Cross in the Park – Bandit Cross report

A thick blanket of fog hung over the deck of the Port Mann bridge, giving the sensation of crossing into an abyss. Even though it had been an unseasonably warm winter, there was a cold bite in the air. I kept an eye on the  faintly visible sun hoping it would burn through and give us the day the weather reports had promised. It was the final cyclocross race of the season, and the whole family was loaded into our camper van heading south to Bellingham for one last day of racing.

It had been a seven week break since the last race,  Zombie Xmas, and Bandit Cross – on paper this sounded great. It gave me a little time off to enjoy Christmas (and all the indulgences that it inevitably brings) followed by a month of solid training. Well, the indulgence happened, and then apathy took over. “Lots of time still!” I told myself as my bike sat lonely in the shed collecting dust. The previous three months of racing almost every weekend had taken its toll and it was challenging just to find the motivation to get back on the bike. Finally, in mid January I snapped out of it and made a last ditch attempt to revive my legs in time for the 31st.

The cheering section
The cheering section

This was my third time racing in Cornwall park and the variety of the terrain on the course suit my style – plus, it holds the nostalgic charm of being the only venue where I won a cross race. That was two years ago, and I’ve been trying to recapture that success ever since. The majority of the course takes place on park trails that branch out from a central meadow. Short, punchy gravel climbs get the legs going while the fast sweeping descents that follow keep me on my toes. The stone staircase necessitated the only bike shouldering section of the course and if I picked my line properly, it was faster to ride up beside the first half of the stairs before dismounting. At the top, it was back on the bike for a rocky, rooty, flat inducing washing machine that jostled riders back down to the respite of a gravel path before returning to the meadow for a few tight muddy corners and a set of barriers.

The stairs were a leg killer
The stairs were a leg killer

The race also has the distinction of commencing with a Le Mans Start. For call-up,  the bikes are placed on the ground at the start line according to standings and the riders walk back another forty metres. On the signal it’s a mass sprint to try and locate the right bike and avoid trampling on others. Wishing I had my toe spikes in, I slid around in the damp grass just wide of the sea of bikes and located mine at the front. With an awkward drive side remount, I was off and slotted in behind Ryan Rickerts, for second, with the unmistakeable sound of shifting gears close behind as the pack descended upon us.

I felt surprisingly strong considering my lack of training. My strategy was to hang on to the front group for as long as I could and push as hard as I could until I blew up. I had moved into third place in the series overalls and needed a good race to keep it. After we hit a long gravel path,  it wasn’t long before I gave up my position and the top riders went sailing past me. “This isn’t a road race!” came a heckle from somewhere in the forest as I shamelessly tucked behind the leaders, hoping for a free ride.  The screech of squealing brakes cut through the cool air as we all were sent flying down the steep descent to a hairpin corner at the bottom.  With one foot unclipped and my heart in my stomach I barely negotiated the corner as I watched the first place rider disappear into the distance. So much for hanging on.

Sean Carline heads into the barriers in the Men's A race
Sean Carline heads into the barriers in the Men’s A race

The laps were long and the course required concentration. Frequent transitions from dirt to pavement and vice versa made for slippery conditions and a few riders unexpectedly hit the deck. I managed to stay upright and mechanical free for the duration which, given my track record this season, was an accomplishment in itself. Throughout the race, I tried to attack on sections where my first instinct would be to sit up, hoping that everyone else would have the same first thought that I had. It kind of worked, but it resulted in me tiring out quickly.

The good feeling that I had at the start of the race was starting to vanish. Head down and legs spinning,  I felt maxed out and I wasn’t gaining ground on the lead group.  I didn’t even take notice of the fireball and mini doughnut handups being offered, which is a rarity for me. Coming around the barriers on the second to last lap I looked up to see fellow Canuck, Mark Oldenburg ahead, throwing a lifeline. He waved me up until I caught his wheel and he dug deep, towing me along to try and bridge the gap to the rider in front. We briefly made contact, but I couldn’t hold it and started to fade back. I tried to keep pace with Mark, but it was proving difficult. His generosity did help to give me a boost and kick a bit of life back into my legs for the finish.

Riders tackling the stone staircase
Riders tackling the stone staircase

I was able to push it hard for a strong finish and I kept my third place overall in the Men’s B category. In the last two years I finished fourth for the Cascade Cross series, so I was happy to have finally made it onto the podium. A large crowd gathered in Bellingham that evening to celebrate the season with good friends and great BBQ. Adults raced on kids bikes for a shot at wining the Transition Rapture frame, and when that was all done, my four year old son grabbed one of the bikes and continuously rode circles around the building while the awards were handed out.  He fell so in love with the bike, that Ryan kindly gave it to him to take home, as it was his birthday the next day. Hopefully a future racer in the making. The party was a nice way to end off a great season of racing and I left with the feeling of being part of something special -a grassroots racing series with a passionate group of people that love racing their bikes and having fun. It’s hard to ask for better company to be in.

Hosted by Cascade Cross at Cornwall Park in Bellingham. July 31, 2014

 

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