It started out easy enough, but when my dad’s van started to squeal and stink we knew we had to pull over. Right away, we knew the trip with this vehicle would not be a good choice so we called in reinforcements. We pulled into the pits, and had a car change in about a half hour. Pretty close to record time. Finally rolling, we were still on track for an on time arrival, so no real worry for missing the race.
Once we got to the race, I gathered my gear and got ready to go. In between the embrocating and the tieing up of the loose ends, I saw the “rainbow stripes” of World Champion Catharine Pendrel riding around. It sent a little shiver up my spine and a grin to my face. The image of that jersey riding around in northern Michigan was very powerful, and it again reminded me that I was doing the Pro race today. Because, those stripes are only worn by pro's, and I am not a pro. One of my goals was not to let the World Champion catch me, as the women started a couple of minutes after the men. But, to be honest, if the women’s cross country World Champion is going to pass me in a race, I don’t have a problem with that at all. But I never even got to see the “stripes” go by while I was tending to my bike in a crash and a mechanical. I’m pissed I missed the “stripes” go by, it was the only spectating I wanted to do during the day.
After botching the start and lining up at the back of the pack, I looked around and noticed a few Chicago riders in the field, it was good to see some familiar faces in the main event. The race began just like a cross race, full gas and eyes rolling into the back of your head to keep up. I began to advance in the pack on the paved residential run to the first section of dirt. Suddenly, there was the unmistakable, hollow echoing boom of a mailbox getting hit. I glanced to my right and a racer had run full speed into a mailbox 200 yards into the race. What an awful, awful noise… We got into the dirt, and I continued to advance, and maintain. Until a sandy section that was very close to the sandy section I crashed in last year. My seat was twisted, and a brake lever was pointing straight up. So I punched my bike a few times and everything was back in order. On my way again I quickly caught up with the group that had just ran over me. Feeling good, having more fun than usual in a bike race, I plowed ahead big ring in full effect. Until a weak sauce rise in the course had me changing to a smaller chainring, and all of a sudden the chain locked. I looked at the cranks and my heart sunk. The chain had wrapped around an extra half rotation and was just locked in place, it looked like the end of the race for me, and my bike. With no choice but to slam on the cranks to release it, or walk for untold miles in the woods all alone, I slammed away and the chain finally freed from the chainring’s grasp. The miles ticked off at dizzying speeds that are well beyond what the normal mountain bike race averages.
As the end of the race approached you could hear the announcers and the spectators cheering, you knew you were getting close. Until the course did a 180 and the crowd noise disappeared. And it’s so frustrating knowing the finish is just right around the bend and another bend and another bend. This year they added another climb in the final 2 miles that was a special punch in the mouth. The final hills were stacked with people screaming, spilling beers, ringing cowbells, and clanging bonebells. It was made abundantly clear to me from the spectators that I was being beat by the World Champion. The wall of noise was unlike any other race I’ve ever done before. It’s amazing having that many people scream at you while you ride by. It gives you wings and you float up hills that would otherwise demoralize you. In the end I finished 8 minutes faster, on a course that was a little longer than last years edition, it was an awesome day.