Tuesday, May 15, 2012

On Becoming a Dirty Old Man

I confess. I've become a dirty old man, in my bike racing at least. I probably should have seen this coming, yet the transformation has snuck up on me.

Please understand, I was a roadie at the start. I've always thought of myself as a road racer. My first love was road racing because in 1983, that's all there was. I was never a bmx kid. Yes, early mountain bike races existed then, but they were very rare and very remote for a boy in eastern Kansas. NORBA was the odd new kid on the bike racing block, and mountain bikes looked more like burly touring rigs than todays carbon dual suspension xc race bikes. When I got my first Schwinn mountain bike in 1990, I used it for touring and commuting exclusively (suntour xc group and big bear trap pedals, 28 lbs of steel rigid fork fun). Cyclocross only existed for me in training books, sort of like fantasy fiction, or fairy tales.

So 10 years ago when I started racing bikes in New England, I only thought of road racing. With so many good road races around, why do anything else?

Then I was introduced cyclocross. I went to my first cyclocross race 8 and a half years ago, the CycleSmart Amherst Campus 'Cross. Gina Hall and Carmen D'Alussio battled it out against Mary McConneloug. Todd Wells and Marc Gullickson flew in to take on Tim Johnson and Mark McCormack (both racing for Saturn at the time). I was overwhelmed. Who knew racing bikes on dirt could be so spectacular? That winter I bought a Lemond Poprad and a set of Tufo tubulars.

The following cyclocross season my lack of technical skill was a huge limiter. Turns out if you don't ride on dirt much, you don't have much finese on dirt. I bought a proper mountain bike, a Trek Top Fuel, and started to race it, but only to be better at cyclocross. In the novice category I did well for a few races. Once I tried a few Sport category races I found out just how bad my technical skills were. I was finishing xc races completely shattered, from falling, flailing, and failing.

So like a good roadie, I went back to road racing exclusively in 2006. That year I accomplished alot of road racing goals. But I was exhausted for most of the cyclocross season. The next couple of years I was having more fun at cyclocross than at road races. I still only raced a handfull of mtb races each summer. Yet cyclocross became my primary bike racing interest. Racing on dirt was as important now as the tarmac.

I decided to commit myself to eight mtb xc races in 2010 inorder to improve my dirt riding skills once and for all, just for cyclocross. I bought a new re-designed Trek Top Fuel and started riding it once a week, every week. I managed to actually get some results in xc races and have the same sort of fun as in cyclocross. I began to target summer mtb races more than road races. I still wouldn't wear baggy shorts, even on trail rides. And I still thought of myself as a roadie dabbling in xc, for the sake of cyclocross.

The final shift from happened this past Sunday. I watched the XC World Cup race live and then the last 30km of the Giro stage. To my shock, I found the mountain bike race more thrilling. World Cup XC races have gotten punchier and the coverage much better than even a few years ago. I was motivated to go ride single track after watching that XC race; while the Giro, was just another day at the Giro.

Yesterday I spent two hours riding wet technical single track, grinning the whole time. Today, as I look at my summer race plan, I have three times the mountain bike races scheduled as road races. I still love a good hard road race, but yesterday I came home covered from knees to toes in mud, and smiling.

I've become another dirty old (cx/xc bike) man.

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