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The Ring: A Collection of Voices

No Pressure, No Problem 

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Every year the NBX G.P. of Cross weekend, which is part of the Verge New England Championship Series, proves to be one of highs and lows.

Dan Chabanov/Bob Kidd

It’s my favorite course, so I look forward to it. I love it so much that I constantly tell my friends about it, and even though it’s in December, I try to talk them into going. Many courses are created with stakes and tape than anything else. NBX feels natural. We’re racing on existing trails and through the woods. It just feels right.

Despite all this, I haven’t had a top-10 there since 2010. I’ve been close, with an 11th and a 13th. But last year’s total failure on Sunday was fresh in mind. Both Dan Timmerman, my teammate, and I got pulled with a lap or two to go. It was a pathetic showing.

I know Timmerman was motivated for a result with the Verge Series leader’s jersey on his back, and I wanted to make up for last year and close out my season on a high note.

It has been a hard season. I think Adam Myerson summed it up best when he said that his top-10 rides from years past are only getting him top-15s this year.

Saturday was progressing like any other race day — preriding, hiding from the rain, making tire-pressure adjustments, more hiding from the rain, more preriding. It was all going perfectly until the second corner of the race. Yeah, 10 seconds after the whistle blew.

My rear wheel started sliding. At first I thought it was just the normal kind of little slide that tells me I’m going fast enough. But then it went a little too far, and I realized I’d lost the wheel. Then the rest of the bike was going a different direction than me. The only thing left was to try not to get run over by the 50 guys sprinting behind me.

Somehow I managed to land on my feet and avoid getting run over by the rest of the field. My poor bike wasn’t so lucky — a shifter got totally smashed, the derailleur hanger was bent into the rear wheel, and, as we would discover later, the fork was twisted.

I was standing by myself on an empty course looking at my wrecked bike.

I should have probably walked off and tried again the next day. But no, I picked up the bike and started running for the pit. I’m an idiot who hates quitting. I was two minutes down on the rest of the field.

I grabbed my pit bike, and Richie, my team boss, told me to smile, and I obliged, and started chasing.

After a lap I started catching people. Now that is fun. Nothing quite like a ton of passing to make you feel like you’re moving. I started to feel like I was in a groove when someone crashed right in front of me. I had no time to react. I slammed into the bike and flipped over the bars, smashing my left knee into my stem. I tried to get back on the bike. But the pain in my knee was just too much.

I ended up walking off the course using my bike as a crutch. The next 30 minutes of sitting there with an icepack on my knee, waiting for the race to be over, were miserable. I was sure my season was over.

Timmerman and Clark on the hill at NBX. #CX #cyclocross #nbxcx

A photo posted by nick cz (@bicykel) on Dec 12, 2014 at 11:13am PST

That night, in the hotel, I enjoyed Scotch that Richie had brought from home. For once I wasn’t thinking about the race the next day.

Sunday, Timmerman and I got our bacon fill and arrived at the course early enough for me to do some bike maintenance. I still didn’t think that I was going to be racing, but I wanted to at least fix my bikes and see if I could pedal. My knee didn’t feel terrible walking around, and it seemed to be bending OK, too.

That’s when we discovered the twisted fork on the bike from the day before. After four years on the team, I finally wrecked a bike badly enough to warrant some serious repair. Richie made it rideable. He replaced the shifter and bent the drop back out. The fork was definitely twisted, but the wheel still sat straight in the dropouts. The fork crown looked off when you stared straight down at it, but as long as I didn’t do that, or take my hands of the bars, the bike was rideable.

I started going through the motions of getting ready to race. I was surprised that my knee wasn’t as swollen and immobile as I expected, and sort of just went along with getting dressed, preriding, and warming up. I didn’t really know if I would make it a lap or be able to ride the whole race, or even if I would be at all competitive.

But I figured I was already there. I might as well try. Sometimes it’s nice to feel no pressure. I managed to make it 10 seconds into the race without crashing this time. I hit the first beach run somewhere solidly in the teens and started moving up. I’d forgotten all about the knee. When Richie yelled from the pit that I was in 12th and I could see the guys racing for 10th in front of me, all that “no pressure” nonsense went out the window. I was in a good spot. I was feeling good. I could ride for a good results. The pressure was on.

I closed on the group ahead. I knew I was riding well because the riders I passed weren’t coming back to me. I made it to the group. With about three laps to go, I even put in a solid attack on one of the smaller hills. I had a gap, for a bit, but it was closed with two to go.

Chab – after it. #cx #cyclocross #nbxcx

A photo posted by nick cz (@bicykel) on Dec 12, 2014 at 8:02am PST

It was so nice to be racing my bike that I didn’t care about racing for seventh and, ultimately, managing 10th. After Saturday’s disastrous day, a top-10 was a dream.

It’s remarkable how an hour of racing can turn a weekend around. Saturday I was thinking, Why the hell do I put myself through all this, when one mistake can leave me standing there looking at my broken bike? Sunday,  I answered my own question.