I was excited for today's race. I had heard mythical stories of the battleground known as Barton Park. Legend states it was one of the most brutal courses of the season... fast and technically challenging due to its potential for soupy mud and loose packed gravel.
Loose packed gravel? MY KRYPTONITE! ...*gurgle*.
Truthfully, I was looking forward to the race. The forecast called for rain to hit the area all weekend, and sure enough at 9pm last night it was raining so hard outside I thought the washing machine was running longer than normal. The only other muddy race this season was Alpenrose, and I had scored my best result of the year there.
The car is packed and ready to go the night before. We roll out and arrive at Barton Park just before 7:45 with Greg right behind us. The heart and soul of PVCX, Sal and Heidi, are there already unloading their truck.
We make quick work of the 2 team tents and bike stands. Our newest teammate Daryl sets up the changing tent, and my friend from college Nick shows up to participate in his very first bike race ever. Yeah... I'm that type of friend. "Dude, you should total come race Barton Park! It's close to your house!"
We sign in and I get to see that my 2 weeks of back of the pack starting have paid off with a first line draw. Things are lining up for a good race.
We pre-ride, and I talk with Nick about the different things to think about. He's laughing and having a great time, excited for the race. Traci shoots off in front of us and we see her minutes later off her bike. She took a spill in the mogul section and bleeding from a few scrapes and scratches. We give her a few moments to collect herself and we proceed on, waiting to see what Barton throws at us next.
We arrive near the finish before a crazy off camber descent followed by a massive run-up. I have a spring in my step as crest the top and remount, noting the short distance before the finish. Around the hairpin and... you've got to be kidding me. The biggest drop I've seen in a cross race is staring me in the face. I ride through it tentatively, overshooting the exit of the corner and riding up a small portion of the gravel bank. I'll definitely have to figure that out to do well today.
We arrive at the team tent and get Nick setup to go. I want to go see him start, but I'm not yet dress for my race. Traci heads up with him and I methodically begin my pre-race routine. 15 minutes later the first Beginner racers come down the off camber descent. We cheer for Glen has he comes past, smiles and all. A short bit later Nick comes through and shouts to us that he totally ate it at the bottom of the huge drop. He proceeded to get up, take a bow and get back on his bike. Nick in a nutshell. The sky clears and the sun comes out. We laugh as Heidi is grumpy, wanting it to pour.
Our race lines up, and I slide in next to Murray from TV and introduce myself to Matt from Team S&M about 3 rows deep on the right side. Matt and I rode together for a good portion of the costume race, and he was the only person who accepted a fish stick from me willingly.
The whistle blows and I get a good jump, slotting myself in the top 5 right away. The riders ahead of me are good bike handlers and strong riders. We quickly start putting distance into the field and by the time we get to the pavement section through the RV parking we've distanced a good portion of the field. I stay in the top 5 through the first lap, finding good lines over the majority of the course.
My strategy is simple since my fitness isn't where it needs to be in order to stay competitive... Hang on as long as you can and minimize mistakes. Crush the run-up's.
Half way through lap 2 on rider has opened a gap on my group and a pair of riders has caught us from the back. The group rides as a long chain through the back gravel track and over the pavement. I use the time to recover. The mogul section inevitably spreads the group out every lap as the first riders into the section slow the ones trailing them. I try to make a move before we get to that section, but everyone seems to have the same idea. I back off allowing the others to fight for lines and slow incase I have to dismount quickly. The lack of aggression puts me at the back of the chasing group of 7 but keeps my heart rate in check. I hope it pays dividends later.
Lap 3 and 4 play out mostly the same, and other than hitting every single yellow cone on the off camber descent on Lap 3, I'm riding well. I'm caught by a few strong riders from behind, but make up some places from riders in front of me who are tiring. Every pass by the team tent is met with a huge cheer. Dave from Ironclad is keeping tabs on my place, calling it out as I pass their tent.
The race is going well coming into the bell lap. I make a move during the run up and pass a pair of guys on the inside. Disaster strikes as I try to remount. I miss my saddle, the bike out of position as my leg swings over. I try to catch my balance and just as my weight loads onto my foot, my knee buckles.
I hear a crunch.
I feel a pop.
Pain shoots through my body.
I cry out.
A spectator gasps to my right.
The crowd seems to grow quiet in my world. I don't hear the announcer, the ringing of the final lap bell has gone mute.
I limp step a few times, and manage to get mounted. I can barely bend my knee making it difficult to clip in. I wobbly cross the finish line trying not to take out the two riders who I had just passed going wide through the corner. I'm still not clipped in and the descent is coming up much quicker than my glacial speed should possibly allow.
I finally feel the cleat engage mere meters before the drop. I barely make it down the hill upright. I crawl past the team tent, another rider passes me. The pedals don't want to turn over. I ride the next sections slowly, happy for the gap I had worked for. I'm dreading the incline section before the concrete barrier.
I approach it slow, another pair of riders pass me both muscling up over the hill out of the saddle. I can barely twist my leg to unclip, limp-stepping up the hill. I remount and ride the short distance to the concrete.
"You wreck?" Murray rolls up next to me as we approach the wall.
"Twisted my knee..." I say as we hit the barrier together. He gets over quickly and is off. I step down cautiously making sure to land on my right leg and carefully remount. I use the flat fast sections to minimize the damage. Keeping the others in site. It works for a while until the first technical right hand corner. Instinct has me trying to put weight on the outside pedal, my knee veto's the idea violently causing my rear wheel to fishtail. Another rider passes me.
We hit the pavement section for the last time and a small group of riders are just in front of me. I latch on to the back of them and try to stay close through the camp grounds. A quick glance back shows a huge gap before the next riders. My race is now in front of me.
We hit the gravel before the moguls. I downshift to the small ring for the first time all day hoping to be able to spin over the bumps. "PAIN IS ONLY TEMPORARY" I hear Bob from Tireless Velo yell at me as I make my way through the trees. I can only imagine the look on my face spurred the comment. I hope he got a photo.
I exit the moguls having lost precious momentum and witness a large gap in front of me. I can hear a rider behind me coming through the moguls. I was much slower than I had hoped.
I try and power my way through the soup around the bridge with one leg, my front tire acting more like a plow than a wheel at times. The off camber run up is horrifically painful.
The final ride on the ridge is in desperation. I ride in the drops, right leg pulling and pushing with the grudgingly moving in useless circles. I roll through the off camber descent and look towards the Beast in front of me. The Beast has left me wounded and crippled, knowing that I have to challenge it once more to be done. The crowd lining the hill is in a frenzy, urging rider after rider to slay the Beast of Barton.
I dismount and shoulder my bike, digging in for the last surge. I look for solid footholds for my left foot, and drive hard off my right. Over and over I repeat the dance, gaining moment, gaining speed. I hear friends and teammates urging me on. With a final lunge I crest the hill and see a group of riders just in front of me. I forgo the remount and half limp, half sprint to the right, twisting my body to avoid a swerving rider.
I catch every one of them and stumble across the line. I barely making it to the sideline before I lean heavily on my bike. My knee has seized up and I can't put any weight on it.
Murray and some other finishers are there. I quickly explain what happened and ask for the medic. Bonnie is at my side helping me to the ground a moment later.
The examination is quick and relatively painless. Knee injuries are not new to me, having replaced ACL's in both knees. I suspect I have re-injured a previous cartilage tear which made me give up volleyball in '06.
Bonnie would get little rest on this day of carnage. Our team would work with her to triage a rider who took a serious header on the off camber descent. A bit later I hear Kenji went down with a broken collarbone. Another of our teammates Sierra goes down on her first or second lap with what ends up being a broken collarbone. Bonnie wasn't even able to complete her examination of her right away as she was summoned to the bottom of the huge hill due to another major crash.
Traci decided to forgo the race and I think he decision was a good one. She will be able to do battle next week at PIR and the week after at Hillsboro. My future is up in the air right now. Rest, ice, compression, elevation, and Advil will be my mantra for the foreseeable future.