2017 Bicycle Sport Shop Six Shooter CX

[Wednesday afternoon. 2:30p.]

[Phone rings]

"Hey coach! What's goin' on?"

"I have a geography question for you... How far is Memphis from where you are?"

That's how the afternoon began. A phone call from coach brought news of a potential big money 'cross race in Memphis, TN.  Looking at the flyer, the prize money was good and the offer of ProCX points - a means by which an elite rider can qualify for Nationals - was enough for me to seriously consider altering my plans. To further complicate matters, there were just five riders registered.

I wrestled with the decision to drive east, but in the end, I stuck to the original plan and pointed the ole Honda Pilot (pronounced: "pee-low") south to Austin. Even though the money wasn't quite what I thought it would be, the ProCX points weren't enough to outweigh the added stress of driving 14 hours roundtrip. And, as I rolled down the backroads to ATX, I felt relief and a bit more relaxed with my decision.

Saturday - The Thermostat Broke (4th)

The first Texas Cyclocross (TXCX) race of my season began with coffee and watching cyclocross with my lovely hosts, the Sundts. Fully caffeinated and ready to race, I got to the course early and took my time getting checked in and reconning the course. The lap was almost the same as it had been three years prior when I, coincidentally, raced my first TXCX race ever. Lots of grassy pedaling, with some wide open turns, made the track perfect for more powerful riders.

I was a bit unsure of how my legs would react. The week before, I had gotten sick and battled a head cold over the weekend. I had bounced back to near full health since then, but you can never be certain how the body will respond. Moreover, the temps were predicted to be H.O.T. and on-the-bike hydration would be critical throughout the afternoon.

My gameplan for the race was to take a couple of laps to ride into the race, make the front group, then get down to the business of racing. Off the line, I was relaxed and content to let others take the lead. I didn't sink too far back, but held my spot on the tail end of the top 10. I felt comfortable and at ease, watching the race develop from my spot in the line of riders. I thought it was going to be a good day.

But, like all good plans, it went to shit. Local fast dude, Tristan Uhl, decided to take over at the head of affairs and put some pressure on the race. By the end of the first lap he was already off the front by at least a dozen seconds. I was playing my patience game, following wheels and letting others do the chasing. But the heat was bearing down on us at 2p in the afternoon and those same riders thought better about chasing from the gun.

Lots of hurt.

Growing impatient, I set out off the front, applying the pressure and putting in some small digs to increase my gap. I was still confident and hopeful that my efforts would pull me closer to Tristan with seven laps remaining. The gap to the chasers grew inch by inch, and many along the sidelines indicated that I had 2nd already locked up. And while I tried to ignore them and keep pedaling, eventually I believed I could let off the gas.

Maybe it was the heat. Or maybe it was the lack of hydration. Or sickness. Or some combination of factors. Either way, as the laps ticked down, the gas in my tank started to fall just as fast. In my haste, I made a critical mistake by going too deep too early, pushing myself into the red zone in the first half of the race. Now I had to back off the pace in order to keep from quitting completely.

A guaranteed 2nd place soon became a battle to hold onto 3rd, and then 4th. Riders were coming back to me fast and the laps weren't ticking down fast enough. Fortunately, the officials showed some mercy and shortened the race by a lap. I was thankful and fortunate to stay in the top 5.

The bitter taste of the race was washed away by an awesome night in downtown Bastrop. The quaint streets and delicious food more than overcame whatever sulking I wanted to indulge in. Instead, the night was filled with good laughs, good friends, and plenty of smiles.

Check the work of the incredible Brice Hansen below:

Sunday - Reverse Course to Redemption (2nd)

Sunday began like Saturday. Coffee. Euro cyclocross. And a BIG Nalgene of water. Like a lot of water! Still feeling the effects of Saturday's heat, I was in a bit of debt on day 2. With similar temperatures, hydration and staying cool would be the number one priority.

After breakfast at Maxine's Cafe & Bakery, we rolled up to the course for recon and pre-race prep. The course itself was no different than the day before just in reverse. There was still plenty of pedaling to do along the way, but for the most part, there were a few more sections of recovery. I took no issue with that.

Photo by Brice Hansen

Rather than be patient for the first couple of laps, I came in with the game plan of going if/when Tristan made his move. After the opening lap, the group started to separate and there were just three of us at the front. Heading into one of the more technical sections of the course, I moved to second wheel to follow Tristan's wheel through the off-camber hips and turns. Eventually Tristan opened a gap on me too and I was left again to ride solo in second. Fortunately, I had prepared for the heat with an ice sock and a full bottle of water. And while I was better prepared to deal with the environmental adversity, that wasn't all that it took.

Pedaling as best as I could, I was measuring my effort over the remaining laps, determined to push my body and stay in front of charging riders. Each time through the sandpit (read as: volleyball court), which was one of the few features on course, I told myself that I was going to ride the entire down and back section. But, try as I may, I was never able to nail the second half of the sandpit. Stretch that over an hour and it becomes both mentally and physically tiring. Moreover, it also became a section where I would consistently lose time on first place. 

I say this at ever clinic I coach, "in the race, you should do what you can do 100% of the time." I was trying to challenge myself in the race and test my abilities to ride a difficult section. However, there comes a point of diminishing returns, and I resorted to running half of the sand section. I was losing time, yes. But I was keeping my bike clean and diminished the risk of crashing.

The officials and timing chip operators tried to prolong the suffering, adding an extra lap to the men's race. I had planned to start going all in with 2 laps to go, really pushing the pace when and where I could. Do to the error in counting, I actually had to do it with 3 laps to go, and I managed to have enough in the tank to hold off a charging Jeff Parks (Bicycle Heaven/PVA) to finish in 2nd place.

This weekend it's back to UCI Cyclocross action in Baltimore, Maryland! The Charm City CX race is a classic in the MABRA calendar and one of my favorite races on the calendar. Stay tuned next week to read all about it!