So 2012 was the year we were blessed with the addition of little Owen to our family, and subsequently, one that would see me not do a road or track race all year, with the exception of Barry Roubaix. So it was the Masters 40+ of the CCC that was calling me and which comprised my season. It was all cross this year and it was fun!
When Worlds were announced, I initially only bought tickets to go watch the elite races over the weekend. I kept telling myself I didn't have the fitness to race Masters Worlds. But the idea kept gnawing at me and I finally decided I would be crazy NOT to race. So I registered and booked a hotel that was literally a 3 minute ride to the venue. So close you could do your trainer warm up in the hotel room and pedal over for staging. (Something I wish I would have done actually.)
As it's getting closer to the date, I nearly bail on the whole thing. The demands of having an infant in the house were taking more and more of my time and my training into the winter really declined. I was really beating myself up over the fact that I wasn't going to be at my best for Worlds. Not that I had any illusions I would be racing for a top 10 or whatever, but it was a high level race and it's only natural to want to be at your best. But with support from Melody and a series of "getting stoked" texts with John Boggs, I kept my head straight and decided to stay in the race. I would race as hard as I could with what I have and leave it at that. My goal is to race in the final.
Tuesday night at Louisville. Rain. Tornado sirens. Rain. Little sleep. My qualifier is at 11:30, course opens at 8:00 for pre-ride. Even as I approach the absolute disaster area that is the race course, it didn't dawn on me that things might be delayed and off I go to pre-ride. Much of the course is under water and It's a mucky mess. I ride two laps and I'm soaked, covered in mud. We then get official word of the 2 hour delay. I get my bike power washed and head back to the hotel and wait for my race, getting in a quick nap.
Top 24 in my heat make it to the final. I'm staged in the 4th row. I look up to see Melody and Owen at the start line. This makes me happy. I'm glad I'm here. Off we go and as we move off the pavement and hit the muddy water, it was like hitting a huge puddle with your car. Spray everywhere. It was kind of funny actually. I was afraid of people going down at that point and pulled off the gas a little bit. But we all managed it safely, at least as far as I could tell. Once we were in it, the mud was relentless, a deep river mud that sucked on your wheels. It felt like riding though sand with some joker holding onto your saddle the whole time. After riding clean in my pre-ride laps, I thought I could manage my lines. But in the scruff, I go down twice on the first lap, dropping my chain on the second crash, losing precious spots as I curse my Paul chain keeper. I'm back on and ride cleanly through the rest and take back a few spots, but fall short of a qualifying spot and finish 30th.
That was the hardest 2 laps of anything I've done and now if I want to race in the final I have to do it again, in 2 hours. I briefly consider bailing, but quickly drop that idea and mentally prepare to race again. The top 8 from the Repechage round will make it into the final. We're racing for the last row!
I had my bike power washed between races, so it's looking good. I, however, am not. Off we go and it's much the same. I know what to expect and how to get through it, which was nothing more than grinding it out and staying upright. No other race tactics come into play in these conditions. I ride clean. A group of us quickly separate and we were being told by some spectators that we were in the top 8. That was a relief and I was really hoping they weren't just messing with us. I was with 3 other guys and we kept going back and forth. It was actually kind of fun and we were pretty confident we were all in the final as nobody was close off the back. On the second lap, I lost my shifting and was stuck in my easiest gear. I lost a little ground on the flat, extra muddy sections as one click down was the ideal gear for me, but it wasn't enough to make a difference. I come down the hill on the final lap to someone yelling "you're number 7" to me. And so I'm in the final. Relieved.
The cold rolls in, which I'm happy to see. Anything to harden up that course I think. I'd rather deal with frozen ruts than that muck. But the morning's races, sunshine and warming temps into the mid 20's quell those hopes. I pre-ride a few sections and quickly realize that conditions on Friday are actually worse than Wednesday. The course is 1/3 frozen and 2/3 muck. The slow speeds from the mud made the ruts hard to maneuver through, no momentum. I finish my warm up on a trainer in the big tent and see pit crews running around trying to gather materials to clean the bikes. Guys are running out to gas stations and hardware stores for supplies. Windshield washer fluid seemed a popular choice. (The power washers had been left out in the cold and were now frozen and useless.) At this point I'm realizing just how bad it is out there.
I line up, number 79 of 80, checking in! I'm wearing my spiffy new skin suit and feel bad for what I'm about to subject it to. Off again with a little less of a splash this time. Within a 1/2 lap, I realize that my bike is getting very heavy. Everything is sticking, immediately freezing to the bike and building up at an alarming rate. The brakes are practically useless, but somehow I can still shift. By the second lap, my bike is barely ridable and I knew that would be my last lap. I saw the pit crews frantically trying to clean bikes as I hobbled by the pits. As I approached the last steep descent before the finish, I decided to run my bike. I had ridden the hill every time before, but my bike was in such poor condition that I didn't trust it and there was no way I was risking a downhill crash at this point. I was happy and disappointed to be pulled. I placed 67th out of 80, gaining 12 spots from my staging position. After my race I grabbed some tasty Frites with mayo and a Sierra Nevada, and chatted with a couple from Colorado who came out to watch for the week. By this point, my bike is completely frozen up. Nothing would move. I throw it up on my shoulder and walk back to my hotel, satisfied with my result.
In the end, I am very happy I decided to go through with racing at CX Worlds. I learned a lot about personal expectations, balance and preparation. It has me motivated to try some higher level, regional CX races this year. I have to say that the people there were the friendliest damn people around, both the racing crowd and the locals. I encountered some of the most supportive and friendly racers I've seen, nothing but smiles and encouragement. That says a lot about our sport and I'm proud to be associated with it. Louisville is a great town and I look forward to heading back to race the USGP event there. You should go!