The Surf City Cyclocross Series Final was held at Aptos High School just south of Santa Cruz, home to hilly and tricky terrain so usually a technical and hilly course. This year’s iteration raised the bar a bit with a mountain bike worthy course that had me nervous as hell after doing two laps of a pre-ride. There were two long, run ups, Rooty climbs, sandy/loose climbs, a steep road climb, lose off-cambers by the dozens, a bumpy steep descent into bumpy, bushy, sharp 180 with an immediate steep climb with zero momentum, gavel straight-a-ways, gravel turns, a stair case with four barriers added to make it more fun and a steep downhill that worried me most of all. I know I do well in hilly and technical races, but this one was off the charts and I was scared of getting hurt again.
I finished my warm up on the road away from the course so I could concentrate on warming up and not getting more nervous. Returned to line up and got a second row start with just 12 riders in the 55+ group. We raced with the 35+ and 45+ A’s, so getting lapped by the leaders from those fields was an almost certainty starting two minutes behind them. The start line was at the bottom of the steep road climb with was followed by a little descent that lead right to the first run up. I knew that one should be near the front to keep from being slowed down on the run up, but I couldn’t get the motor going up that first hill and was very near last entering the run up (which I basically walked up because people in front of me were slow on it).
After the run up I moved up a few places when people would make mistakes (there were a lot of those!). Luke was watching and told me I was in 7th place at one point early on, so I had some motivation to move up. I was able to out climb a few people on the steep road climb and make less mistakes on the tricky areas and moved up to 5th place (according to the now published split times) by the second lap. I managed to do damage on the climb and technical sections again on the third lap and moved up to second (again, according to the split times, I didn’t know it at the time). I had a really good rider ahead of me named Jamie, who I had not even been close to this year, but I was able to close in on him by the 4th lap. I rode right behind him and tried to recover for a bit and hope that he would make a mistake. I was too close though, and when he slowed to a near stop on the sandy climb I lost momentum and had to get off my bike and finish on foot and re mount for the chase. Now he had a fair bit of a gap and I had to ride hard to close. Then after the sandy run up, his chain came off and he slowed, but it was on a narrow section between a fence and a steep drop off so I couldn’t pass! He managed to “shift” the chain back on with the front derailleur and stayed moving and in front of me, dang!
The next major feature was the bumpy downhill to 180 bumpy turn to bumpy climb and I stayed back enough to not get into his crash if he failed. Sure enough, his front tire slid out and he was scrambling to get moving on foot! I made the turn and rode the bumpy climb out of the saddle and made the pass. Next came the steep loose bumpy downhill that some people didn’t even ride and I knew I had to make it without falling to hold the gap. I took it conservatively to keep from getting out of control and bounced down to the bottom, still upright.
I thought I was in 3rd or 2nd at this point and didn’t see anyone from my field in front of me. On this lap I was passed by the lead three in the 35+, so I knew I had one less lap to do than the lap count on the previous pass through the start/finish area, so only one more after I make it to the finish. I concentrated on not making mistakes, which was getting harder because I was so beat up from the course. I just wanted to get a podium spot for the first time this season and brighten up the year, so I pushed hard where it was safe and rode a bit conservatively anywhere I could screw up and fall.
The last lap had that painful feeling of being nearly spent, but knowing you only had to face each obstacle that one last time. I could not see Jamie behind me, so I took the big downhill especially carefully. This hill was an argument for disc brakes because my hands were exhausted from braking and holding onto the bar for dear life, I don’t think I could have survived one more descent. Only a few sketchy turns, and the stairs with barriers left to go, and I got through them all. After the stairs, with 200 yard to go, Henry Kramer (current world Champion in the 55+ category but racing in the 45+ group here) came up behind and said he needed to get by, he was racing for the win. I thought to myself, well I might be racing for the win too, but I let him go by on the best line. Turns out he was just short of winning the 45+ because as we rounded the final corner, they announced the guy in front of us as the 45+ winner. Then I was surprised to hear them announce me as the 55+ winner! I wasn’t sure I heard it correctly, but it was true. Jamie was the last man standing and I was more than a minute in front of him and another guy who also passed him for second.
Wow, I was alive and un-hurt AND won! I had to keep my cool till the results were final, but was sure stoked when I got to stand on the top step and collect a little bag of Luna Bars and Clif Shot Blocks. So a win over my nerves and over Jamie and another guy who has been killing my during MTB season, great way to end the Thanksgiving weekend!