By Ped AlDamnit
To me, few things are more satisfying than a post-race shower. Sparing you the details of my shower though, I will share with you the details of the events and the race that caused me to need one tonight, Sunday, November 20th.
6:00am is an awful early time to hit the road when you’ve been working swing-shift for over four years. Despite this fact, it was early morning on Friday, November 18th, and I had barely slept a wink. Rolling out of bed (without alarm clock anxiety surprisingly), I asked myself exactly what I was doing up at such an hour. Oh yeah, a ‘cross race…and not just any ‘cross race, but the Single Speed Cyclocross World Championships (aka SSCXWC). Facing a 12+ hour drive to San Francisco though, I knew trying to delay our start was not such a good idea and, of course, right on time, my teammates Steve and Amy were out front of my place, waiting to pick me up.
The drive out I-80 was remarkably bland. I’ve never driven it as an adult and despite some smattering of excitement near Reno (there’s fire in them thar hills!), things were quite unremarkable until Donner Pass. “If it keeps snowing like this, we may be having a Donner Party of our own” read my online status update. No one ever said I lacked a sense of drama.
Many more miles and lots of good conversation brought some welcome sights: this little thing called the Bay Bridge and the tops of tall buildings peeking through the famous fog of the San Francisco Bay. After being pointed in the right direction by Lord Google, my teammates and I found ourselves at the warehouse of one Sheila Moon; cycling fashion designer extraordinaire. It was a welcome rest and a welcome reception. New Belgium Brewing supplied the beverages with local talent supplying the food and the break beat soundtrack. Mingling ensued and before we knew it, we’d picked up our packets, and were headed into the city.
I don’t know about you, but I think San Francisco looks good from any angle. Having only flown in before, the whole Bay Bridge view was a new angle for me. Shortly after entering the city, we’d checked into the Hotel Carlton and were cycling our way through the City of Seven Hills, en route to the Mojo Bicycle Cafe. I won’t get into the details of the evening here, but I think it goes without saying that much fun was had and it was certainly good to see familiar faces from SSCXWC races past. Qualifiers started early the next day and so my friends and I headed home for some much-needed rest.
Five Feats of Strength
As qualifiers are one of the secrets of SSCXWC, we had no idea what we were in for on the day of Saturday the 19th. Coffee, Huevos Rancheros and a very drunk (yes, in the morning) waitress comprised the start to our day. After some quick prep, I headed out to the qualifiers solo style. Had I known I’d be touring San Francisco as part of the qualifier, I’d have not taken my own tour (okay, I sort of got turned around), but it turns out, that’s exactly what was in store. SSCXWC qualifiers have transformed over the years and often aren’t exactly cyclocross races by themselves; this year was no exception.
“Five Feats of Strength” might sound old-school, but trust me when I say, these feats certainly were not. Along our 35 kilometer guided bicycle tour of the city were planned five events (each scored) which would help determined who qualified for the championship race. Having had a relatively active cycling season in 2011, I figured I was in good shape for the qualifier…San Francisco proved me wrong. It was a nice game of bait and switch, stopping for a photo-op atop Alamo Square (think Full House) as well as a stop at Huckleberry Bike Shop; as a collective of hopeful qualifiers, we would soon have our chamois handed to us.
Feat 1: California St. Hill Climb / Barf Fest. Okay, I didn’t barf, but had someone told me NOT to pack my post-qualifier apparel in my messenger bag, I’d have probably felt much less like doing so. A four block sprint with grades approaching 40% was on tap. Sound nice? Yeah, I carried my butt, my 20lb bag, and a volunteer’s lunch up that hill on a single gear and low-pressure tires. Apparently, I missed the memo about not bringing a bunch of stuff (something that could have been brought to my attention YESTERDAY!). It hurt.
Feat 2: Fort Mason Wheel Change. Rolling back down through Chinatown, the financial district and along the Embarcadero brought us to the Fort Mason Wheel Change. Bike down and front wheel off. Line up far away, sprint to bike, put front wheel on, attach brake, and ride/run to finish through several piles of mulch. Not nearly as bad as Feat 1, but a challenge nonetheless.
Feat 3: Lyon Street Stairs. After cruising alongside the beach and posing Heisman-style in front of the Palace of Fine Arts, my group approached the Lyon Street Stairs. Did I mention that San Francisco has hills? After sprinting UPHILL (again) for 100+ meters, bikes were portaged ‘cross style up more than 200 stairs. Stick that in your stair master and eat it. Again…it hurt.
Feat 4: The Roaring Mouse Field of Dollars. Of course, what comes up must come down and down we went, back to the shoreline where we cruised gently along the beach until…was that a megaphone? Before we knew it, a woman with a serious pair of lungs was yelling at us to get off our bikes and line up. In the field some ways away were dozens of beer bottles, each stuffed with a single dollar bill. The point? Run, grab $4, run back. Stiff competition (I won this one, after yet another Heisman-style move). Mounted up for our penultimate ride, we took our sweet time getting up to the Golden Gate Bridge, through the neighborhood of Sea Cliff, and then back down to the now very-windy beach; our final feat of strength.
Feat 5: Ocean Beach Barrier Run. Shoes off, bikes on shoulders, in the water. Go! Run 50+ yards through sand and up a dune to the finish. Oh yeah…I forgot to mention, it hurt too. After sauntering slowly back through Golden Gate Park, my qualifying group ended back up at the Mojo Cafe. I collapsed in my chair. “That. Hurt.” A status update the seemed to capture the very essence of pain.
Why do I do this again? Oh yeah, because it’s fun (after the fact). Chatting with my teammates in the bike shop/bar that hosted the qualifying events, I noticed a familiar face in the corner of the shop. Mr. Gary Fisher has the kind of face you know anywhere and after introducing myself and having him welcome me to “our fun little town,” I began to feel much better about my situation. Did I qualify? Do I really care? Moments like this are what racing travels are all about. Being the friendly guy he is, Gary was also easily persuaded into allowing my teammate to kiss him on the cheek (yes…I have pics…it happened). This experience served to exhilarate me that much more and though there was STILL a lot on the agenda, I began to immediately feel better. After a quick ride home, a shower, and a not-so-quick rainy ride to the Sports Basement for the pre-race party, we found ourselves in an underground garage in the midst of something called Pixie Cross.
The good news was that all four of my teammates and myself qualified for the main event. The bad news is that, uh…there was no bad news; just lots of food, beer, and people riding 16”-wheeled bicycles through an urban ‘cross course fueled by a need not to race in the “everybody’s a winner class.” More alcohol and moderate doses of stupidity also added to the event. I was glad I didn’t need to participate in the second-chance qualifier because I was still hurting and likely would have done damage riding a kids bike while grinning like an idiot. Words cannot explain the ludicrous nature of what I witnessed, but my videos can. The rest of the night was a bit of a blur, but I know it involved a wet ride home, lots of sodium, potassium, and water.
The Main Event:
Unlike most ‘cross races in Utah, Sunday was main event day. Fortunately, the championship race didn’t start until well past midday. A Belgian waffle for breakfast, a walk to City Hall and stumbling upon a bike shop where one can make their own bamboo/carbon frame burned up the morning. Too quickly though, it was time to gear up and head out. This time, we didn’t take the scenic route.
The women’s race was composed of a history-making 100 women racers (my teammate Steve told Sheila Moon to call Guinness, but it was too late). Speaking of Sheila Moon, she made some promises about this event and, cosmically, they all came to fruition. In addition to 100 lady ‘crossers, Sheila also stated it was going to rain like mad all Saturday night and Sunday morning only to have the sun come out in time for the championship race. The Chinese took a lot of heat during the 2008 Olympics for the kind of weather manipulation she and the other organizers pulled off for this race and wouldn’t you know it? No sooner than the final field began lining up, the sun came out. Perfect.
Like the qualifying events, race starts at SSCXWC are closely guarded secrets. This year, racers dropped their bikes, headed down a GNARLY run-up, and into a field where a Le Mans start was to be the order of the day. Before long, someone jumped the gun and the race was under way. Watching 150 guys go up a 40 foot-tall, extremely muddy hill must have been quite the sight. Race. On.
How would I describe the course? Well, it was the World Championships for Single Speed Cyclocross and it was being held in San Francisco. In a word? Dastardly. There wasn’t a dry patch on the course and even the pavement was covered in water; there were not one, not two, not three, but FOUR HUGE log barriers; there was more mud; there was a low-hanging pass which rung several riders’ bells; there was the knee deep “lake of filth;” there were sustained climbs and descents; there were short, grunty climbs and descents; there was quicksand (formerly mud); and, of course, there was the aforementioned HUGE run-up. Oh, did I mention there was mud? All in all, it was 4 kilometer hell-fest.
If you’ve only raced ‘cross in Utah, I’d wager a large bet that you’ve never been heckled properly. Hell, if you’ve only raced in Utah, I’d wager a large bet that you wouldn’t wager a large bet, but that’s beside the point. Really though, ‘cross fans outside the Zion-Curtain really know how to dish it out. My female teammates reported not much heckling at all, but that was not the case for the men. Wearing a “pirate shirt” garnered me such comments as “Captain Morgan,” “pilgrim,” “Mormon” (how’d they know I was from Utah?), and a few other choice goodies I will not repeat in print. We need some good hecklers on the Utah ‘cross scene; honestly, we do.
As with many ‘cross races, things often become a blur (even before the beer). I remember dreading the logs, dreading the deep mud, and yearning for more oxygen. After three grueling laps, I gave in to a few hand-ups (one gone horribly wrong) and decided to have some fun. This lightened things up quite a bit. I didn’t travel to San Francisco because I thought I was going to win; I went to have fun and so I cut loose. I took those hand-ups happily. I danced in that filthy man-made lake, I jostled with a few Seattleites on that killer run-up, and even still, I was challenged to a sprint finish (which I was glad to have won). As happened last year in Seattle, after crossing the finish line, my pain abated and jubilation set in. “Where’s my team?”
Post-race, my teammates and I wandered around half-dazed, deciding what to do. Soaked and cold, we rode to the Buckshot Bar where celebratory beers, fries, and burgers were consumed. We left the after-party early for a difficult, hill-laden, ride back to the hotel. There was packing to do; preparation for the back-to-life drive that lay ahead of us on Monday. The race was in the books.
Throughout the event and during the drive home, conversations about future SSCXWC venues seemed to be the talk of not only my teammates, but most everyone who attended the race as well. Twitter was abuzz with speculation and ultimately, we thought the race was going back East; that is not to be the case for 2012 as the race will be held in Santa Cruz, California.
We met a few other Utahns at the race, but it seemed Cutthroat Racing was the largest group of Utah riders. Over the past few years, we’ve talked about the possibility of bringing SSCXWC to Salt Lake as it begins its eventual Eastward migration, but despite our desires, the questions that loom are quite serious. Can SLC handle the single speed ‘cross crowd? Where would we hold it? Can we gather the necessary sponsor support? How do we handle the incessant need for beer? As I said, all serious questions. Despite the possible difficulties, the conclusion has been, with the right support and the right people, we believe we could put on a cyclocross event, the likes of which SLC has never seen. If you want to help us put in a serious bid for 2013, contact us at http://cutthroatracing.com/join/ We’d love to hear what you have say and talk about the possibility of brining SSCXWC to SLC.
At the end of it all, strong new memories were forged and once again, I find myself planning to get it all together for next year’s race. I’m not a “racer” at heart; I compete mostly with myself and no one else. Despite this fact, SSCXWC is one of those events I plan on making a part of my yearly race schedule. As my teammate Steve and I discussed, the drive-time/race ratio on this event is quite low; however, the drive-time/fun ratio is astronomical. If you love ‘cross and aren’t afraid of a good time, perhaps you should join us for the 2012 race in Santa Cruz because, let me tell you, few showers are as well-deserved as the one I needed tonight; perhaps next year, you may find the same to be true.
For more on the race: http://www.sscxwc2011.com/
For more photos by Anna Day, click here.