It's finally silent in my head. The thrashing going on inside was like none other I'd experienced before, during or after a race in an attempt to separate the signals from the noise on what I'd witnessed and felt. The success from the failures. The amazing experiences to the let downs. Trying to parse out what 2013 would be like for me after this experience. I needed a few days to separate myself from Louisville. And days later after re-entering the atmosphere of home and work, I am still tired to the bone. My ears still ringing from the roar of the crowd all day Saturday at the elite race. My vocal chords still shredded from screaming my guts out at my friends and racers streaking by us lap after lap. My legs and soul equally cashed from the racing we did the week before. A needed few days of separation between all of this and my last race season, the Master's World Championship. I learned so much this trip…like I continue to learn year after year. But the questions in my head I intimately know the answers to still surface. Why do I still feel impulsed to put my hand back in the white hot flame? I know what the results will be as I watch my own flesh bubble. But why do I put back in again? And again? I'll answer that.
So much was different between this race and the first Worlds I'd done in Mol, Belgium a few years back. Quite honestly, this was more like "U.S. Nationals Part Deux" than a World Championship...although the lone Euro from Spain in our group (40-44's) Marco Prieto, who I give props to for making the journey over to participate, certainly was a worthy World's challenger as we'd come to find.
The lead up.
The days leading up to Worlds were more or less a mess, both personally as well as with the elements you can't control like weather and life's other surprises. I tried to remain settled and calm and tuck away the goals I had in my brain for the event and really be 'present' on that day to do my best. There was a maelstrom of things going on at work, extremely interesting and engaging things, so I had to trust whatever fitness I had and experience over the last decade to achieve them. To be honest, I had top 10 in my dreams for game day. I know what it takes to do that and I thought it was realistic. It's what I would bury myself to do.
We had a massive crew from Colorado headed to Louisville. 70+ racers to be specific in all age and elite categories. Amazing. UCI should have given us a volume discount for our $150 licenses. Of those 70, our crew of close friends were blessed to have Bobby Noyes, Chieftan of Rocky Mounts herd us all into his Sprinter and took us en masse to the airport…pro style.
When we got to Louisville, it was game on to get to the registration desks and grab our numbers for the seeding heats. I drew my number in the 50's (all randomly drawn) and was 5th row….and it seemed all the Boulder and CO crew got the shit end of the random stick with call-ups. Not ideal, but for guys like Webber, Brandon, Russ Stevenson, Ward Baker, Michael Robson and others, it wouldn't matter. I've seen these guys win races from the back row.
Relaxing between events at the Pro Bike Express Colorado 'compound'.
The Heat Race
On Wednesday AM, the day of our heat race, the temps were in the 60's with a torrent of rain like I've only seen in the middle of a summer's thunder showers. Absolutely dumping rain creating a cyclocross apocalypse like none other. 4" of mud that spanned the entire course….with one exception: the 100m start track made of crushed rock.
I took my position in the mass of riders for the heat. Not knowing anything about anyone. Who's fast, who's not, who's going to drive like an imbecile into the first puddle and crash us all out. You've all been there and know what I mean. The heat race would be two laps of the course….20 minutes. Yes, 10 minute laps on a course that, if dry, would undoubtedly been a 5-6 minute lap race easily. Nothing technical about the course. Pancake flat with one run up. But now, given the massive dumping of rain, it turned the course into the worlds hardest tractor pull. To give you an idea of what this was like, I filmed a bit of the course during my friend Dave Weber's heat race which took place a few hours before ours. Epic.
With the whistle our heat race of 35 or so racers were off. Off the start chute and into the first 10 feet of mud it was chaos as I'd predicted. I took a line I'd visualized before the start which was wider than most and was able to get clear of the shit show. I ended up in the top 20 and just put my head down. I'm not at my leanest so pushing 180 lbs through that battlefield was incredibly tough. But I kept turning the pedals over at such slow speeds it was crazy. It was almost comical how we were trudging along. My teammate Brian Hludzinski who started from the back row blasted his way up in the first lap of the two to a great 3rd place, exposing that incredible form he was bringing in to the race. I'd move up and finish 14th, some two minutes behind our heat winner Mark Savery. 2 minutes in two laps. I should not have conceded my place during that heat lap thinking I was smart saving bullets for Friday. It was important to slay yourself to ensure a better start position come race day but I completely failed to stay focused and let my mind drift. The good news however that in that muddy soup, the bikes worked great. It was mud that certainly was thick and hard to pedal through, but the shifting and braking on our Ridley's was working remarkably well. To be honest, there was no braking…even downhill you needed to pedal a bit to ensure you could carry momentum in the mud!
After the heat races, we rested up and had good dinners but sleep was incredibly hard. Part nerves, part travel and being a time zone and 2 hours ahead, it definitely wore me down. I let the demons crawl in and asked myself why I didn't push harder, go deeper, claw further. Hindsight. We then looked forward to Friday and watched weather.com and how the temps and conditions would descend from the 60's to the teens. I was licking my lips envisioning a frozen rutted mess. Ironically something I am good at and would allow my body an advantage to carry momentum across the frozen waste like I've done on many occasions before. I visualized all this while in the bathroom...scrubbing shoes, skinsuits, gloves and every article of clothing wasted from the conditions...
Yes, we got this cleaned.
Also taking my mind off things was getting deeply into the race action of others. My teammate Kristin Weber hadsuch an exceptional ride for her event (40-44 women), it was amazing. From the back row to the front and taking silver behind Sue Butler. I was honored to work her pit with Ward Baker and Brian Hludzinski...
Race Day - Friday the 3rd.
The Boulder Cycle Sport crew thought we were prepared. We had assembled a pit crew that was arguably one of the best that anyone could assemble. Experienced racers and those who viscerally understand the elements and what racers need. Johs Huseby, Kurt Perham and Dan Horndasch of WD-40 BIKE would be the 'bosses' and a gaggle of other passionate Boulder and CO folks would lend a hand. But we didn't expect the unexpected. Funny enough for those that puff our chests on our pit savvy…
The weather conditions wreaked havoc as we expected but in worse ways than any of us had ever experienced. The anticipated frozen track was turned into a worse tractor pull than we'd ever seen. The track froze Thursday to Friday on schedule, but by mid AM Friday the temps rose just enough. What it left was a frozen soup. Honestly like a cement frozen slushy on 90% of the course…again the only respite being the start/finish straight and 15 foot sections of sidewalk strewn in the course in certain areas that provided 2-3 seconds of respite. Else, you were 4-6" deep the entire way. And it didn't shed…
I took my place in the queue for the call up. No. 41 which had me start in the 5th row. Again, I'd have work to do but I put myself in this start position so I was OK with having to pay the fiddler. What I didn't realize is that a scramble was on by our crew to get creative in the pits. Our crew was learning that there was no power washing. The race organizers who had arranged these industrial strength washers and water supply…
Rendered useless on Friday.
…did not store them in a heated place over night…with full knowledge that the temps would be plummeting. If they had just been able to transport them to a tent or took some measures to ensure they were operable, I am sure things would had been different for many racers. But alas, being prepared for anything was what we should have been prepared for. We weren't. The washers were inoperable but we all faced the same predicament.
I sat there on the line for a bit looking around at the mass of competition, 84 riders in all. I looked at us, some of the fittest men in the country. Middle aged men. I watched these grown men shiver in place, many not used to conditions and temps like this. I didn't move. Didn't shiver. Didn't focus. I drifted. I thought about how I got there on the line. How I feel like I am slipping in many ways in life but but growing in others. All the thoughts that shouldn't be there save for those that could keep me confident that my body was ready to do my best.
The whistle startled me and before I knew it I was clipped in and nearly immediately in the thick of it. Off the start ramp into the mud. It was surreal. A sunny day melting the ground into a frozen sauce and having it instantaneously splash, stick, collect and freeze on you. We all pedaled comically slow, trudging. I saw two derailleurs implode on the 1st lap and could feel inside what these Masters were thinking in their heads.
First lap. Photo by Scott Walz
I made my way forward laying everything out there. I felt as if I was progressing, taking on and passing guys. First time through the pits I passed on a bike. I'd wait for a full lap which proved already to be a mistake. The bike was an atrocity. Without question or any embellishment a 17.5 lb carbon Ridley now 30lbs with icy mud that simply would not shed. We know all the tricks from Pam cooking spray to anti freeze to our own secret solutions….it wasn't helping. My first exchange through the pits was flawless…back on a 17.5 lb bike…for 1/4 of a lap that is. Then the build up again. No shifting to speak of save for the top 27 and 25's. I would shift between the big ring/25 and small ring when I could but it was useless. Coming back around again the pit crew was doing everything they could….
Photo by Dave McElwaine. Click image to visit CyclingNews.com
Simply put, the bikes weren't working. At the smallest set of stairs, I had to stop and start picking out globs of ice in the drivetrain and cassette. I got back on and just proceeded to go on knowing that the team was doing all that they could. I settled in my brain that the realism of me being in top 10 or top 20 for that matter would be out of reach, but I would finish regardless. Thom Parsons from DIRTWIRE.TV captures what we faced…
I make my brief appearance at 2:35 in, lapping the guy with icicle wheels.
In the closing lap I could hear Richard Fries calling out the drama over the speakers. I could hear that my teammate Pete Webber had issues (I'd come to find out later he's snapped the derailleur hanger and our crew had it fixed in a lap!). But I was demoralized. I could hear the bell ringing for last lap and knew that I would pick up my last pit bike from the guys and cruise the finale making it inside the finishing lap.
Note the frozen mass on the shoes. - Photo by Cycle Masters of Turlock
Coming down the one treacherous down hill before the start/finish I came into what I didn't expect and my heart sank. The UCI officials were calling off riders during the bell lap. I didn't make it. Down one lap, scored 32nd. I was painfully close to squeaking through but they cut hoards of racers short. Savery wouldn't come through for a quite bit after I was pulled so I was equally confused and heartbroken.
My bike left. Webber's bike right. That is frozen solid. Phgoto by Dan Horndasch WD-40 Bike
The disappointment and embarrassment I felt at the moment was deep. I'd failed myself even at the farthest end of the spectrum I didn't think I'd be near. My ego and vanity were so ridiculously present I was more embarrassed at that than anything else. I kept quiet, I walked silently to the tent where I sat down near the gas-powered fire, breathed, watched the steam come off my body and thought about things. I shamefully could not even think about the success of my dear friends and fellow racers as they faced the same elements I did, but their strength, focus and dedication got them through. I just sat there stunned in a frozen and painfully de-thawing stupor. Pete Webber Bronze Medal. Brandon, Ward, Brian, Matt and Michael, insanely beautiful rides.
What I thought about was this. My mind can't control my hand from reaching back into the fire. In other words, I am not progressing and not learning...or so I was stuck thinking at this very surface level. I do what I can but it is not enough to achieve what I want to achieve. I just don't have the discipline to 'get there' in my mind and body. My weight, my neuroses about work and the stress that comes with it and my desire to keep my family strong without them facing a mean and selfish daddy were all mixing and this time I didn't simply hold my hand to the fire, I shoved it directly into the white hot coals. I keep doing the same things and I keep receiving the same results. I continually disappoint myself that I can't control myself, my emotions and my…
And then I woke up.
I woke up from this stupidity sometime days afterward. After I could be home with my beautiful wife and be in the presence of her strength. The irony of it all is that I can't quit. Won't stop. This is all too beautiful and my experience will not be cluttered and sullied by forcing myself into positions I am not prepared to be in. I need to come at this in a fresh way. In a way that I can say and truly smile: It's just bike racing, man. All of this is my personal struggle to detach from. To feel success in my own ways. Most of you reading this are racers and know deep in your soul what I mean. Many just walk away. On to new and improved experiences that provide the psychological feedback they need. Positive feedback. My life experience has to be different and I need to look at myself and my achievements in new ways. I can't stop for the sake of my boys because what is that going to teach them? Nothing. Does being mediocre teach them anything either? Probably not. But sounding defeatist is infinitely worse for young ears. You see, those are things I can control. Remaining positive and moving forward even when my heart is sunk low or my place is lost within a sea of racers. My boys just need to keep pushing for what they feel in their hearts they can achieve and be happy along the way. They need to see their father for what I am and what I put in to this life.
For years now I have been writing these race reports. Part of my self-imposed embarrassment is this odd feeling that I wanted to achieve better placings for you. Readers, friends and family alike....and this ridiculous pressure on myself to out perform. I was tired of yet again writing another post of drama, tons of my typical b.s. and the usual emoti-Greg. Always feeling like I need to represent the 'old fast guys with jobs' in ways you can be proud of. It's all bullshit. We all do this together…sharing the same life-balances, the same stresses the same emotions. I'm done with that and need to push on with proving to myself what I can do for myself the best way I can. Giving my sons complete stoke on the racing and the community even when you're not the guy with the roses. There's great satisfaction in being alive, healthy and getting to play in the mud.
It's another year. 2013. In 11 months the Nation will come to my city to celebrate cyclocross. I can't lose focus on that and the joy I want to bring to racers on how we live this sport for what it is and the positive-ness it brings. I refuse to let my anxieties get in the way of something bigger than me. I will once again do what I can to change, progress and eliminate the impulsivity to just thrust my hand into the coals. It's all I can do. It's exactly what I have to do.
Thanks for reading as always.