The Bike Throw and the MWhatever
After the ice, snow, sub-zero temps, and riding bikes-in-need-of-mud-flaps experience on the Sunday of the US Open of Cyclocross in Boulder, CO the weekend before, I was ready for a race known for its dry conditions (Note: Charm City CX was also known for dry conditions, and we know how that turned out). So, it was with chagrin that I noted the rainy conditions in Washington DC leading up to this years @DCCX. Ahem.
Thankfully, the rain cleared, and the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Center - a.k.a. The Most Historic Cyclocross Venue Ever, government property, and if they can let 1,500 cyclocross racers come and ruin their grass, St. Louis parks need to get over it - the ground drained quickly enough to avoid a repeat of Jingle, Charm, and Boulder. The course was still a little boggy on Saturday, but nothing that would force a pit simply to de-mud and enable the wheels to rotate in the frame like previous weeks.
And, let’s face it, I was in DC because of Bill Schieken. In Roanoke, VA for the GoCross! event, he fixed me with that dark gaze, raised his eyebrows, and using the voice of 'Hello, cyclocross friends' implored, “Coming to DCCX?” How could I not? To get asked to come to a race.... I’ve dabbled with East Coast racing before with a couple of National Championships, and a trip to North Carolina early on in my career to get some UCI points. Hella convincing, he was, to get me to commit to flying three weeks in a row with the twins (two bikes). Also, the Parkway Trophy Series was tantalizing. Let’s just say, that by the time I arrived in DC last week-end, @DougEFreshCX and I were eager to race, but ready to cry ‘Uncle’, and BikeFlights.com (which is now a verb) our double-bike Pika case containing the precious Van Dessel #FullTiltBoogies directly to our homestay in Cincy, simply to avoid shlepping them onto another plane. But, we were there in our nation’s capital for some capital competition.
Spoiler alert for this blog post, which maybe is not a spoiler alert to anybody, I WON BOTH DAYS! In the post-race interview, Bruce Buckley asks me “when was the last time you won both races in a race week-end?” To which I nonchalantly replied, “Oh, it was last year at the 5K mud run with bikes known as Major Taylor Cross Cup.” As if it happens all the time… or, perhaps only one other time in my pro career. As I was walking away, it occurred to me to think, “Wa-ayyyy-it, there’s only BEEN one other time that I managed a double win.” Oh, how quickly one gets used to podiums. As if to punctuate this realization that podiums are hard fought and not to be taken for granted, BookFace reminded me of my first UCI win ever in Henderson, NC, recently, also a 5K mud run carrying bikes. Sensing a pattern here.
Was there a decision to go for the 1st lap Rapha prime on Saturday? You better believe it. And it was made as soon as we left the pavement on the starting stretch and I found myself with the momentum, the line, and the lead on the first technical section. Spending a lot of time “sessioning” these corners the day before paid off, and I danced through the traffic-cone orange-painted-roots that dotted the course like a sinister game of Twister. What was not part of the plan was to let a gap to @gofahr develop as soon as that lap finished. But, I kept reminding myself that I’m a “late charger” - and can lay it on thick in the final laps. That, and as the race progressed, I was cornering on rails, saving energy, and gaining seconds on every feature. With two laps to go, we were locked in a battle for 1st.
Several times during that last lap, I had the thought, "Did I leave it too late? How much is in this diesel tank?" I could tell Becca was pushing her limits. The lead changed several times. Caroline Nolan was within spitting distance, and one bobble by either Becca or I might make it a battle for 2nd and 3rd instead of the top step. How to ride clean but take risks? I took the final risk as we hammered past the pits. It felt like Doug looked right into my eyes as I rode past saying something like “You got this.” The risk was to gear down, lose a bike length, but have a ton of momentum up the little kicker hill onto the pavement, and an easier gear from which to launch a sprint. Channelling my inner Peter Sagan, albeit in slow-mo, I swung around Becca’s left, went “Go, Go, Gadget-Legs”, and even managed a bike throw at the line (and checking a box on my list of cyclocross dreams - ✅Win a finish line sprint! (📹 @CycleBoredom).
Let’s go ride bikes! First, I felt much more relaxed. The weather was amazing. Edwin, and the Van Dessel trailer were in attendance, which meant that there was less to schlep to the races (bikes, wheels, trainer, and tools got to hang-out), always a plus. We got to hang out with @ScottyD of @BikeShopCX fame pre-race, and Doug got to geek out on a brake bleed with another racer’s bike).
The course also seemed to have dried up, sped up, and, somehow, got more technical? Truly, the M or the W, or “MWhatever" we were calling this up-down-up-down loose gravel hill of 180s, promised to be a differentiator. If you thought Saturday’s race was all corners, the race coordinators managed to add even more for Sunday.
The race started similarly, but with no first lap prime, we were all a bit more tactical. The @Ralpha $250 prime was on the third lap, and I intended to be in position to go for it. I took the lead just before we headed onto the backside of the course, but with all the corners, it was impossible to get away, and I had a string of talent in tow. Which is when I thought it might be a good time to take one of my on course naps. Cooking a corner, and losing purchase on the quickly drying track, I laid the bike down.
A scraped knee, but otherwise unscathed, I picked myself up and jumped onto the back of the train I had moments ago been leading. I bided my time, took a few tight corners at speed, working my way up. Then, on the MWhatever, I saw my opportunity and drove into an opening on Arley’s wheel and into third before the start of the prime lap.
In reality, it was mostly Becca and Arley duking it out for the prime. I tried to get into second a few times, but was shut down, and on the home stretch, I was to far back to launch an attack. Still, as we came across the line, it was me who was chasing down the gap Becca had built, minimizing the distance for the final laps.
The course was getting drier and sugarier by the minute. Previously tight lines were opening up, and the tires were losing grip. The crowds were getting loud. I was on Becca’s wheel until I bobbled the MWhatever, with The Penguin as my witness, big time. Then, a third of a lap later, I caught Becca again on a short uphill, but there were too many corners to come around and she was doing a great job of protecting her lead. And then on the final approach to the pit with one lap to go, I managed to get around, and at that moment I saw she had a rear flat. First thought, “Oh no!”. Second thought, “Oh, go!"
30 seconds, that’s how much time I needed to put in to Becca to win the Parkway Trophy overall. A Series of Unfortunate Events, or a Genie in a Bottle granting me one wish, would have been required to make up that much time. But, 5 seconds was a start, and I had it going into the bell lap. I worked all my lines, knowing I couldn’t build that much of a gap. Then, the Unfortunate Event happened, a spectator informed me that there was trouble on the stairs behind me, and I looked over to see Becca behind a hard-charging Caroline Nolan. That was all the impetus I needed. I launched the bike, almost catching air on the final hill, and hammered home with all the momentum I could muster. I almost considered another bike throw at the line to gain a second, but the victory was too sweet not to savor with a post-up. Still, as I rolled to a stop, I kept my eyes fixed on the clock. It wasn’t enough. By 4 seconds. Still, a win is a GD win!
I have to thank Becca. Two damn fine days of cyclocross racing. We’ve been at it for years (thank you @BruceBuckley for confirming). And @DougEFreshCX, we make a great team! Edwin Bull @Van_Dessel, you’ve been talking up @DCCX and East Coast racing for years. Thanks for helping me experience it. @DCCX you’re race was next level. @TNR-Tape, #nopins