Race Anecdotes: Back to Basics

Now that cross is over, #crossiscoming

“Oh, it’s stupid fun,” Jim told me as we watched our teammates jump barriers in the middle of the field.

This season I was going to try out cyclocross. It should almost be call “psychocross,” for how crazy it is. You’re on a cross bike which looks like a cross between road and mountain, or at least, that’s what it feels like. Knobby tires with drops and the ability to go through some weird shit you wouldn’t see a roadie undertake, like mud. All over you and your bike.

I went to a few clinics my team, pedal RACING, hosted to learn the basics of racing on a cross course. We rode through sand pits, jumped barriers, and practiced shouldering the bike – bruising like a peach, I had a nice purple oval stretched across my shoulder a day later. Luckily, Sam captured it all on camera so I will always see how pathetic my cross skills are.

The first race of the cross season is Back to Basics in Golden. It’s a weekly race Wednesday nights for four or five weeks. After a tough road season, I wanted to try something new but I also didn’t want to race all that much. Being competitive as I am, I wasn’t NOT going to care about race results. Let’s be honest. So it was a struggle to sign up for a race that I knew I’d place toward the end.

But getting “back to basics” for some was a whole new animal for me. I never raced cross before. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Well, I did, thanks to practicing at the B2B course. Also, thanks to Megan Hottman, of The Cyclist Lawyer, she sponsored the Newbie women’s category. I had no excuses to not try out cross.

Call-ups were by registration since none of us had acquired points the season before. Yes, call-ups are a thing. I think it happens in mountain biking too. We stood in our respective spots spray painted in the grass and waited for the whistle. I had one shoe clipped in, at a 90 degree angle, as suggested by Dan during a previous practice.

The ref blew the whistle. It was a sprint start to get into a good position. I was so afraid of eating shit, I didn’t sprint as hard as I could have. With the first sandy turn, my teammate, Brittney, washed out. As I slowly rode by I asked if she was okay. With an enthusiastic “yes,” I kept pedaling.

The course flowed down a dry, sandy corner to a steep hill. I ran up it, with my bike rolling next to me. Remounting, I took a turn around another sandy embankment, my thoughts got to me, and I hit a rock. As in, I saw the rock, thought, “oh shit oh shit oh shit” and lo and behold, hit it. I tumbled over and rammed my shoulder against the mini boulder. I looked around to see if anyone was near or waiting for me to move. As quickly as I fell, I was back up, warning others about the rock I could have easily avoided had my thoughts not screwed with me.

I lost my place by the silly tumble and I wasn’t able to convince myself that I’d be fine the rest of the race, so I slowed down for turns. I mean, even slower than before.

Dirt turned to grass and ahead me were two barriers. When we practiced this as a team I wasn’t smooth then. I was clumsy and awkward this time around, but it was “stupid fun.” I slowed down as I approached the barriers and tried swinging my right foot over my saddle. I finally just had to come to a complete stop because my nerves confused me on which way I needed to jump. I hopped one leg over, laughing at myself, and another, my bike flopping around, as I carelessly carried it over the barrier.

I jumped over the second barrier, again, flip flopping around, bike unsteady, legs bending every which way. My team, on the sidelines, yelling at me to pedal. Laughing at me as I laughed at myself. They encouraged me at the same time: “Come on, McWhirt! You got this!”

I came to a stop and struggled to get back on my bike as women flew past me, running and jumping on their bikes and pedaling away. I felt like a n00b as much as I looked like one.

The rest of the course was a flowy single track. I tried mustering the courage to go faster, but every turn I second guessed how much traction my bike had on the dirt. Every turn I thought I’d wash out, eating it again.

The Newbie category only had two laps so I got to repeat everything a second time. There was a sharp, steep hill at the beginning of the course that I didn’t have enough gears and power to push up on my bike. I’d get about halfway, have to dismount, and run up the rest of the way. Then I’d turn past the stupid rock that knocked me off the bike the first lap, and race along dirt sections.

I was on the wheel of one of my teammates toward the end of the race and instead of acting like a jackass and passing her on the final turn, I chose to just ride behind her. At that point, who cared?

A few teammates stuck around to cheers us newbies on and we all laughed about our performance at our first cross race.

It’s funny to think that a year prior there was no chance in hell I would have raced cross, let alone something with dirt on it. Dirt scares me and even after practicing sand, dismounts, remounts, and turns, I was still nervous as ever to race at high speeds around a cross course.

It helped having an all-around, friendly AF team to peer pressure me into trying new sports. Mark is our cross team leader and if it wasn’t for him constantly telling me to “try cross” and actually offering to lead clinics to show us newbies how to dismount and remount our bikes, playing in sand pits, and jumping barriers, I would have been too chicken shit to try it otherwise.

And you know, it’s very likely I will never become a professional cyclist for a number of reasons, but it’s not so bad being average either. Racing for pedal means fun comes first. It means trying new sports and not fearing failure. Being able to race on my own accord means I have teammates lined up along flimsy tape, yelling my name, heckling me, and hanging around for my close-to-last place.