The first ‘cross race of the SoCal season was thrilling, filled as it was with fresh, happy faces beaming with the eagerness to try out this new fashion called cyclocross. In preparation for their first race, many had purchased brand new, top of the line ‘cross rigs, had donned fancy Rapha and Assos clothing, had invested in pro-grade Specialized shoes, and, in the final frenzy of their folly, had paid the advance $350 fee to pre-register for all ten events in the SoCal ‘Cross Series.
By the third race in the series, which was held yesterday and billed as Spooky Cross, the herd had thinned considerably. “Welcome to ‘cross season!” for many eager beavers had translated into “Crash your fucking face into a berm and quit after one lap and sell your new bike to some other sucker.” For others, it meant “Wife livid at spanking new, trashed $2k tubular ‘cross wheels that need replacing.” For others still, it meant something far worse: “Sheer, unmitigated terror shot through with almost unbearable pain and repeated smashing of nuts on the top tube.”
Where the rubber doesn’t actually meet what you’d describe as “road”
After my first race, MMX had given me a friendly grin, taking in the blood mixed with sand, torn shorts, broken bike, and just-finished-a-bout-with-Manny-Pacquiao look on my face. “The thing about ‘cross,” he said, “is the learning curve. It’s steep.”
Yes, it is.
With no BMX or moto background, even the most basic thing about riding a bike through sand and grass and dirt had eluded me: How to steer.
Luckily, the learning curve came to my rescue. I’d started in the coveted last spot, but unlike the previous three races, rather than watch the entire group instantly vanish, I easily stayed with the peloton. We entered the chute together, and along the narrow sand ledge the wanker in front of me ejected. I neatly pedaled around him. “Wow, I’m like, actually cyclocrossing instead of just riding by myself through a yard.” I passed several others.
By Lap 3 the field was shattered, the race decided, and I simply dialed in the rider ahead, overtook him, and then dialed in the next. On the long dirt section that goes through the start-finish I passed three wankers who’d been dangling out ahead for half a lap. “Take that, wankers!” I chortled.
The entire time, though, something had been gnawing at me. “Why can’t I corner?” In every turn my front wheel skittered and slid, and in the sandy turns it was invariably touch-and-go.I was that guy who the people behind looked at and thought, “Just get around that fucker, he’s going down.”
The terror quotient was high, and the pain quotient higher because if I braked I had to come full sprint out of the turn from what was almost a dead stop. If I let the momentum take me through the turn I almost crashed every single time.
Going through the sandy 180 just before the run-up, my front wheel leaped skyward. I fell on my right side, my skull thwacking the dirt so hard that, for a split second, everything stopped. “Won’t be seeing that dude again,” said the wankers who I’d so dropped earlier with such authority, as they bunny-hopped my torso and head.
Enlightenment through gravity
Legend has it that a falling apple whacked some gravitational sense into Newton’s head. In my case, that pounding on my temple beat in a stunning realization:
If you want to go through a turn safely and fast, take the fucking weight off your front wheel, dipshit.”
It made such perfect sense. I don’t load up over the front hub in a crit or bombing a downhill, why the fuck was I all hunched up on the drops and throwing my weight to the front in this shit?
The guys who had bunny-hopped my head were already atop the run-up. I clambered up the steps, where One of the Finest Photographers Ever, Danny Munson, clicked away at my Stumble, Drag, and Whack Nuts approach to the stairs. I began a furious chase using my newfound “sit higher and shove your ass back technique.” I began waltzing through the turns…okay, more like polka-ing with an iron accordion, but still nothing like the Free Willy Frontire turns I’d done every fucking turn for the three previous races.
As I passed Wanker One, he looked at me in surprise. “Good job, dude,” he said. When I passed Wanker Two, he grunted and pedaled harder. This, however, is what Supcat would say is the unfortunate result of introducing road-fit riders into the mix of strictly ‘crossers: We drag them down to our level of technique and beat them with fitness.
He battled heroically to hang onto his 17th or 38th or 43rd position or whatever it was we were risking life and limb for, but in vain. One of my many hecklers shouted, “Yo, Wanky! You can’t win 27th place if you keep jumping off your bike and rubbing your face in the mud!”
Another helpfully hollered, “Go to the front!”
The second day of racing starts shortly. The weather gods of cyclocross, tired of all the sunshine and dry ground and warm temperatures, unleashed cold rain and drizzle all night long. I know because I periodically woke up and as the rain beat down could only think, “Tomorrow, I die.”
I know what I’m going to find when I get to the Fairplex course in Pomona: Mud, rain, cold, mud, and more mud. Did I mention rain and cold?
That learning curve just got a lot steeper.