Saturday, August 30, 2014

Relays are Rad

Relays are Rad

By Ben Coleman

Photo's stolen from Dave Wilson's and Bobby Lee's Facebook pages

It may not be the most common way to kick off a season of cyclocross racing, but it may

be one of the most fitting ways to do so. Round up one, two, or three of your like­minded buddies

who can’t wait to get their drop bars muddy (or go it solo if that’s the kind of person you are) and

head out to a field on the side of a mountain for a full day of celebrating all things ‘cross. That

means bikes, barriers, singletrack, mud, grass, beers, hand­ups, costumes, slip­n­slides, and

riding so hard that you think you’re going to puke and then going just a bit harder. Multiply that by

four riders and four hours, and you’ve got the International Intergalactic Global Open Cyclocross

Team Relay Championship of the Multi­Friggin­Verse.

It was a damp morning with the temperature rising as the clouds parted and the sun

began peeking through, a sure sign that the course would be changing all day, and thankfully

most of those changes to come turned out to be for the better. What a course it was, somewhere

around two miles in length, containing short punchy hills, one gradual grinder of a climb, logs, tight

trails that threaded between the trees, and two fast descents, one of which was a real screamer

when brakes were forgotten about in the joy of going faster than you think you probably should.

There was also a section where racers could choose between a set of tall barriers on a short,

steep hill followed by a grassy diving “S” turn, all the while being heckled and squirted with hoses

and water guns or racking their bikes and running to the top of the hill and utilizing the slip­n­slide

option. That's right, I said slip­n­slide option! Sections of slimy trail and slick grass soon dried out,

lines were easily worn in and by the halfway point of the race everything was well settled but still

loose enough in spots to allow you the fun of letting the bike drift and float if you dared.

There was plenty of time between recon laps and the start to set up coolers of food and

drink and chill out with my teammates for the day, my FFRP brethren Bill Haley, Bobby Lee (Blue

Mountain Velo), and Greg Mitstifer (Mountainside Ski & Sports) and discuss our racing plans in

the coming months as well as the day’s slip­n­slide strategy. The order of rider rotation was

already determined through registration at the organizer’s discretion, and it was my duty to take

the start for our team. Everyone gathered at the starting area, which was at the bottom of a short

gravel road that climbed up to the transition area and made a sharp right turn to enter the course.

Some last minute instructions and suggestions were given by race promoter Mike Kuhn and Dave

“Mr. Baconsuit” Pryor along with thanks to those who were helping run the show and Funk’s

Brewery who provided a very nice IPA for the day.

A simple, somewhat sneaky “GO” was uttered and we were off, blasting up the gravel

towards the course. I didn’t have the best start, but managed to exit the first corner fifth or sixth

which I wasn’t disappointed with at all. On the following ascent through the trees on some grassy

doubletrack I managed to hold my position even though the lead group was out of sight by the

time I turned to start down the first descent. I made sure to pick good enough lines through the

several sweeping corners to allow me to keep my fingers off the brakes up until the final off-
camber left that emptied into the barriers at the race HQ area. In that descent I had managed to

not only get quite a gap behind me but also reconnect with a rider who had come off the back of

the leaders. I managed to make the pass shortly before the slip­n­slide section, which I opted to

partake in as the rider I’d just passed went for the barriers. We came out of that section with the

same amount of separation we had entered it in, and I was able to hold my position through the

rest of the lap.

One of the things I like best about relays is that you don't have to try and gauge your

efforts on each lap based on how much you want to have left in the tank for the laps that follow.

On a four man team, with a course with an average lap time of over ten minutes, you can go out

and more or less blow yourself up each time. There is plenty of time between laps to recover,

grab a bit of food and a beer and slap your teammates on the ass as they go by. Good times

indeed. It seemed as though we were all taking advantage of this opportunity to go 100% every

lap, and I don't think Bill, Bobby, or Greg gave it less than their all every time they got on their

bikes. I know I didn't. Lap after lap, hour after hour, we all were having a great time and enjoying

the unique atmosphere of a 'cross relay. It's a lot different than any other kind of bike racing I've

seen, and different is definitely good!

With less than an hour to go our team mathematician Greg was working out whether or

not he would get another lap in, being the second man in our rotation. It was clear that I would get

another, barring any sort of catastrophe on Bobby and Bill's last laps. It was going to be close, we

weren't sure how close, but close enough to know that it would be up in the air until I came into

the transition area for the last time. Bill and Bobby both put in clean and fast laps to finish their

efforts for the day and I was sent out on course for my last lap with more of a buffer on the clock

than I'd expected. Greg was ready and waiting, as it now looked like he would be tasked with

putting in a sixth lap too. I wanted to give it my all and not waste my last chance on course, so the

brakes were touched only when absolutely necessary and even then very lightly. The course felt

great at this point, and I felt fast. Some of that feeling may have been due to a few beverages I'd

had throughout the day, but I'm a firm believer in the idea that if you feel fast you'll ride fast. I

caught and passed a rider just before we entered the longest bit of singletrack on the far end of

the course, and shortly afterward caught another rider in that section of tight, twisting trail. There

was nowhere to make a pass, even when I thought about jumping out and going for it I would

immediately have to grab hand fulls of brake to keep from running into the back of the rider in

front of me. At one point it even got so close that I buzzed his rear tire and got buzzed by the rider

I had just passed before the entrance to this trail section simultaneously. I definitely didn't want to

ruin Greg's chance at another lap my doing something dumb, so I sat in, slightly frustrated, and

waited to pop out of the trees and back into the fields where I could easily get my pass made.

With clear course in front of me once again I put the hammer down, all the way down,

and rode the last third of that lap as wide open as I could. I was waiting to hear some sort of

countdown coming from the timing table as I got closer and closer to the end of the lap, but it

didn't happen. I shot up the last little riser before the line and hit the transition area. Greg was

already moving, rolling out to get his, and our team's, last lap started. We exchanged a few brief

shouts of motivation while we high­fived to complete the rider exchange, and as he blasted into

the woods I head the announcer call “four minutes left!” That was it, Greg was out on course and

the clock would expire before he made it back to the finish. I made my way over to where Bill and

Bobby were and we all talked about how well we felt we had done that day. Cyclocross is usually

an individual sport, with a single person's efforts and skills determining the day's outcome, so it

was a great feeling to be able to share in our collective satisfaction and even impressed thoughts

about each others riding that day. Greg finished his lap, nearly puked (but didn't, I don't think

anyway) and joined in on the conversation of how we though we did. Unfortunately, Greg also had

some pretty important matters to tend to back in the real world and wasn't able to stick around for

the final results. As Bill, Bobby, and myself listened to the overall results being read off, starting

with the eight­place team, I thought to myself 'we did pretty well today, we might have made it to

seventh or sixth place' but as the results continued to be read, out team wasn't called. That is,

until the announcer declared that the teams finishing second and third had tied on points, which is

the sort­of black­magic way this thing was scored, and that the higher honors would be given to

the team who had done more laps. With a hesitation in the reading of our team name, “The

Indecisives” had taken third place!! The three of us collectively let out a big cheer of surprised

excitement and collected our prizes. We spent the next few minutes asking each other how we

had managed to pull that result off before I remembered to text Greg with the good news. Minutes

after I did, he called back and the first words out of his mouth were “You're joking, right?” No, sir,

not joking at all.

Bikes are cool, people who like bikes are awesome (mostly), Bill, Bobby, and Greg are

great guys to race with, cyclocross is f­ing great and cross relays are entirely rad. Can't wait until

January to do it again, this time on the lovely property of the McGill's at the Highpoint Team CX

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