It’s Waterpark Time – The Season’s Final Column by Ben Popper
Look. It’s been a long season. Lots of miles driven, lots of airports napped in, lots of mud. When I called off my points race and decided this was the icing, I was like that kid who puts 2/3 of the tub of icing on each cupcake. With sprinkles, of course. Tasty.
I guess I forgot to tell you all, though, about the USGP in Portland. The highlights for me included drinking about 6 cups of Stumptown coffee in two days, a race-morning Bloody Mary and corned beef hash breakfast, and some really goofy fans on the course. I rode my bike, it was fun, I finished about where I had hoped to, and Julie and I even got some sweet new vintage lamps for our home. I love Portland.
Then it was waterpark time. By which I mean KC Nationals, for which we stay at a hotel with an indoor waterpark, which is awesome. But let me tell you about bike racing, because after all, this is Cyclocross Magazine, not Vintage Lamp Shopping, Coffee Drinking, and Waterslide Rocking Magazine. Though I think I’d definitely be a subscriber to the later, if it existed, too.
By the time we were at the course, it was cold. I’m from freaking Chicago and I’m saying it’s cold. Seriously. With thirty minutes to start I was sitting in the car, heat blasting, trying to maintain some semblance of a core body temperature. I watched Johnson roll by our car, followed by Marko Lalonde, both warming up all proper and pro-like. I made my way to call-ups, which started 15 minutes before the start and we were all cold. I was pinned as rider number 55, which put me in about the sixth row. There were another six or seven rows behind me. My goal was simple, finish higher than last year, 57th. This was almost the same as finishing at my start position, so I already was in a good spot.
After we were all lined up and the top ten guys rolled back into the grid they said we had three minutes. The guys up front were taking their time undressing. Then it was inside of a minute, thirty seconds and at the whistle. A whistle blew, but not the official one apparently because everyone behind the second row surged forward. I was able to get half a crank in and clip in. The first two rows didn’t go because they could see that the whistle we heard wasn’t from the official, but all we could hear was the sound. So now everyone was all over the place. The guy next to me had dropped his chain and was struggling to get it back on. Rows of eight were suddenly 12 wide and we all moved back, but it obviously wasn’t all the way. I re-readied myself as best I could and the official whistle blew. I made my way up trough a bunch of guys off the line but settled in half way down the straight as there was less and less room.
The first half of lap was intense. All the way up the hill we were two or three wide. I attacked everyone I could and took any possible opportunity to work my way forward. Through the first swooping corner of the downhill, Adam Myerson and Johnathan Baker were tangled together, a story that no doubt about 319487245948 more bloggers will tell you about, and then two days later VeloNews will figure it out and post about it, but I’ll leave it to them. Past the pit for the second time, Julie called out 30. 30! I was pumped. Rode hot into the barriers on the slower side, but managed to botch it. As I ran over the first barrier, my trailing knee slammed square into the top 2 inches. It ended up leaving a nice straight cut across the top of my knee. I got back on the bike and just rode through it. Blood makes racing hardcore, right?
The second lap, after everyone strung out, was when I realized there were about six million people on the course cheering for me specifically by name, as well as a group of guys at the first run up heckling me about UCI points. Fantastic, I gave the hecklers the metal sign on the following laps. Thanking folks. At the end of that third lap, at the last run up, the fans were cheering “ride it, ride it!” I gave it a quick look as I ran up the steps as to how, got an idea and then heard them go nuts for someone behind me that tried.
So when do you know I am having a fun time racing my bike? When there is a very narrow line between some orange fencing and four railroad ties and I try to ride the run up with a ton of people cheering me on. And I fall on my ass. And I get up with a smile.
At this point I was rolling onto two to go, the leaders were going to be getting one to go. The fact of the matter was, Ryan was riding FAST and I was going to get lapped. So, with what I thought would be my last lap of the season, I put everything I had into my pedals hoping for a couple more spots. Gave Greg a high five as I passed the pit. Blew kisses at Julie. Smiled and thanked people. Ryan got me about half way through the lap and Driscoll came around me with less than a quarter lap left. They were both killing it. I did make up a spot or two in that last lap, so that felt good. But that was the end of my race as I rolled off the course in 38th.
I felt good about how I raced and rode. Strong, fast and aggressive. I had a blast. And wouldn’t you know it, I had three days off before Cyclocross Magazine posted the preliminary 2009 schedule. I am already excited, have I mentioned that I LOVE cyclocross!
Thanks for following me this season.
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