To my left is a Big Dude. His legs are massive. Is this really the Amateur Cadet class? To my right is a darker taller version of the same dude, and as it goes across the line there is a shit load of testosterone packed into Lycra. Lined up for my 3rd ever mountain bike race and it’s so interesting to be a goon again.
I am a professional dirt bike racer; I know dirt bike racing like Minnesotans know cheese curds, like that dude in CSI knows where to look for semen, like Russell Crowe knows how to be gladiator. Its pretty much what I do. While you all were working or at college, or at parties on weekends or doing whatever you have been doing, chances are I was practicing, racing, or working on dirt bikes. I have won a lot of races and I have lost a lot, I have raced on 5 continents, I know how to setup my bike, I know how to prepare my bike, I know how to get starts, how to pace myself, who is going to be fast when, what I need to eat, drink, and do before the start. I am always prepared mentally and physically. If I don’t win, I usually at least potentially could have.
Back on the start line of this mountain bike race however, I am having trouble convincing myself that I can win. My competitive spirit that has a knack for getting the upper hand is still intact though. In this group of 60 “amateur” Cadets (under 30 Y/O) they called out the top 10 in points standings. After the 10th guy was called, I lifted my (borrowed) Carbon everything, 12 pound race bike over my head and elbowed my way through this group of guys that were a head taller than me and way more prepared and settled myself into the front row. As if I earned it. Now the challenge is avoiding eye contact and intimidating these amateurs with my mystery status. After what seems like forever a race organizer comes out and gives a speech, in Portuguese, which sounds to me like a series of whistles and clicks which I rationalize as probably not important, and set my mind to locating the guy who is going to do the actual start. I finally see him. Classic starter guy, James bond holding one of those riot microphones and staring emotionless at his watch. Legs quivering, elbow to elbow I stare at him for an eternity. When the start finally happens I am off. Railing the outside right around 5th. Caution to the wind, pacing myself forgotten, I am in moto mode, and later my heart rate monitor would show that I get her revved up to 198 3 minutes after the start. The track, located at a college, started on the literal track around the soccer field, exited the after ¾ lap and had some interesting single track in the woods, before a climb to the top of a hill. Before the bottom of the hill I was still in it for the win, although I was probably the only person who thought I was, but 5 minutes is about as long as your brain and body will allow you to function in oxygen debt, and I dropped anchor as soon as it started to get steep. Down shifting, trying to push the blackness back to the outsides of my eyes I just kept turning the pedals as many many people pushed passed me. When we crested the hill I was back into full Moto mode, making sketchy passes on those lycra wearing bastards in the loose gravel on the outside of the track, bombing inside lines only to hold everyone up on the next climb. It wasn’t for lack of skills on the bike, several riders stronger than me had to unclip from the pedals and run up some hills carrying their bikes that I was able to pedal up clean, I was losing just on strength on the gradual climbs. After one lap I finally hit bottom as I like to call it, where I finally was no longer getting passed and able to keep up with the guy in front of me and I started to mount my come back. My strategy was to try to cling to people on the climbs, not lose time, and keep make sweet passes on the down hills. I started having fun again and clicked my way back up the field to 20th where I eventually finished. 5 minutes behind the leader and still strong making most of my passes on the last lap. I don’t remember the last time I finished 20th, and I certainly don’t remember ever being happy about ever finishing 20th but I basked in an endorphin glow for the next few hours reliving some of the more dangerous and characteristically “un-mountain biker” esque passes I made, the calls of “filio de puta” and “tomar em culo” as I placed my bike in front of theirs. As well as the call to action seeing dudes just disappear on the hills and thinking, “Man, I kind of thought I was good at this”.
It takes a lot to win, that’s the goal, but the guy who wins learns the least.
When I was just 10 racing motocross I remember asking my dad frustrated after a race where I holeshotted and then having a really good race for me, riding my best, not making many mistakes but going from 1st to 40th (trust me, nothing crushes a racers spirit more). I asked him “do you think I will ever get to win” and he said “you will get your turn if you keep at it” Well I did get my turn finally, and then I moved up to the 85 class where I was again the bottom of the pack, I eventually got my turn to win in that class too, so on and so forth. So like I said, it’s interesting to be a goon again. Doing stupid things without knowing they are stupid, generally being a menace to the course and other racers and being oblivious, and having more fun, and making better stories than whatever “amateur cadet” ended up kicking all of our asses.