Todays stage is the one most of us look forward to over all the others. Every stage in this race is challenging in its own way, usually not to the advantage of my (admittedly limited) skillset, but Raystown is the rare exception: A Course On Which I Am Generally Competent. Fast, twisting - a BMX-style PEDAL PEDAL PEDAL coooooooooast PEDAL PEDAL coooooast interspersed with either big ring power climbing or extended, find a gear and grind it fireroads.
I drove out to the start blasting the first Today Is The Day record and in high spirits. I stopped at a Sheetz and got one of those green Odwalla smoothies. I was ready.
Rready, that is, to stand in line for the comically insufficient and oderous toilet. As bike racers, we can put up with a lot, but this humid turd-shack was truly and legitimately heinous. Cracking jokes through watering eyes and abbreviated gasps for breath, I laughed about how standing in that line would be our warmup for the race.
Turns out, Im a pretty funny guy.
They lined us up a few minutes later.
And the holeshot was actually important today.
The start was about as fast as a UCI cross race. Mattyus compared it to a world cup. I went out like my whole ass was on fire, settling in behind Justin Lindine and a CF guy. The first few minutes were glorious. I was at the front of the race, on trails I could ride well, with guys I could trust to pick the right lines.
Except after those few minutes, my riding began to deteriorate rapidly. I was sloppy, sketchy through the corners and riding brake when I should have been wide open. It was awful. I couldnt concentrate, and started to panic. Stephen asked if he could get by (very politely, which is far better than I deserved at that point) and I simply unraveled.
I waved the whole group through, and watched my race ride away.
I stood there, leaned over my bike, panting. My mind, previoulsy going a million miles a minute and in all directions began to slow, then stop, then collapse in on itself like a dying star. My panting became heaving. The heaving became gurgling.
It should be known to all that I cannot tolerate vomiting. Not other peoples, thats fine. My body simply rejects the notion of rejecting its contents.
So I was not particularly enthusiastic when every hole in my face turned into a geyser of green fluid.
I will not delve too far into the particulars of taste, odor, or consistency. I will, however, describe the experience as one of singular awfulness, and will likely have a long night of repeated and delightful puke-dreams ahead of me.
It was quiet. I was by myself. I had a very small amount of vomit on my shoe. It was time to go.
Getting back on, I didnt quite know what to expect. The pedals turned over, same as ever, and the trails didnt get less awesome on my account. Slowly, I got myself going.
In about eight or nine minutes I sighted my first group. Five minutes later, I passed them. I stood up. Another guy up the road, on top of the long climb. Sighted, chased, caught.
And then Tim Johnson caught me.
Now, I had momentarily forgotten that he is racing in another category that went off a few minutes after me. I just saw myself getting lapped less than halfway into a two lap race. There was panic, followed by realization, followed by a much more important realization: I could go fast here. Very fast. I came through my first lap in about 1:40ish, and Stephen Kincaid heckled me as we passed each other on the start/finish straight.
"Come and get me, Mike!"
And I set about my task.
Since I had already ditched all the internal weight I could, I decided to dump whatever remaining ballast I had attached. Pump and jersey pocket waterbottle were left in the feed zone. Small, not large bottle was obtained. HTFU acquired, I began the chase.
The second lap went almost exactly like the first, minus the shitty riding and vomit break. The trails were amazing, though I did manage to get a bit too rad on a few corners, I kept it upright and free of mechanicals. I conserved as best as I could on the climbs, and was out of the saddle through the turns and flats for literally miles at a time. I caught two more guys.
I still had no idea how I was doing.
But I managed to wash the taste of Vomit Flavored Heed out of my mouth, and the trails were fantastic, and more importantly I was grinning like an asshole as I aired out the bumps and dragged my back wheel around the turns. I was having a blast.
I sprinted to the line, even though I was by myself.