“I just hope I remember how to race my cross bike,” is what I uttered to Burati on our way back from breakfast at the Best Western Plus.
Burati let out one of those half-joking, half-anxious, “Haha, yeah’s”. We had just spent the past 20 minutes prodding small bowls of Raisin Bran and drinking coffee from one of those machines that makes a little too much noise when you hit a button to dispense the hot brown bean water. They didn’t even have bananas.
We were nervous as hell.
I raced Granogue last year. It was my first cross race ever. I woke up at 3:30 a.m. to get into a van at 4:30 am to get to the course at 7 a.m.. It was hot. I did not know what I was doing. My internal monologue for the entire race alternated between SHITSHITSHIT and GOGOGO. I crashed twice. Somehow I managed to finished 21st out of 95.
This year was different. We got a ride the night before in a real car with a real bike rack. We stayed in an okay hotel with a decent bed and woke up at a decent hour. Crossresults — that dang website and its dang race predictor algorithm that feels like a perpetually disappointed dad — said I should finish third; Burati solidly in the top 25.
We were still nervous as hell.
Thankfully, there’s so much stuff you need to do as soon as you get to the course that it’s hard to be nervous. Put on your helmet. Zip up the skinsuit. Take your bike off the rack. Let a random amount of air out of your tires. Pee. Wait in line at registration and make dumb jokes with the other riders to convince each other you’re not as nervous as you think you are. Pin your friend. Pre-ride the course. Put more air into your tires then maybe let a little out again. Pee again.
After all this routine Burati and I felt less nervous. Maybe even like “This is probably going to be okay.” And then we went to go hang out at staging and it was not okay. We thought staging would go by Crossresults points (thanks, Dad). It did not. It was to be organized by order of registration. Burati and I did not register early.
We were a little upset.
The range of emotions experienced, while sitting comfortably 7 and 8 rows back, was like an inverse of the Kübler-Ross model. First was acceptance. No need to worry about a result. Bad staging. Out of our control. Soon followed depression. Jesus, look how far back we are. Why even try? Then bargaining. Alright, I’m only racing the two rows ahead of me. Finally, a mix of anger and denial. I can’t believe I’m stuck back here. This first lap is gonna hurt.
And then the whistle went and things got simple: Go.
When starting from the back the rule of racing is easy: Just keep passing people. If you see someone up ahead, pass them. And so I passed people. On the first lap at the downhill off-camber u-turn I hopped off my bike and passed a procession trying to ride it, and then ran around a small crowd of people who did not ride it but decided to remount a little too soon. That was the only smart riding I did all race. The next 35 minutes was just pedaling very hard up the climbs, pedaling very hard on the flats, and braking as little as possible. It was not easy.
One of the many downsides of starting from the back is that it’s hard to figure out where you end up. You pass people. Sometimes someone passes you. By the end you are both passing new people and lapping others. It is very hard to think straight near the end of a cross race. I had no idea where I ended up.
Thankfully, bike races have people that keep track of where you finish. They print out a sheet, which you can look at and figure out where you placed. I was very tired, but Burati was nice enough to go look at the sheet. It said Burati finished 21st and I finished 3rd. Burati beat his Crossresults prediction. I did not. It was fine. It’s just a stupid number. We remembered how to race our cross bikes.