Monday, December 04, 2006


When You’re a Jet - MRC Cyclocross Wrentham, MA

Saturday night was rough, the anticipation of this race lead to a full on sleep robbing anxiety attack. Why you ask would I have a bad case of nerves prior to a small local race like this? Wrentham is my hometown, just about my entire extended family lives there, the race venue is on the property of the old State School which my Great Grandfather ran for years, and my Grandmother would be attending one of my races for the first time ever. I hadn’t felt so much pressure since…well, ever, I was more relaxed going into Sea Otter, Mt. Snow NORBA Nationals, Single Speed World’s, and The USGP’s at Gloucester. Hell, I’ll likely be more chill going into my first ‘Cross Nationals in two weeks. The thing is, you don’t decide when you’re going to freak the frick out for no reason at all, the freak out finds you and rides you like a pony at an eight year old’s birthday party and there’s nothing you can do about it, unlike a pony which can rear up, throw a child off it’s swayed back, and trample it beneath it’s dainty little hooves.
I awoke feeling haggard, pounded the coffee, rushed through my race morning routine so fast I had enough time to redundantly clean my bike, I even hit the road a bit early for once. I knew there was a Patriots game at Gillette Stadium at one o’clock, therefore I had given all my peoples a heads up to go the back way, I did not heed my own advice, thinking that I was going so early that I’d squeak through…think again. Pats fans show up FIVE HOURS early to tailgate and get drunk in the freezing cold before the game, who knew? Probably a whole lot of people, but not me, I was hardwired not to pay any attention to the “big” sports from birth, I went straight from eating snickers bars by the case and playing Nintendo, to skateboarding and snowboarding, then to bikes without ever collecting a baseball card or memorizing a single “stat”. Skaters didn’t have stats, “dude, did you know that Tony Hawk’s F.K.F.L.P.V.C (fakie kick flips landed per vert contest) record is 33 and 4 and 0? (I don’t even know what that means) Sick.” Is it considered digression if you never begin to make your point in the first place?
I didn’t get too tangled up in traffic, although another rider did so badly that he was at risk of missing his race. He jumped out of the car, rode ahead to the traffic cops, and delivered a line about how someone was about to give birth, they let the cars go and he made the start. Good thing they didn’t offer an escort, “uh ya, our midwife is at this bike race…what’s that you say? I’m not showing, that’s because I’m actually a surrogate mother for a husband and wife who happen to be Chinchillas, they are very small you see, hardly the size of a Ju Ju Bee at birth”. Focus, must focus, race report, c’mon race report.
I got to the venue very early, got at least three pre-laps in, including a super-fast one just before the start, I found the course to be nothing short of awesome. Lots of turns, berms, one set of high double barriers on a flat, a fire road uphill, a tight uphill/downhill hairpin, a pretty technical rock to ride over and off, more turns, a real hard to dial in downhill hairpin into a double barrier run up,
more twists and turns through a field, a long, boggy straightaway up to a huge log which the USCF official had told the promoter not to offer up primes for jumping (unofficial primes were offered and folks did plant their faces in the dirt, see Wunderkind Jerome Townsend cleaning it like a pro below), then back through the start/finish.

Jeff Whittingham and myself both lined up late, landing in the second row, but nice and warmed up, like saltines in a Brisker. The start was a flail on my part, it didn’t begin so bad but next thing I knew there were half a dozen dudes between me and Jeff, ack!. I came through lap one in 14th place watching Jeff lead the race from about 45 seconds up, his lead looked insurmountable, like a Trebon or Nys maneuver. By lap two I’d clawed my way past a few guys mostly on the slight uphill fireroad section where I could really wind up my gear. It didn’t and did hurt that around every corner I had a cousin or a mom or an uncle or or a friend or an aunt or girlfriend or a grandmother cheering me on, it’s great motivation and it’s incredibly painful because when someone’s watching you, you can’t be sitting in or biding time, you have to be attacking, putting on a show for them, frickin’ ow.

By lap three I had caught on to the main chase group of about five guys, Jeff and maybe two other riders were out in front, I started to think podium, I just had to figure out how to do it, had to pick my spot. I don’t recall how things went down exactly but I became separated from that group, got in front of them, produced a gap, maintained and extended gap, and began closing on the top three. I spent a while jockeying for third with Tal from Harborside Cycles, he was strong, not one to let a spot go without a fight. Maybe I was a little too crazed, the details evade me but somehow I got away from him and got closer to Jeff and the other guy, at some point they changed positions, Jeff taking up chase. I thought if I could get up to Jeff we could work together to catch the leader then battle it out for first, but sometimes things don’t go as planned…they go better. Just as I was about to make contact with Jeff someone yelled “the guy in front flatted, go!”. Seems like he got caught going over the big, gnarly rock, I felt bad, but not bad enough to put him on my top tube and double him to the finish. I tacked onto Jeff’s wheel just before the close of the second to last lap and we began the bell lap together. I’ve raced against Jeff before, we’ve battled on the MTB circuit but it was never this close, I didn’t quite know what to do. Just after we hurdled the double barriers, Jeff said he had a stomach cramp, he dropped back a bit and I thought this was the easy out, I’d just ride away, no way, this is Jeff Whittingham I was dealing with, he goes to the pain cave as often as most people check their Myspace profile during work every day. Not only did he not go away, he attacked and attacked again, I answered and counterattacked, I was basically anaerobic for the last ten minutes of the race.
In fact Jeff’s wife Jen commented to my Significant other Miriam that I was breathing really hard. Miriam suggested that maybe that wasn’t the best thing for people supporting other riders to hear so Jen said loudly “I can’t believe that Thom P. sings when he rides, what was that? Something from West Side Story?”. Now that is demoralizing.
I can honestly say I have never pushed so hard, my best attacks only realized the most marginal gains, I had to block Jeff and stay in front because I was absolutely pinned. As we came across the big log jump for the last time (I never did fall prey to the temptation to ride it) I got a little gap and just drove it to the line, coming into the last corner with Jeff right on me, I spun it up to about 8,000 RPM’s and crossed the line first knowing that if Jeff hadn’t been off the front half the damn race he would have tossed me aside as an Orca would throw a dead sea lion to one of it’s Orca friends.

This was quite possible one of the best days of my life (I can hear the groans, shut it!) after my race we rolled back to my Grandmother’s house for kick-ass lasagna courtesy of my mom and other assorted good stuff created by my extra-special friend Miriam, then we went back up to the race venue, to see Jon Bruno leading Mark McCormack around before finishing second in the elite race, then back to the house for more feasting, couldn’t have been more perfect.

Big, BIG thanks to all the family that came out, to Miriam, to Jeff and Jen, and especially to my grandmother, who at age 84 could have won the elite women’s race on a forty pound Raleigh three-speed. Most of all I want to thank my grandfather, Dr. Bradley Raymond who left us this summer. I can’t begin to describe the kind of man he was and what he means to me. His heroic lifelong battle with the effects of Polio, which decimated his body at an early age has always been a great inspiration to me in all my athletic endeavors, he suffered more in a day than most bicycle racers suffer in a lifetime and he did it with stoicism and a singular sense of humor and wry wit. It’s a small thing but I dedicate this victory to him.


Jason said...

Congratulations sir!

Colin Reuter said...

back to back wins? sounds like it's time to take the pink singlespeed to the pros!

seth said...