Last year, I showed up to the final race of the Crusade series in Hillsboro having spent the entire cross season racing rather unremarkably. I started with a blast at Pain on the Peak (a race I'm still recovering from) with a third place- A totally unexpected result, having never done a cross race before. But the rest of the season was a slow nose dive into mediocrity. By the time Hillsboro came around I was feeling better, and then I saw the start order, I was in first group call up- finally. I was psyched. Then I saw the poop pit and then I wasn't psyched. I was poised for a fine finish. When the whistle blew, I jumped right into the top twenty, but before I could settle in, my front wheel was taken out and I landed hard, followed by at least one other rider who plowed into my head, and back. I stayed turtled, waiting for the other 125 guys to kill me before getting up. When I straightened out the bars, shifters and surmised there was no internal bleeding I remounted and chased- chased so fuckin' hard. In the space of a minute I went from twentieth to dead-fuckin'-last, and finally, when all the poop was washed off, to 23rd. So while I didn't DNF, I wasn't happy. I've been kicking myself about that all year. Sunday was rematch time.
After burying myself at the Sherwood Horse Poop Fest to get points (started in third or fourth to last group - somewhere around 120 of 183, finally placing 16th!)- I got a call up for Hillsboro where my start position was just about exactly the same as last year. All I could think about was getting my legs swept and ending up chasing as usual.
The start went well. I've figured out that I don't do well leading others in a cross race. When I have riders on my tail, all I can think about is those riders passing me. So I purposely didn't go for the hole shot. Instead I got into the top five and let things string out a bit. I kept my eye on the top three, trying to judge what was going to happen. Pretty quickly two Pac Power riders went to the front a drove the pace. I had to jump past a couple riders to catch them, but that brought me into third place, where I pretty much stayed the entire race, save for one lap. The smaller of the Pac Power riders was a great bike handler, carving every turn easily and carrying a lot of speed into the straights. His teammate wasn't as good, and kept opening the door between himself and his teammate. Eventually I had to jump across to stay with him. We were joined by an S&M rider and an unmarked rider. The four of us traded positions throughout the race.
On the 4th lap, I think, the unmarked rider attacked. I had seen him earlier in the race, and wasn't aware that he'd stayed with us at the front. He jumped out in front and proceeded to motor so hard I was gasping. Just when I was starting to let go, either the S&M rider, or the PacPower rider pulled through and I grabbed wheel and stayed with the leaders. Luckily it was short lived, and before long we were headed into the curves before the barriers on the backside and everything slowed a bit and I could catch my breath.
On the 5th lap at the mud hole, the S&M rider attacked. Again, I followed just barely. The only thing keeping me in contact was his mediocre cornering on the back side of the course coming off the asphalt road with the speed bumps. At the muddy uphill turn he botched it and I took the lead from him. With the Hammer team tent right there full of screaming teammates adrenaline got the best of me and I attacked out of instinct. But before I could get through the bumpy grass section near the start and back onto the gravel road, I'd been joined by the unmarked rider and the Pac Power rider. I let the unmarked rider pass and take the lead down the grass section just passed the gravel. By the time we hit the 180 at the dirt mound he was already tiring and slowing down. He bobbled the turn, and took a wide line. I cut it short, rode it out wide and put in a BIG attack going through the mud hole. I nearly buried the bike in the big rut that had developed in the middle line. I pulled the front wheel through it just enough to keep it upright and went full gas on the way out. The long straight away after that was terrifying. I was right at the limit and I could feel the other riders really close behind. I settled in to the two minute burn knowing that intervals had already prepared me for this. I knew I had it in me to do two minutes at the limit. But did I have enough to sustain the power? I can usually kick away from just about anybody, but stay away- not so much. But I had figured that the trip home was working in my favor. The big straight where I attacked was pretty much the last place to close a big gap w/ speed. I just needed to keep the gap there. If you were going to close past the barriers, in the barns, it would have to be with some pretty seriously bold corner work. And by the sixth lap it was a grease pit. By the end, the section from the pits to the finish was almost entirely about maintenance- just stay upright and pick good lines where you don't have to correct too much.
When I hit the last barn I was almost totally gassed. Then I heard Burns yelling something about it being the 'two minutes'...'Go, Juan, go! something, something, two minutes!' I knew exactly what she was talking about, I had been thinking the same thing since the mud hole. I just had to dig in a bit more. When I got clear of the barns I passed my friend Kalin. I muttered a 'hey'- that was all I had. I was really happy to see him. In the midst of all that pain, I was happy to see a friend who was struggling too. Hey yelled at me to 'go' and then started counting seconds until the next rider. Later, he would tell me that I had built about a twenty second lead in the barns. I rolled through the last crazy turn at the finish line. The joy and elation bubbling out in a fist pump and an visceral shout. I'd won. It was like a dream, attacking and rolling in alone. I was so in doubt that it had happened that later I went to the OBRA truck to make sure that it was my name at the top of the list.