Everything went into slow motion when the bodies began to literally fly into the air…disintegrating the course tape, smashing into spectators and generally being thrown into completely orthogonal directions from the direction the racers needed to go…as if they triggered landmines and were thrown violently into the mud.
That was the first 25 seconds of our National Championship race in the Men 40-44 group.
I’ll get to the racing in a moment but the synopsis is this: what a phenomenal day on Saturday January 7th, 2012. The Boulder Cycle Sport crew…no, strike that…the Boulder crew itself from various teams all worked so well to get our racers onto podiums and meet their personal goals for this race. It was crazy passion. Crazy dedication. Crazy cross fanaticism at its best.
The lead up -
The days leading up to Madison were very introspective for me. It’s been the same old broken record: “Too much going on in my life/am I fit enough/the teeter totter is broken/I’m not good enough/etc etc.” My State Championship was a personal disaster and really, deeply, disappointed me. I’m still learning how to train/eat/rest/peak/reduce stress in order to be at my best for various targeted goals. And States sort of burned this hole in my brain on how to completely fail. Utterly fall apart…and it really all just emanates from poisons in the head.
I had some great talks with two guys I deeply respect and consider mentors. My teammate Pete Webber and my coach Frank Overton. They both intimately get me…they get my passion for the sport and know that I have a brain that constantly thrashes, is rarely calm, very often impulsive and jumps to bad places too quickly thus beginning my mental poison cycles throughout various times in the season. They both were clear and syncopated when they said: it’s in you, just relax, trust the training and know that you’ll be good.
As for goals, Madison was as some call an ‘A’ goal. Obviously in front of our Nation’s best masters, I wanted to do the best that I personally could. My call-up would be mediocre (27th in row 4) and my goal was to be top 25. I wanted to ride clean enough to maintain and push on from there versus getting nervous, get off my game and start getting caught and dropped. No fun. It was a very conservative goal but after last year’s debacle-season and Nats, I wanted to ‘walk down the hill’ and be conservative in my brain as I had a clean 2011 season of decent results, no crashes and just flowy riding which led me to a top 10 overall in our region. I wanted this Nats to go the same and just ride clean to a respectable result. Literally that was it.
The whole build up to Madison in the weeks following States was ideal. SUPER calm. Way less stress after speaking with Frank and Pete and generally just enjoying ripping on my cross bike. From the packing and bike transport to the logistics to the flights and getting to Madison, it was all fun and games. The family was in a good place, I never got sick and I was stoked to be with my buds. Traveling with two consummate pros in Pete and Brandon isn’t all seriousness, by the way. In fact. quite the opposite which relaxed me even more. These two stars-n-bars winners and former pros are probably two of the funniest mopes you’ll ever meet and I am so happy to have them in my life and pushing me to go harder…be better…one idiotic moment at a time…
Learning from Pete and Brandon over the last 5 years or so has been continually eye opening. Every little detail is taken into account but is just second nature. Staying off your feet when you can, eating well, getting good rest, making sure every single bolt and part of your bike and equipment is working perfectly…but of them all, it’s the body that counts the most when going for your major goals…
Massage, good rest and being centered when ‘real’ life is blowing up around you trying to manage business and family is the key to it all. Speaking of eating, I’ll admit that I didn’t deviate from my pre-race breakfast routine which is to waffle-up, yo. Mmm. Hotel-brand self-made waffles. You racers know what I’m talking about…
Also, from the night before and the AM of the event, I’d been on-boarding a ton of good stuff including some new yet-to-be released high intensity event drink mix from Allen Lim. Stay tuned ‘crossers and time trialists for what I think is a fairly interesting solution for hydration from the Secret Drink Mix posse.
On to the race…
Friday 4PM – 50 degrees -
Pre-riding the day before (Friday) was met with lots of… um, comments. The course was very straightforward. Another way of saying that is “not extremely creative” and in many cases deviated from hardened rules (course marking in particular). It was a LONG lap, some 9.5 minutes long although this was due to the single thing which made the course balanced and challenging: ice and mud. The pre-rides were apocalyptic. Deep mud and slush that was changing CONSTANTLY. Every degree in temp seemed to create a slightly different texture to the mud. By late afternoon Friday, the mud had softened to ~4” deep as it was 50 degrees. Turn the clock forward through the night, and with the temps plummeting, it froze those millions of tire tracks into a frozen disaster. Literally like a frozen washboard with your tires going in the SAME direction as the frozen ruts.
Saturday – Game Day – 8:30AM – 32 degrees -
Our 8:30 pre-ride on Saturday was comical. We could not believe the conditions of the course. Trying to pre-ride at speed and flowing into the ice-washboard sections was utterly dangerous. Wheels would get trapped in the 4” deep ice tracks and careen folks in any direction. I went back and re-tried these sections no less than 10 times. What I finally figured out is this: slow = fast and I should treat it exactly like sand. What I did that seemed to work was unweight the front wheel and rode heavily on the back and I floated these sections and could immediately un-trap my front wheel if it got snagged in one of the frozen tracks. I hugged the tape (which is typically dangerous) but was able to thread the needle.
Shout out to the The Boulder Crew –
Weeks in advance of Madison, Pete Webber, the cheerleader he is, organized SO MUCH as it related to our crew going to Nats…all to ensure our region had the best success. He organized training, fully marked prep race courses and probably most importantly, inspired all to network amongst each other to have fully staffed pit crews for each of the categories. We all knew when folks were racing, who would be in the pits. who would take jackets at the start, etc. All SUPER pro for a bunch of mopes like us. Before I forget, MASSIVE shout outs to:
Aaron Bouplon, Allen Krughoff, Grant Holicky, Mike Hogan, Jon Cariveau, Clint Blickmore, Mike Eubank, Dave and Kristin Weber and EVERYONE who was there to help for the Boulder 40-44’s. SO PRO!
The call up was super organized. No stress as due to the (now immensely better-managed) USA Cycling ranking system and organization, we knew in advance where we’d be in the grid. One by one we entered the chute and I sat there, in the sun as the temps rose and I was…calm. I remember smiling…a lot. Knowing my teammates Pete, Brandon, Brian and Shawn were in good form and we’d be drilling it. I was calm in my spirit and just knew that if I could stay out of the douchebagdom that is a typical USAC Nats start, I’d be clear and ride my race smoothly.
15 seconds!…TWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEET! We’re off…
The start chute was a very long paved section that would lead into a dirt ‘on ramp’ sending us onto the course. At the whistle, I could not believe it but there was tons of pro-ness and experience going on with very little sketchiness initially. Conservative but aggressive launch into the pavement. I zoned in about 4 bike legnths in front of me on the orange of Pete’s uniform and his bike and followed his lines. It was perfect to get me in, and clear.
10:15AM + 30 seconds – 34 degrees -
Less than 30 seconds into the start of the race, we bombed as a 80+ strong peloton into that initial section I described above…the frozen danger-washboard. By now, 3 of the 4 inches deep of course track remained frozen while the top layer was now a greasy, slimy infinitely slippery sauce. We bombed into the section and still following Pete, I stayed true to my plan to float the front wheel. It was a HORROR SHOW for some people and like it was in slow motion. I’d hear carnage behind me. Guys busting through tape. One mope started coming at me…a smaller guy…careening and ping ponging off everything and everyone so I put out an arm, Heisman style, and luckily I was unmovable and bounced clear of me. Watch Colt’s video here but pay attention to the VERY FIRST opening scene as we bomb into the ice-rink rut-fest. Note Webber and then me (with the yellow Mavic’s of course…)
I got into the top 25 guys very quickly, simply by riding smooth and S L O W E R by intent in the first 1/4 of the lap. It was the trick to get clear.
Once on course I remember HUGELY exhaling and saying, “OK, this is yours to flail or yours to rail.” My 178 lb carcass felt absolutely awesome on the climbs. I literally and strangely would look forward to it lap after lap as it was where I would preserve my gaps. I was making them in the technical sections.
The sections that typically kill me are deep mud/flat slogs and long stretches of pavement. Even with moto-pacing, I haven’t quite figured out how to ‘feel’ on the sections and typically lose spots. I was goo enough to maintain some supple fast cadence each lap like you see here (when I opted to not pit)…
Meanwhile at the front…
Pete and Brandon in lap 1 let Adam do some work then by lap 2 had been able to dispatch him in that muddy washboard field (see cycling dirt’s video of that moment in the video above).
I continued to push and flow. I was racing with great groups of fast guys and we generally flowed, some driving better than others. I just stayed relaxed and focused on every corner to maintain speed. I could NOT STAND to hear brakes and would avoid those riders at all costs because nearly every time I’d hear the squeak of the pads, the rider would lose it and wash out.
I can contribute a lot of my ability to maintain my position due to the Boulder crew. The pit exchanges were FLAWLESS every single time as witnessed in the video below by Allen Krughoff. Bikes were clean and perfect and ready for me EVERY lap.
By mid race, I am moving up. I had worked with my teammate Shawn Harshman on two laps but heard him go down, I winced, and kept moving forward. I would later learn that Shawn impaled himself on a pole and cracked a rib. Oy. The inevitable crashes continued occurring and maintaining my slow = fast routine in the truly worst parts, I was able to overtake guys and just moving forward. It was AWESOME to hear folks shouting out my name so far away from Boulder. New voices that were so motivating to me that I just pushed on harder being carried by their encouragement.
By the closing laps, I am being shouted at that I am in 18th. I had met my goal but needed to stay smooth. As you can see below, there were still dudes who were hungry to take another spot so I could NEVER concede. I came into that very section in the picture below on 2 two go and had my only slide out of the day. It was thankfully mellow and I got right back up and into the game with no loss in time or spots. Whew…
One truly motivating aspect to this whole race was our old Boulder friend (now in Oregon) Dave Towle, announcer extraordinaire, was BLARING our names every lap. SUCH A RUSH. It was like an old ACA race back home hearing that baritone. In the bell lap I am drilling it, teeth clench. I have a 1/2 a lap to go, still getting chased, and I can hear Dave calling out Brandon’s win. It only made me go harder and smoother…
When I came across the line, I was AMPED! Brandon and Pete had just killed it, Brian I never saw so assumed he had a banner ride (he did…for 7th!) and I had exceeded my goals, stayed smooth for 18th. I came across the line pointing to Dave as he was so motivating for even us guys who would not be on the podium but had left it all out there.
I was obviously and completely stoked. No crashes, goals met, season done.
The BCS crew all pow-wowed after the race and communed on our success. It was so rad to talk about our war stories of the day. Each of us had our own race and we all succeeded.
Allen caught some of the post-race stuff… Hilarious.
Of course, when I found Za Dubba I had to give him a wet one for his THIRD national championship. Well earned.
The celebrations on Saturday were epic. The moods off the chart. We were stoked. We all ride and train so much together…everyone motivating each other like nothing I’ve experienced that it was like explosive relief when we were finished. Poor suckas Brandon, Pete and Brian are on their way to Master’s Worlds so they needed to maintain their Monk-like existence a bit further.
My race complete, I still had work to do. I had late Saturday afternoon pitting for Grant and Boups for their 35-39 event and then game on again Sunday for the elite race which Brandon, Pete and Shawn and most importantly our ‘A’ player Allen Krughoff who’d be 100% focused on this event, would be participating.
Elite Race from the Pits -
I would be ‘Za Pit Boss’ for the day, rallying our amazing crew of volunteers. Me, Bill Teasdale, Dan Farrell, Bryan Harwood, Roy Krughoff and Indiana BCS-teammate-for-the-weekend Andy “The Mexler” Messer all were machine like in our approach to the pits. It was great fun…albeit SUPER tight pits making it complicated to do your job. Below, is all of us waiting in queue for our racers to change. Allen rode great, starting super strong then fading a bit but certainly capping off a break through year for him now that he’s fully concentrating on ‘cross. Pete and Brandon and the rest of the boys got in some good training for their events at Master’s Worlds this weekend.
A Race and Season Post Mortem -
The 2011-2012 season is now in the books. I have yet again LEARNED TONS. Mostly about myself and what I need to do to keep getting better and move forward to achieve new goals. Champions are interesting characters. Two I spent time with over this summer are captured below at the after party. What great souls and what great contributors to our sport Tim and Jeremy are. My son knows both their names and pretends to be them when we goof around on our bikes in the park. When it all comes down to it, it’s the soul that counts and riding for the sheer love of it. The core burning need to flow and rail and be smooth. These guys channel that ad nauseum.
My season is done. I am happy. The sport is growing and the kids are pouring in to play the game. This is not how I grew up. My father and his generation cared very little for their bodies and spirits. Dads and moms are now showing their kids the way by doing. Luminaries like Timmy and Powers only make what we do even more desirable to jump in and have fun…entering a game that can be played for life.
This is the tipping point. We all need to be glad we are here at this moment.