My last blog spoke of a good finish at Swan Creek Park on a new and some what peculiar course. Since then the Cross Revolution series has returned to the familiar venue at Sprinker Recreation center.
Sprinker never seems to get muddy. A thin layer of grease will form in areas on top of the hard packed ground when the rain is falling. And then, as quick as the rain came, the soil will drain and good traction returns. My daughter, again, accompanied me to the races. This time we remembered to bring her bike and we rode a course sighting lap together. Her wheels were shod with slicks and she managed to, how do we say, exceed their coefficient of friction. Fortunately neither body nor spirit were affected and we continued our sighting lap without further incident.
As the day went on the rain stopped, the sun started, and the course quickly dried. By 11:00 the course was no longer slick and at race time the sun was out.
One of the themes I'm learning this year is the art of racing my own race. I'm learning to keep an eye on the racers around me but to think twice before letting their actions dictate my race pace. At Sprinker I figured even if I lost a few seconds on the faster sections I could make up the difference in 'the pit'. The course layout through 'the pit' forced us to make many tight turns up, over, and through some elevation features. This part was highly technical and usually catches some riders off guard. And it usually plays well to my skillset.
The start of a Cyclocross race is not where we choose to limit our effort. And this year the first corner was metal barricade lined. This corner could be taken pretty fast and was probably the most dangerous place to loose control. My previous good finish did earn me a call up to the second row and I worked hard enough to file into that first corner safely and in 5th or 6th position. Within a lap I was in second and could hear the leader's fans cheering him on. Soon I was hearing those same fans telling me I was 'only ten seconds behind Erik'.
Lap after lap I closed a little bit of the gap in 'the pit' only to see it open right back up at the other end of the course. My pace seemed good and I was confident that when, not if, I finally did close the gap, I would have the gas left in the tank to put up a good fight.
On my second to last lap I bobbled coming out the tiny sand feature. This mistake cost seconds and energy. By the time I regained my composure I was taking the '1 lap' board. I took the first two minutes of this lap at standard pace and then clicked up a gear.
It felt good to put down some power and I thought I was making up some time on Erik. I wasn't slowing for any lapped traffic. I simply rode off into the weeds to get around when necessary. With about one minute to go I got to within a couple seconds of Erik and then I hesitated. I hesitated in passing a lapped rider. I chose the safe route of following the lapper through the corner and setting up a safe pass on the exit. To have a chance of closing the gap I realized, just a second too late, that I needed to aggressively take the inside line and pass the lapper entering the corner.
I did _not_ close the gap to Erik Anderson. I did _not_ show him a worthy sprint. I did finish a close second.
After the race Erik, who I've come to know through Cyclocross racing, was elated. He grabbed the holeshot, lead every lap, and then claimed the win. A perfect race.
My post race celebration was less grand. I played it safe, didn't tangle with another racer in the final 60 seconds of our race, kept the rubber side down, and still finished a solid second. Less obvious, however, was my success at riding at my pace. Despite the smallish gap between me and the leader I didn't get lulled into working past my limit to get to the front and go into the red in the process.
Best of all, though, was the retelling of the race to my daughter on the drive home. Instead of having to explain scrapes and bruises from a failed inside line move gone bad, I extolled the virtues of patience and wisdom in regards to last lap passing. Which was certainly the parent (and cyclist) modeling I hoped she might someday follow.