Sunday - Badger Prairie Cross - By Joe King!
The original plan was to just ride my cross bike the 8 miles to the venue, race and bike home. Although close to home, Badger Prairie is one of my least favorite venues. Unlike a real cross course held in a town park, this race is held on running trails which wind their way through a prairie. The track is often bumpy with few twists and almost no off-camber. It's like holding a mountain bike race on a rail-trail except there are hills. I was surprised to find the 5Nines/Motorless Motion team put together a great course which skipped some of the bumpiest tracks, added twists, included off-camber and added a nearly rideable hill with logs. I could ride two out of three of the logs reliably but pretty quickly decided not to spend time getting this right after consulting with Brian. Unlike Grafton, it would be faster to ride the logs but only slightly. Brian pointed to a rider pressing hard on the pedals to get over the last bit of the climb to make his point that riding it was a big energy spend.
Single Speed Open
So how would my newly adjusted goals and emphasis play out today? Instead of busting a gut to finish nearly last in my usual race, I decided to double up. With bell and lights still in place I raced my commuter in the single speed race with Muse. What a gas that was! The heckling which was missing from Grafton was in good form for both races. The commuter did surprisingly well and was fun to ride. I was relieved to find I could manage riding the steeper hills with the 14-tooth cog I use for commuting (not sure what the front ring is but it's mountain bike small). After attempting a lame imitation of Robocop as requested by Muse in the start grid, we were off. Right away we were laughing as Muse asked why we weren't waiting for him on the long grassy hill which kicks off the race. The person next to me says, "hey dude it's not cool to drop your teammate." What a great group -- I really enjoyed this single-speed bunch. My buddy Brian did a good job heckling me lap after lap until we had two go when he said, "come on, you can catch that guy." Ah, what guy I thought and noticed a rider in white a few hundred yards ahead. Well okay, we'll see. I did catch him on that lap and stuck to his wheel on the longest of climbs into the wind. He soon gapped me again on the downhill and through a bumpy twisty section. My motivation was definitely lagging on the last lap as he seemed to be extending the gap but just then Muse appeared with some much needed encouragement! So after a deep breath I hit the gas. After the steep section of the long hill I found his wheel again but this time I punched past and didn't look back. It felt good to "race" even if it was for a place in the middle of the pack. It felt strangely odd at first riding so upright with flat bars but the efficiency of the single speed instantly put a smile on my face.
In the starting grid I announced to my fellow competitors my plan was "to start out easy and taper off from there." Having just finished the single speed race, I wasn't kidding. Besides, based on previous races, I know I'm finishing last or nearly so. So I found myself regretting not taking the hand-up from Muse during my race. For starters, I was totally parched and doing so would fit with my new goals. I did find it strangely confusing in part because it's beer of course and I don't drink. In hindsight I can see how that matters not but in the moment I was more confused than anything else. I'll just have to get with the program.
The first half lap of this race was scary! Unbelievably scary! In only 45 minutes of racing my commuter my mind was adjusted to the position, balance and brakes of that bike. My cross bike is setup moto-style which puts the rear brake on the left. My commuter is not, which puts the front bike on the left. I found the front wheel turning unexpectedly perpendicular to my line in corners throughout the race but mostly on the first lap. Surprisingly, I managed to save it each time. The heckling in this race was better than most and seemed to center on whether us old codgers are retired or not -- a heckle that spilled over onto the listserve the next day. Having just recently declined moving to San Diego to keep my job gave this heckle new meaning.
Shockingly, after the first lap I started to feel pretty good and passed a number of riders. I finished mid-pack in this race which is seemingly a huge improvement over previous outings. A careful read of the results, however, indicates that it was just a larger field. Perhaps I don't suck as much as I thought? Could it be the low placings are because the competition is just so much better than in years past? After two years off I was expecting to finish in "no mans land." This is the spot well behind the fast group but also well ahead of the slower or less skilled riders. That's pretty much where I started years ago. I know it takes a lot to move into that front group and the best possible outcome for the season would have me barely just doing so at seasons end. Despite being old, some of these guys could possibly win 35+ plus race and Bob Downs has done this in years not long past.
Despite being well behind the leaders I still got to finish with a few competitors in my sights. These were from the 45+ field which starts before us. I like that these guys ride strong to the end. Overall a fantastic weekend of racing. Conditions were dry and a warm mid-50's. There was a lot of sun, some clouds and good food. It was especially fun to see some of my buddies from years past. The larger 55+ is definitely more fun but I think even when I'm finishing last, fun will continue to be the order of the day.