The gouls, goblins and goof-offs were crawling out of their summer respite for the latest installment of the Mulecross cylcocross race. Prizes were awarded to the best male and female costume and boy-howdy, the freaks were in force. You had your Vikings, your M&Ms (presumably with peanuts), a Freddy Mercury, Elvis, a guy in an orange chain-gang jumpsuit, granny hot-pants, a ninja (replete with nun-chucks and a samurai sword), Strawberry Shortcake, a John Deere tractor riding chick (won best female because she even decorated her bike like a tractor), and various and sundry other costumes of unknown type or specificity. Me, I dressed up as a bike racer but nobody was fooled.
The two things that freaked me out about the whole event were the gladiator that lined up right beside me at the start (he won best male costume), and this other guy who had the build and bike (first 2011 disc brake cross bike I had seen at a race this year) coming late to the start then turning around because he didn’t have his number on. He starts to strip down to his tighty-whiteys and has his buddy pin his number to his drawers. Race time temp was barely 50. He had tattoos up and down his arms and I think he was trying to be a triathlete (please no replies—I’m just calling it like I see it). Anyway those two spectacles and my innate desire to prove by example that crossracing is best done on an cross bike and not a mountain bike, fired me up at the start line to TAKE THE HOLE SHOT.
I’d been playing with my starting gear position for most of the season and after spending what amounts to a nice down payment on a new cross bike for upgrading my drive train I finally got things dialed for this race. Off we go in a mad mass start of Cat 4, Masters B and Women’s 1/2/3/4. Click, click, BOOM! I bumped elbows with the gladiator but just keep cranking and upshifting as we accelerated into the first corner in a pig pen mass of dust, dirt, and confusion. I am right where I wanted to be with nobody in front and everybody behind. Towards the end of the first lap on an off-camber grassy corner I took the low line and was trying to pedal and accelerate because Rick Finley was hot on my tail when SLAM, I was suddenly horizontal like God just turned the earth 90 degrees. Fortunately Rick had the necessary experience and bike handling skills not to brain me and I was up in a flash and back in front.
The race was becoming a battle of attrition, most courses tally losses in the aerobic capacity column, but this course was unique in the season so far because there were also a fair amount of mechanicals occurring on the course. Wendy Brooke, AKA granny hotpants, flatted and ran ¾ of the course back to the pit area where two of the best riders in the state (Frank Gonzolez and Scott Herzig) acting as her pit crew fixed her flat in record time, but the damage was done. The #2 racer in my category, Eric Horn from team Muleterro and local favorite, was gunning for me on the third lap and closing the gap fast, but when I hit the blender, I couldn’t tell where he was. My fear was that he had somehow snuck right up behind me but no, that same off camber corner that gave me a WWE smackdown caused him to roll his tubular tire and essentially flat.
From that point on my race essentially became a time trail and an intimate conversation with my tires. The last thing any racer wants to do is lose to a mechanical failure. Being in first for two, three, or four laps doesn’t mean much unless you are there on the final lap. As Michelle Richardson (AKA molting chicken standing in her own pile of feathers) flipped over the lap numbers to count down the remaining laps I shifted my technique from rolling hard to rolling smooth and trying to hover like a girl in a public toilet over the sketchy sections of the course. Now while they don’t teach you that maneuver at the Wed. night Velo boys jam session, they do teach you about starting, how to corner, what tire pressure to run, and how to race smart. I have to give credit to their counsel along with the extra helpings of aerobic punishment for the win.
Also bringing home hardware from Helena was Jennifer Griggs (1st in Women’s Cat 4), who cheered me on as I wound past her, Rick Finley (1st in Master’s B), Frank Gonzolez (1st in Cat 1), Scott (3rd in Cat 1) after also flatting and going from first to 4th and clawing his way back to 3rd. Scott also won the most aggressive rider and the first lap prem in a hard fought contest with Frank. Byron had a wreck that put him out of contention and Wendy’s flat led to a similar result, but in turn was rewarded with the most aggressive female rider for her duathlon skills during the cross race. Maybe they captured the bad luck and protected their team mates in some karmic sense. In any case, it was neat to see so many Helena riders do so well, especially in what has become the second largest cross race after Rolling Thunder in the State.