Death Before DNF

Posted: September 29, 2011 in Uncategorized

When I was a boy, shortly after the training wheels came off of my orange Dukes of Hazard “General Lee” bike, I learned to take great delight racing over the root and slate covered trails of the Killdigin Hills and the bustling metropolis that was Wyano, PA. My formative years astride a bike were spent in fruitless efforts to keep up with the boys of the neighborhood who were years older than I and trying just about anything once. Little did I know then that I would relive the age old sensations of those bone rattling trails as I pinned number to jersey at a cyclocross race some 30 years later in Clarksburg, CA.
Even though it seems that my initial foray into cyclocross racing was years in the making, and in some ways it was, I essentially started ‘cross racing on a whim. I had started practicing ‘cross with my teammates in the fall of last year, strictly for fun and I had no plans to race cross this year, or any year for that matter. Call me short sighted, but I wasn’t interested in racing ‘cross on my mountain bike, plus I was already firmly entrenched in the bustling track and road racing scenes in NorCal. A late summer crash, requiring significant skin donation to the cycling gods, changed that as the crash left me without the services of my trusted Lemond Zurich for nearly a month. During my convalescence after the crash, I began contemplating about adding to my bike stable. A ‘cross bike was the only logical choice.
I had a groupo lying around waiting on a frame, so I began perusing the web. I found what I wanted in the Mission. A Kona Jake the Snake that had been converted to a single speed. It took me all weekend to perform a hipsterectomy on the poor thing, but the bike slowly took shape. I had intended on converting to a 1×9 drivetrain right away when a teammate mentioned that I should give it a try as a single speed to see if I liked it. I did, and I loved it. Knowing my family would be away for the weekend, I decided to register for the first race of the Sacramento CX Series. But before I could race, I had to put the new machine through its paces.
I went to the local CX training ground and began practicing my dismounts and remounts, I worked on my cornering technique, I adjusted tire pressure trying to find the Holy Grail of minimal rolling resistance with maximum traction. All the while fixing and adjusting a host of issues that percolated to the surface on the bike as I was trying to get ready in the 2 short weeks I had before the race. Once the brakes were adjusted, wheels trued, lock-tite applied to a bolt in the chain tensioner, and new tubes with removable cores (so I could add sealant) acquired, I felt the “Purple Nurple”, as my family and I had named it, was ready to race with only a day to spare.
The morning of the race found me stuffing a cooler with a nice Belgium Ale and a sandwich as I intended on making a day of the races in order to cheer, heckle, and learn from the other racers and spend time with my bike friends. After registering and kitting up, I went out onto the course to warmup and get a feel for it. The majority of the course meandered through a flat field with various levels of bumpiness, some wide open 180s, a few other corners to keep your attention, and a couple of wet, but not too muddy, turns. Nearing the finish line, there were a few rough whoop-dee-do’s and some washboard trail to make sure your fillings were secure. Once through the finish line you found yourself on a section of BMX-style flow track, complete with banked turns, table tops, and for the daring, doubles.
My plan was not to contest the start, settle into a nice rhythm, get a feel for the race, and then begin to pick off riders as the race went on. Oh yeah and see where I finished at the end, but most importantloy have fun. My plan worked to perfection. I was in the back half of the race at the start, I settled into a nice hard pace, and started passing riders one by one. Almost immediately, I noticed that I was closing gaps in the corners. I had expected cornering to be my biggest weakness on the dirt, but I guess it turned out to be a strength. I made most of my passes just after the exit of the turn as I was able to carry more speed through the corners than the other riders. At about half way through the race, my chain tensioner began acting up. The cage that keeps the chain on the guide pulley had rotated around and began rubbing against the chain. Dammit, I had used red lock-tite on that thing to make sure this wouldn’t happen during the race! I did my best on the bike to alleviate the issue by pedaling backwards for a second when it would rub, but eventually, the chain jammed and pulled the tensioner into the rear wheel. Coming to a quick stop entering the flow section, I surveyed the damage, which, fortunately, was limited to a bent derailleur hanger. I made a quick field repair and lost only ~20s in the process.
On the next lap, I noticed something rattling, but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was, though I was worried that the damage I had caused was more extensive than I had thought. Turns out, it wasn’t, as to my horror, my saddle fell off as I rounded a 180. I stopped to remount the saddle, sans tools. Knowing that my good finish was now lost, I endeavored to finish the race. Over the next two and a half laps, I stopped 3 times to finger tighten the seatpost bolts. My only fear was that the saddle would fall off again as I was going through the BMX flow section as there was no reasonable place or way to stop and remount it there.
As I passed the 1 lap to go sign, I was planning to tighten the bolts one final time. Unfortunately, my fears came to fruition as the saddle fell off just as I entered the BMX section. With one lap to go, there was no way I wasn’t finishing the race, saddle or not. After the BMX section, I stopped to remove the rest of the seatpost hardware, so I wouldn’t lose it, and I spent the last lap reminding myself not to sit down. I was happy to cross the finish line as my legs were burning in ways that I had never felt before. After commiserating with my friends and teammate who had cheered hard for me, I ravaged that sandwich and kicked back with a beer to heckle and cheer the day away. It was a great introduction to ‘cross racing and I can’t wait to be out there again…this time with a secure saddle and chain tensioner…and a multitool in my jersey pocket.

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