Saturday in Gloucester

I’m awake by 4:30am, and up fifteen minutes later. I get up, get dressed, and head downstairs. It’s still dark out, so I flip on an outside light to see what I’m in for this morning. Rain. Sweet.

Kristen and I are in Gloucester by 6:30. I’m one of only a handful of racers here. I’m early, as usual. No one else in my section of the parking lot except a wild rabbit. Still dark. I look up at a streetlight, and the rain is coming down in sheets. This is why I bring extra gloves and shoes I guess. I suit up and head out onto the course for some warmup laps. No one is out here. No one else is dumb enough to be out here right now. It’s basically a small hurricane.
I get through maybe a lap and a half, and I’ve had it. I’m already drenched. Both sections of the course that run directly along the coastline are positively miserable. As one rider in the startup grid put it, it was like getting a face full of ‘noreaster. You’d round a corner and it felt like you were hooked up to a parachute in the driving rain.
We stood in the starting grid for a good 15 minutes. A handful of others and I were already shivering, and taking shit from some of the guys with a little more body fat, who seemed perfectly content.
It isn’t even 8 in the morning yet.
The whistle blows, and we’re off. I’m about four rows from the back. I still cannot start these races for the life of me. You really have to just take off with reckless abandon and somehow not blow up. I don’t do that. I don’t know what the hell I do. I go out kind of hard, but never really gain more than a few positions, and then by halfway through the lap I’ve already imploded.
Also within half a lap, the course is already chewed to hell. Everything is swampy, muddy, slippery, and soaked. And then it rains even harder. All the lines I found during warmup are still there, but it hardly matters because the field is 80% gone. I don’t know what the hell is going on with me this year. I have nothing. I basically abandoned all hope of racing singlespeed this year by the end of lap one. There’s no way I have it. Especially in conditions like this.
I shoulder my bike for the mud wall run-up, and I forget to grab the handlebar, which swings around and punches me in the mouth. Terrific. I’m soaked, covered in mud, and now I’ll enjoy a few laps of bloody mouth taste.
At one point, as if my shifter was somehow connected to my inner reservoir of motivation and will to live, it simply stopped working.
Going through the same stretches of water, completely re-saturating your lower half – it took a few laps to get used to that. It’s like a miniature electrocution every time.
My tires – Michelin Mud 2 – actually did really well. In fact, they were awesome. Even as things basically degraded into pudding. Problem is, I have no experience racing in this stuff. Also, due in large part to last year’s crashes, I have no balls whatsoever. By the time I figure out that I’m being overly cautious, it’s far too late.
I don’t know how many laps we did. People were steadily overtaking me the entire time, passing me in the same spots. Spots where I just had nothing, no matter what I did. I thought for sure I’d be lapped. I heard 1-to-go with about a lap and half left, and I was ready to be pulled, just like last year. As I round the corner to the pavement, the race marshal is standing there with the clipboard, uninterested. She lets me go. Terrific. Another lap in the mud typhoon.
I try to finish with one of my teammates, but I can’t even muster the energy to hang with him for more than a lap. Almost ten minutes after the winner, I cross the line 75th of 83 in 47 minutes or so. 99 racers were registered; who knows how many DNF’d or simply had the good sense to stay in bed.
I beelined for the tents, said hi to Stu Thorne (the man behind CyclocrossWorld, the team I ride for), and booked it back to the car. The rain was still torrential. Not wanting to soak the driver’s seat, I cram into the backseat, which is loaded with gear, and perform no end of circus-like contortions to peel my race outfit off and get into some dry clothes. Everything is drenched, so I throw the bike in the car too; why the hell not at this point. It’s been through enough not to have to ride home on the roof.
It’s 9:03 in the morning. This is cross.
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