And then, suddenly, we were racing again.
The long and dark and dormant winter seemed a distant memory, irrelevant and forgotten in the bright sun and red rock and dust. Pale legged mountain bikers gathered in a heap of anticipation and uncertainty – those winter months of training were about to be irrefutably graded. New bikes, lycra, and fitness were itching to be shown off and put on display as riders hoped to authoritatively stake out ground in the ultra-competitive pasture of amateur bike racing in Utah.
When the gun went off the world melted away, leaving only the tunnel vision of the race. Which meant, of course, that in the ensuing melee someone got tangled with someone else and all went down in a pile of wheels and shoes and curse words. Being slow off the line, for once, played to my advantage. I slipped around the carnage, and nearly took out Aaron with a perect “outta my way chump” shoulder bump. He assumed I was messin’ with him. Only later did I admit that it was unintentional. It was one of the messiest starts to any XC race I have done. Which is entirely unsurprising given that nearly 40 of us lined up in the Expert 30-39 group.
I carved out a small space of singletrack and held onto it as best I could. And as usual, the leaders rode away from me. Although, not quite so quickly and not quite so far – something I am taking pride in, wether it is warranted or not. With the leaders beyond the horizon I focused on the race taking shape around me. There were always wheels to chase, and to flee. Not to mention the copious amounts of lap traffic that at times warranted under-the-breath grumbling and mumbling. I was nipped at the top of the day’s final climb, and out descended to the finish line. That was vexing. Although not so much so that I did not feel, at least moderately encouraged by my result. I crossed the line 12th. And again, I was reminded that the sea of White Tags that make up my race group is a fast, ruthless, and relentless band of bike racers. One can ride amazingly well, or at least feel as though he did, only to finish well off the pace. However, it is March. And the slow burning fire that I have stoked all winter long on the snowy slopes has been fanned into a frenzy. Or, at the very least, huffed and puffed on enough that there is now a small ember glowing under the pile of burnt ash and charred ambitions.
And like free market economics, bike racing is best when the competition is fierce. In those 6 minutes that separated me from the effulgent eminence and honor of victory there were legion of wheels and legs and jersey’s that now look uncannily like bulls-eyes. And so, in the interim, I am forced to do this and that and the other until suddenly, we are racing again.