Nobody really believed it would rain on Sunday. It may be November 20th, just a week before Thanksgiving, but it’s November in Los Angeles after all. Nobody expects rainy weather. I thought the only season in southern California was summer, with the occasional overcast display, thus… cooler summer, and still a far cry from the extra early, extra soggy autumn Mother Nature had delivered to us in Portland.
Beth Ann and Clara had warned me (via a very giggly FaceTime call mind you) that the promoter had threatened to cancel the afternoon UCI races on Sunday if the rain did indeed arrive on day 2 of the west coast’s only UCI double weekend. That said, when they told me, I was at the airport awaiting my boarding call for a Saturday night flight to LA. I’d just sped 20 miles across town from our Tonkin-designed, Oregon cyclocross championships event (Sellwood’s pride and joy “Corn Cross”) and arrived home with 10 minutes to shower down and peel off a thick layer of PNW mud before scurrying to the airport, so this news was extra hilarious. Weather or no weather, I was headed to LA to support these two from the pit–so the race had better go on. In any case, the jampacked Saturday I’d experienced and my hurried arrival at the airport combined with this latest news all seemed right, like some kind of strange good omen. After all, it wouldn’t be a bike racing adventure (particularly a Team S&M adventure) if there wasn’t at least a little bit of uncertainty coloring the circumstances. Roll with it.
I arrived at LAX without a hitch. I was set to land at 11pm, and I wanted the girls to get a chance to sleep deep, so our Team PBS friends Steven and Joel (also in town for CXLA) had agreed to pick me up. They were already in their jammies when the van rolled up to the arrivals area, and my own post-CX race hangover was well under way, so we kept our typically excited greetings to a minimum and drove that van zombie-style to their Air BnB, then zombie-style snuck into it. They’d been too gracious to tell me that they were only supposed to have two people staying there, and I felt like a knucklehead for not asking. Too late now. I had the pleasure of sleeping in a bunkbed for the first time in, oh, twenty years. I don’t remember the ceiling being so close to my face the last time.
The next morning, Steven and I found the best coffee we could in the unending strip mall that was the neighborhood we were staying in, then drove to the race venue at Whittier Narrows Rec Area. The skies were bluer than blue and the temps only vaguely low enough for a hoodie, so I felt good about the day ahead of us. Beth Ann and Clara were set to join us by midday. In the interim, I helped Steven get his gear ready for his own event (the singlespeed race) and then I checked out the course. Plenty of twisty grass contours, a flyover, a few roots and techy bits before the start/finish straight, all fairly straightforward. The potential for trouble seemed low. It seemed it would be a day for the file treads and grass track skillz.
And then a few drops fell from the sky. Everyone near me was immediately looking straight up, mouths agape. Bystanders were talking amongst themselves about the potential for “epic” CX conditions, the possibility of MUD at CXLA! I felt the tiniest smirk creep across my face. I still felt skeptical.
Steven won his race, we got burritos, and then the girls arrived. We were set on fast tires and higher pressure ratings as they kitted up for their first course preview of the day. We had lots of time for nervous pre-race chatter and plenty of disjointed, endearing selfies.
The skies had accumulated a grayer bank of clouds before the ladies rolled to the course for their final preview. By the time they rolled back to the van 10 minutes later, raindrops had started to fall in earnest, and the temperature had dropped a few degrees. The next step now switched from how long to sit on the trainer to whether the car heater and jumping jacks would be a better warm up. And of course the appropriateness of the equipment we’d planned on had also become questionable. What ensued for me was a solid fifty minutes of swapping various hub endcaps and skewers, four sets of brake adjustments, tire pressure adjustments, and derailleur adjustments, along with an untimely, forceful dislodging of a Stan’s monster from a valve extender. Ahhh, the beauty of cyclocross in motion: it’s not just the all-out effort on course–you must know and trust your equipment in order to deliver that effort flawlessly, yet all of your careful studies and preparations may become obsolete with an unprecedented change in the weather, and minutes before you roll to the line, too. And this is why pit work is thrilling to me.
Joel and I took the B bikes and a bucket to the pit, hilariously dressed for the steady drizzle that had stubbornly set in. We heard the start from where we stood amongst other pit crews, and a few minutes later the UCI women’s field blazed by the us for the first time. Clara was well positioned in the top ten wheels, but Beth was missing. A slippery first corner had waylaid her strong start. By the second lap, the leaders group was the same foursome from the day before, Clara was in the third group (about to drop her two compatriots), and Beth had picked off half the field. I watched them both dig in despite adversities, and hoped that my shouts of time gaps and encouragement delivered something relevant to their respective battles.
My intention in traveling to LA had been to learn how to efficiently and smoothly deliver tech support for Beth and Clara, tailored to their styles and needs, in what I anticipated would be a relatively smooth, less stressful learning environment to learn in, yet also at an important event on the big stage of US pro cyclocross, and dear to us West Coasters in the ongoing quest for UCI points. Cyclocross always delivers at least one curve ball, and in this case the weather was part of ours. The course wasn’t consumed in mud, and it didn’t change drastically in character after the damp set in, yet this sport seems to be all about the cumulative result of subtle decisions and factors. I watched as Beth and Clara harnessed their grit and tenacity to deliver excellent races, charging on and leaving the hiccups behind them. Watching and supporting them always delivers more fire and motivation for me to do better next time and improve our process, not to mention it motivates me in my own bike racing pursuits
I’m a newcomer to cyclocross, and yet I feel like this event was a special one for me and our team. Both riders displayed a depth of strength on course that only grows and intensifies as the event progresses, a prized trait and honed skill in CX, and not one to be undersold. They also both brought home UCI points between both days, which was a goal of the weekend. Very few races we enter will be flawless, and weekends like these drive growth and embetterment.
Up next for Team S&M:
Clara and Tonkin are headed to Hartford for the 2017 US CX National Championships, January 3-8
Check back for a recap post, and in the meantime, wish them luck!
Photos courtesy of Hoffman Cortes (thanks, friend!!!)