I was all planning and no execution for my pre-race routine. With fifteen minutes left before the start of the race, I was still fiddling with my bike and swapping out wheels. In perhaps a moment of misguided ambition I had purchased a second tubular wheelset this summer and some Clement LAS file tread tires, because you know, I am so good at gluing them. Prior to this season, my tire choice was easy because I only had one option – a set of Clement PDX mud tires.
Now after a warm up lap I was second guessing my setup. While the LAS seemed to roll nicely, I didn’t feel that I was getting great traction in the loose corners. I didn’t want to go with the pure PDX, mainly because I had bought these damn file tread tires and if I didn’t use them this race, I wasn’t sure when I would. I can be stubborn that way. In the end I settled for a mix. LAS on the back, PDX on the front, with 27 psi in each. By the time I had everything sorted, there was barely time to complete a warm up lap before heading to the start line. First race jitters abound.
It was time for the first race in the Cross on the Rock series and this year Topaz Park in Victoria had the honour. Last year Topaz was later in the season and featured tape-to-tape mud in what many describe as the race of the year. Conditions this year couldn’t be more different – hot sun, dry grass, dusty corners, and not a speck of mud to be seen. Everyone eagerly awaits the start of cyclocross on the island, and the numbers confirm it: 362 registered racers flocked to the sunny park near downtown Victoria to finally get their cyclocross fix.
The first race of the season always presents a logistics issue. How to deal with that pesky problem of call ups. No series points means there is nothing on which to base them. Should standings carry over from last year? Maybe call up be based on registration order? A totally random call up? Or should everyone be given a fair crack at it with a good ol’ Le Mans start? Much to my dismay, the running option was chosen. Luckily, the distance was shorter than the Midsummer Cross race, although to me, any amount of running is too far.
I made sure to arrive early enough to score a spot on the front row. It was a straight shot down the grassy field and then a tight 180 degree turn around a lamppost to the awaiting bikes. “You got this!” I told myself, not really believing it. Seventy of us stood at the ready, packed elbow to elbow waiting for the signal. The horn sounded and chaos ensued. Errant hands and feet flailed as the mob surged forward toward the pile of bikes. I put thoughts of tripping and being trampled out of my mind and sprinted hard. This lasted about ten meters before my legs felt like they would give out. I kept moving and gingerly dodged bikes and people to locate my bike. The first race of the season had begun.
The sting of the start stayed with me for half of the first lap. I let more people past than I liked, but I did my best to recover. Despite my pre-race obsession with tire choice – which had actually worked out quite well – I still wasn’t feeling confident in the corners. Call it first race nerves, but I was too heavy on the brakes going in. I didn’t have confidence in my traction or my glue job, and I imagined slipping out, or worse, rolling a tire. After each corner I shake my head and give myself a pep talk “less brakes! less brakes!”, but it took awhile to finally trust my setup and ease off the brakes in the apex of the turns.
Historically, I am stronger in the technical sections and get dropped when the course turns straight, but this time the opposite was true. On the straightaway in front of the team tents I managed to gain ground, which is somewhat foreign to me. Where others used it as a recovery section, I gave it full gas and caught enough people off guard that I was able to sneak past and gain spots. After that section it was back to the single track where passing is difficult so I did my best to get in front each lap, sticking to the advice of “if you are fast in a section, you want to be first going in. If you are slow in a section, you want to be first going in”.
In the end, my only real strategy for the race was “go hard and catch the guy in front.” It worked well enough to get me a third place finish, but by no means a comfortable third. For the remainder of the race, fourth place was barrelling down on me with a freewheel loud enough to give me nightmares. The constant buzzing, which sounded like a swarm of bees ready to engulf me, kept me pushing hard to the end. It was a hard fought race and I was ready to collapse into a pile on the grass after crossing the finish. It was a great start to a full season of racing.