The latest edition of the SoCal Prestige cyclocross race took place in San Diego and it was hellish. Temperatures in the 90’s added misery to a dry and dusty course carved out of a hillside and merged with the San Diego velodrome. The course had so many twists and turns that there was nowhere to get a head of steam up. Instead, it was all finesse and bike handling to keep the highest average speed without plummeting to a stop and then spiking with huge accelerations, which soon led to moderately big accelerations, followed by smallish accelerations, concluding with no accelerations at all but rather a slow, resigned, plodding flail around a random course in the grass and dirt for no particular reason while people made fun of you for being so stupid and slow.
The mill of the gods grinds slowly, but it grinds exceedingly fine. The mill of the dogs, however, is fast as snot and you needn’t wait long for your comeuppance.
Before my race began, I sat comfortably in the shade with Emily and Chris, perfectly positioned to make fun of the hapless sods who came limping over the barriers, around the turn, and smack into the sand pit where they either tumped over or struggled slowly to the other side, faces painted with strain and pain. One young girl in her first ever race walked over the barriers and never remounted.
“Get back on!” Emily shouted encouragingly. “You can do it!”
The young lady looked hopefully at us. “I’m afraid I’ll fall off!”
“You can DO it!” Emily said with a big smile.
The girl got back on just before the sand pit. “You can’t do it!” I hollered. “You’re going to crash!”
She got off her bike in terror. “Don’t listen to him!” shouted Emily. “He’s a wanker! Get back on!”
“I’m a wanker but you’re even more hopeless than me! Give up! Quit! Have a beer and come snuggle under the tent!”
The woman looked ready to cry. About that time she hit the sand pit and fell over in slow motion. “See?” I yelled. “It’s hopeless! All is lost!”
“Get up!” said Emily. “You CAN do it!”
Emily’s encouragement won the day. The girl got up with grit, both the metaphysical kind and the nasty, grimy kind that stuck awkwardly between her teeth, remounted, and forged ahead.
“When it’s your turn we’ll encourage you, too!” Emily said with a laugh.
My first season of ‘cross had been a steady trajectory of improvement. The last race I hadn’t even crashed, and had scored an amazing 11th place, which in my mind was like winning, or better. I’d reconned today’s course. It didn’t seem to have any areas where you could really go fast, filled as it was with turns and barriers and sand pits and dry, loose dirt and one loamy corner with a treacherous approach that everyone seemed to fall over in.
No matter. I was ready.
The whistle blew. I surged hard. Everyone else surged harder. I was in my familiar spot, the very back, with eight laps to chase.
Unlike the recon laps, the course at race pace might as well have been a completely different course on a completely different planet. MMX, Victor, Todd Stephenson, JM Hatchitt, and the usual cast of winners sprinted away.
When we exited the velodrome I barely made the turn and almost shot off the embankment into a thicket of thorns. I’d deflated my tires to 20 psi, which made for good grippiness, but also made for bad rimminess, as each large rock and edge of pavement went straight to the rim, up my spine, and stopped with a massive rattle in my braincase.
For a while it looked like I would catch up and start picking people off, but at the loamy section even that silly fantasy exploded. I half-walked through the turn, scraped my ankle on the crank, bruised my calf with the pedal, and lumbered on.
This was going to be a long forty-five minutes.
“Here he comes again!”
I’d been working on my dismounts and remounts, so even though I was the last guy in the race, I was pleased at the large crowd standing around the barriers. Employing a move I call the “Baryshnikov,” I gracefully came off the bike, made two very pretty springs into the air, and with a third leap gracefully remounted without ever racking my nuts.
I’ve never heard so many people laugh at the barriers; they must have seen something really funny but I was too busy careening towards the sand pit to pay attention. Emily & Co. were ready: “You’re winning, Wanky! Just forty-three more positions to advance and you’ll be in first place!”
When I rolled through the start-finish to complete my first lap, it seemed like I’d already done a thousand laps. By the middle of the next circuit I’d been caught and passed by the next two groups. Coming to the barriers I noticed a visible amount of commotion. “Here he comes again!” several people shouted.
“Who the hell are they talking about?” I wondered, looking back. I did another Baryshnikov, this time leaping so high in the air that if I’d had a basketball attached to my head I could have dunked it.
One guy with a camera, who was laughing very hard at something, changed his tune pretty quickly, as my landing zone was about three inches away from his head and camera. He scrambled, I did a perfect three-point, narrowly avoided posting up against a tree, and motored towards the sand pit.
“You’re still almost winning! Don’t give up!” Emily called out.
So I gave up.
But the team sure didn’t
Finishing DFL is not usually something to celebrate, but in my case it wasn’t so bad, as the leaders lapped me with less than 100 yards to go, which meant that I didn’t have to complete another circuit on the course. Victor had scored 2nd, MMX 4th, JM 6th, and other teammates in other races had won or done exceedingly well. Lars, Garnet, and Logan had all won their events, and SPY closed out the podium in the 3’s race.
The price of victory had been high, however, as the heat had taken its toll. A more wearied and dispirited group of people I’ve never seen, except perhaps at a funeral where the guest of honor had left his fortune to the cat.
That’s the thing about ‘cross racing. It’s touted as “fun,” but it’s only fun if you’re not doing it while sitting in a shady tent drinking beer and heckling flailing barrier ballerinas. If you have to actually race, it’s sheer hell. Just as Broken Seat Dude, who did the entire last half of the race without a a seat.
“Great job, Vic!” I said enthusiastically.
“Thanks,” he mumbled.
“Way to go, Michael!” I enthused.
“I almost had third,” he said dejectedly.
“Nice racing, JM!” I said to John.
“Thanks, buddy,” he said. “How’d you do?”
“DFL.” He looked at me as if I’d said, “I have leprosy. May I shake your hand?”
“Oh, wow, that sucks. Sorry, man!”
The only person in a remotely good mood was the other hopeless wanker, Jim, who had flogged and flailed around the course just like I had. “Good ride, Wanky!” he said.
“Yeah, I suck!”
“You sure do! Me, too! Want a beer?”
“Nah, gotta drive home.”
“No prob. See you tomorrow?”
“Right on! Thanks for coming out and racing!”
“I’m not sure I’d call that ‘racing.'”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t either. I was just trying to be nice.”
“Gotcha. See you tomorrow!”
If the alarm goes off, that is…