I had a bit of bad luck racing cyclocross in November, and it was the wake up call I needed to get back into cross after collegiate nationals. I raced down in Broomfield at Interlocken, and got a little over zealous in a corner, ending up sliding along the grass with my foot still clipped in to my bike. I twisted my ankle enough for some immediate swelling and some hobbling around. It didn’t put me off aiming for redemption in Longmont the day after though. I was going great (again), managing to set the pace and ride a lot of people out of the lead group. That all ended when I shredded my tyre on a metal edging on the course, and came to an abrupt stop. It was the end to a frustrating weekend of racing, but it put a couple things in perspective.
After nationals, motivation for training and racing had been understandably a little lacking, and I had thought I could just show up and race my way back into it. That’s not the way it works in Colorado though; every weekend there are 45 guys that are living for the racing, and you can’t just stroll onto the start line expecting to win. My mentality was quick shaken, and I decided that I needed to change a few things up. My trusty Cannondale cyclocross bike now has over 10,000 miles on it, and it’s starting to show its age. With the move to disc brakes on cyclocross bikes almost universal, I decided that the big picture required a new purchase. Investing more dollars into a tired bike wasn’t worth it, and I would have to make the jump at some point anyway. I managed to get set up with a good deal on almost the same bike; an aluminium Cannondale but with discs. Only a couple small changes made it race ready, and I was suddenly way more pumped up to race again. I glued up some Cognation tubular wheels, pretty much the most essential thing for actually being competitive for cross. Riding for me is certainly not a material pursuit, but the first new bike in 18 months gave me a bigger boost than I was expecting.
So back to the racing: Blake Harlan who had moved back to his home country (Texas), was back in Boulder this weekend, which required a little celebrating. We headed to Pearl street on Friday night, drank Margaritas, danced to terrible music, and I somehow left the evening having convinced Bryan to head on down to Westminster with me and race the next day. The snow was still hanging around, making it feel very much like proper cyclocross conditions. Temperature were around about freezing when we kitted up, and the sun just fading behind clouds on its way to the horizon. Unfortunately the course designers had focussed more on preserving the grass than making a challenging course; lots of soggy grass straightaways, and two long stretches on tarmac, too. I suppose one of the beauties of cross is that not every course is the same, and some provide a little more technical challenge than the others. With the exception of a couple longer run ups, this one was very power-orientated, and I thought it would be tactical, too.
Off the start I got the holeshot, something I have to put down to a little surreptitious coaching by Pete Webber – I went to a couple Wednesday morning cross practices in Boulder and watched people start. I don’t exactly know what I was doing wrong before, but I got it fixed, and since then I’ve chosen the safe option of burning a little more energy to get out front and stay safe, rather than fight it out in the first corner. The race went as expected; a couple people tried some little attacks off the front, but with 45 minutes of suffering left, it all came back together quickly. That was what I was expecting to happen when I went to the front and put in a little pace. No one went with me though, perhaps still thinking that I wouldn’t survive off the front for 30 minutes. I wasn’t expected to either, to be honest, but after getting a couple seconds on the chasers, I thought it would be stupid to let people get back on. I was hurting plenty, but I stretched the gap just a little on each lap. I think at some point the elastic snaps for the chasers; I got more than one corner ahead and no longer in sight and that was the race won. It was unexpected to win, but looking back at it, it was one of the smoother races I have strung together. Only a little mix up with course tape on the last lap to slow me down.