Tales from the ('cross) peloton, November 15, 2004
Foul weather, a peanut butter-like parcours that saw riders ankle-deep in mud, a blistering crosswind that blew people off their bikes, and throwing up not once, not twice, but THREE times! Ella Lawrence relives some not-so-fond memories from the Women's B Field at the US Cyclocross Nationals.
Sunday morning saw the stickiest hours that the Portland International Raceway provided during a three-day race weekend for cyclocross nationals this December. While the masters and juniors were blessed with runny, slick mud and rain on Friday and Saturday, and the weather had dried out enough for the course to be fast during the Elite races on Sunday afternoon, the Singlespeeders and the Women's B/C races took place on a course that in most places strongly resembled the consistency of peanut butter.
My race (Women's B) race started on a paved straightaway of about 75 yards, which allowed the field to get a start that was way too quick for them to handle. Frantic girls in pink and red sped way off the front, only to crash themselves and the entire first half of the field (your illustrious author included) out when the pavement turned to gravel and we had to hop (roll, really) over three small cables. Sniffling ladies were able to pick themselves up off the ground but morale was low as we struggled to regain control over our bikes in a rutted, sticky mess that would have been rideable at speed but sucked at our ankles like a bog monster coming out of hibernation once we were off the bike and going slow.
Once most girls had regained control of themselves and their rides, it was round a corner and into a blistering easterly crosswind that literally blew smaller girls off their bikes again. After a straightaway on this flat, rutted, grass/mud field of about 150 yards, we shoved through a giant mud puddle (already the runny mud was a huge relief after the sticky mess of the first quarter-lap) and made a sharp right turn up to the first run-up, which was a section of steep motocross track. Mud was ankle deep, and where it had been scuffed through, hard red clay was exposed, giving girls with toe-spikes a decided advantage over girls without. Several girls went down together in a slippery bundle of filth and spandex, making me wonder why the WWF hasn't yet tapped into this female mud-wrestling segment of the population. Probably our hair isn't big enough for prime-time TV.
At the top of the run-up, the challenge was to remount while going very, very slow due to the omnipresent muck. The course rolled downward, flattened out a wee bit and then descended onto pavement after a sharp left turn, marked by several deep, tacky ruts. Lots of girls went down in this section, getting front wheels stuck in one of these ruts. I managed to avoid crashing in this section (actually the only place I crashed was behind the first pile-up at the start).
This section was where I threw up for the first time (but more on throwing up later). I had started the race on a spare bike: a lightweight, springy Felt as opposed to my steadfastly solid steed, the Hunter. I thought being able to stand up and shift on the Felt's integrated levers (as opposed to my bar-end shifters) would give me a good start; it did, but the bike was so light that I kept getting blown around in the gale-force winds, and I hadn't practiced shouldering it, so I lost some places on the first run-up. After this section of pavement, we rounded the corner by the grandstands and the treacherous snack bar (I heard about two racers who got sick from the food there - but more on getting sick later!) into another mini-run-up. I'm sure the elite men and women were riding this section but it was hard to get my speed up because the base of the hill was a shin-deep soupy bog, which I usually wound up dismounting in the middle of.
I remember lots of people cheering loudly during the first lap (out of three we would do in 40 minutes), and I assume this is the amount of time I spent actually racing with the field. After my one bike exchange in the pit, I threw up again and from there on out the rest of my race is a blur of abject misery. I do remember a friendly face here and there that I recognized showing great concern, but eventually even friends stopped cheering for me - it must have been apparent that nothing was going to help me catch back up to the field or place well at this most important race of the year.
I did finish the race, however, and not last either. I got back to the hotel room after getting lost twice and blown off my bike twice as well, shivering and miserable - wondering why-the-hell-do-I-do-this-to-myself and convinced I was going to quit riding bikes entirely. Another puking session made me realize that hey, I'm not really a terrible bike racer: I simply had FOOD POISONING!!!!
That's right, folks, all you have to do is eat ill-prepared kale and you too will be vomiting for hours, unable to keep down anything but two clear sodas over the next two days. Misery, pain, aches, who cares? That unsightly flab around your middle will be gone in no time! It's better than the South Beach Diet!
And if you get sick with your sweetie, like I did, you can cuddle in a soulless hotel bed together and wail, 'woe is me!' in harmony. I was more disappointed that my man had to miss his race (unlike me, he's actually pretty fast and had hoped for a top 20 finish in the elite race) and that we both had to miss the 40-ouncers of Pabst Blue Ribbon on ice at the Delta Soul Food Restaurant post-race, but the flip side is that we're both race-svelte at over six feet tall and under 150 pounds! Food poisoning is one of the least fun things that can happen to ANYBODY but it's an especial bummer when it ruins your race at cyclocross nationals. Oh well, there's always next year...