Yours truly, looking awesome and feeling the burn.
Robert, the semi-official leader of our unofficial team, asked me to write a recap of the 2010 cyclocross season. Before I jump in, I want to reassure you that I’m not about to go back and recount each and every race. As thrilling as it was for me to race my heart out for a mid-20s or -30s placing in the Cat 4 race all season, I’ll concede that it doesn’t make for the best reading material. I’ll give you a little taste of that sweet, sweet Cat 4 racing, but mostly I’m going to focus on the formation of the bonds and friendship that eventually gave way to this beautiful work of art known as Soft Like Kitten.
Cross kicks off early every year in Seattle. While most folks around the country are still thinking about their final road or mountain races, our season is getting started with the annual Labor Day Championships (not actually a championship of any sort). This year, however, a handful of crossers started really god damn early. Like mid-July early.
Professional audio engineer, photographer, and friend of Soft Like Kitten Kelsey Wood organized an amazing pre-season, underground cross series called Cross Club. The first rule of Cross Club is probably to not talk about Cross Club, but you seem alright, so we’ll just have to trust each other. Kelsey sent out an email on Monday nights with the location and start time of Tuesday’s race, usually in one of Seattle’s many public parks. The group would gather in the park, drink a warm-up beverage or two, take a few laps around the course, then line up to race. The races were Miss ‘n Out-style which means that after a certain number of neutral laps (usually three), the race “officials” would start pulling a racer or two each lap until only three remained. Those three would re-line up and race for two final laps to determine the winner. Following the race, everyone would hang out and drink a few cool-down beverages. A damn fine way to spend a summer evening.
Typical Cross Club scene.
I went to my first Cross Club in mid-July. It was a just Bicycle Messenger World Champ/all around fast guy Craig Etheridge, Cat 1/2 masters racers Randy Solomon and Jeff Anderson, and me. Needless to say, I got my ass kicked, but I was hooked on the experience. Enough so that I emailed Dylan and Robert and told them to come out and give it a go. Though I’d met Robert in passing at a rando event and Dylan at least four times the previous cross season (I apparently didn’t stick in his mind), I only really knew them via their blogs. Cross Club turned out to be just the spark our love triangle needed.
As the club continued throughout the summer more racers joined in. Eventually it was even large enough to hold an A and B race. Dylan and Robert became regulars as did our future-teammates Chris, Andrew, Erik, Alan, Michael. Because Cross Club established a core group of people that knew and liked each other enough to hang out at races throughout the fall, it served as an early and necessary catalyst for the eventual formation of this pink and purring team.
As Cross Club came to an end, the official season got underway. 2010 was my third season of racing cross. I ended my 2009 season as a mid-pack Cat 4 that rarely cracked the top 50 percent of the field. I accept my limitations as a racer, I’m slow and don’t put in enough work to change that in a meaningful way. But, I like to improve slightly every year so my goal was to always finish in the top 50 percent of the field, and maybe start placing in the top 20 sometimes.
After the Labor Day Championships, it looked like both those goals were within reach. I ended up 29 out of 64. Top 50 percent and though I didn’t meet that top-20 goal, my spirits were still high.
Photo of me stolen from my talented photographer friend Charlie Clay.
My performances were roughly the same at the first couple MFG and Seattle Cyclocross series races (the two official series around here) and I remained encouraged. I’ve come to mostly accept that I’m racing for the fun and personal challenge. And hanging out with all those folks from Cross Club, drinking beer, and heckling other racers was just as fun as the racing itself. New to Seattle in 2009, I didn’t really know anyone for the 2009 cross season. There were a few people I’d small talk with at races, but I mostly just did my race, stuck around for a little while, then headed home.
My season continued going well. Each race I was getting a little faster and my bike handling was getting a little better, and the beer-drinking, racer-heckling sessions continued to be a weekly highlight. As both Robert and Dylan chronicled on their own blogs, things got real freaking muddy mid-season, the way cyclocross is meant to be.
Seattle does some proper mud.
Dylan kept getting faster and faster and finally won his first race (sandbagger, am I right?)!
The Single Speed Cyclocross World Championships were held. Fun was had by all (if someone didn’t have fun with all the beer spraying, costume-wearing, heckle-yelling, bike-racing madness, they probably aren’t worth mentioning).
Worlds. Stolen from tubulocity.com
My racing took turn for the crappy at the MFG race held the morning before Worlds. Monsoon rains the night before had turned the course into a muddy-slog. After only two laps, my back cramped up and instead of racing I was just pedaling along in survival mode, no longer having any fun. I finished closer to DFL than I care to remember. I had the same exact problems with a cramped back the following Sunday and was once again disappointingly close to the very bottom of the pack.
I took a few weeks off to rest my back and build back my fitness a little before giving my season one last chance at the final MFG race in Woodland Park. Woodland Park is basically home court for Seattle cross racers. It’s where many racers go to train and because it’s right in the city, the Woodland Park race draws the largest fields and most spectators of the year.
I felt pretty decent going into the race, but was trying to keep my expectations low. I started fourth-row from the back in a field of around 130 Cat 4s. But, I managed to keep moving up for the first three laps before settling into a battle with a group of six or seven other guys. We continued to trade places throughout the race and did our best to bury each other. A few guys broke away in the last third of the last lap and it eventually came down to a sprint between me and another guy. I managed to out-sprint him and ended my season on a high note. Sure 40 out of 130 isn’t the sort of game-winning come back that inspire Disney movies. But, it was the sort of race that makes me love cyclocross and keeps me coming back time and again.
The 2010 cross season is already well in the past. But, the friendships that grew out of it and the personal improvements I made as a racer, already have me looking forward to the 2011 season when I’ll be proudly racing in Soft Like Kitten pink.