Monday, November 16, 2009

When 3rd is 1st

The Southern California Prestige Series of Cyclo-cross hosted the most interesting course I've seen in my brief but undeniably successful first season of cross racing. Right on the beach in the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base, the course featured a 400 meter stretch over the hard pack sand on the Pacific Ocean. The runup section was surrounded by rusty razor wire left over from amphibious assault exercises.

When Third is First. While off the the front on a solo raid and first place a near sure thing, I flatted with three laps to go. I lost nearly 10 places and battled back to get the third place spot on the podium.

The course was practically made for me. Like a crit on fire roads. On the beach in the first lap I put a little pressure on the front. Looked back to see that I opened a big gap. No one followed. two laps later and I herd the announcer tell the modest crowd that I was under no pressure at all. Little did he know that I was at my limit. But the gap was getting bigger.

Into the third lap I began contemplating the win. "It's not inevitable," I told myself. "Still three laps to go. Just keep the Watts up and take it easy thought the..."

My back tire began hissing air. Unbelievable. A mile from the pit, my rear carbon rim dragging over the dirt on a flat tire. I made it to the beach and the softness of the hard pack sand made it possible to ride on the flat. But not fast enough. My insurmountable lead vanished and I began getting passed. My team mate Dave Turner came past offering some conciliatory words, and then the anger set in.

In the pit I begged for a wheel. Guys there looked away like I was a bum holding a cardboard sign at a freeway off ramp. After a second plea, one of them offered up a wheel. He helped me get it on and I was back out onto the course. This time down the hill into a deep sand pit the culminated into a 180 degree hairpin. I saw few people manage to ride through this section. Most guys tried, but had to clumsily dismount at the last second, loosing precious time. The key was to hop off the bike while there was still momentum and run through the deep sand. I nailed it and began making up time, quickly passing my first set of guys.

One lap to go and each bend on the course offered up another set of guys to pass. Back on the beach for the final time and I caught up with Turner. As of this post is the yellow jersey leader in the 3/4 35+. While never having won one this year, he's consistant finisher. While his lead is without what the french call "panache" he is the leader nonetheless. This meant I must be near the front. I drilled it a final time over the dismount and run-up.

I crossed the line with nothing left, throwing my bike to the ground. "Hey, take it easy on my wheel," shouted the guy who's wheel I was thrashing. I apologized and he gave me a pass. He saw the serious ground that I made up after the flat, and seemed happy to have made my comeback possible.

When the results finally came in I managed to pull out 3rd overall. A guaranteed win melted into total loss yet somehow came back to a respectable bronze. Cyclo-cross is amazing.

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