Sunday, October 24, 2010
Perth Cross: From the Earth
Following on the heels of a technical and very sticky race in Almonte (which I missed due to illness), Perth's debut held a great deal of promise as a fine mist of rain fell, or rather, emanated from, the clouds Sunday morning. I had it on good information, from Ian Austen, that the course would be technical with lots of turns. Combined with rain, this would make for a challenging course, likely to be lots of fun.
Upon arriving with Jamie and Todd, we could tell the course was indeed promising. We made a bee-line over to the sand pit, where riders in the early races were busy slogging away. After serving up a good dose of cowbell ringing, it was into the building on site to change and get sauced up. In the embrocation sense.
While the course was essentially flat aside from the pointy hill that was used very well, it was plenty entertaining. Virtually all the turns were greasy, and varied from tight to sweeping, the whole gamut. Barriers ranged from fast to awkward, and the uphill barrier could be hit at speed, followed by actual running up the hill. Nice. In total, I perceived the course as very well balanced, favouring riders with skill and power.
As it turned out, the strongest riders did indeed prevail, with Evan McNeely opening a massive gap on the rest of the field. I started fine, and was in a good group through the first lap, but soon was suffering due to my ailing lungs. They simply could not put up with the abuse. Adding injury to injury, my lower back manifested hideous pain each time I ran the barriers. Seems I managed to injure it while getting ready in the morning. Odd, but better today than a day I felt good otherwise. It was time to make a decision: slow down and fight another day, or keep keep the pressure on. In the heat of a race, it can be a challenge to evaluate one's motivations. My decision was easy, as I was clearly not up for it. My ego didn't have much charge pulling me to keep on slugging it out.
Slowing right down, most of the other Tall Tree riders streamed by, led by Rodd; Neil was already in front. Soon, I was happy to see a train pass me by composed of Rob, Jamie and David. Excellent. At this point I'd toyed with the idea of bailing and cast it aside. No; better to continue at riding-not-racing pace and work on the technical aspects of the race than to 'save face'. So I tried to ride the sand out, around the corner, and out. I pulled it cleanly once, and came close another time. Why not provide a spectacle for the spectacle watchers? On the hill I took my chances on the turns and served up a good few full-on moto slides. I came to a stop on one, and went down on another, buy hey, it was fun, for me and the spectators, I'm sure.
Todd and I ended up together for the last few laps, which was nice. He was strong on the day, but the SRAM Red cassette on Will's bike Todd is borrowing did not handle the mud well. It packed up and the chain skipped from three cogs down. This was frustrating for Todd, as he relies on the straights to make up ground. While Todd and I floundered, the trio ahead made steady progress and rode to strong finishes, as did Rodd a little further ahead. Meanwhile, Neil was further up in the top ten battling it out, and managed to get the best of his rival on the finishing climb. Pascal, despite not managing to catch Todd and me, had a great race, and was very happy with his bike handling; fun. Martin was a bit behind, after missing the start...doh, that stings. All in all, everyone was happy with their day, including me. Sure, I suffered a bit until I realized what I had to do, but I don't think I did any harm, and I managed to learn a thing or two and ride with Todd. Many a spectator rallied me on, which is always very much appreciated, especially when things are not going well.
Cross is the cycling discipline that probably humbles riders more than any other. There is no hiding, no free ride, no massive downhills to recover on, no excuses. The weather is often crap; that's what makes cross what it is: hard. Very strong riders routinely get schooled by people who can corner better. Riders with tonnes of skill but not much motor routinely feel like dying out on the course. But those with the humility to look bad AND come back for more benefit greatly. Phat Kent races his heart out every time, gets lapped, maybe twice, and comes back again. That's humility, passion, and courage. I will always have the utmost respect for those who display these virtues. Today was a test of humility for me. It doesn't feel good to ride considerably slower than normal in front of a bunch of people. But sucking is part of riding; it happens. Those with out of control egos won't last. Unlike road racing, cyclocross racers who have a crap day tend to keep racing, or at least riding. But even more awe inspiring is the humility many a rider exercises each time they race, slogging away and routinely being lapped. Sticking with it with nary a glimmer of glory exemplifies a true passion for cycling and competitive spirit. These riders know what some of us often fail to recognize: the process is more important than the outcome.