Rain is a novelty in Southern California. It’s rare to get to ride in precipitation, let alone race in it. So it was with great excitement that I checked the forecast and saw showers predicted all weekend. Boy am I naive.
When I woke up Sunday morning the skies over L.A were majestic. The clouds were parting and rays of sunshine were shooting down like lasers and drying the ground from the brief showers that passed through Saturday evening. Bummer, looks like another warm and sunny SoCal XC race.
There were a group of us driving down to Vail Lake together. The sunny morning had convinced some of us skeptics i.e. Dave, that the conditions would be perfect. I checked the weather on my phone and saw that Temecula was getting drenched. I chuckled on the inside. This was going to be an adventure. Jim Spotts had graciously volunteered to drive and help support, and Cameron Wurf and Dave Zabriskie decided to give an XC race a go. Eric Bostrom had already driven down and would meet us there. We met in the Pedalers Fork parking lot at 9:30, fortuitously loaded the 10 Speed Coffee tent, and took off under sunny skies.
When we hit Lake Elsinore it started to drizzle. No big deal, just a few raindrops. The forecast was calling for the showers to stop around noon, perfect for our 1:30 start time. As we got closer the size and frequency of the raindrops increased and the wind began to pick up. We parked and unloaded tent as the chilly breeze kicked up and another round of showers swept in. We watched the Cat 3 racers slip and slide down the turns into the finish line. “Why are they going so slow?” Dave kept asking. Thick goopy mud. “The rest of the course will be perfect” I tried to reassure everyone. I’d ridden 12 Hours of Temecula in the rain a few years ago and the conditions were glorious. Hard packed dirt and no mud. “This will be fun” I kept promising. It’s just the finish area that will be bad.
As 1:30 approached the rain grew torrential. There was no warmup. Each time I tried to venture out from the tent I got drenched and my core temperature began to drop. I was going to start this one cold.
We lined up at 1:20 in a downpour. Riders were finishing from the earlier races. “Was it fun at least?” I kept asking. They all lowered their eyes and shook their head. Crap.
The gun went off and we slipped and skidded our way to the first turn. By this point the fireroad start was about 4 inches deep with wet inky mud. The turn into the singletrack was a slip and slide as the mass of racers attempted to turn their bikes in unison. “Well mate, I think we’re screwed” I heard Cam yell from behind. I started strong in fourth position going on the singletrack. I knew the course like the back of my hand from riding it twelve hours solo a few months ago. Every turn was memorized but it was like trying to race your car down an icy driveway. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve driven it, all bets were off. The bike wasn’t responding to turns. Bushes came out of nowhere, the derailleur wouldn’t respond, brakes didn’t stop by just screeched a horrid sandpaper cacophony. I was staying on my bike. I was going to finish. By the end of the first lap I’d gone down twice and was in about 8th place. Just hang in there. It was a mess. I couldn’t drink out of my water bottle because it was so thickly covered in mud. I’d taken my mud smeared glasses off only to be blinded by bits of sand in the eyes. It felt pretty cool though. “This is why those cyclocross racers are such badasses” I though. I spit mouthfuls of mud through my grin.
By the second of three laps the wheels started falling off the proverbial wagon. The chain suck was so bad I couldn’t use my small ring. I tried to power up climbs in the big ring only to spin out in the muck. You had to remain seated. My brakes were failing and I got tossed once when the front completely locked up. The fourth crash send me tumbling down the side of a hill. Determined to finish I hopped back on the bike with a bloody shin but when I took off something felt strange. The handlebars had been turned forty-five degrees and were pointing off to the side. I wasn’t carrying a multitool and when I tried to straighten them there was a crunching sound and no movement. I was done. This was the end.
I hiked through the sagebrush and weeds back to a firewood and rode my cockeyed bike back to the truck where I found Cam, Dave, and Eric Bostrom. Eric had passed me on the first lap and I though for sure he would podium soon but a broken chain had forced his hand in the first lap. Dave and Cam had dropped on the first lap as well. Misery loves company.