A Mid Summer Cross Race

It may have been the middle August, but the rain was pounding down as we loaded up the bikes in the back of the truck and headed south from the Comox Valley towards Nanaimo. If you could ignore the oppressive humidity that was seeping into the vehicle, it was possible to imagine that it was a weekend like any other in the November season and we were headed off to a rainy cyclocross race.

Except things just didn’t quite feel right. No matter how excited I was for the race, I was struggling with all of my pre-race rituals. Gear that had’t been used since the fall was difficult to find and for some reason the concept of racing seemed strangely foreign. As if I couldn’t fathom the idea of racing my cross bike. Perhaps my internal cx clock doesn’t get triggered until September. By the time we reached Nanaimo the rain had abated. Ready or not, cyclocross was about to start.

At first glance, “ideal cyclocross venue” was not my first impression of Diver Lake. It is, without a doubt, very small. A tiny parking lot is flanked by a grass field on one side and a tennis court and kids playground on the other. Just beyond the playground lies a small wooded area with a pump track emerging from the far end. “Where would the course go?” was my first thought, although admittedly I’m a little daft when it comes to course design. I’ve ridden many a course, but to figure out how to sensibly weave 2.2 km of course tape over such an area is not my forté. Thankfully, the Cross on the Rock and MIVA crew are adept at designing and had managed to shoe horn a stellar course for this Mid Summer Cross Race.

Through the woods it was tight and twisty and just when I was certain I was headed back in the same direction I had come from, I would round a corner and pop out in a completely different spot. Passing in these tight corners takes delicate precision or a complete disregard for your fellow riders. Or sometimes both. Across the parking lot on the grass field, the course opened up with long sweeping corners and a couple of straight sections where a short burst of speed could be had before quickly bringing it back into check for the next corner. It was the type of course where strong bike handling was every bit as important as fitness. And being so early in the season, fitness may have to take a back seat.

Waiting for the runners to arrive
Waiting for the runners to arrive

In the last 2006 Cross on the Rock race at this venue there were 63 racers spread across all categories. The venue was later abandoned as they outgrew it. This year the race was capped at fifty riders per category, with an A/B, and B/C grouping and it took no time for all available spots to fill up. Goes to show how popular cross is on the island.

Two races, fifty riders per race. With such a tight course, the natural question of how the start would be handled came to mind. Sending that many people into tight corners at full speed would surely be mayhem. When I saw everyone at the start of the first race instructed to place their bikes on the ground and walk further down the course, I thought “Ahh, a Le Mans start.” Makes sense. That would string everyone out a bit. But this was not your typical Le Mans start. Instead of running directly to the bikes, racers ran for a gruelling half lap of the course before reaching them.

Trying to remember how to race my bike
Trying to remember how to race my bike

My race seemed doomed from the beginning. One of my philosophies in life is to avoid running at all costs, unless in a life and death situation or when necessary in a cross race. I can’t remember the last time I ran any significant distance when not carrying a bike. From the moment the horn sounded, I was amazed at how fast everyone else appeared to be on their feet, and in bike shoes no less. I was dragging my feet and trying to keep my knees from buckling, while others seemed ready to break a world record. By the time we reached the bikes, I was at the back with only few fellow stragglers.

It has never felt so good to get off my feet and start pedalling when I hopped on the bike determined to make up the time. I had a few strong sections, but early season jitters had me tripping over the barriers, over cooking corners, and dropping my chain on a foolish crash. To top it off my eggbeater pedals, which had’t been used much this summer, were making an embarrassingly loud squeaking noise that only seemed to be increasing in volume as the race progressed. I felt the need to apologize to anyone that came within earshot.

Glad I didn't stab my leg with this
Glad I didn’t stab my leg with this

Generally, a sound like that is a clear indication that something is not right, and sure enough, after the second lap my pedal came flying off of it’s spindle and into the grass rendering me pedal-less. My midsummer cross race had come to a premature end. On the plus side ,this gave me an opportunity to grab a hot dog from the BBQ and sit back to cheer everyone else on the course.

By the end of the hour, everyone was spent, but full of smiles. “I forgot how hard cross was” and “training starts tomorrow” seemed to be the general sentiment amongst those that had participated, but you could tell that everyone’s appetite had been whetted by the sneak peak of the season to come. Early season races are a chance to work out the kinks and despite my misfortunes, I was feeling ready for cross season to commence.

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