I finished 38th at the US Cup in Bonelli this weekend. A crazy number. The kind of finishing position you normally whisper under your breathe in case someone overhears you. Today was a little different, and I’m struggling to wrap my head around the result.
I was called up to the start line in around 50th place, reflecting roughly my ranking in the field. That call up put me about seven rows back from the action, and as I looked forward to the big hitters in pole position, all I could see was umbrellas, ice vests and shade. I was in the baking sun with everyone else, just focussed on getting through the start loop unscathed. The gun went and I moved up really well – I passed Tinker Juarez, a legend of the sport who started just in front of me.
The course went over a curb about 20 seconds after the start. I knew even before the race that this was the spot where THE crash would happen; I was correct. Someone to my right used their face to cushion their fall onto the concrete, and successive rows of bikes going 20mph careened into them. I had a front row view of the action, but luckily I’d decide to take a far left line. It paid off. I moved around the carnage and into the top 30. Good start.
The temperature on the start line was a big issue for me. It was in the mid 30’s (high 80’s in american), a huge jump from the weather in Colorado. I had no pit crew to speak of, so I borrowed some friendly help from Bryan’s Marin teammates. Still, even with someone to hand up my bottles, I didn’t have any way to cool down.
The course climbed up and back down a centre ridgeline, with three very steep climbs each lap, and three shorter but still hard climbs in between. The descents were also short and steep – loose and dusty with just one rutted line to choose from. They offered no recovery from the climbing, having to concentrate hard whilst your heart was beating very close to full throttle.
I was surprised the race didn’t have neutral feed stations. Even the smallest local races seem to get that right, but the US Cup missed the mark there. It’s a small thing that was overlooked by the people at Sho-air putting on the race; their team and the other factory teams are so well organised that it’s easy to have three people looking after one rider on course. They don’t realise that privateers who fly in the day before need a little bit of outside help.
With a limited fuel supply, and no way to cool down, I had to regulate my efforts. It’s rare that the heat actually hinders me, but this race was one of them. After moving into the top 30 on the first lap, I felt like I had found a comfortable pace, riding with people just above my pay grade. Moving onto lap three marked the start of my legs tying up. I backed off a little. It’s a hard choice to make, but the alternative was major fireworks later in the race. Between lap three and four I lost about 10 places – loosing the group I was with and other riders who seemed to power up the >20% climb on the backside of the course. I started to make mistakes on the descents – concentrating on seeing through the dust was hard work, my eyes burned and my technique disappeared.
On lap five I was handed a bottle of iced water by Larissa, Bryan’s teammate. It was a game changer. I felt myself pick up a little and found a small group to work with. After doing some maths in my head, I thought I might just squeeze around one more lap before getting pulled. I dug deep on the climbs – turning over a ridiculously low cadence in the powdery dust. I found that boundary where you know one wrong move will be a race ending cramp. I managed to stay on the right side of it, and got waved through onto lap 6. Equal parts relief and unbearable agony filled me as I knew I had to do another lap. I climbed up onto the centre ridge for the last time, looking back to see I was the last person out on course. A couple of people were 30 seconds ahead of me, but the more I tried to increase my speed, the blurrier my vision got – I had absolutely nothing in my legs to lay down. I resigned to riding out the race, chasing as hard as I could on the flat sections, and not getting lapped by the hard charging leaders who I knew must be just behind me. Up the final rise I heard the buzz of tyres hammering hard on gravel, and saw Geoff Kabush fly by me. I hope someone checked his bike for a motor.
I was pretty disappointed coming across the line. I had no idea where I finished. Someone mentioned top 25 to me, I didn’t believe it. I felt like I’d been microwaved. Even 15 minutes after the race, I didn’t have a clue what numerical position I’d come in at. I kind of wish I still didn’t know. 38th place is a lot more disappointing than the race actually was. I’ve never been pulled in a race before. 38th is misleading though, and I think I need to stop dwelling on it. The other indicators suggest I actually raced OK.
I was just about 15 minutes behind Geoff Kabush (the laps were a silly short 14 minutes). In Texas for Mellow Johnny’s I was 12 minutes down. So not too much difference, and a gap that could easily have been down to my inability to deal with the heat.
I was two places behind Tristan Uhl, a rider from Texas who just beat me in Austin, too. When I ticked up through the results at the names above me, there weren’t many outliers. Maybe 5 or 6 riders that I would want to beat. When I looked inside the top 30 I found riders I’d never beaten.
So where does that leave me? Perhaps my expectations were just askew. This was my third national race. I’m new at this game. I’m being impatient with my racing at the moment – I’ve put in the hours of training and want my results to reflect that. But then I have to remember the people I’m racing against are doing the same thing. I use Mitch Hoke as a guide in a lot of races. He’s been racing for a while at the national level, he’s done some world cups, and he’s a smart and reliable racer. On the local level, I know our fitness isn’t too far apart, so it’s a good guide. He was just inside the top 20. That’s where I want to be, but I will just have to be patient and let the experience rack up. I have time to improve, and I know I will.