Hanover Cyclocross and the Rebirth of SSCX

We were camping again in the greater Hanover area, so why not take in Hanover CX for a second straight year.

A few days before the race, I went all in on the decision I made a few weeks ago.

I bought a Wolf Tooth 40t chainring, and scavenged some spacers and a castoff XTR short cage derailleur from my landfill of parts.  Frustrated with trying to remove the shifter cables from the Ultegra 6700 levers, I cut the housing and cables right at the bar tape; fuck it.  This thing is going one gear and isn’t going back.  40×19 as it ended up; effectively the 38×18 I last raced routinely in 2008.  I’ve run 42×18 in recent years, and it will be easy enough to throw a 17t cog on and resurrect that ratio if need be.

(Thanks only to Sheldon I can speak fluently in equivalent gearing)

In the “late 2000s”, I experimented with a single chainring, trying all manner of different chain retention gizmos – derailleurs, drop stops, bash guards.  Nothing worked reliably, and rings like the Wolf Tooth didn’t exist yet.  So this would be a real test of faith for me, because I used to drop a LOT of chains.  In fact, I nearly threw my bike in the ocean once because I was so pissed off over dropping a chain.

Naturally I had no real time to do a shakedown of this new setup; I rode it around a campground the day before the race for about ten minutes.  It held together.  So this was either going to work out, or be a really short race.

For someone who rides singlespeed on the road a lot, I shouldn’t have been so surprised at how doable this race was with one gear.  But like anything, you get away from it for long enough and you forget.  It also helped that I didn’t pick an obnoxious ratio.

Hanover is very technical and for me, that’s a great day.  The problem is, this is my second bike race of any kind this year.  I’ve exerted myself at race pace only one time before, which was about four weeks ago at White Park.  I’ve worked out sort of regularly, but haven’t ridden much over the past few months.  Predictably, my lungs were alright, but I had NO (0) {} legs of any kind.

I turned a good first two laps, doing well to get through the infamous serpentine sands of Storrs Pond.  Then, everything just went to shit for ‘ol Chris, when a line he had been using through those granular Hasselhoffian plains seemed to vanish.  I couldn’t have looked worse.  I’d round the same turn each time, and it was just in my head.  One time I resorted to running, which was equally fast as riding as it turned out, but my fucking shoes would NOT stop plugging up.

It was a constant problem here, and it has happened before, and it can’t possibly be the shoes since I’m pretty sure everyone on Earth wearing Mavic Furys would have said something by now.  I’ve gotta try this Crank Brothers shit.  Or this Time shit?  My race at the back was absolutely decided by a complete inability to clip back in.  All I could do is scoot along and wack them against the pedals until they got happy again.  Which sucked because for a while, I had a good competitive little thing going with my nemesis Jordan.

I didn’t stick around for results, so I’m just checking them for the first time as I write this. 14th of 15.  I’m not entirely sure that’s right; I feel like I was at LEAST 14th out of 16.

The big winner though was the drivetrain.  Wholly unlike my performance in this race, it was flawless.

In honor of the first SSCX race I ever did in 2008 (actually, my first cyclocross race ever for that matter), I wore the same exact outfit – the Nike 10/2 MTB jersey I bought on clearance from the Nike Store on Newbury Street almost ten years ago, and the same pair (I think) of Pearl Izumi bibs.

That’s White Birch Session IPA by the way.  It’s gross.

A long time ago, I knew the destiny of the G&T would be to become a singlespeed cross bike.  It was cool to have it finally become a reality, fueled by my disenchantment with conventional category racing.  And more specifically some of the personalities therein.

The starting line vibe for this race was ultra loose, and the race was fun as hell.  It is exactly, EXACTLY why I did this.  The difference between this race and almost every other field of any race on any day is that all the competitors in this field know there are no stakes.  That’s why it’s perfect and that’s why you should do it.

And so why is that?  Why all of a sudden do things change in the typical geared bike fields?  What about them has to be more serious?

What’s on the line in those races that isn’t on the line in a SSCX race?

Nothing.  There is exactly the same opportunity for you, amateur bicycle rider, to do absolutely nothing of professional consequence.

There are precisely a handful of people moving onward and upward through the ranks of the sport, destined for great things at a high level of competition.  For them, racing and placing truly matter.  But those aren’t the people mired in the middle of any pack, in any category.  The destined elite are outright winning races and spend only a handful of time racing in categories you and I will spend a lifetime in.

I can understand that taking something seriously is a way to stay committed and train hard.  In fact, I totally get that.   But where I’ve seen, for years now, that passion translate into chopping guys, taking guys out, the preposterous chippy mid-pack banter – completely misplaced seriousness due to a lack of situational awareness – it’s growing this sport into something that it’s not.  And you can tell me I haven’t raced singlespeed enough to have seen that yet (I’ve raced SSCX nearly every year for the past 8 years), or I’m not up front where the tempers run hotter, but on the whole it is undeniable that the SSCX fields are mentally in a place that the others are not.  The edge is off.  Everyone has one wrong tool for the job, and everyone is resigned to having a good time getting through it.

The sport of cyclocross is stupid.  Try explaining it someone who has no idea what it is.  You can’t do it in a way that will convince them that it makes any sense.  You effectively describe something like mountain biking, but on road bikes with bad brakes and skinny tires.  Even the vaguely informed look at you like “okay buddy, sounds good”.  You may as well be telling them that you mow your lawn with a beard trimmer.

Only in some tangential, loosely fundamental way does it connect that this is something people should be doing.  It’s technically a bike, and technically a race.  Somehow, some way, people race cyclocross for a living.  But – as precariously close as we might feel to those people, by virtue of our incredible level of accessibility to them – that is never, ever going to be us.  And the moment you come to terms with that, and understand that all of this – everything we’re doing – is total bullshit, you can just have fun.

That’s SSCX.

That should be every field.

Knibb High football rules.

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