This is starting to get a little repetitive. Lining up for a cyclocross race. My shoes already muddy and damp. My bicycle momentarily clean. Momentarily, because as soon as the whistle blows, and my already elevated heart rate jumps into the stratosphere, I will barrel down a gravelly straight away, praying that my tires continue to maintain contact with its surface, and then launch into a mud puddle where there is nothing to do but ride down the middle of it blinded by the tire spray of the rider in front of me.
Or it could be slightly different. For a change, I was on the front row, barely, but thankfully (crashing on the first lap of two C1 races is not a good way to earn valuable UCI points). The course was muddy, there was no denying that, and it was likely that I would be covered in mud in seconds. And I was. I entered the first turn in the mix, not in front, but not too far back thanks to the uphill start. Weirdly, a few women on the inside took a grass line up the hill as it gently edged to the left, cutting the corner, and forcing me off my line as the riders on my left turned into me with the road. I squeezed myself out and around to the left to reset my sprint, and entered the first slimy downhill turn in traffic. I fought my tires for traction as I did the double wheel slide, and climbed out of the turn as the course narrowed into a switchback. It was slippier than I had anticipated, and I had to put an emergency foot down, gracelessly pivoting as I tried to avoid the treacherous tape.
The first set of barriers came quickly, and it was here that I settled into race mode. The muscle memory took over for the dismount/bounding/remount and I needed to move up in the group. If managed third position as BethAnn, Courtenay, and I approached the series of telephone poles that had been laid in our path just past a sloppy turn on an uphill slope. Courtenay lost her footing in the dismount (quickly recovering), and the three of us ran nearly side-by-side, bikes held high over the expertly engineered "Belgian six-pack". On the remount, I jammed my already mud-packed cleats on the pedals and fought for position along the short straightaways that led into the woods, wanting to be first, but conceding the lead to Courtenay.
I had chosen not to repractice the tight, off-camber turns on this section once the rains started, fail. A previously rideable little flip of an uphill popped me off the bike in the muck, and I fell to third as BethAnn smoothly negotiated it around me. We approached the stairs cut into a steep incline for a run-up (riders earlier in the day had been able to ride this section... I attempted it but managed to get my endo crash out of the way for the day instead). The remount after this one needed to be quick. We popped out of the woods, swung around a sharp grassy downhill and reentered the trees only to ride off a rooty decline. I bobbled again here, and barely avoided wrapping myself in course tape and fencing. Slightly shaken, I managed to slip my way up a more difficult run-up, this time without the help of stairs, my toe spikes already embedded in mud. Still on Beth Ann's wheel. We were falling behind Courtenay who drilled the lines in the woods, and entered the next series of slimy switchbacks about ten seconds back.
Usually I shine here, loosening up my back end and letting the front tire dictate the lines. But my caboose was too loose, and BethAnn, who I had passed in a straightaway but stayed right with me, commented on it. I needed a fresh bike. I needed clean tires. I needed a redo. I took everything but the redo at the next pit (no redos until the next lap). Courtenay, still 10 seconds in front of me, did the same, but Amanda, just behind me, did not, and she barreled past on the outside line, taking the lead into the next corner. Fresh tires meant good traction, at least for the next few turns, and I approached the Belgian stairs for the second time, in second position once again.
And there it would stay. Courtenay would stay just out of reach. She would choose a bad line on one lap for the staircut run-up, and I would catch up, only to accidentally jam my toe spike into my pedal and fall back. I would continue to bobble that little flip uphill in the woods, even straight-up running it, until the last lap. On lap three, I skipped the pit, and gained valuable seconds, deciding that the tires were clearing on the concrete straightaways and the bike was not picking up enough mud to warrant a change. Neither one of us would pit until the last lap. JP and John were heroes in the pit with clean bikes, as usual, letting me know each time I came around.
I made contact with Courtenay's wheel a couple of times. I was laying down as much power as I could. Third place was out of site behind me, and though I could barely see for the mud in my eyes, and barely breath for the effort, I was thoroughly enjoying myself and gaining confidence in the mud. Perhaps a little too much, as I got cute in a couple of corners in the woods, coming into one of the run ups at the wrong angle, biffing it. It was at this point that I knew she had gotten away for good with less than a half lap to go. I pulled her back within three seconds, but it wasn't enough. There is always tomorrow. And you can guarantee I will be on the start line with a clean bike and damp and muddy shoes, ready to do it all over again.
See.... Told you so.