Monday, July 5, 2010

Critical Dirt

It has been a long time since I have felt this good after a race and it is a variety things that contribute to this. First it was an epic event - 4 stage cross race the first day across Eastern Germany  deteriorated roads, gavel, paths, trails and fields that battered bikes and their riders. Then a second day with two heats of cyclocross qualifiers followed by the main heat. Excellent format of racing. Second the venue, the locations contributed as much to the event as did the format. As said, former Cold War enemy land that has seemingly been left behind in some ways, not too mention it was a scorching 37+ C out with the sun beating down... Lastly, the people, just awesome people there.

 Picking up the route map

This made for a recipe of great racing, and I have slowly started to feel my old self again, which allowed me to hang with the fast guys there and even take my own digs. Stage one became a toss-out stage, the lead group I was in blew the directions and got lost. The orga team sent out navigation guides, but we out paced the lead guy seemingly early on and we lost our way. I came in like 47th on the stage. Oh well.

Stage 2, Stijn Deferm and a couple of others lit up the pace and I joined in on the festivities up front, taking my turn yanking the field across parched fields and seering roads. One section was nothing more then a double track riddled with baseball sized rocks, old tarmack and was lined with sharp bushes & thistle that burned on your sweat drenched arms. With the mountaintop finish rapidly closing in, I tried to pull the pace back a bit to recover for the climb up since it is very hard for me to shift from tempo riding to climbing. But no sooner as we hit the climb up, my legs got tight and that was it, I would come home in 6th.

After a nice lunch break, it was back to high-speed riding through woods, up some sharp steep short climbs and descents on stage 3. The woods took its tool on the field, thinning things out a little, but we still had a strong group leading the charge. As we dashed through one village, we went through a train station, which entailed descending a ramp, riding under the tracks and then a run-up the staircase on the otherside. We also took that at high speed - freakin' cool! We hit another section of dirtroads where I was pulling and road everyone off my wheel except for my teammate Ronny Leder, with an easy 200m gap on the field we conversed, and since neither of us knew the way, we had to sit up and wait for the field. But I was feeling really good and kept track of where we were with one of the guides. Once I saw we had a straight shot to the finish with just a few km to go, I launched an attack and went for it. Quickly I opened a gap, this time alone. From there it was head down and pedal. I almost blew it coming into the finish, by overshooting a turn. But I held it and won the IF sponsored stage. I was super stoked!

The table was set for the final stage into Leipzig, but it was not easy at all. We still had some seriously rough roads to navigate including what must have been an old tank road with huge, rough, uneven slabs of concrete that were separated down the middle with dirt the abruptly turned in to vast holes or rockgardens along the way. This section claimed its victims. After clear of the last obstacles, we gambled the traffic lights as we charged into and then through town for a full on sprint into the park. Hanging on by my fingernails, I survived to finish 4th.

The first day was an incredible day of racing that will go down as one I will always remember. I have always wanted to do some of the Spring Classics, I no longer need to, I have done something much more demanding in my eyes. And if that weren't enough, we got up the next day for some full-on cyclocross racing.

In the middle of some parched land in the southern part of Leipzig, with the forgotten past of hollowed industry building as the back drop, with turned laps in some deep loose rock and sand. After the start we had a short flat section before ascending the one hill around the area that hand a mean runup at the top. Then we descending around the backside about halfway, rolled around to the front, then dropped like a rock back down to the base area past the start/finish area and up a short ascent of gravel that was so loose, you just had to do a high speed drift to get up it and around the corner. Through about 30cm of moon dust we rode away before making a u-turn and heading back to the finish through the world's longest sandpit.

two 20 min heats, top 10 go to the finals. I drilled it my heat, maybe a little too much, easily winning it. But Arne also won his heat, and is one fast guy, so I knew it would be a fight in the finals. Stijn took the hole-shot in he finals and had his fun on the first lap while I took up second. Stijn pulled out after the first lap, and I was already shifting to survival mode. Sure enough, Arne caught and passed me at the end of the second lap when I had a poor line in the sandpit. I was suffering big time. Arne checked out and would cruise in for a deserved win. Now I was fighting for second, which Robert also wanted. He got me going up the climb the last time, but did not get away, and as we shot down the hill for the last out and back on the course, everyone was going nuts. we rounded the final 180 together, and it was a drag race back to the finish. Once again I picked a bad line and couldn't power through it, and Robert popped in for 2nd while I took 3rd. Great racing.

 Stijn & Arne coming into the 180 turn

It was good to have today off from riding, time to recover and think back on the weekend. Lots of things to process and to think about, lots of people to thank, and time keep the stoke moving forward.

"It’s a gift to be in each other’s lifes, racing Cyclocross and having our support and camaraderie.
Let’s represent, make lifelong memories and RACE!

photos courtesy of ersatzspeiche, Torture King & bomberklaus