Lee Waldman training with Nationals in mind © Annette Hayden

Lee Waldman training with Nationals in mind © Annette Hayden

Here, in installment #9 of Lee Waldman’s yearlong quest for glory in Masters cyclocross races, Lee tells about his experience at the National Championships in Bend. Missed Lee’s account of his podium-worthy appearance in Colorado’s state championships? Check it out here. Also, read our race coverage of the Nationals Masters 60-64 event.

If this cyclocross season were a novel, it might have been A Tale of Two Cities because, in many ways, it was the best of times and the worst of times. The good news is that I learned a lot about me and my abilities this year. That’s a pretty incredible thing to accomplish at any age. I’ve overcome my fears and am no longer intimidated by ruts. Bring them on. I can now ride in the ice (although I still need to work on my two wheel drift). Mud is no problem with the exception of having to clean the bike so often. Most important, I now believe that I’m capable of riding at the front in any race.

Educators talk about a concept called Backward Design. What it basically means is knowing where you want to end before you begin. When we begin to plan lessons or units of instruction, we think first about where we want to end up.

Since I think like a teacher as much as I think like a bike racer, I started this cyclocross season with a pretty clear idea of where I wanted to end the season: standing on the podium in Bend.

Now the bad news part of the story. Sadly I didn’t make it, ending up eighth, a bit less that 60 seconds from second and third. I was close for a time, literally five meters off the two riders who ultimately ended up battling for the bottom two steps on the podium.

Stomped-down snow © David Baker

Stomped-down snow © David Baker

I took one small calculated risk. If you’ve seen Cyclocross Magazine‘s course preview photos or helmet cam footage, you know how rutted, icy and technical the course was. Coming through the pit area the second time, I cut a corner a bit too close and ended up on the deck watching the podium ride away up a gradual hill.

Here are the nuts and bolts of my race. I had a great start, probably my best of the year, riding in fourth or fifth coming off of the pavement onto the first fast downhill section of the course. Going through the pits the first time I was able to pass easily to move into fourth and sat there comfortably. I was riding with a lot of confidence and power, making it through the icy corners cleanly and easily sitting on wheels on the fast riding sections. Any time a gap opened I was able to close it. I was focused, calm and confident.

The only place I struggled was on the last steep “ride / run-up” before the finish line. It was slick and icy and the bottom and finding the correct line into it was key to riding it. I was never, ever able to figure it out and didn’t want to start experimenting during the race so I chose to dismount and run. In the end it made a difference.

With five laps to go, I was just about to make contact with third place and felt that, once I did, I could move into second before the end of the race. Each of us had different strengths and weaknesses, but the fact that I was riding faster on the few fast riding sections gave me confidence.

Sometimes risks work, sometimes they don’t. This one didn’t. If it works, I’m a hero, if it doesn’t – well that’s cyclocross racing. Taking a tighter different line through that corner wasn’t the right choice and by the time I collected myself, the front of the race was gone, up the road.

In the past a fall like that would have completely spooked me and I would have crept around the course for the rest of the race being happy just to finish. This year was completely different. I chased hard! I never did see them again but my improved mental state was equally as important as catching them.

After that, I concentrated on riding with power and technique. I was caught with two to go by a rider who was easily riding that darn last hill and that was the difference between eighth and sixth for me. He finished five seconds ahead of me and sixth place was a scant two seconds ahead of him. So close…

It would have been wonderful to finish this column with a picture of me standing somewhere on the podium, but it wasn’t to be this year. I rode my best season ever as well as my best Nationals and that’s a lot. With some luck, good health and good training, maybe next year will yield the results I set my sights on this season. Now it’s time to enjoy the off season, think about what worked and what didn’t, have some fun, do some skiing and snowshoeing, clean my bike and just relax. Oh yeah, and make reservations for Bend for next December.

Thanks for reading!