I suppose I’ve become accustomed to racing every weekend because it seemed like a really long time between my last two races. Maybe it was because so much happened in between: I was very busy at work, Dave went to Alaska, I got to see many of my cyclocross friends on Memorial Day Weekend, Isa rode Turnbull Canyon and bonked for the first time ever, and I even managed to throw more than a couple of road rides in, which I haven’t really been doing. I had fun.
Perhaps it wasn’t the time between races, but the anticipation that made it seem long in between. I’d come in 2nd place every time in this series to the same guy: like Jan to Lance, or Andy to Alberto, or the Red Sox to the Yankees. Although I improved every week, going from 3 minutes behind in the first race, to under two minutes in the second, to one minute in the third, with those time gaps it seemed I was indeed destined to be the perennial second place finisher.
To be perfectly honest, that suited me just fine . . . until race day.
In the week or so leading up to the Knobby Time Series Finale, I lost my KOM on the Greenleaf climb on Strava and got it back on one of my road rides. Then I lost it again a day or so later, which made me feel like it was a competition, so I went out and got it back and still have it. Greenleaf is only a half a mile climb, but the average gradient is about 12%, so it’ll make your heart pump at least a little. I was feeling pretty good about myself after that because I knew I had good form going into the final race, and when I got the email that the course would be extended not only by a quarter mile, but also by an entire lap, I thought “Advantage: Chuy.”
On race day, Dave came out to pick us up and we got to the park fairly quickly. Paul Hernandez of SoCalCross fame was already there warming up and after Dave and I got ourselves registered, we hopped on our bikes for a warm up. The course was the same as the first race we did a month earlier: a nice little single track along the fence leading out to Elwood Ave. on the north side of the park; two quick rights and the first climb started. Then the single track serpentine downhill that featured a couple of sketchy turns, which led out to the gravel before the asphalt climb. The asphalt climb, although short, was pretty tough, averaging around 14% gradient.
We finished our first lap and we got to chat with Paul a little while before I went out on my second warm up lap. The warm up is key for me, and I’m starting to really understand when I am warmed up well before a race and when I’m over doing it.
When I got back Geoff and Syd and Eris and Sean were all there chatting with Claire, while Dave and Paul spun on the street for a little bit. It dawned on me then that this was the first mountain bike race Claire and Isa had been to all year. The conversation somehow turned to The Donut Man and Claire and Isa asked if we could go. I didn’t answer because I wasn’t driving.
Geoff offered to hand up a bottle during the race and I asked him instead to watch the two guys against whom I was competing. I pointed out Brad, the series leader who had taken a spill on the gravel before the asphalt climb during his pre-ride, and Jason who was only one point behind me in third place.
“Just let me know where I am compared to those two guys.”
He noted their numbers and agreed. Claire and Syd were already at staging when we rode over there and Syd started cheering like she does at the ‘cross races.
“I miss that!”
“Pro and Expert will do 5 laps. Sport will do 4 laps. High School will also do 4 laps.”
Paul raised his hand.
“How many laps will single speed do?”
Omar wasn’t prepared for that question and he shuffled quickly through papers on his clipboard before he finally answered.
“5 laps–No! 4 laps.”
There was an unintelligible murmur through the crowd.
“Single speed will do 4 laps!”
Then Omar started the countdown and sent out the first wave.
I was lined up on the far left at staging; Brad was lined up on the far right and Jason was between us with a couple of other guys. I chatted with Nacho who had pulled up next to me on his new Giant 29er and just like that the Sport 30-39 group was segregated: Brad & Jason on the right, and Chuy & Nacho on the left. Nacho had given me a scare in the opener so I was a little nervous, compounded especially by the knowledge that I had to beat Jason to keep my second place in the overall. Then Brad called me.
“Hey Chuy. You’re gonna take it easy on me cuz I’m hurt, right?”
“Brad, I’m going to try to hurt you some more!”
Everyone laughed and I was relieved because that could have easily been misconstrued. When Omar called out 30 seconds, I wished every one good luck.
“Good luck fellas!”
I got a few nods in acknowledgement, some from unfamiliar faces, and before I knew it we were off. Brad, as he did at the previous race, shot out like a rocket and I moved to the right to jump on his wheel, probably cutting off a few people. I thought it was OK because after about a hundred yards or so, Brad and I were both off the front. We went through the single track along the fence without a problem and when we started the climb I was already working really hard.
I was impressed by the fluidity of his pedal stroke because he wasn’t spinning as much as I was, he was just powering up that hill. We climbed up the first fire road section and bent left for part 2 of the first climb. As we curved to the right for part 3 of the climb I realized something.
“There’s no way I can keep this up for 4 laps.”
I thought about saying that to Brad out loud because he deserved the win and I didn’t feel bad losing to such a nice guy. But I said nothing and kept pedaling up the hill. He opened up a small gap on the single track descent, which I expected, only it wasn’t as big as I expected. I caught him when we hit the asphalt climb and passed him briefly before reaching the top. I followed him down and then back up to the final single track. I wanted to give everyone who came out to watch and support a good first lap: a good show, if you will. I knew I couldn’t keep the pace for the entire race. As we came back into the park and turned left to the woods section my pedal hit the bottom of the little kicker as I hammered it but nothing happened.
As we came around to start lap 2 I could see Brad in front of me and Syd led the cheers and Geoff yelled out the time gap.
“He’s only 15 seconds!”
I chased, but Brad climbs really well for a big guy, and I just tried keeping him close during the second lap. I had to quickly pull off in the single track to let Wade of SC Velo go through whom I thought was leading his group (40-49). It maybe cost me a few seconds and by the time we hit the asphalt climb I could see Brad well ahead of me. I did my best to stay on Wade’s wheel for the final single track descent and when I saw Geoff again at the start finish he told me I was 20 seconds back and closing in.
As I started the first climb of the third lap I couldn’t see Brad at all. There were a couple of guys on the side whom I’d heard speaking Spanish as I went by last time. I asked about the time gap.
“¿Hace cuanto que pasó el otro?”
“Hace como diez minutos.”
I couldn’t hear them as I went up, but they kept saying something. I found out after the race they were saying “segundos” not “minutos”. A few seconds later I lapped someone in the 40-49 race. As I started part 2 of the first climb I saw Brad ahead already up part 3. This was where I resigned myself to second place; as good as he is, I thought there was no way I’d catch him. I tried to be smooth down the single tracks and steady up the hills for the rest of the lap. My only goal was to not get caught by anyone else, my race or otherwise.
As we started lap 3 there were more cheers from Claire and Syd and Eris. I saw Geoff and I asked where Brad was.
“Where is he?”
“About a minute!”
I shifted to my big ring and hammered. As I started the climb I thought about how this was where I’d have the advantage because he is bigger than I am and the extra lap and extra 1/4 mile per lap would start to take their toll. I went hard up the hill and could see him again on part 3 as I was half way up part 2. All of a sudden I thought I wasn’t happy with second place anymore. I went carefully down the single track trying to skid around as little as possible and took a good angle through the gravel allowing me to hit the black top with a little more speed than the last three laps. I climbed up and saw Brad just ahead. He was hurting.
I felt badly for a second because I thought Brad deserved to win and with 1.5 points for the final race, in my fuzzy math I had calculated that I would win the overall series if I won the race. It seemed unfair that he had beat me 3 consecutive times and with one weighted win I would take the series. When that second passed I was spinning hard up the hill and got within 10 yards when he crested and started the fast descent to the final single track. I took a little risk and flew down the fire road and hammered up the little hill to the final single track. I couldn’t see him until the final little climb where I got close again as he hit the top.
When we got back to the park, Claire led the cheers and the excitement was palpable.
“You almost got ‘em Chuy! Go!”
I entered the woods section and I could see Brad ahead in the windy road when I realized there was someone else there and Brad was already in front of him. I caught the guy and I asked if I could get through.
“When you get a chance . . . That guy is in my race.”
He went through a little twisty part then pulled off to the right and I moved to the left, said thank you as I gunned it, only to see the turnoff immediately to my right. I slammed on the brakes and hit the finishing straight with Brad a good 50 yards ahead and sprinting. It was a long straight so I sprinted and came within 6 seconds before he crossed the finish line. My official finishing time was 4 seconds behind the leader, but you can see in this video that I was about 6 seconds back.
I gave Brad a hand shake and a hug and congratulated him on a great race. Geoff told me afterwards that at the start of lap 4 I was about 1 minute and 20 seconds back. He pointed passed the finish line and said:
“If the finish line was over there you would’ve had him.”
It was a fun race and although I improved again, it still wasn’t enough. I finished 2nd for the day and 2nd in the series. I figured it out later that my calculations were all screwy and I would not have won the series even if I’d won the race. Claire made this collage from the pictures she took on her phone and posted it on Facebook.
Paul finished, then Chris, then Dave. We hung around for a little while talking, Chris teased Dave about having a conversation while he was racing and I teased Brad about how I was supposed to hurt him, not the other way around. We headed over for podiums.
“Uncle Dave, can we go to The Donut Man?”
Uncle Dave’s a softy and we ended up at The Donut Man eating some delicious donuts. Dave and I split a lemon filled donut and then Eris let me have half of her cream cheese donut. It was a terribly good thing.
I guess I worked hard and deserved it . . .?
I’m not sure what’s in store as far as racing now, maybe a Rim Nordic race, but not much is planned right now. I want to keep running and putting in some long miles on the bike, both on and off road as I try to hold on to some fitness leading into ‘cross season.