The 2nd annual “Hermann Under the Lights” race has come and gone. It was a day full of sweat, sand, stairs and pain…and that was only during the warmup laps.
People have asked me what it is about cyclocross that sets it apart from other forms of cycling. I don’t think it is necessarily any one thing, but rather a compilation of many things. What other sport sees its athletes slogging through mud bogs, running through sand pits, jumping barriers, taking beer hand-ups from drunken screaming fans, and doing it all in the snow and rain? ‘Cross is the only sport I’ve ever tried that guarantees complete and total exhuastion coupled with the elation of knowing you’ve just done something amazing. It is pain, pure and simple, and after you’ve done it once you will assuredly do it again. If you don’t believe me you can borrow one of my cross bikes and see for yourself.
Three fully grown men had their race gear and their asses stuffed into my little red truck that morning as we made the drive to Hermann. Luke, “The Dragon” Lamb, Robby “Fairweather” Brown and myself were race-ready and poised to meet what would surely be a pain-filled day of racing. This race is put on by Jeff Yielding, which means two things: (A) The race will be ridicuously well organized and (B) The race will be ridiculously punishing.
This was to be a day of many firsts: It would be Luke’s first ‘cross race, it was Robby’s first ‘cross race of the year, and it was my first time feeling like I might actually have a chance at a top ten finish. I had done this same race in ’08 and been DNF’ed for being lapped by the race leader. It was a sobering experience to say the least, but it had been my 1st race so I didn’t let it bother me….much.
Also entering into his first ‘cross race that day was Corey Case. (We haven’t exactly picked him a nickname yet) Corey was gracious enough to share a bike with the Dragon that day, their steed of choice being a geared Tricross. I had a nearly identical rig and Fairweather was rolling sans gears…. cuz he’s tough like that.
The course was everything we had hoped for and so much more. One could easily see that the holeshot was very important; The race start was about a 500 ft sprint into a sharp left turn that led to another short sprint straight into the stairs. Oh yeah….the stairs. Tell me if you think it would be painful to jump off your bike at race speed, throw it onto your shouder and then run up a mountain of concrete steps.
At the top of the staircase the rider remounts the bike and takes off on a fast downhill. Here we see the Dragon showing us how that’s done:
At the bottom of the hill there was a gradual left turn that led into a literal 180-degree off-camber-uphill right turn.
Directly after this turn there was a gauntlet of windy turns mostly in the grass until we finally swooped around a tree and graced the sandpit/barier jumps. Much pain was to be had here, as sand is never your friend.
I didnt get to see it happen but I’ve been told mutliple times about Justin neely’s wreck here. We’ll come back to that as we get into race details….
Following the sandpit we were to attack another bounty of fast switchback turns. Finding the apex of each turn was critical to line yourself up for the next one. This was not the kind of course that you could race thoughtlessly, you had to really keep your shit together or things could really fall apart. After finally maneuvering your way through all of that, the course dumped you into a long, super-fast straightaway. I’d say it was 1/4 mile long? At the end of the straightaway there was a sharp downhill left turn leading to the finish line. The downhill drop was especially fun because of the speed at which we approached it. Each lap, I would purposely bunny-hop just before the drop to really get some great airtime. It was awesome.
We walked the course, studying lines and trying to bolster our confidence. The course was mostly flat with a lot of turns. There were really no climbs other than the stairs so that was a comfort. Fairweather and the Dragon would be racing soon, so we started making arrangements for potential beer handup locations and photo oppurtunities.
The first race of the day was to be the beginner’s class; this would be Luke & Robby’s race. They went to the starting grid and did a great job of not looking nervous waiting for Buddy to blow the whistle. When he finally did, it was every man for himself. Both of them did well to get to the first turn in short order, ascending the stairs and remounting for the downhill.
After watching their adrenaline-laden ascent up he staircase, Corey and I ran over to the sandpit to watch the carnage further unfold. Robby was burnin it up, and it’s definitely a positive thing to only weigh 130 when you’re running thru a sandpit. Luke had gapped a decent number of riders and the look on his face told the tale….his brain was clearly melted from the awesomeness of this race.
I don’t remember how many laps they did, but I do remember they both went completely anaerobic to the point of nearly vomiting. I had a sweet-ass time doing Keystone Light hand-ups for Luke on the back straightaway and taking pictures of both of them.
The next race was the Singlespeed class. Robby got like a ten minute break in between races and then went out and rocked it again. I don’t know how he did it, but I know he’s got a pair of brass balls that could block out the sun.
Then it was finally time for Corey and I to take on the Cat 4 race. I wasnt really all that nervous but I was very focused. I really wanted to get to that bottle-neck first, and I was in good position to do it since I was starting on the front row. My bike was tuned perfectly and I knew it. I had overinflated the tires to get maximum speed on the pavement. I’d be sliding the corners a bit, but that would look really cool so it was acceptable. I had my Team Seagal CXMAS spoke card rockin’ on the front wheel and spokey dokeys on the rear. The Cape my mom made flapped at my back like the white scarf of a WWII bi-plane pilot. I didn’t want anyone to steal my underwear…so I wore them outside my bikeshorts. (Fashion is always important on raceday.) My nutrition had been good all week and I was well rested. My parents and girlfriend were there to watch..it was business time.
I guess it was around this time that some dick-hole decided it would be funny to propose that if I won the race he’d buy beer for everyone else… The guy wasn’t even in the race, just a spectator.
Why don’t other dudes respect the cape? Chicks dig it, so fuck anyone who has a problem with it. I’ll wear the damn thing if I want to.
The whistle blew and we were off. I got a shitty start because I couldn’t get my left foot clipped in right away. I recovered before the turn and tucked in right behind Nick Smith’s rear wheel on our way to the staircase of pain.
Time for a confession: All I wanted to do that day was smash Nick Smith. Not just beat him, fucking smash him. Not in the sense of a personal vendetta or anything, we’re pretty good friends, it’s just that he lapped me at multiple races last year and smoking his ass is something I really wanted to do.
Anyhow, we hit the stairs and I officially left the fucking party. I put these Clyde-quads to work and took the steps three at a time and before I knew it I was at the top getting back on my bike. I couldn’t help but notice that I was in 6th (out of over 50 riders) place at this time. This nearly caused me to shit my pants, but I knew there was a lot of racing left to do.
I managed to stay with that group of dudes for quite a while. One thing I noticed was that while I couldn’t keep pass them on the straight stretches, I could corner a lot better than at least two of the guys in front of me. I’d actually have to tap the brakes to keep from ramming them in the cramped corners.
I made a few laps and was feeling really, really good. I even let myself begin to think that today could be the day I’d finally get that top ten finish I’ve always wanted. I already had Nick gapped by a mile and I was riding steady with the lead group. All I could think was “Don’t screw this up-Don’t screw this up-Don’t screw this up .”
I think where I went wrong was that I completely underestimated the length of this race. I remember coming around the last corner and seeing the lap card showing “5” laps to go. I knew there was no way I could hold that pace for 5 more laps, so I started to back off a bit. It was sad to watch those other fellas pull away, but I had proven my point…the guy with the cape can ride. As far as I was concerned it was already a personal victory, so I was cool with letting them go.
Out of nowhere the lead rider completely wipes out on the first switchback. My eyes widened as I watched the domino effect of asses hitting the ground. Some guy behind me yells out, “Yeah, Eat shit Boz!!” and next thing I know I’m right there with them again. It would be short-lived though, and soon I was watching helplessly as smaller, faster riders were putting me in their rear-view.
I had blown up and I knew it. Breathing was now a fantasy; Snot was pouring all over my face and my legs were on fire. Fatigue was taking over my body and I had officially become the mayor of Shit City. Every time I finished the sandpit/barriers I cut my legs open on the damn pedals. I saw the blood but didn’t feel a thing, is that bad?
I was having a rough time, but at least I didn’t suffer the same fate as Neeley; Apparently he realized he was about to get passed by an elderly woman on a recumbent, so he decided to fake a crash. Thinking the sandpit would be a safe place to land, he hooked his foot on the barrier and went down. The only problem with that is that he fell straight onto his crankset with a pedal jabbing him straight in the sternum. That had to suck. Right as I was coming around to lap him, (pause for effect), I saw him laying on the side of the course with no shirt on writhing around and moaning. Talk about the kid who cried wolf…..karma had its cock buried deep inside Neeley’s ass that day. I actually stopped to gape at the carnage, and really pissed off a few riders who were still behind me.
Back to my failure, I got passed by damn near everyone, even Nick. That asshole even made noises like a car when he cruised by. Man was I pissed, but what can you do besides take the ass beating and move on? After a while Corey passed me too; This was his first cross race and he was owning it. I couldn’t help but be proud of the guy even though he was completely dominating me. Some friend, right? 🙂
The Dragon was awesome as rider support, dousing me with delicious Keystone light as I passed our support group on the course. John from Mesa was also hosing me down at the top of the staircase every time I got to the top. That part of the race was really great.
As the new King of Suck, I did somehow manage to pass two guys on the back straightaway right before the finish. Not sure how that happened, but I’ll take it.
I remember standing at the top of the stairs after the race wondering what had just happened. Truth be told I was pretty embarrased at how the whole thing had went down. How could I start so strong and end so weak? I had logged countless hours on the Katy trail building my legs for this race and done a lot of other training just to get my ass kicked. Again. Fuck.
Right about then some guy I’ve never met walks over and is like,” Fuck yeah, that’s what you’re supposed to look like after one of these races, screw all these pussies who aren’t even breathing hard, you rocked it man!” He put a cold beer in my hand and walked away.
That’s when I remembered that this racing stuff is supposed to be fun. What was the point of being glum when I had access to free PBR, delicious bbq, perfect weather and the company of good friends?
Since this was such a momentous day, it was only appropriate that it be celebrated with fancy beverages. In return for their glorious performances in their first ‘cross race, Corey and The Dragon were both given a bottle of what I thought was $4 champagne. Turns out it was sparkling white wine, but we toasted to our success with it anyway.
And so the 2nd Annual Hermann Cross Under the Lights Race has come and gone. Looking back now I don’t think we could have done it any better. Being surrounded by supportive family members and the camaraderie of good friends is worth the pain and snot anyday.
Here’s what I took from this race: Sometimes 100% effort will get you on the podium and sometimes it won’t; The important thing is that you DO give it 100% and never afford yourself the ability to wonder what could have happened if you had tried harder.
(That’s not a quote, I wrote that shit myself)