Those who come out early enough to watch the Masters races at the Chicago Cyclocross Cup series know that most end up looking like group rides in green or blue, with a pack or Verdigris, and then a bit later, Pony Shop riders, off the front together. I don’t fully understand how these guys have been able to survive a decade or three of racing — my body sure hasn’t. In any case, with Halloween comes costume call ups, and I was ready. I chose a sparkly green and red lucha mask, a matching red and white Spiuk helmet, and a pair of oversized $5 H&M sunglasses. Unfortunately, as I pre-rode the course, a few issues immediately popped up. Besides having completely unrealistic gearing (ie none) for the course, the lucha mask made breathing difficult; the glasses were fogging up; and the lack of prescription lenses limited my vision to about two meters. As the Verdigris guys sped by on their warmup, I visualized the start of the race: eyes squinting, toes pointed, arms tense. The first corner was thirty five meters off the line, just long enough for me to grab the hole shot, claim victory, and retire for the season. We settled next to the course, and I reached into my jersey for one last drink before the race. Holding the bottle a few inches from my mouth, I squeezed. Several ounces of water splashed against my mask, completely missing my mouth, and dripped onto my jersey: an inauspicious start for the day.
Most of the top ten riders were present, so there was very little room left on the line. Realizing that I was the only rider wearing a costume, I suddenly worried that Jason wouldn’t call me up. Thankfully, he did — and I rolled the single speed up to the line. One hundred fifty RPM. One hundred fifty RPM. For twenty seconds, one hundred fifty RPM, I told myself. Though nineteen gears and two carbon rims short of my competitors, I knew that surprise was on my side. I lined up on the far inside, next to a couple of fast Roscoe Village riders.
“Can you see in that thing?” one said.
“Not even a little bit.” I answered.
The whistle blew, and all I could think was one hundred fifty RPM. At fifteen meters, I found myself next to a couple of Verdigris guys. I drifted to the outside a touch, just enough to avoid being pinched at the corner, and then stood to sprint. WHOOSH! I’m not really sure whether or not I pipped him, but Verdigris and I came through the corner together, so I’ll call that a hole shot, I guess. I was shocked to find myself fourth at the base of the first hill, but not so shocked to find myself tenth at the top of the hill. And the remainder of the race more or less followed that pattern.
The one problem with the morning races is the lack of motivated spectators. Most arrive for the afternoon races, armed with cans of beer, pastries, chips, and a host of other unhealthy consumables. I tried not to eat for the next few hours, figuring that I’d get a free lunch racing 4Bs.
There were a few more costumes in this race, and it’s not nearly as fun racing for a place in 4Bs, so I focused on maximizing handups. Last week I took home an Xbox 360 game (which will surely be redistributed in the weeks to come) but at St. Charles the handups were mostly Halloween-themed. On the first lap, I took home a dollar bill wrapped in bacon, a tiny Snickers bar, and a vegan cookie. On the second lap, a toothbrush. At the beginning of the third lap, I tried to get a little too cute, and unwrapped the toothbrush. This required riding no hands for a spell, which was fine, until I tried to actually use the brush. As with the water bottle incident earlier in the morning, the brush missed my mouth entirely, and I crashed into the mud.
Later in that lap, Ben Popper shoved a brown candy corn into my mouth, and a child handed me a Red Bull. This particular combination seemed to work well, because I passed a couple of folks on the back stretch heading into the final lap. Some Cuttin’ Crew folks were handing out ONE HUNDRED DOLLAR BILLS, and I was pretty excited to take home such booty — so I was sad when I came around to find the money handups gone. Instead, someone tried to hand me a full sized candy bar, which I suppose is just as good. Unfortunately, she dropped it just as I was coming around. I slowed, leaned over, and fingered the bar on the ground, but came up with only a handful of mud. And then I crashed.