Cyclocross Lessons from Golden Gate BASP: Don’t Race From the Back

Golden Gate Park. Sunny and cold. I have been thinking about this race for two weeks.

Every night before bed, playing out the starting straightaway in my head. It’s a false flat (uphill) on pavement. The course fence narrows on the left side a little bit. The first turn is to the right, from pavement onto soft dirt. From there it’s onto winding singletrack. You’ve got to be at the front of that race when you hit that transition if you want to contend.

I want to contend.

Last year in the same race I finished second to last. It was ok because I was fat from working too much, drinking too much beer and making silly videos every week. I wasn’t in shape. I gave up on the season before it started. I was the just-for-fun rider in the back. I told myself that was fun (in hindsight, it actually wasn’t very).

This year, I’m after redemption. Top five. I want top five in San Francisco. My old neighborhood – in front of old friends. Under the sunshine with the ocean just a few blocks away. I’m going for it.

I know I’m going to be lined up in the back row because this is a local series with call-ups. But I wasn’t planned on getting funneled into the center lane.

Center lane, back row. No problem. Don’t panic.

I panicked.

I panicked so much that when the gun went off I spent the entire straightaway trying to clip into my pedal and hit the opening right hand turn in dead last.

Not just dead last. Dead last and gapped off the back of the field.

Are you kidding me?

I have been thinking about this start for two weeks and I just blew it. Blew it. BOOM!

Here’s what happens at the back of a race: clusterfuckfusion. We hit a scrap of mud and someone is down, then there are bikes everywhere and you’re dabbing and pushing through turns that the race leaders took at 15 miles per hour.

The front of the race is riding away from me at high speeds and I’m lifting my bike over turtled-up ladies who flipped in a one-inch rut. It’s my fault for putting myself back here but holyjesusshitballs. This is nuts.

For half a second, I think about giving up. The situation I’ve put myself in is a worst-case scenario. To get where I need to be, I’ve got to make at least 25 passes on a course that isn’t really set up for passing.

I run through more chaotic traffic at the first set of barriers, remount inelegantly and then have to unclip as the woman in front of me misses her saddle and comes crashing down. I’m rattled and riding like shit. No rhythm, no calm zen cyclocross focus, no mojo. Mr. “smooth is fast” Damian Schmitt, who’s been helping me figure out training this year, would not be proud.

Pull yourself together, Swift.

There’s only one thing to do, so I do it. I get in the drops, find a bigger gear and ride like fucking crazy. My eyes are wide and desperate, mouth open, chest heaving, saliva forming in the corners of my mouth.

On a short narrow pavement section on the back of the course I ride face first through a hedgerow to make up five positions. I take people on the inside on tight turns (public apology to Roaring Mouse rider who did not like this tactic). I ride every shitty line on the course as hard as I can to go around people.

I have no idea where I am in the field but I end up in a battle with a rider in a Specialized jersey. Back and forth, back and forth. I come around her on power sections, she makes a pass through technical roots. Back and forth, back and forth. I’ve stopped pulling people back. This is what it is.

Am I mid-pack now? Did I claw my way up that far?

No idea.

I throw down one last attack, gap the Specialized rider and hold it to the finish.

Standard post-race procedure: dry heave, lay bike on ground, dry heave, find bushes, fight back vomit. Pick up bike, lean over it, dry heave.

Disappointment sets in as I stand there on the finishing straight, looking over at the first turn, remembering how badly I fucked it all up.

But here’s the truth: Something will always go wrong.

and

I could not have ridden harder.

It’s not until later when results are posted that I realize I almost did it. I almost made it back to the top five. I’m seventh. I’m fucking seventh.

Something will always go wrong.

Never give up.

All photos below from my beloved buddy Chris Matthews.


Possibly related (automatically generated) posts:

  1. The Take-Aways: Lessons from Race Number One Now that I’ve had a chance to decompress and give...
  2. Cyclocross Basics: Race Day Nutrition Here’s another frequently asked cyclocross question: What the heck do...
  3. Perfect Agony: Rainier Cyclocross Race Report The full race report follows, but I wanted to mention...
  4. In Which We Race From the Back It’s a catch-up post. And here’s all the catching up...
  5. Sweet! Free Tires! (Second place in Cyclocross Magazine’s “Spirit of Cyclocross” Essay Contest) We interrupt our regularly scheduled protein and pull-up report to...

7 comments

  1. Freakin’ A that is Awesome!!

    You don’t know me but I thought I’d share. I’ve raced road the past few years here in Colorado. A long lost friend got me on the mountain bike again this past summer and now all I want to do is ride dirt! Went to my first cross races this fall, read your blog often and goddamm I’m AMPED! Now I’m scrounging up cash for a cross bike.

    Keep up the great work!

  2. fucking awesome!

  3. pete ehlke

    Love the look on your face in the last pic. Completely shattered, clearly gunning. The perfect race face.

  4. I can relate with that last photo completely. Prepping to do a lot of racing from the back next season after the upgrade. Got to start every race this season in the front row, a far cry from last year, but it sure was sweet while it lasted.

  5. Heidi,
    Love your blog!!! Just wanted to comment about Roaring Mouse girl. I was at Starcrossed in Seattle this year and I think I remember taking the inside lane on a few tight turns and a Roaring Mouse girl chirpping at me. Are we not supposed to do this? I understand holding your line going into a turn at 20 mph, but in cross it seems totally legit. Way to tear it up this year! I like reading your blog and attempting to race against you. :)

  6. That is one hell of a season you are having Heidi!
    Awesome report, as usual I can almost visualise your race. Dfl – to 7th is like a Rocky movie!!!
    Your words just go to reinforce that it isnt just about riding fast, from the back of the pack there are crashes, uncertainty and passing slower riders at sometimes difficult points of the course, it’s as much about motivation and spirit.

    Nice work!

    Dfl to 7th I think you are redeemed! :)
    Now to find me a coach for next year – yes I am already looking at next year – to help get me to cut down the beer and work less!

    Ps – you owe me an invoice? And the less said about my first race in the LA kit the better.

  7. We Roaring Mouse ladies are pretty tough and like to talk sh*t. It’s part of racing, and I’m reasonably certain that we don’t aim to anger or personally put down anyone.

    I’m that Roaring Mouse gal who finished just ahead of you in sixth. You put up one heck of a fight! I too was gunning for top 5, and I too took some sh*tty ass lines on that course – but hey, we’re aggressive as hell bike racers. and it’s Golden GATE PARK!

    That said, I was so stoked to see your name in the results in 7th! While I’d have loved to share the podium at that race, it was enough of a kick in the pants to make me finally race a crazy fast race in the last of that series and finally make the top 5.

    Anyway, thanks for being suck a kick ass personality + kick ass bike racer. Your blog still rocks!

%d bloggers like this: