It’s mid-November. I’ve done 14 races in the last 7 weeks, I’ve been driving till 3am, on flights 5 hours delayed, and across borders. My results have been good but not quite what I’ve wanted and the travel, tiredness, and disappointment are easy to sweep under the rug, but after a while they come at you all at once like a Sour Apple Pucker hangover. I knew that the USGP was a stacked field and that there wasn’t a prayer of me getting UCI points, but I wanted to be there, ride my bike, have fun. Then about 1,324,895,724 pounds of mud took the fun out of it, and I was floundering against the course and my emo thoughts like a b-list celebrity on jello wrestling night.
I know, I know, we all tell tall tales about mud in cyclocross. But this was the perfect union of dirt and water, mixed to perfection. Not watery enough to fall off the bike easily, not firm enough to ride over easily, but just right to make that “schloop” sound as you ride through, to grab your wheel with a strong hand and an “I don’t think so” when you try to lay some speed down, then to let go and laugh at you as you slide out. It turned Saturday’s bike race into a running race, only the kind of running race where you have a cold metal tube bruising your boney shoulder with every stride. I’m a bike racer, not a runner.
Let’s just say it wasn’t my day. I had a terrible start position but an ok start. I ran as fast as I could- and rode a little, too, I guess- and changed bikes every half lap. I used two gears – my easiest and my second easiest. It wasn’t fun, it was punishing, and it hurt more and more and more. Guys were going by me slowly and I hung in just to finish. It was almost a relief when I was lapped with one to go. 55th.
This is where it gets hard. Day two, the course was the same, the field was the same, and it just wasn’t fun. But I paid to fly out there, the folks who support me were counting on me racing, could I actually sit it out? Everything hurt, I could barely shoulder my bike from yesterday’s bruises, and the glass was feeling not just half empty but completely empty, bone dry. I couldn’t do it. I still don’t know that skipping the race was the right decision, but it’s what I did.
After a bad result, then no result, and an expensive weekend that didn’t really put me on the board, I’m circling the wagons to close out the season and thinking about how to handle CX09. Three more race weekends to go. I’ll be sleeping in my own bed this weekend, and that alone should move me up about 10 places in the next race.
CXM Columnist Ben Popper is on a mission to achieve one goal – earning just one UCI point. Follow Ben on this journey this season through his regular journal. You can find his other columns here.
Photo by Michael Franken