The Cyclocross Race.
Northfield MA, Sept 25 2004
2004 by Christopher Rehm all rights reserved. You can send this to your
if you wish; but to publish or use in any other way contact me first I want some dough… email@example.com
The ref is standing at the side of the road. “ 2 MINUTES”, he says. I look around the field. There are about 50 riders, including the women and juniors. Everyone is silent. Even the juniors. Gavin is 12 in pink and light blue, rides for CCB/Volkswagen, Tyler Hamilton’s old team. He’s in the forth row. And he has the same look as the adults. Grave. Serious. At the Wednesday night training crits his dad will let him warm up with us but not race. Too dangerous for a 12 year old Gavin once told me. Maybe next year. He is about 60 lbs soaking wet. I guess cross isn’t as dangerous. To dads’ way of thinking anyway. I’m in the second row. I need a good start. A real good start second row is bad. First row is good. I’m going to have to do something quick off the start, better than Pittsfield yesterday.
Other riders are looking at me, my bike. I’m riding an Alan frame; this year I’m a contract rider. I got a bike, clothes etc. Alan is trying to restart its business in America; they are a well known frame manufacturer in Italy. They sent an email to the NE cyclocross list in July looking for riders, in all fields. I sent then a resume and got a phone call. I didn’t expect it my results last 2 years were pretty plain. But hey I got it. And everyone knows. Now I got to ride like a contract rider. That means I got to get some results.
ONE MINUTE. The pack shifts nervously. This ref has been giving us warnings on the minute for 5 minutes. I guess he likes the drama. I look around, everyone is silent. A rider in the back says a prayer and crosses himself. . I don't think anybody is really thinking about any thing. It is really very very simple. The ref moves away from us, and say go, and then all hell will break loose.
It’s VERY quiet. You can hear the breathing of the men and women and boys standing around me. I’m not thinking of anything. Except I have to start fast.
The pack shifts nervously, you can feel them, ready to spring forward.
This ref is a drama queen
Then he quietly says:
The front rank rolls forward. I stand on the right pedal, and as the left comes around I put my foot, carefully, into the clip. The people in front accelerate, violently. BAM so do I. I’m standing on the pedals, accelerating as fast as I can go. BAM BAM BAM GO GO GO NOW!!!!! GO HARD!!!!! GO NOW!!!!!!!! DON”T GET DROPPED I think. My pulse just went from 89 on the HRM to 161, in about 12 seconds. That’s an extraordinary feeling if you aren’t used to it. CRACK!!!!! Someone darts past from my left to my right, and hits my front wheel hard as they go. HA, so what. I’m not going down just because of that. Only tourists crash when they touch wheels. Now there are about 10 riders in front of me. That's enough, no more. Someone tries to pass on my right, I accelerate some more and cut him off. Too bad buddy you gotta go FAST if you want room at the front. My lungs go into overdrive, and are pumping air into my chest in big huge clouds. I can taste salt and copper in them. That's the feeling of capillaries starting to burst from the effort.
The front riders are going about as fast as they can at this point. We devolve into a pace line, riding in the big chainring, up an 8 % grade on the road. First turn, onto the grass is 100 m ahead. You can hear riders coughing, gasping for breath, that's good. I'm going to beat those guys. Your meat, if you are gasping now. I suck in a big breath of air slowly and deliberately.
Once upon a time, Chris Carmichael, lance Armstrong's coach said bike racing psychologically is like a stabbing, its very personal and violent if you really want to win that's what you have to do. Personally I’ve always found it more like a bayonet fight in a trench in WW1. It is one stabbing after another, one melee after another. Last man or woman standing wins. Oh and we don't have no kids here, not once it starts. Adults only. LEFT TURN someone shouts. The front riders accelerate into the tall grass. I hit the pivot point, and feel my legs start to fill faster with lactic acid.
CURRRRANGGG CRAK WONNGGGOMMMP AHHHHHHH SONNOFABITCH AWWWWWWWWWWHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!
Someone has gone down in back. So much for their race. Good riddance, one less bayonet fight I have to fight.
We turn right on the grass, through the main pit area, where the New England tifosi are, the fans that came to watch. They are going MAD as usual,
" YAH YAH WHOOOOOOOHOHHOOO GO BOYS GO GO WHOOHOHKAKALALKALAKALAKALAAKALALKAAKALALKAKA
Go the cowbells. It’s like listening to warning sirens in a war movie.
GO GO QWHOHOHO GO BOB COME ON ARRON !!!!!!DADDY !!!!!!!~~~~~~
I ignore them. We are heading up the mountain. Into the trees now, turning right, then left up a steep short incline. The guy in front of me hesitates and I have got room on the right to pass: BAM BUDDY HERES A BAYONET FOR YA, wham I’m past him and up on the leaders again, 8 in front now. The rider reels back as I pass him, hacking, He’s meat, he went out too hard and now he is toast. I win one in the metaphysical trench. We are climbing some more, going all out. Then it flattens and we turn left, HARD, around a big tree. BAM another rider slows another chance to take one of the Hun’s out WHAM TAKE THAT BUDDY, I think as I pass, 7 in front. I feel good today. Really good. I think I got a chance to place in top ten. I feel young again.
We surge forward, out of the trees and into the sunlight sparkling on the dewy grass. Rimbaud and Blake would have some interesting comments on this I'm sure. Too bad they didn't race; maybe they would have lived longer. Into a tricky off camber 180 degree left hand turn, then 180 degrees right and down hill. The pace line picks up speed, fast, around the corner. I look over at the course we just transversed, there is Gavin, head down pounding the pedals. There is another junior just in front of him. Someone is slowing on there right, someone who has a flat. OUTTA THA WAY YOU!!!! Shouts Gavin. Then they are gone as fast as I noticed them. Now we are on thick grass again. My legs are burning from the effort but my lungs feel great. This could be a good day if I can keep it together, but there is a long way to go.
The pace line snakes forward, up the mountain. BAM steep short grade, WHAM past yet another rider. Take THAT YOU BASTARD HUN, as I hit him from behind with my metaphysical bayonet. He hesitates on the steep part, and I’m past him, good another one down. Now we are climbing 100 meters of softer grade, then a wicked steep part over the top. My legs feel like pistons on a big steam engine. Damn this feels good. This bike is AMAZING, like riding a gazelle at high speed up hill. Hell tourists will never understand the relationship between a bike and the racer. If it's a good bike its like an extension of your body; if its REALLY good it is like your nerves go right down into the bike itself, it becomes apart of you. When I was a kid I used to think I’d see blue electric neon glowing around the frame and wheels when I felt that connected. Bikes all have their own personalities, their own souls. But no tourist would ever know. They don't ride them hard enough to know, and they don't ride them often enough to understand what the bike is telling them back. If you understand a bike, really understand, it talks back to you. You can hear it, it’s alive, and it's a part of your being, if you are racing it. Poor tourists will never get it, they will never feel it. Too damn bad for them. They shoulda’ raced.
This bike is amazing. It accelerates up these steep little climbs like they aren’t there. And it handles like a stunt plane; think there, whammo, you go there. Yeahhhhh that's the kind of bike I need to do well in this sport.
OVER the crest of the last steep rise. We are going left now, 6 Huns, er riders in front. I steal a quick glance back over my shoulder as I go over the top, no one behind, next rider 5 seconds back. Good we are the leading group. Now I got to defend this position and try to move up.
We plunge off the crest, into a big wide left turn into a very dark forest. The speed picks up VERY quickly, almost instantly we are going 30 mph. The second rider looks back, over his shoulder. The others SCREAM at him, WHAT IN THE HELL ARE YOU DOING, DON"T EVER LOOK BACK IDIOT! He hesitates and 3 men in front all run him through with their metaphysical bayonets all at the same time. As I pass him I tell him NEVER LOOK BACK, WHAT IS BEHIND YOU DOES NOT MATTER. He doesn't acknowledge me as I go by. The turn scares him; I can tell by the way he is griping the bars, By his lean, by his tension. Sorry buddy but you have to go too if I’m going to get this trench cleaned out, another metaphysically fatal stab wound and I’m past him. I am leaning left, into the turn, on some very choppy dirt. We are going wicked fast around the turn, down hill and leaning left. The bike cuts the rough the dirt, and holds its line. I wonder how hard can I push this thing, what is the edge of the envelope. I got to go as hard as I can without falling; that's what I need today.
The turn straightens out into a long decent. The wind is ROARING IN MY EARS WORROROROROROROR as we plunge down the mountain. 2 riders in front at the front accelerate hard. They have a gap, they accelerate more. WOROROROROROROR I slam the pedals as hard as I can.
We come to the end of this DH, and turn right around a tree and then left around another. Up a small rise, I accelerate again as we go up. The rider in front instinctively feels my bayonet probe from behind. He accelerates as hard as he can to avoid me. We are over the top. Now another long fast downhill curving left. The speed picks up fast. Real fast, we are going all out. I know there is an ugly left hand turn at the bottom, how fast do I dare take it. What do I do…. Instinct says…… listen to the bike.
I don’t know this damn bike I think, hell I just put it together 11 hours ago. It isn’t even one day old….. “GO FAST I CAN HANDLE THE CORNER “ I hear a small wispy earth real voice say in my head. Ok so the bike talks eh, then LISTEN…
We hit the left corner, hard, over a berm like a curb on a street, the back end searches for traction under my rear. Quickly it finds it. That’s better than the alternative… I roll the bike right, coming out of the turn. We are going up a short rise now, about 30 yards uphill. At the top is the tattooed guy (he is covered with them from head to toe) from the West Putney shop; he is wearing his red and yellow West Putney jersey. He is dancing around screaming at the riders "GO YEAHH WHOOHOOO!!!! GO GO GO YOU GUYS ARE KICKEN!! WHOOOOOOO." We shoot past him and around the next right hand turn, and we are plunging back down the mountain. I watch the HRM speedometer for a sec, 23 mph 25 mph 27 mph, can't watch got to ride. The bike is surging forward towards the sharp 180 right hand turn at the bottom. How fast can I take the turn I wonder? We're gonna find out real soon. The bike talks again: “Do not fear, I can go much fasssssster. My maker made me for thisssssss, and for youuuuuuu.” I like this bike more and more.
I’m at the bottom; I lean hard right and unclip my right leg to act as a counterweight thru the corner. The bike searches for traction, crashing over the tree roots around the curve. Debris flies off the back wheel. I roll left out of the corner. Good it worked. HARD left around a big tree, and down the mountain again.
This time it’s a real plunge. First we are going down a gravel road, we...are...moving. I look at the HRM/Speedo. 34mph, 35 mph it's still going up. The road dips suddenly and turns slightly right; I lean hard into the turn. Then we hit the grass again I glance at my handle bars, 42 mph. On grass and gravel, in a cross race?? Yeech. I lean left in a wide sweeping turn here come the hurdles.
Oh, yes I might have forgotten to mention, in cross races there are hurdles. About 16 in high, high enough you have to get off the bike to get over them. The trick is to flip the right leg off the bike under your left, and then unclip, jump and grab the top tube all at once and hit the ground at a dead run, Leap the barriers (there are 2 or 3 in a row) and then get back on. We spend hours practicing so that it is like a dance, a ballet with a bicycle. I see them now up ahead, I pull my right leg out of the clip, over the bike and put it in front of the left leg. Speedo says 26, still too fast, I hit the brake with my left hand (cross brakes are backwards from normal bikes) and grab the top tube with my right. Another rider, less brave is already off the bike. At the last second I hit the brake one more time, drop down to about 18 mph and unclip the lift foot, and jump.
I hit the ground 6 feet in front of the barrier, at a dead run. NICE. Over we go, me and the other guy, like stereo cross riders going over the barriers at once:
“WOOHOOOH NICE NICE GO GUYS GO GO WHOOHOOO
scream the tifosi. I leap over the second and then the third barrier, and jump back on the bike. Only one tricky bit left, up ahead before we finish the first lap. I’m back on the bike, the other rider is still a bit in front. We turn hard right and then hard left, and now are on a long sweeping left turn. We accelerate, both trying to gain speed. Then we turn right onto a real serious 30 degree off camber section. Last tricky bit. Now we have to go straight up this hill from the off camber. One rider gets a good line and stays on his bike, the rest are jumping off to carry it up the little steep hill. Hmm I'll try something. I lean the bike hard to the right and put it into a controlled crash, unclipping from the pedals as I do. I let the bike slide out from under me and grab with my left hand, and run up the hill. Perfect, it worked. I get a strange stare from another rider, he’s never seen that one before. At the top we leap back on and turn left one more plunge to the finish line.
But this isn’t like the other ones. It’s about a 40% grade straight downhill. I leap back on and grab the drops. Instantly the bike accelerates like an old time out of control newsreel. Its only about 40 yards of this but its enough. At the bottom of the dip I can feel the G’s pull me into the ground, the wheels flex and then we are shooting up over the top of the dip. To my left is the officials' tent, with an orange cone on the left and right sides of the course. I look over at the tent, two officials stand there, taking numbers and looking at the clock they have. They have to determine how many laps we will do by our time on this first one. 4 is my guess. God I hope its not 5.
I turn right after the tent, and I’m on the paved road again, where we started. Pace yourself, I think, now is NOT a good time to blow up. I dig into the pedals, and can feel the grade in my legs. My calves and quads and IT band muscles are pumped, they are like rocks. 38*17 feels just right. I’m going pretty fast, keeping up with the other riders, but not going too much faster. Now, after the first lap, is the time to recover slightly and see who is feeling strong and who isn’t. Currently there are 2 riders up the road, about 15 sec ahead of my group of 4. I'm at 158 right at LT threshold. I'm not going to try for them today, I'm defending this position.... up the road up the hill we go. Left into the pit area, and past the tifosi, who do their bit for our morale. As we come past the pit and into the grass two riders directly in front of me start to let a gap open. BAM I'm on them, metaphysical bayonet at the ready. I lean right and dig deep into the pedals, my calves and quads and IT band muscles load with blood, I can feel my blood pressure go up 20 points. WACK take that you hun as I pass the first one, twist and pull and SLAM the metaphysical bayonet into the second. As they see me out of the corner of their eyes I can see that they have reached the limit. I swing past them, around the big tree and slam the pedals 10 more times, onto the wheel of the rider who is in 3rd. My lungs are aching; I can taste copper and salt in my mouth. But two more Huns bite the dust in my wake. Hope they like the dust desert they got when I slid past them.
Around the chicanes and up the hill we go. The man in front of me accelerates hard up the next steep rise. I'm spent from the effort to get past the two who were dying before, let him take a bit of distance. We hit the steep berm 100 meters from the top, about 5 seconds apart. I stand up on the pedals and feel my legs fill with lactic acid as I pound up the rise. He is still about 5 seconds ahead. Damn I wish I had some more gas in the tank, but if I chase now I could blow up too. That would not be good, I could lose 10 places in half a lap. I put my hands on the drops and pump my legs over the last rise before the decent. Left turn and into the dark forest, down the mountain I go.
The sunlight suddenly stops as I dive into the trees. Dirt and rock and twigs go flying off to the right as I lean in to the turn, and shoot down the mountain. “Trussssssssssst MEEEEEEE” says the bike, I crouch low and ride over the rough surface using my legs as shock absorbers. The bike and I scream down the trail WORRRRRRRRRRRRRRROROROROROROROROROROOROROROR wind rattles in my ears and bones. At the bottom I roll the bike hard right then left, and as I come onto the uphill grade, I stand on the pedals and push for all I’m worth. Something tells me I need to, at the top I glance back. There is a rider about 3 seconds behind me. Quickly I get low on the bike and put my hands on the drops. "NO BRAKES" she says no brakes is right I need every second on this guy behind me or I’ll pay in metaphysical blood. The bike accelerates downhill hard, and I swing wide into the turn at the bottom. As I go through the turn I can feel the other rider behind me, on my inside. He is close, he has got his bayonet aimed at my back. I stand hard on the pedals, and lean back on the bike so as to keep my weight on the rear, no time to spin a wheel now. I catch a glimpse of him on my left, in my peripheral vision. As we crest the top, I lean hard right and as soon as I’m around the apex I crouch low again on the lithe Italian cross bike. Time to try and out fox this guy. I swing left on the decent I can't see him but I can feel him behind my left side. He swings that way to and drops behind. We are going wicked fast on this decent, and at the bottom I lean hard right and the bike shoots across the tree roots, kicking up dust and debris in my wake. Maybe that will slow him down. I roll left out of the turn and lean hard into the 180-degree turn around the big oak tree. He is still there, a bit further back. I need every once of speed on the decent, to stay ahead of him.
We plunge down the gravel road, as fast as gravity will take us. He is now on my right side, I can feel him back there. We fly off the gravel and onto the grass and I can feel him edging up on my right. Here come the barriers, and he slides up next to me. At the same time we swing our right legs off the bike and go from riding to running. We are shoulder to shoulder over the barriers, 1 ,2 ,3 UGHHHHHHHHHHHH DAMN his remount is faster than mine, he is in front of me, I feel like one of Huns just stabbed me in the side, and reel back for a second. He is fresher than I and quickly gets a gap. I shove my metaphysical innards back into the open wound and follow. Maybe he will tire and I can catch him on the climb. As we come around the off camber section I let my bike slide out again but his technique is clearly better, as he turns and zigzags up the steep rise. Damn that will give him 2-3 seconds more I think. He goes down the dip and behind him I leap back on the bike and follow WORORORROROROROROROR the wind is clawing at me again, and I’m shooting up over the rise, into the finishing area.
As I come up over the rise, I look left again, at the refs’ tent. The ref looks at me, straight in the eye. For a moment I can see into his sunglasses, as if they were not there. He looks me dead in the eye back and mouths the words slowly:
Two to go
Then he and the tent are gone, in a flash. I turn left up the mountain again. Back into the road gear, I grind out the 400 meters to the top of the hill. I'm not gaining on anyone, nor are they gaining on me. I put my hands on the drops and climb like Patani, kicking my legs back all the way out beneath me. More power to the pedals that way. The bike dances from side to side ever so slightly, rocking gently beneath my torso. “Yessssssssss we can go faster" it says. For a second I can see a faint neon blue glow in the frame and wheels. Cool, a real bike, a bike that will always be more than the sum of its parts. I turn left into the field where the pit is, the crowd is screaming, but I can barely hear them I focus on the ride. They are gone and I’m climbing the mountain in the trees again. Through the chicanes and into the deep grassy field, my legs start to feel like lead here. The HRM says 157. That's perfect; I just have to hold it there for a few more minutes. The sunlight glitters on the grass and washes over the side of the mountain like waterfalls in the woods. God almighty maker of heaven and earth and cross races what a beautiful day.
I turn left and head up the steep climb that marks the last 100 yards of climbing. A quick glance back, no one there. Good, I need to hold this position now until the end. Damn I might have the best result in 25 years today. It's been a long time since I placed this high in a race, I think. Then I’m climbing the last steep berm before the decent. My legs fill with lactic acid as I go over the top. The back wheel slips half a revolution in the dirt, the berm is getting chewed up from the race. I’m over, time to go fast down hill. I click the gears quickly into the largest gear on the bike. 48*12 and now I’m turning the cranks with everything I have. I lean left into the turn, the dirt is flying off my back wheel I hope it holds or ill be ground meat “Yesssssssss I’ll hold the corner” she says as wonder about the corner. Then I roll right out of the turn and put my nose down on the stem m. I clutch the top tube firmly between my knees, and push the front end forward, and try to gain every meter per second of speed as I fly down the hill WORORORORORORORORORORORORORORO the wind is all I hear, I can feel the dust flying behind me. HARD RIGHT HARD LEFT UP THE BERM and now I’m on the decent into the bad corner. I lay down close over the top tube, and fly down this hill. As I reach the bottom I cut left early , and the bike cuts right through the berm, the tubular tires and wheels like they are locked into a track. Nice. "I told you I can do it" she says. I like this bike, it's a real racing bike you just got to let it do its thing and hang on for the ride. Then I’m pounding up the short uphill stretch. I can feel the pine needles under my wheels, its like riding on a soft carpet, that bounces ever so lightly as you ride over it. The Putney guy is dancing at the top, I lean into him as I go around the corner. I look over at him as I go by, "DUDE YOU GOT IT WO! OOHOO" he says, and I’m gone, down into the 180 over the tree roots. The wind is roaring in my ears, I hang on to the bike tight. God what a difference than the old one, its like a jaguar vs. a moose. I’ll take the jaguar any day thank you.
I hit the bottom of this decent and the sunlight pours down on me as I come out of the trees. I lean hard right, and the back end searches for traction. Dust and dirt and twigs fly off to the left. I roll back left and right and swing around the oak tree into the big plunge into the barriers. I put my nose down on the stem and watch the speed shoot up on the HRM/Speedo. 20, 24, 27, 31, 34, 37 ,39 ,41mph don't touch the breaks this time lets see what she can do 43, 44 as I hit the grassy section I sneak a look at the computer, 45 mph. on a gravel road, onto 9 inch tall field grass, wow. The barriers loom and I swing off the bike. The crowd cheers again but I’m not even conscious of it. 1 set 2 sets 3 sets ON THE BIKE and I am, I lean hard into the right and left turns. Then I’m on the off camber section, I let the bike slide out under my body and grab it with my left hand as it takes off down the hill.! My cleats dig into the dirt and I pound my legs up the hill. I slide back onto the saddle and plunge down the dip into the finish area, and look to the left. The lap card says 1. The woman ref looks at me and grabs the bell. I hear it ring, another warning siren. The male ref looks right at me, right thru the mirror shades. I watch his mouth, I cant here him the wind is still roaring gin my ears. I don’t need to, I can read his lips:
“One lap to go”
I turn the bike right up the hill for the last time. 38 *17 again. Perfect gear. My legs are on fire; I can taste salt and copper in my mouth again. Quickly the road passes behind me and I’m back on the grass, and then in the pit area.
wowoowowowowowowowwowowowowowowowowowowowowowowowowowowowowowoowowwowowowowowowowowowowowowowowowowowowowowowowowowowowwwmwmThe tifosi are wild they know it’s the last lap they give me a Little extra encouragement from the sidelines as always. The Cowbells are the best part, it gets my adrenalin pumping again
Then I am past them headed up hill. The rider in front must have at least 20 seconds. I look back quickly, no one behind. Good at least 20 seconds on the guy behind me. I just have to get up this mountain and back down again. I crouch low on the bike and dig my calves into the grade, up the hill. Once more around the hairpins and the off camber, and then I’m climbing again. The bike accelerates out of the turns; it wants to go even faster:
“yessssss I can go fasssssssssssssterrr” she says. Sorry but I’m all out of horsepower right now I think. I just got to hold things together for about 8 more minutes. Damn I hope I don't flat now. Or break a chain. I remember how this feels, my adrenalin starts pumping at the thought of any mechanical disaster. At least I have tubulars, they won't roll right off the rim if I flat. I’ll destroy the rims but who cares, If I can get into the top 5 or 6, I think. I shift up one gear and pound up the mountain. I’m around the big tree into the chicanes. I pop my left foot out for balance and then just as quick its back into the clip. Then I’m leaning right, I roll out and I’m on the thick grass, my legs feel like I’m slogging through molasses. Only this time more I think. Just go go go . I’m through, and up climbing the last 100 meters of the mountain. My lungs are sucking in every drop of air I can get. I can taste salt and copper again, 162 on the HRM. That's fine the downhill is coming, go go go go over the last berm, the bike kicks once as I pound over it. I turn left and get ready for a wicked fast decent.
OK, Last time down he mountain. I shift backwards on the seat, looking for all the stability I can get. The bike is picking up speed again fast, very fast. Keep the hands OFF the brakes, I wanna get there as soon as possible. Now is NOT the time for a mechanical or worse, a flat. I sit back and lean the bike left, as far as a dare on the dirt trail. “faster faster” and we are , we are going as fast as physics will allow . The wind is ROARING in my ears. Down the trail we go, then up a rise, lean HARD right. The bike is kicking dirt and rock underneath me as we slide around the corner, I stand up on the pedals and accelerate, as hard as I can , into the left turn up the little hill. I stand on the pedals all the way up the little rise and as I Crest the top I sit again, getting as low on the bike as I can, nose on the stem, head cocked left. It’s a looking fast decent into the off camber turn. I hit the berm early and shoot right thru the corner, now riding back up the mountain. Sunlight is sparkling thru the trees, Rimbaud would have something to say here no doubt. I stand on the pedals again “YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS you can go fasssstttt up the hill “ and we do . The wild man from the Putney club is at the top, dancing a jig “YEAH BABY GO GO GO NOW GO WOOOHOOOOO” I lean the bike right and the bike makes a beautiful arc right around him I can fell his breath on me as I go by. Now we are going down hill again, picking up speed very very fast into the chicanes thru the trees at the bottom. ”NO brakes you wont need them,” it says again. I hope its right. At the very last second I flick the brakes and dump just enough speed to come thru the first u-turn. Right turn NOW hard I lean and hold the bike tight between my legs so it won’t! Slip out from under me. We’re in the trees, right, left right, tree roots kick the bike around but it always comes back to center. 10 meters ahead we take the final left around the big oak tree. I kick the bike into a bigger gear, and stand on the pedals “ YESSSSSS GO NOWWWWWW “ it says now down the big plunge into the barriers. I put my nose on the stem of the bike. And watch the gravel road. SWWOOOOOOOSH worororororororororrrroror the wind is roaring in my ears. I hit the grass faster than any time today. 48 mph. MOVING, I think. Into the barriers , off the bike and back on. I’m into the corners and then the of camber section comes up. I quickly decide to try and ride the hill. I put the bike into the lowest gear and weave back and forth up the rise. It worked! Around the corner to the left, I’m almost there!
One last time down the roller coaster ride dip. And this time I don’t have to get back on the bike. I turn the bike down the hill. The sunshine sparkles over the grass, and I plunge down the slope at the bottom I hit the pedals as hard as I can go. No sense in taking any chances now, I’m not getting passed again. Up over the top, 20 meters, RIDER UP I yell just to make damn sure they see me. Last thing I need to do now is have to argue with the ref about my placing. The ref in the mirror glasses turns to look at me. I accelerate as hard as I can go the last 20 meters. 10 meters. 5 meters. The ref smiles slightly, and I’m across the line.
I quit pedaling. Quickly I downshift to the little chain ring and then to a large sprocket in the back. I glide over to the small group or racers finishing on the right. I suddenly realize how tired my legs are. HEY INCE JOB says the guy you finished in front of me.
“ So, huaaaaaa huaaaa what huaaaaaaa did huaaaaaa we huaaaa place “ I manage to speak.
“You were 5th I was 4th he says, great job.” The former combatant in the trench now pats me on the back. “Cool” says I , "very cool".
“Yeah, that was good eh, great course. Man you are getting a lot better this year,” he says. "here, have a drink , you look like you need it."
The former enemy hands me his water bottle. I think for a second, and think how thirsty I am. I take a long drink. God does it taste good.
“I did a lot of racing this summer.” I say.
Hey that’s great. He says, he turns back to the rider who got number 3.
I turn to my right and there is Gavin. “How did you do Gavin?”
He looks at me, “ There were only 3 in my race” he says.
I repeat the question, more slowly.
“How did you do”?
Gavin looks at me and starts to smile “I won” he says.
I think for a moment “good job Gavin. Even Eddy Merckx didn’t win his first race”
Gavin gets wide eyed. “Really??? Wow”
“You did great Gavin.”
I look at his eyes. Gavin smiles. But not like a little kid. It is an older smile, like the way someone smiles who had been dreaming of doing something important and hard for a long long time. He’s not the same little kid anymore, who is standing on the sidelines wishing he was out here with us. Now he’s a bike racer, just like Dad, and his friends, and all of us.