 

By the bell lap I’m still forced to push and push. Guys making ground in last lap attacks so I measred more……all the way to the line. I met my goal: 20th. Three minutes behind my team mate, Pete Webber, who completely slayed it yet again. I’m thinking to myself: How the hell am I going to train to close that gap! Ha! He’s an absolute machine. Brian, Tim and the Wis, my BCS teammates, all right in the top 20 as well. My coach Frank Overton was like a man possessed too, drilling it from a crappy start position to a fantastic result as well. Coloradans wanted to show their stuff for sure.

So the weekend was black and white as you see. Is 20th place for me ‘white’? Absolutely. I did my best. I know I did and am learning still every year I do this sport I love so dearly 15 years after my first race. Some day I know I'll be able to handle the efforts and stress of the fastest as the ‘old man speed’ penetrates my muscles, my physiology and my racing mind. 

Or so I keep convincing myself. I gotta believe, yo.

Postscripts..

  • It was SO RAD to hook up and spend time with two of my favorite Master hard men: Mark Savery and Andy Messer. Such good guys. I wish we were racing with each other every weekend. Great souls.
  • THE PHOTOGRPHERS! You think these folks are getting rich doing this? Hell no. They are probably racing on weekends too…but they’re they are out there in the mud with tons of equipment to capture YOU. Many of the pictures you see above were shot by these great friends and they likely got your mug as well. Visit their sites and don’t be cheap bastards. Buy some pics and save ‘em for your kids. Look for ‘em out at the races this year! Say hello!

Annette Hayden (1)

Annette Hayden

Mountain Moon Photography

 

 

 

image

Shawn Lortie

Shown Lortie Photography

 

 

 

 

Dejan

Dejan Smaic

Sportif Images

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