2014 Peloton Cross: It Was A Mud Bath
Well, SoCalCross was actually visited by one of those rare weekends of wet. A little taste of cyclocross European-style. It wasn't all that cold, certainly no sleet or snow, but there was rain and what accompanies. When that falling water hits the parched soils of Southern California the result is predictable. Mud. Of that, there was plenty.
A look through the photos in the Flickr album reveals riders relatively clean, considering everything. True there is some spatter, but they are not covered nose to toe in slime. This was not a wet mud. This was a good, thick Southern mud, full of clay. This was a kids mud. The kind of mud that only the best pies are made from. The kind of mud you throw all inhibitions aside for. The kind of mud you plop to the ground for, roll down slopes in mud, slide down hills in mud. This was a mans mud, or at least the kind of mud that had men cursing so loudly you could hear their struggles and frustrations clear from the far side of the course. This was mud so thick and gooey that, if your shoes were not properly tightened, it would suck them clean off your feel once you started running and walking, separate your tires from their rims. The kind of mud that, twenty hours later is still caked to the bottom of my cycling shoes. It was a hell that you could even lose your bike in - one poor guy came away with nothing but his front wheel. And, while it was a worthy attempt, a likely option, even a lone fat bike was no match for this mud, and so it sat in the pits covered in an unbreakable mastic that prevented its wheels from spinning. It was a mud that had racers running, and walking, the flattest portions of the course. Beside clogging wheels and drivetrains, all that mud added pounds of extra weight to the bikes, and once they ground to a halt the additional pounds became caked to shoes, clogging cleats and frustrating connections to pedals. If ever the advantage of the single-stanchion Lefty was clearly revealed, it was in this muddy bog on the slopes above Lake Casitas.
Of course the day was not all grey skies and quagmires, I passed four rainbows during the drive north, the final one just before passing the old home of Johnny Cash at Casitas Springs. This meant there were moments of blue sky and sun as well. It was like the heavens were engaged in a wide ranging game of British Bulldog - one side would press its advantage, the sun warming and drying the ground, but then the clouds would push back enveloping the overhead canopy. Most of the rain fell overnight and during the hours of early, early morning. Thus the first races of the day suffered the worst of the conditions on the ground. Gradually the sun and the passing of wheels combined to help solidify favored lines that racers could take advantage of. Then, sections of course that had to be walked earlier in the morning, were able to be ridden instead.
When the rain returned, right on time for the start of the single-speed races, it was just enough to wet the surface, make those worn paths slick and the verges of those paths gooey once again. Racers traded the floor of a glue factory for a slip and slide. Slipping and sliding came to be expected, but racers countered with everything from subtle shifts of weight and strategic breaking, to other, more obvious attempts to keep upright. Most races involve some exercise in attrition, but if ever there was a classic example it was this race. Never have I seen so many racers raise a hand when crossing the line - clearly it was a victory just to finish.