I'm smiling because I'm proud. Damned proud. It's only 5th place; not a win, but I felt like I won.
Yesterday I raced the 4th race of the MABRA Cyclocross Series up in Gardners, PA. (about 20 miles north of Gettysburg).
I wasn't feeling good about my training at all this week but I did feel good on the line and my plan was to take it easy and just sit in near the front of the pack - if possible.
At the whistle we were off like a pack of cheetahs. The first stretch of course was false flat gravel road with two wheel ruts of fairly hard packed gravel. We rumbled up the road, stones pinging off of frames wheels kicking loose from bursts of acceleration. Dust clouded my vision and coated my tongue as we huffed and puffed our way to the first real climb. I stayed back in about 20th position.
The first climb was easy. We all rolled right up it with ease, dipped around the hairpin at the top and juiced it onto the sketchy gravel decent. This was a little hairy. I couldn't see my line at all. I knew, from pre-riding, that there were some serious ruts at the top of this decent but with the pack being so tight and the dust so thick, I just put my weight back and got in the drops.
The first set of barriers were right in the middle of a climb. No sweat: I was off, over, and back on the pedals in one smooth motion. Next up was a long grassy decent into the sand pits. Luckily the sand pits were solid and my tires were hooking up nicely. At this point I had passed a few more riders and was hanging around 11th or so.
Next, they threw us into the "circle of death". Promotors love to do this to us. They think it's funny. It's not funny... it is fun though. I did great through this section, sticking my face out over the front wheel to get some traction through those tight turns.
After the dizzying circle of death we were bottle-necked into a trail through the woods. A trail of super sketchy loose gravel. They conveniently put some logs along the trail which I nearly wrecked on every single lap. Unfortunately for Marc, he bit it on these logs in the first lap. As I rode past I saw him on his back, with his legs straight up in the air. Seeing his pink helmet so stationary during the race was not a happy sight. Nothing you can do but keep racing... so I did.
Through the trail we railed and over a nice tiny section of singletrack before being dumped back out on the gravel road on which we started. Lap 2 here we go.
At this point I was in 7th or 8th I think. I switched the wheel of a ADG rider and put in a hard effort to bridge up to the lead group of 4 riders. Once I hopped on that train, I stayed there for the rest of the race and the 5 of us put a big gap on the chase group. It was awesome and I kept telling myself "stay with em'... DON'T fall off... DON'T fall off."
I hung on for dear life... Todd Hessle was pulling the train, John Brewer was the coal tender, then there was some guy in a red kit, then Zack Adams and I was the caboose. We were seriously hauling ass. I was amazed to be keeping up with Hessle and Brewer and my legs were feeling great.
On the next to last lap, either John or Todd, put the pedal down hard. We were already hauling along on that gravel road but the train lurched forward even faster and I popped as soon as I noticed it. I wanted to stay tucked in and let them pull me for as long as possible. I didn't have the strength to attack but I wasn't going to let them leave me either.
Through the grass sections I was constantly loosing them and reeling them back in. The announcer was killing me: "O'Hara just can't hang on to them... oh wait, he's bringing them back.... he's back on! .... oh he's off again! Wait he's back!".... grrrr....
On the final lap, they opened it up once more on the gravel road and this time I couldn't hang on. I let them go and settled into my own comfy fast rhythm. I wasn't worried about getting gobbled up by the chase group because I knew I had a large gap on them. So I focused on Zack and tried to reel him in with my own steady pace. I got close but when I saw him descending to the finish while I was nearing the top of the climb, I knew I'd finish 5th, and man I was stoked for that!
No, I didn't win. But I'll tell you: This race was just what I needed to get my spirits back up. I've had two races that I botched up pretty good. A 16th and a 17th place finish don't make me feel so great, so to have a 5th again... well, it's just great. I love cyclocross and I love racing.