Time for the big show! I arrived quite a bit earlier than normal and was excited as soon as I crested the hill and saw the parking lot full of tents, trucks, and spectators. This day I would line up with many of the true PRO cyclocross racers who travel the country racing the biggest races. In fact, three of the four ‘crossers representing the USA at the World Cup opener two weeks ago in Switzerland would be in attendance. I knew I had my work cutout for me, since the Crossresults.com race predictor was predicting I would finish in 34th place.
I got my race numbers (including shoulder numbers for the first time) at registration, and then set out to preview the course. I had been scoping it out all week, but conditions were quite different after the hundreds of amateur category racers out on the course all morning. The course was now very loose and dusty. The copious sand was unrideable in some sections, and well rutted in others.
With no UCI Points to my name, I was randomly assigned a starting position: 53rd. Out of 70 starters, I could have done worse. There were a couple fast guys stuck behind me, so I knew I would eventually have some good wheels to lead me to the front. Before I knew it, the whistle had blown and we were screaming down the opening straight, headed for an early dismout and hundreds of cowbell ringing fans.
I didn’t get too tangled, and managed to mostly hold my position. It is a very new feeling to be in such a large group, with racers who are on average, as fast as I am. I had expected to feel stuck in traffic on the first lap, but I really felt like I was going as fast as I could, and managed to move up a few places. Halfway through the first lap, I was in 47th place.
I had trouble finding my ‘flow’ in the first few laps. In cyclocross, part of racing is the zen-like state you can find as you race lap after lap. Once you find your groove, you can ride every turn at high speed, following the exact line each time; you know exactly which gear you need as you exit; exactly where to dismount and where to push through and ride. Of course I had a few more nerves going than normal, and added to this was the constant hyper aggression from the other racers in the opening laps. If I left a tiny amount of space or had a bobble, someone would pass and fill in the gap immediately.
I tried hard to move up, but like I said, I found myself getting passed about as often as I was passing. On the second lap I had moved up one place: 46th. I was also keeping tabs on the lap counter and timer. It showed six laps to go, and I was about three minutes from the front of the race. In UCI races, riders about to be lapped are pulled from the race. The rule is 80% of the leader’s time. I had already calculated that would be about 5 1/2 minutes.
The race was now rather spread out, and I was able to find my flow. I was passing a rider or two per lap, but also losing about 30 seconds on the leaders. I started to get the feeling I was close to being pulled. A teammate, Jon Tarkington, had passed and we had worked together, and as we were coming to the finish line to see two laps to go, I thought to myself “Ride the next lap like it is the last”.
Alas, as we turned to the finish straight the official’s whistle blew again and we pulled off the course. I was not the only one with shoulder numbers now watching the leaders finish the race, as 60% of the race was eventually pulled. Jon and I were the first pulled with two laps remaining, so who knows how close we were to hanging on for one more lap. In total, I was five places from finishing the race.
For my first time out I really can’t complain. The energy of the race is still ringing in my head. It really was fun to be part of such a major race. Today is the Boulder Cup. The race predictor has me lined up for a similar 36th place finish, although Jon is 31st, and I know I’ve been going about as fast as him. I don’t know what starting position I’ll draw, but regardless, I will give everything I have to finish the race on the lead lap.