The Lead Lap

In the world of amateur cyclocross, at least in the series I participate in, there is a certain progression you follow, assuming you aren't a seriously fast dude who just needs to learn to ride on the grass, sand, mud, snow, gravel, stairs and well, you get the picture. I am not a fast dude, so I will not attempt to relate the shock and horror that they feel when they first try out a cyclocross race. If you want that kind of perspective, try this. That's not me. I'm going to talk about what happens when you start racing 'cross as a normal human who likes riding bikes.

The first race is a rude awakening. It hurts, in ways that cycling has never hurt before. You get lapped by guys who fly over the bumps in ways that appear to defy physics. You get lapped by the top riders, as does at least half of the field, but if it goes well enough, you come back next week for more.

The being lapped become a regular occurance. In my local series, we have actually had the national champion show up for a couple of races. However, sooner or later, as the skills improve and the speeds go up, eventually something odd happens. The fast guys don't come around you. This is not always as nice as it sounds. As has often been quoted by famous cyclists, "It doesn't hurt less, you just get faster". What this means is, rather than being able to stop a lap early after the eventual winner has finished, you get the honour of doing the same distance as them. You get to suffer longer.

That has only happened to me a couple of times and in general in the races with longer laps where you just don't get lapped as often. I didn't get lapped today.

The race, the second one of the year in Almonte was a mud pit. After I had finished, I had mud caked at least 3 inches up each of the spokes, to say nothing of the incredible amount of grass and mud that had made it's way into every nook and cranny of the bike. I easily carried an extra 2-3lbs of mud around by the end of the race. That made things much more fun, believe me. On the plus side, they did not put the bottom part of the park into the race, so the climbs were not as long or quite as sharp, which was nice. The mud made up for it though. I found that for large parts of the course, I couldn't actually go at full power without crashing or just spinning my rear tire.

With a major race happening in Toronto this weekend, most of the top guys were not around for our little grassroots race. That said, there were at least a couple of riders who lapped me in Kanata the week before, so it was still going to be quick. It was. With far fewer riders this week, things got lonely fairly quickly. I spent most of the race falling behind the guy in front of me and pulling away from the guys behind, not much in the way of tactics, it was just technical and ride as hard as you can.

The last third or so of each lap was mostly on a series of fields, so you can see around you and who is coming up behind (or ahead). With 2 laps to go, officially anyhow, I could see someone coming up who was definitely not the guy who I'd had behind me all race. "Oh well, here comes the lap." At the same time, I was also thinking that this was pretty close to the end of the lap, I might actually survive. I was somewhat torn. I could slow the pace and end my suffering, or I could continue to go as hard as I could and hopefully stay ahead.

In the end, I couldn't slow down. I held the pace and while the eventual winner of the race was closing as if I was standing still, I managed to punch it and cross the finish line before him. For my efforts, I earned the privilege of doing another lap.

All in all, I ended up ahead of a few of the guys who had beaten me in Kanata, I finished on the lead lap on the most technical race of the season thus far and managed to dig deep and stay ahead of the winner. I should note that in no WAY am I saying that it was a close race between him and me. In the final minutes of his race, he probably closed 100m+ on me, it just so happened the the convergence would have happened several meters past the finish line.

Don't matter though. I'll take it.