Smokey gets his Bandit.
After spending the two previous days in a car we were up in the air about racing on Sunday, but in the end we decided it was the best way to get with the program immediately. I wanted to be able to pre-ride and to register and pin my numbers on without that typical last minute panic that goes down. Its a given – no matter how organized and prepared you are, no matter how much leeway you allow, you will end up late, pinning your numbers on as they call you to the line, stabbing your thumb with the safety pins, and trying to wipe off the gel that you just smashed into your face. So of course that’s how it went down. We were making great time until we got pulled over by a Washington State Trooper for going over the limit in a construction zone. It was 8:30 in the morning on a Sunday and dead quiet, but we weren’t going to argue. He was pretty cool though and made the ticket out for only 5mph over. Fair enough. Of course, cause the guy was Russian we spent the next week saying stuff like, “How fast you know car is going, ok? Keep mind.” I know: assholes, am-I-right?!
Hear that? Sounds like horses. Big ones.
The GPMC is the Grand Prix Molly Cameron, its run by a well known local pro named Reggie Feggetti. Just kidding. Molly Cameron was fresh back from Japan and I spotted her in attendance, checking out the racin’. There are 9 races in the series and this would be the 9th one. What’s cool about Oregon is that they often have a – very well attended – Clydesdale category for dudes that are +200lbs. I was clocking 198 with just my skivvies on before we left, so that’s what I registered in. There were about 18 Clydes and then around that many guys from another category that all started at the same time. I got in on the second row behind a couple of guys that got called up there. Right off the gun four guys were well and clear of the group and I found myself in the middle, just behind them and ahead of the rest. I dug in and got up to the four leaders and decided I’d sit there and see what happened. I got around one guy and after two laps it was the two leaders and then me. The course was muddy, fast, and super fun. Not too much climbing, which suits me, but with one punchy and slippery riser that was right after a hairpin right. Most everyone in my category was running it but I was able to ride it without too much trouble for the first three laps till my legs lost some punch. McConnell was yelling my trademark heckle back at me, “YOU’RE FRESH”, and ‘ol Two Cup was going “You’d be first if your bike was smaller!”
I was really enjoying racing. I was talking to the guy in second the whole time and joking around, he quipped back a couple of times but then just started to ignore me. I was psyched! I was racing my bike in muddy, loamy Washington! There were a couple of spots where I wondered if I should pass or not, and when 2nd place started to fade I pushed and got around him on the punchy climb and then started focusing to see if I could get the leader.
It was exciting for me, having never been in a position to win anything before, and having people cheer me on as the underdog, unknown guy. Some dudes called me a “beast” when I rode the hill and some chick yelled, “you’re awesome, way to get into second.” I was like, no lady, YOU’RE awesome. The guy I was chasing, Shane Gibson, was the series leader and had a bonafide leader’s jersey on that made the whole event feel organized, legit, and super cool. It felt like I was reeling him in a bit but then as the grass softened up I went down and lost some oomph and momentum, and like that he was gone. With a lap and a half to go I started to fade big time. I crashed two more times and pretty soon I was fighting to stay ahead of the chasers, who were right behind me. I crossed the line with other large men in spandex, who must’ve also smelled the chili, sprinting all over the place and was pretty sure I had held onto second, but turns out I was third.
Either way, I was happy with it and the course and atmosphere was a blast. They were Belgian waffles and beer and some bleachers to watch from – very, very cool and I can’t wait to get back. I met a nice guy named Matt that is also a Clyde and he introduced me to his wife as “Kevin, a Clydesdale from Canada.” He said that the two strongmen of the category in the larger Cross Crusade series would be racing in the Master A’s the next season, so that the dude I was chasing would be the guy to beat overall, for both the Crusade and GPMC – man, it would be neat to be able to do a whole series where I was actually able to contest for a win or podium spot. If I lived there I’d eat burgers and fries and hover at 199 and totally do it.
“Showing us how they do it up North.”
AKA: Remember that time McConnell won a ‘cross race?
I was excited for Mark’s race. I had finished and was happy with my result, the pressure was off, and now I got to just wander around with a cup of fine Oregon microbrewery and see how it played out in the Elite race. I knew Mark was a fast dude because I’d seen him race many times this year. He’d won a bunch and had raced a whole lot. The only guy in Alberta that seemed to be above and beyond the level Mark’s at is Schooler – and Schooler is super fast. But I had no idea how all that would play out in Oregon, the hotbed of cyclocross culture in the US. I suspect Mark wasn’t entirely sure, either. It gave the race a great element as a spectator.
Because he’d never raced here before, and had no call up, Mark went to line early to get a good spot. I wondered what some of the other guys thought, here’s Mark standing on the line, alone, and they’d never seen him before.
Off the gun he was about 9th or 10th going into the first few corners.
The next glimpse I got, he was about 4th wheel.
The next, he was ahead by a bike length.
He crossed the line in the lead on the first lap and held it for all ten laps. One guy, Ross Brody, got pretty close. He would bridge up to Mark, Mark would respond, and the gap would remain. The deciding factor was the steep little hill. Mark was riding it every lap, cleanly, as were most of his category, but now and then a guy would just miss it and need to dab over the top. When that happened to the second place guy I screamed my head off for Mark to go and he pinned it. The announcer didn’t know his name and when he heard me cheering loudly and purposefully he immediately ran over, after about 7 laps, and asked who he was.
I told him and the guy nodded his head, ran back to the announcer’s booth, and got to work. It was pretty cool:
“Well, here we have Mark McConnell from Synergy Racing, down from Calgary, Canada. He is not here to play, people. With 5:00 lap times for all ten laps he is crushing it and showing us how they do it up north.”
Rad. Alberta makes a couple more impressions!
Here’s my Garmin stuff from the race. I turned it on and hid it in my pocket ’cause I felt a little too fancy with that little piece of tech on the bike…it only seems to work in Firefox, even as a link.
(I pilfered a couple photos from some people out there, hope they don’t mind. Here’s links to their work and some more images from the events: Brian Hansen, Leonard Johnson, Will Sullivan.)