I used to think Jim Holmes was nuts. Now I'm convinced of it.
Jim was an elite racer with Team Mack in the 2004 season, and despite the team's obvious road bias, spent the year proselytizing about his first love -- cyclocross. I was new to the team, was very focused on moving up on the road, and could count the number of times I had been off-road on a bike on less than two hands … and all of those were races during the preceding 'cross season.
To me, 'cross was off-season training. Sort of fun, very painful, and not a big deal. Jim had the faith, was part of the Iowa "Cross Mafia" and could handle his bike well -- after some injury and nasty crashes during the road season, he went on to blast out of the gates come fall.
I, on the other hand, was dead-set against racing 'cross last year. Except that they created the Chicago 'Cross Cup. Except that the first race was a benefit to raise money for the Velodrome. Except that I already had the bike, and needed something to do in October and November. Except that from the first whistle at that first race in Northbrook, I was hooked.
I had a lot of fun last 'cross season, just missing the podium at Jackson Park and even winning a non-Cup event down in Joliet (read: lightly attended). But I still had something to prove on the road, and this season was still very much focused on the pavement as the place to be. 'Cross was again an adjunct to my season, and it showed in my first outing -- Carpentersville was nasty, as I was overtired and hadn't been on the bike all week, choosing to run to stay semi-fit during our company sales outing.
But over the past couple of weeks, my mind has been changing. Silly season with team stuff, road burnout, craziness at work -- whatever it might be, I find myself turning again and again to my 'cross bike to blow out the cobwebs and really feel good. I've been off-road more in the past month than in the past 32 years combined (seriously), and even on the rare road-only day, I'm on the 'cross rig pushing the knobby tires. Even at the races, I try hard but it doesn't matter how I finish … above all, I'm am having FUN!!!
So why is Jim crazy? Each year, he has made 'cross his focus, and has been to Nationals the past couple of years to try his hand with the big boys. At that level, it's a nuthouse, with broken bike and body parts flying everywhere, and mud, leaves and sometimes October blizzards making the hard racing even harder. And over the past couple of weeks, I've realized that I want to be just like Jim.
So I'm headed to Nationals in a month! I'm going to be a cyclo(cross)-tourist, one of the many pack-fodder riders with no hope of seeing the front of the race. And I'm OK with that -- I'm just looking to have fun while racing. Although I will still race on the road, I've also decided that next year will have a decidedly autumn tint to it -- thanks to team dynamics changing, I won't have as many road obligations, so I can curtail my travel until chasing elusive UCI points in the fall. (UCI points = better start position = better finish at national-level 'cross races.) I don't know if I'll be any good, but that's not the point -- 'cross is so hard, so demanding, that there's no way to master it. But I'll have fun trying!
And as for Jim? He waited too long to register, and now we both have last-row starting positions in Providence. He's a small guy … we think that if I sling him, Madison-style, over the first set of barriers he may make the break …
41 minutes ago