It took eight races, but the season ended in true cross fashion; or what I had expected from every cross culture publication, you tube folly video, and hard man B Vet story. 30 degrees and raining, on top of an inch or two of consolidated snow melt, frozen off camber tractor ruts, some kind of mud that got stickier each lap, and a down hill that required hard pedaling to...uhh...overcome. Minutes, and probably seconds before the race, I stood huddled under a logo tent with a couple teammates. My race warm-up consisted of violent shivering and standing around discussing the absurdity of this pastime.
The start of the race was filled with the best camaraderie the sport of cycling sees. A complete disaster of a rut plagued pumpkin field made holding a line impossible. Pros, Elites and over ambitious first timers like myself laughed, screamed and basically bounced into eachother for the first 200 yards. No one had an advantage. Good lines were flirtatious at best, giving you just a taste before your front wheel went diving a foot to the left and and your inside foot dabbed down.
I'm a solid back of the packer when it comes to cross, and the field spread out enough that I had room to work. I settled into a rhythm. I let a few stronger people go that I knew got a bad start, and started setting my sites on the riders I usually beat that found their way through the chaotic start.
The two closest racers had pulled nearly a minute ahead of me. A teammate of mine stayed close on the wheel of a racer having a good day. I made a little time on the final lap, watched my teammate pass and drop the other racer in an out and back section and settled in for my final effort. The short distance of single track on this course opened up and I saw the other racer, much closer than before, dismounting on a deceivingly difficult false flat a few hundred yards ahead. I knew I'd have to give everything I had for a solid 5 minute effort to catch him and hold on. I worked to close the gap on the climb, the other racer squirreling through the mud and suffering. I crowned the slight hill and had lessened the spread to 50 yards. I clicked up a few gears, a miracle considering the frozen mud coating my drivechain, and stood on the pedals. Made a few tight turns in thrity feet of single track, turned a tight corner and looked up; 15 yards. The final field was a mental hurdle. It was dead flat, but impossibly slow. Even worse, a fast paved section following it was the only thing that followed it and stood between you and dry clothes. I hammered until I actually realized my vision was blury, and had been blury for the last few spins. I was able to pass him just before the pavement started, shifted up to the big ring, and pedaled hard, looking back through my cadence to see if he was hanging on. I crossed the line and met the surprised look of my teammate. He was surely expecting the racer he battled against the whole race, but was just as proud to see me, a very happy 12th of 16 racers, but on my way to warmth.