September. The month that signals both the coming of cross and the going of summer. Warm, long days had all but faded and the last few months had seemed to inexplicably blown by. Dreams of grand adventure rides with friends, tough training days in the hills, and sunset cruises to the ice cream shop all found a way of escaping me over that period of time.
Having moved to a more remote area that offered up much different terrain than what I was used to, settling into a new training routine felt difficult or even impossible some days. Pushing aside the worries of my fitness level I focused on the one thing Whiskey Creek was able to offer me. Technical single track and vast gravel roads. These two things filled most of my evenings as I did my best to dial in my bike handling skills and took the opportunity to view some of my surroundings in a different light. Days were calm, evenings were quiet, most meals were eaten under the trees, and my main source of entertainment was the campfire. Perhaps summer didn't entirely blink passed.
With feverish anticipation Cross on the Rock finally came into sight on the days of my calender. Topaz Park in Victoria was a huge muddy mess of a success last cyclocross season and it was slated to be this years kick-off event. While my technical skills felt progressed my strength and speed were admittedly feeling a little untested going into the first race of the year. No group rides or competitive Strava segments to gauge what level I may be shredding at.
Taking place much earlier this year than last, the venue offered up a completely different style of race while utilizing a fairly similar course design. No rain, mud, unrideable hills, or winter like temperatures. Racers arrived in droves as COTR once again set an attendance record, and the evidence was out on course with every passing lap. What started the day as firm ground began to form into loose climbs and rutted corners.
With this being the first race of the season and no series points being amassed yet a Le Mans start was chosen to give more people an equal chance at getting out front. It. Was. Mayhem. Sprinting along the first grass straight like a little pinball I could feel shoulders, elbows, and others peoples feet colliding with mine until finally my BOA dial got stepped on and I almost lost my shoe. Managed to hop on the bike close to tenth position and finally got my shoe tightened after a few tries. Grinding up loose climbs with an undone shoe on a single speed was just narrowly avoided.
By the time we hit the single-track on the first lap I had moved my way up to sixth place and unfortunately should've made one more pass before then. Following a wheel that didn't know how to negotiate the soft turns resulted in watching the front four competitors simply ride away within the first half-lap of the race. Not ideal but I kept calm until the next area wide enough to pass and I made my move.
After a few laps I managed to bridge up to the leaders with my teammate Felix in tow and I setup shop as fifth wheel, ready to recover and wait. A few positions were changed throughout the following laps but our lead group of five stuck together as I found places to make up ground on them by taking a different line on the single speed. The pace settled as we were joined by a sixth rider, and as I was gaining confidence in my race strategy I tested a new line that would inevitably signal my demise. One slip of the rear wheel forced a gap that I just couldn't close as I kept them in sight for the remainder of the race. Just one corner ahead.