A year ago, Kelli and I shared a room at a nondescript hotel off the freeway in Kansas city. We were in town for the cyclocross National Championships being held at a nondescript park a few miles away. Memorable parts of the trip included seeing heated garages for rent at the airport so that your car would start when you got home. Getting race numbers at registration (132) and thinking that 32nd was a pretty decent start position, until Eric Tonkin told me that the numbers started at One and not 100. Riding a course that was covered in life-sucking, putty infused grass, where instead of braking, one could just stop pedaling for 3 meters, and come to a stop. And the kinda lame after-party, which was held at a pub at a strip mall several miles from the city. Other than these painful memories, I can’t remember shit about my trip to KC. And I’m better off that way.
Last week, Nationals came to my hometown of Bend, and except for maybe the Chairman of the Kansas City Tourism Board, everyone seemed to have a better time. Many of the people who raced the Grands Prix in Portland the prior weekend came over early to acclimate and see what all the fuss over Bend was about. What they found when the track was opened on Wednesday, was a great course in a perfect setting. Situated both on the Deschutes river, and on the grounds of the brewery named after it, the course was twisty and covered in fast, grippy snow (yes, such a thing exists, people from California). It was a nice spot for spectators as well. Cascade Mountain views, slippery corners, and Black Butte Porters, as far as the eye could see.
With the race coming to us, Team Giant decided that this year would be a good one to do a few CX races. After all, I couldn’t really get called up 132nd again in front of my Mom and the guy that helps me at Fed Ex and the girls at the Burrito shop. So after a few weeks off to focus on Subaru mangling, AC, KE and I spent the last 6 weeks or so “chasing points”, mostly on the East coast, just so that we could start near the front of this race, just down the street. And it didn’t go half bad, actually. I ended up with the 31 plate, AC was in the 20s, Kelli in the teens. Good thing, too, ‘cuz with Nats in Bend, race fields were going to be fat.
As a preamble to the weekend’s festivities, I attended the Rebound Sport Performance Lab’s Trebon Vs. Craig physiology talk/keg pumping event. Tim Evens and Bart Bowen gave an insightful and sometimes hilarious comparison of Bend’s best off-road bikers. Highlights included videos of Treefarm trying to hop on one foot, and biker dorks asking the same questions about Maximum Watts per Kilo of body weight over and over ad nauseum. Turns out there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Ryan just may need help reaching down to grab it from the floor first.
By thursday, my house was full of bikes and bikers from afar, as Mary Mac, Mike “Brick” Broderick, Kelli E., and M. Smiley all took a chance and stayed at the Howse of Fun. I took everybody for a tour of the trails, parks, and alleyways of Bend in the snow. We shared some wine, and we talked about bikes here and there.
By Friday, the Giant office folks were filtering into town to set up for the colossal Giant-Deschutes Warehouse party. Got to spend a little time with my old Brewery buddy, Jason Randles, and listened to DJ Platinum talk about himself in the 3rd person once or twice.
By Saturday night, age group racing was over, the course was mostly snow free, and the Giant/Deschutes party was at it’s capacity of 500. After a good meal here at the Howse of Fun, I made my way down at about 11pm. Most places in Bend sound like crickets after about 9pm, so it was good to see the place still chock full of racers and revelers. When I split at 1am, the warehouse was still rocking. Looks like the Giant office folks know how to throw a party. I guess using a brewery warehouse is always a good start.
Sunday morning dawned clear and mild, and 5 hours later, my alarm went off at 12:40. A few cups of coffee and I drove my car the 2 miles to the venue (I know, I’m a terrible person). Kelli was enjoying the start of the off-season by the time I arrived, but she wasn’t looking too happy. Turns out the course was treacherously slippery in places. Kelli was bummed to have squandered her fantastic fitness (she should break her hand every July!) by crashing her brains out 4 times in her race. Though she had the legs for a top five finish, she ended up a still reasonable 8th place.
After a warm-up lap or two, AC and I were called up to the 3rd and 5th rows, respectively, of the starting grid. In a normal race, this would be a mediocre starting position. But with 22 rows of 8 gridded up, I was feeling pretty fortunate to even see the front row. Brick was in front of me in row 4 and we nervously talked about not dropping our chains when the gun went off.
When the gun sounded, the melee began. AC and I both had reasonable starts, moving up from our starting positions in the first 1/2 lap. The course was fast and slippery–best case scenario for us, and the crowd was like nothing I’d ever seen. 5000 people were thirsty for beer and hungry for ‘cross! The P.A. system, annoyingly loud and nearly deafening during the previous days’ races, was inaudible, do to the volume of the spectators.
After the full-contact riding of the first lap, things stretched out enough to start focusing on the task at hand: moving up. Adam was riding well within the top 10 when he suffered a puncture and had to take a new bike from Joe in the pits. I had better luck and moved from the high teens on lap three, to 11th with a lap to go. Of course I arbitrarily chose “top ten” as my goal for the weekend, so couldn’t quite catch No. 10 before the finish line. I’ve been one spot away from my goals pretty much every weekend this year. So next year, I’ll set a goal of “top nine”. or maybe number “zero”. AC rolled in with a decent finish in 7th place, about a minute ahead of me. Tim Johnson won the thing, cuz he’s really fast this year, and a big tall orange-clad dude got second, with a lot of support from the partisan crowd.
So the offseason starts now. A few days later, I’m already sore from skiing, moto-ing, running, snowmobiling, beer drinking, and rally car wrenching. And I’ve eaten an entire Razzleberry pie since noon. Other than the 2 pieces I gave to AC, of course. Gotta fuel up for those long rides in March, you know…
Thanks for coming along,