CX2016 Weeks #2 & 3 "The Cross of Legends"
Cyclocross is built on legend. There are legendary performances and conditions. There are legendary features and crowds. And beyond all, especially on the global stage, legendary courses that take on a persona of their own. Being an amateur American cyclist, I can only imagine how a World Cup racer feels as they see Hoogerheide looming on the cross calendar for months, dominating their minds as they visualize greasy off camber descents, misty forest switchbacks and crowd lined climbs cheering them them on amidst the pungent and sweet smells of cigarettes, waffles and beer.
On a local level, the cross of legends is more underground. It's the insider's speak. A sport that's not on the national radar, these legends are a thread that binds our small community. How many times have I reminisced with a total stranger about the Thunderdome and Stripper Bus of SSCXWC in Portland?
How many times have my ears perked up as I overheard riders talking about the Battle at Barlow runup, the climbs of Rainier, or the Barton Park...well, everything is legendary at Barton whether you like it or not. These are our local legends, and new ones seem to pop up every couple years.
Having stepped away from Portland in 2011 for a few years, I missed out on the emergence of Het Meer on the local cross scene. To me, it seemed to have all the markings of a legend in the making. People spoke about it in hushed tones and you could never really tell if they liked it or not (which in my experience is a sure sign of a good race because the suffering was so great you couldn't tell if it was fun or not). I was told of Euro style sand pits, a run up on a beach and a Belgian spiral. I was told how local pro Ryan Trebon had a terrible accident there, and then in 2015 as I stood on the sideline with a torn hamstring, I witnessed Lars Vanderhaar absolutely tear the legs off the field...and the legend grew.
So it was with great anxiety and anticipation that I toed the line for the 2016 race in week #2 of the GP Brad Ross. And as quickly as my chain dropped on lap 1 of a dried out bumpy course, the legend that had grown in my imagination was reduced to a dusty road race with some running in the sand.
But this is the way of cross, it's never what you expect. Training, preparation, anxiety and excitement build and build, and you make a plan, but it almost never goes accordingly. Success in cross comes from two things in my mind. First and most importantly it comes from how much fun you can have at either the front or the back of the pack. Because DAMMIT it's supposed to be fun!. Secondly, is how well you can adapt to what will most definitely be shit going wrong.
Het Meer sucked ... and it was awesome. I dropped my chain in the first lap after an excellent start. I fought back from dead last only to drop my chain a second time on the second lap. I re-framed my day, settled in and worked my way back to an acceptable finish. It was, as one teammate puts it, a day of chopping wood. I didn't love the course, but that's just because it didn't suit my strengths and like an idiot I hadn't adjusted my FD after changing the size of my big ring prior to the race. Tough shit, that's cross. What I loved was the battle against myself to stay motivated and adapt, so when that final lap came I knew that I had at least given my all and got my money's worth and most importantly, smiled and laughed through the pain. I loved the day as much as I was glad to put it behind me. I don't think I was alone in that.
BUT, In the spirit of legends, and never being able to anticipate what cross will give you...enter ZAALDERCROSS.
ANTHM was well represented all day as we fielded 8 riders. @mckndan and @dilljeff and newcomer Brandon battled the morning session as the early morning mud caught many by surprise. Much of the course quickly transformed from grassy goodness to slushy slog and the lap times were brutally long. By mid-morning they'd removed one of the runups to speed up the races. But there was this glow of excitement. Once the riders wiped the snot and mud from their faces, picked themselves up from the deck of exhaustion, you could see the spark in their eyes...cross had arrived in gloriously legendary fashion.
The mid-morning riders enjoyed the well broken in and increasingly epic conditions in addition to the heckling and encouragement of both morning and afternoon racers. Lines were scoped out, people warmed up on trainers inside of sprinter vans, the line for the lemonade water fountain grew, camp fires were stoked, and the first of many beers were consumed. Tom, Joe, Peter and Eric in their respective races put on a show and Type 2 fun was in full swing before they even crossed the line, the legend grew.
By late afternoon, Jason and I were soaked to the bone and trying to stay warm for the start of the Master 1/2 race. The course had changed so much throughout the day that on lap 1, I literally had NO idea on what lines I would take. This was not at all helped by the fact that I rode lap 1 in 2nd place, so far on the edge of my ability and fitness that I was making endless (albeit fast) mistakes. It would take a second lap before I would settle down and start reading the course. The only flat part of the course was flooded under 9 inches of water and the sand had packed into a single rut of speed. The fast grass had slowed to a crawl and the greasy muddy descent was peanut butter squishiness but still rideable.
After blowing up early and backing way off to about 9th, I crawled my way back to a 6th place finish. Moments after I finished, after I caught up with J and wiped all the shit off my face I realized, I'd found my legend.
ZAALDERCROSS was that perfect blend of demanding technical savviness with rewarding sheer power. At times you had to be super conservative. If you chose those moments wrong you were slow and if you chose not to be conservative when you should have been, you were punished severely. And if your RD survived, and your body held up, if you didn't go hypothermic before the start or start drinking beer before you started your race, if you battled the course to even remotely close to a draw...you glimpsed a legend. ZAALDERCROSS has been circled for next year, and I cannot wait.
God damn that was fun.
ANTHM continued to represent at PDX Trophy Cup and Blind Date at the Dairy in week's 2 and 3. But I spent too much time talking about myself in this post to really get into it. Plus I was on vacation and missed most of the action. So I'll simply say that the boys represented, MUCH fun was had, new team members were welcomed and we're all storming into the week 4 and Ninkrossi. SO much racing yet to come! Thanks you guys!