Cyclocross season starts in two weeks, and once again I am not ready. The summer always seems to slip away so quickly. Lately I am riding more often, riding longer distances and putting in harder efforts here and there, but to call it training would be a stretch.
Every summer since the birth of my son in late 2003 begins with the best intentions, but the motivation often fades by fall. In 2004 I raced only twice, finishing mid-pack and frustrating me enough to quit racing. In 2007 I came back and raced once, placing fourth out of seven in the single speed class. Last year I raced once and was soundly crushed by younger and faster riders.
This year I will be racing as a 44-year-old. In cyclocross this is undoubtedly the cruelest year because the 35-44 age group is so varied. A male cyclist is at his fastest between 28 and 32 years of age, so at 35 you can still be pretty damn fast. At 44 you have slid really far down the backside of the mountain. That nine-year age difference is huge.
In the last seven years I have had very consistent but mediocre fitness. I still have my good days, the rides when I feel super, but for every one of those days there are three or four when I am merely mortal. It is completely normal to have good days and bad days on the bike regardless of fitness level. However, as fitness increases the ratio of good to bad days also increases. Being very fit makes it much more likely to have good legs come race day.
In 2003, at age 36, I was at my personal peak condition and a threat to win every 35+ B race. Although I never achieved that elusive win I piled up enough good finishes, including a second and third place, to lead the Sacramento Series for much of the year. I felt fast, confident, bulletproof—like Superman. My Kryptonite came in the form of a fat guy who stalled going up a steep hill. He fell on me as I attempted to pass, snapping some ribs with his elbow and ending my run at the title.
I go into this year knowing I will take my lumps, and my goals need to be more realistic than they have been in the past. I will not win a race. I will not even be near the podium. I think a top ten finish would be a tough but achievable goal if the planets align and I have a super day.
I am treating this season as preparation for next year, the lead-up to the season of hope. Until then I can only be a mere mortal battling young superheroes, waiting for next year, waiting for a 45-year-old to save me, waiting for the return of Superman.