Cold rain, bordering on snow, hammered down on an already flooded race course rendering the saturated field deeper and colder. Grass had long ago given up any attempt to remain green and had deteriorated into a thick, muddy slop. Unforgiving icy puddles showed complete disregard for wool socks, bringing many racers to the brink of hypothermia. Kids were reduced to tears near the end of their races, and the adults were not faring much better. It was the harshest conditions I have ever encountered in a cross race and a true test of mental and physical fortitude.
It was a return to the Logger Sports Grounds in Squamish for the 2016 BC Provincial Cyclocross Championships. Last year the venue made its debut under clear skies and frozen ground. This year couldn’t be further from that.
I watched the first two races with a mixture of awe and horror. It was impressive seeing the U13, U15, and U17 kids battle through the elements, but seeing people coming out of their races barely able to function had me seriously questioning if I really wanted to go through with it. I have never pulled out of a race before, and try at all costs to avoid DNF’s, but given my already painful chest cold, I was considering whether I wanted to subject myself to this.
Thankfully we had packed a propane fire pit and set it up amongst the team tents. Rather than completing my usual wander of the course during race day, I stayed close to the fire, which became a popular attraction to those seeking warmth.
The biggest decision of the morning became: What to wear? The lines between racer and commuter blurred as many made every attempt at dressing warmly. It felt like I had put on every piece of cycling clothing I had brought with me.I spent the bulk of my warm up time overthinking my clothing choice that by the time I finally got on the trainer, there wasn’t much time left. At my most overdressed, I was wearing my base layer, a short sleeve jersey, arm warmers, a long sleeve jersey, a rain jacket, another fleece lined long sleeve jersey. On the bottom I had my bib shorts, fleecy leg warmers, water resistant cycling pants, and neoprene shoe covers. A cycling cap over top of a toque topped it off. I don’t think I have ever worn that much clothing and attempted to ride my bike, let alone race it.
As someone who is superstitious enough to try to keep things regimented on race day, the weather was throwing me a massive curve ball. I have my routine before a race. I eat the same thing, wear the same thing, warm up in the same way, and I almost always wear the same thing. This sent me into somewhat of a panic while I stressed about racing in all this gear. We were called to staging and at the last-minute I removed the rain jacket, pants, and one of the long sleeve jerseys before nervously heading to the start line
Provincials had been the race I was targeting all year. Since upgrading earlier in the season, the podium had been far out of reach, but I felt that if I raced well at Provincials, I might have a shot. I was fortunate to get a front row call up, something I have not had since the start of the year. Nothing like being at the front of a group of thirty talented riders on the start line to jack up the nerves.
A few feet from the start line we were sent through a deep puddle that sent a massive spray of water up, soaking everyone, and partially blinding me in the process. My glasses became so covered in water that I found it next to impossible to see where I was going. No time to take my hands off of the bars before we were thrust off the hard packed gravel and into the muck. Those first few corners were chaotic. The course narrowed and it was a mix of running and riding. Against better judgement I tried to ride for a little bit too long, and found myself coming to a standstill in the mud losing all momentum. Dammit. I threw the bike over my shoulder and started running.
I settled in and kept trying to claw back time. It was a crucial point in the race where I had fallen slightly back, but wasn’t completely out of contention. Like the overzealous chess player trying to plan too many moves in advance, I became so focused on what I would do further down the course that I failed to pay attention to what was right in front of me. Coming around a sloppy corner my front wheel slipped out and sent me face first into the mud. My entire left side was coated. My shifters became slippery and it was tough to keep my mud soaked hands on them. The dip in the icy mud had taken the wind out of my sails and just getting back on the bike required a lot of effort.
My choice in clothing was a partial success. My core stayed warm, if a bit on the hot side. Numb fingers made shifting and braking a challenge, neither one of which I was consistently doing. I cursed my vented summer mountain bike shoes with every dismount into the icy water. In conditions such as these, I doubt there is any choice of footwear that could have made a difference.
I saw two laps to go and that was my cue. I had played this race over and over in my head for weeks leading up to it. Start strong, stay near the front, settle in, and with two to go, start making a move. Only I couldn’t do it. My strategy had long ago been abandoned in the mud with the last shred of body heat. The chest cold that I had been fighting off all week had turned into pain in my lungs. I was far enough off back that I just couldn’t muster up the motivation to make that push. I kept it strong for those last two laps, but it became more about survival than the win.
With blocks of ice for feet, I crossed the finish line, relieved this was only a 45 minute race. I was coherent for a few minutes before my body completely shut down. Doubled over and coughing, I limped back to the team tent in a daze. I was shaking so much that I could barely take my gloves off, and thankfully I had an amazing support group of friends and family there to help me. My bike was taken, I was covered in a warm blanket and placed in front of the fire pit while sopping gear was stripped from my body and replaced with dry, warm clothes. Slowly (very slowly) the pain subsided and the feeling in my fingers and toes returned.
Cyclocross is a tough sport. There is so much you can prepare for, and so much that is out of your control. Provincials was a testament to that. It was the toughest race that I had ever done, and although I didn’t hit my goal of making the podium, I was happy with my 7th place finish.
A big thanks to the Steed Cycles crew, and anyone else involved, that put on the event. The harsh weather could not detract from what was an amazing course and a well run event. The DJ kept pumping out tunes, the announcers engaged the crowds, and the spectators cheered on the riders. Despite being cold, it was a great day. It takes more than a little rain and a few puddles to dampen the cyclocross vibes here in BC.
For more Photos from the race:
Jeannine Avelino: https://javelino.smugmug.com/Sports/Watermarked/BC-CX-Provincials-2016/
Patrick Burnham: https://www.flickr.com/photos/palleus/sets/72157677053382296