Monday, October 26, 2009

And There Will Be Blood: Hillsboro 2009

Sometimes cyclocross is brutal because of the course. The mud at Hillsboro. The long climbs at Hornings Hideout, Rainier and Sherwood. Rutted roads that take wear the skin off of our palms.

Other times cyclocross is brutal because, despite our big expectations and best preparations, the sport gets into our head and blows us apart.

On mission on those days, if we choose to accept it, is to laugh in the face of what 'cross throws at us and just enjoy the ride.

That, for me, was Hillsboro 2009.


The Race Report:
Lap 1: Not my best start, as I had some problems getting clipped in, but I made my way to the front by the end of the gravel road and was feeling loose, confident and and comfortable. This feeling would not last long.

I get to the mud bog first and need to get into the small front chainring. Click. Nothing. Click, click. Nothing. Then we're in the mud. Mud with the texture of rubber cement and the odor of Deliverance. And I am totally in the wrong gear. I grind my way through the muck and just when I think I'm in the clear, my front tire jerks to the left and I am suddenly face down in the mud to the right. By the time I've untangled myself from the bike and am riding again, I'm sitting somewhere out of the top 5 or 6 riders.

Unfortunately, the adrenalin rush from the wreck is cruelly short-lived and chasing back to the front group has wiped me out. I'm wheezing and panting and have a panicky realization that I can't take a full deep breath. There is still too much garbage in my lungs.

No. No. No. This was supposed to done with, the sickness and the snot and the rattling.

The second set of barriers was wipe-out #2. The barriers themselves were clean, then, as I went to remount, my right foot slid out from under me and I was back in the mud, again. The three places I've made up, gone. I can no longer see the leaders.

I make it through the tricky, off-camber incline clean, but go down again twice more before I get back around for my second pass at it.

(Photo: Dave Roth)

Crashing is a mental killer for me. Typically I can go down once or twice in a race and still feel like I can remain focused and retain a killer mindset. However, after three of four spills, there is a snowball effect. I lose focus, get tentative. Which, in turn, means I make more mistakes and keep hitting the deck.

Lap 2 and 3: The second lap I am in a small pocket of three or four riders sitting at the back end of the top ten. I make up a place, lose it when I slide out. End up tits-over-ass at the off-camber incline.

(Photo: Tim Schallberger)

At this point, the whole thing has become comical. And I'm doing something I haven't done all year during a race. I'm smiling, interacting with the crowd. Having a really good time getting wet and muddy.

(Credit: Tim Schallberger.)

Chase catches me and makes a quick pass. I think, perfect, someone to chase and heckle for the rest of the race. But she's gone after I have to put my foot down twice in order to keep myself from ending up in the weeds. Neither derailleur is responding to stimuli and my front brake is gummed up enough as to be rendered useless.

My biggest moment of remedial cyclocross racing came on the third time up the incline. I am forced to take the top line and cut a short right corner in order to avoid a wavering and weaving line of slower riders. Cut the corner too short (anyone that has been reading this blog for any amount of time should be aware of my problems with right turns) and my front wheel, again, slides to the left. I go right.

Straight onto the top a wooden course marker.

Hot, red, searing pain spreads up my inner left thigh...all of the way up my inner left thigh. The fans are screaming for me to get up, but I am stunned and prone, fetal position in the mud. Someone drags me to my feet and hands me my bike. The crowd roars, but all I can think is that I may have just ended any hope I had of bearing children.

Lap 4: The ironically titled "Clean Lap." At this point I've basically given up trying to get back on Chase's wheel and have decided that all I want out of this race at this point is one clean lap. Just one. No trips, slips or faceplants. Even if it means getting passed by every single person on the course...I WILL STAY UPRIGHT.

The fourth time up the incline of death loomed large. My nemesis and my chance to take back my race. Started low, aimed for the straightest line to the high side. My back wheel skids once, and I wobble twice coming out of the turn, but I make it out clean and let out a war whoop.

(Photo: Tim Schallberger)

The HV and PV boys go nuts.

In the end, I did stay up right and managed to not get passed by any riders in my field. I rolled through the finish somewhere right outside the top ten (officially fourteenth), out of breath more from laughing than from the effort.

I found Mo right after the race. I can can barely see her through the mud on her face and the mud on my own.

"Holy shit, that was so much fun."


In the last year, I've turned my life upside down in order to train and bike race. It has given me brilliant moments of victory and, unfortunately, debilitating moments of self-doubt. At times, the pressure that I've put on myself to perform well has been almost paralyzing in its intensity. Lost in the intervals and training rides and warm-up routines and talk of series wins and upgrades, I had forgotten how much god-damned entertaining bike racing can be...when we let it be entertaining.

So, for that, thank you Hillsboro.

But no worries, reader, the game face will be back for next week. Costumes or no costumes, I will be back in leg-ripper mode. Just going to try an inject a little more fun into it.

1 comment:

Wombat said...

Great entry - I felt the same way. I was looking good for 5 laps with only 1 minor fall in front of the
HV tent. The killer was a last lap gravel rash-crash that flatted the front tire. Limped home in 19th after being comfortably in the top 10 'till then. Despite these mishaps - the most fun race so far.