“What it’s Like to Win”
by Chris Jackson
2012 was a promising year for me: I captured three national MTB titles, I started my own cyclocross/mountain bike team (Castex Racing), raced the full USGP of Cyclocross series, and maintained a full-time job. At the start of cyclocross season, I came in with better fitness than past years. I knew I would be strong locally, but I had no clue how I would fare nationally. I learned quickly that fitness is only one part of the equation to being a successful bike racer. As a result, I spent the first half of the season with many missed opportunities due to sloppy racing. As the season progressed, I gained experience, confidence, and an understanding of my abilities and limits. I have been fit all along, but finding success–and wins–requires the full package. Things have come together and I won my last two races.
The SoCalCross Prestige Finale was held at Pierce College in Woodland Hills. While the forecast called for rain, the clouds held out and the conditions were dry. The course was littered with climbs and would be a true test of fitness. Race time came and I found myself starting in the second row. With a hilly profile and narrow climbs, a top position to the first climb would be critical. The gun went off and I was sixth wheel at the first climb. Kyle Gritters led up the first climb with brother Brandon in 3rd, which led to the typical “1-2 Gritters Punch,” but I knew their tactics wouldn’t play out too well on such a vertical course. On the climb, I tried to move up a spot but a rider blocked me. I tried again on the next climb, only to be blocked once more while I wasted a bunch of energy trying to pass. I sat in for the remainder of the lap to give it a go on lap two.
At the start of the second climb on lap two, Brandon was at the front and building a lead. Eric Bostrom chased and I was still in 6th. Finally, I was able to get by the blocker and find myself in 3rd, but I burned a lot of matches to get there. Tired and fatigued, I was hoping Brandon and Eric wouldn’t blow up the race. Brandon continued to build his lead and I began to worry. Eric and I worked together and over the next lap were able to bring him back. It was now Brandon, Eric, and me with a 10 second gap on the chasing group. For the next lap-and-a-half the pace slowed and we all rested. At that point, Eric had had enough and decided he wanted to hurt us a little. Brandon chased the attack with me in tow. We caught on quickly and Eric pulled us around the course for a lap. Up the climbs, I could hear them laboring so I knew I was in a good position.
Halfway through the race, I decided it was now or never. I attacked into the headwind on one of the gradual climbs and I heard Gritters yell, “Eric get him!” Eric obeyed and came after me. Fortunately, I had rested at the back during the previous lap and I was relatively fresh. My attack stuck and I went as hard as I could out of every corner. Before long, I built a comfortable lead, but with cyclocross nationals on my mind, I kept the pressure on. I wanted sixty minutes of full gas riding. I continued to extend my lead, securing my second win of the season. This race was the perfect tester for next weekend’s national race. It’s a huge mental boost and, with last weekend’s race as hilly, as it was, I know I’m physically ready to do battle.
After the forecast saw grim, arctic temperatures a week ago, the weather looks to be warming up in Madison. My spirits are high and, although the conditions are not familiar to a California dude like myself, the day will be an adventure to remember and build on. A big thanks to Castex Rentals, Felt Bicycles, and Sierra Pacific Farms for supporting me through the thick of it!