And Max said, “Let the Wild Rumpus begin!”
– Where the Wild Things Are
by Chip Baker
The ’cross gods are not of the the nice, gentle baby Jesus in golden fleece diapers variety from the movie Talladega Nights. They are angry, vengeful gods that punish the weak and extract retribution for even the most minor transgressions. I learned the hard way just how spiteful they can be. The ’cross alarm clock went off early in New England this year. Like really early. Our distant cousins in grime (i.e. mountain bikers) decided to invite us ’crossers to one of their parties. To be specific, EFTA (Eastern Fat Tire Association) added a cyclocross division to a new race on its calendar this season. Apparently they lost access to the singletrack at the venue where the race was scheduled. So instead of pulling up stakes and calling it a day, they had some fun with it. Thus was born the Big Ring Rumpus held in Auburn, NH, on June 6th.
The course was set up on a beautiful, wooded five-mile fire road loop. As you might imagine, it made for a superfast track! The promoters added a ’cross division and all us cyclocrossers woke up from our summer slumber to see just where we were at with our fitness.
Back to my enraging the ’cross gods and the Job-like trial I went through. In that it is June in New England and the temps are ranging in the 80- to 90-degree realm with 80 percent humidity, racing ’cross just wasn’t that appealing. To further enrage the gods, I have been mountain biking quite a bit. So, I registered for the Sport MTB category. Big mistake.
Are you familiar with the term FUBAR? It was coined during WWII by our soldiers in the European Theater of war. Contrary to popular notion, we did not win WWII because we were “better” than the Axis forces. We won because we were resourceful and could fix stuff faster than the other guys. But I digress. So on the eve of the Rumpus I decided to put some fast tires on the mountain bike. I even debated trying to do a DIY tubeless job. Why not, right? How hard could it be? The ’cross gods must have been licking their lips and laughing their four-faced heads off. The tire came off no problem. So easy. Hmmm why is this UST tubeless tire so hard to put on? Oh snap, I just ripped my fancy Olympic tape and ripped off the valve stem! FUBAR. In one fell swoop, my mountain bike was rendered useless. Should I mention I had to use a box cutter to cut the tire in half just to get it off the wheel? Nice. Now that is some PRO wrenching right there.
If this happened to my ’cross bike, I have a basement of parts and I could have rebuilt it in a heartbeat. I have a pit bike I can cannibalize or use. In a pinch, I can pull my road bike apart and have a working ’cross race bike in a half-hour. But a mountain bike? I have nothing. Zip. Nada. So I just did what I should have done in the first place. I went down in the basement and got the Rock Lobster out of its box. It was in pieces. I hadn’t touched it since the Ronde de Rosey in April. It was trashed. I put it in the stand at 10 pm Saturday night.
By 1 am I was in so deep it wasn’t even funny. I could not get it to shift at all. OK, new cables. No problem. Like I said, my mancave is built entirely around being able to handle anything I need to get a ’cross bike race-ready in a day. When you are racing double weekends, you have to be self reliant. ’Cross seasons are made or broken on a racer’s ability to resurrect a FUBAR’ed machine in two to three hours.
So I recabled the entire bike. Now it was 1:30 in the morning. I still couldn’t shift into the 12 or 13. In these situations you have to rely on past experiences and be fearless. I have learned the hard way to never mess with the limit screws on my bike, especially before a race. But in this case it was the only possible solution so, in a leap of faith, I turned that limit screw. I shifted down with fear in my heart but, voila, it worked! Shifting was dialed. I re-taped the bars and what was a mere four hours ago a seized up pile of aluminum and carbon was now a ’cross killing machine.
I woke up Sunday AM and rolled out exhausted but feeling like I had paid the price for my insolence and could now be cleansed by the dirt and mud. As I left my house the skies opened up and it began pouring rain. Perfect for a ’cross race!
When I rolled into the venue it was like a reunion. All my ’cross friends just poured out of the woodwork. We chatted about tire selection and psi. Could we pit? Could we have a spare bike? How could it be June? It felt like I had gone in the Hot Tub Time Machine, been transported to mid-September, and was getting ready for the traditional New England ’cross season opener at Sucker Brook. Helping this flashback along, the venue for the Sucker Brook cyclocross event was just on the edge of the five-mile loop we were racing on. It was like returning to hallowed ground. I went to registration and begged them to switch me to the ’cross division. They were totally cool about it and changed my entry without a problem.
The promoters were very nice, but they clearly didn’t really know what to make of us ’cross racers. There were 20 men and six women registered in the Open ’Cross category. The official kept referring to us a “cyco-crossers.” Ummm, dude, its called “Cyclo-Cross,” thanks.
We lined up on a gravel section of the fire road. I was next to eventual winner Eric Marro and runner up Carl Ring. Frankly, I was a tad worried. I have done zero intensity since, ohhh, let me think…December! Eric and Carl are both badass road racers and were chomping at the bit. The official gave us the kind-of-secret New England start. Both Carl and Eric missed clipping in, and I was off! Granted, they were on me in a mili-second. The “holeshot,” if you will, was a half-mile up the road. Doohhh.
We got into a train of six riders, with Eric just laying down watts on us mere mortals and Carl locked in on his wheel. My Hup Teammate, local Justin Ziemba, was third wheel; a CCB rider, Nick and I rounded out our little six-person TTT. By the holeshot there was a massive gap behind us. The fire road was simple enough, but at 20 mph and locked in, you couldn’t see a lot of the rocks, which made it tricky. I blew up pretty fast. I dangled off the back and then, as Phil Liggett would say, “The rubber band has snapped!”
I should have warmed up but I was just having so much fun socializing, I couldn’t force myself to do it. And it is June and this is supposed to be fun, right? My legs weren’t thinking it was very fun. In fact they were starting a mini-rebellion. I kept telling them to shut up and push that big ring faster! They tried, they really did.
I got into hunter mode fast. I knew if stopped “hunting” I would get caught. The course was so much fun. There were some really great high-speed turns with greasy mud right in the apex that, if you hit just right, you could put a foot down and do a badass two-wheel drift and just rail it. With one lap to go I caught poor Nick, who flatted three corners from the finish. One of the sharp rocks had taken its toll. I felt bad but did not even slow down or look back as I was praying there was one more rider up ahead who I could catch before it was over. I came through the chicane to the finish and saw all my teammates and JZ sitting there with the biggest Cheshire grin on his face! ’Cross in June? Hell yeah!
We all agreed this was a great race and that we need to make sure it becomes an annual thing. Just like ’cross season post-race, we cracked some cold beers, ate bagels with Nutella and talked about tubulars and whether we could convince the promoters to maybe do another of these in July. This time we’re calling it ThunderCross.
Twelve weeks until the real ’cross season starts. The alarm clock is ringing, are you ready?