Lee mixing it up in the Green Mountain short track series © Annette Hayden

Lee mixing it up back when he could ride in shorts and shortsleeves! © Annette Hayden

Masters racer checks in with a report on his Nationals experience and a look back at the entire, glorious season. Missed Lee’s last column? Catch up on his opinion on 2010 Cyclocross rule changes.

by Lee Waldman

Most ’cross races are reported on from outside, and after covering the Ft. Collins USGP races for Cyclocross Magazine, I’ve learned how difficult that can be. I missed as much as I saw. The confined nature of most ’cross courses would have you think that they would be easy to report on. Not so. For as much as the reporter can see, there’s that much more that’s missed. With that in mind, here’s what the 60+ men’s ’cross Nationals race looked like from inside.

In The Beginning: Because of my eighth place last year, I started in the first row. An entire season in Colorado racing in an incredibly competitive 45+ group left me confident in my speed and power. I’d religiously followed my coach’s guidance: trained well, rested when I was supposed to rest. I was ready.

The only glitch in my plan was the throbbing in my right thumb from a pre-race crash. The pain shot up through my arm into my shoulder with every bump and rut. Nevertheless, there I was as ready to race as I’d ever been. My hope was to move up from my eighth place last year to the podium. The whistle blew. I rode within myself, turning off the pavement in fifth position, right where I expected to be. Things were looking good. And then the carnage began.

The Race: Within the first 50 meters, well before passing the first pit for the first time, I knew that something wasn’t working. Riders were sling-shottting by, and I was unable to respond. There simply wasn’t gas in the tank. It wasn’t the ruts, because they were rideable, and it wasn’t the “lake” that we rode through passing the pits. That was simply a free bike wash every lap. My body wasn’t firing on all cylinders. A crash on the first slippery chicane gave me a chance to move up a bit as I dismounted and ran past four or five riders, only to be passed again on the asphalt. Same thing on the muddy off-camber wall that posed the next challenge. I had it dialed from warm-up, but ended up blocked by the riders who panicked and ran. Again I had to work to claw my way back. Half-way through the first lap and this was getting old already.

The next section of the course, winding through the trees, proved to be the biggest challenge for me. I’d fallen there three times in the ‘B’ race the day before. It’s also where, on my last warm-up lap, I’d sprained my thumb. To say I was a bit gun shy would be an understatement, constantly losing ground there each lap.

The long riding section after that and the thick mud leading to the first run-up was where I made up ground, but after that the course turned a bit rutted, and with the pain I felt on every bump I crept through it.

The grass part of the course with turns that rhythmically flowed, although power sapping, was my favorite. And so the pattern of the race was set. I’d catch riders past the start / finish line, lose them in the woods, make it up on the grass and then have to do it all over again.

I ended the race in 11th place. Not what I’d hoped for, not what I’d trained for, but not bad. In retrospect, racing the ‘B’ race less than 20 hours earlier drained my tank considerably, and I never had a chance to recover.

Another Nationals in the bank. It was a great season. I was relatively competitive in all of the 45+ races I rode, had a good State Championship and loved racing the ‘B’ race in Bend. You can’t have it all, and I didn’t, but what else could be more fun than playing in the mud with a group of men who share the same love of training and racing as I do?

Finally, some thank yous: Thanks to Cyclocross Magazine‘s Andrew and Josh for letting me share my journey with you. Thanks to all of you for reading and for keeping me honest with your comments. Thanks to my family for putting up with dirty bikes and dirty clothes for another season. Thanks to my wife for understanding my passion for this bizarre sport.

I’m writing this almost three weeks after the race. Coincidentally this quote popped up in my inbox this morning. I think it’s a great way to close this entry and a wonderful way to start thinking of next season and Louisville. I hope you’ll keep reading and take the journey with me.

Happy New Year.

We are face to face with our destiny, and we must meet it with a high and resolute courage. For us is the life of action, of strenuous performance of duty; let us live in the harness, striving mightily; let us rather run the risk of wearing out than rusting out.”

—Theodore Roosevelt

Now, go ride your bikes – a lot!