The announcer interrupts through the sound system, "And the race has begun."
I continue, " ... my race number. Thanks." I roll to the horde about to start. The announcer cuts in again, "Fifteen seconds to go." For this race they group the B-level riders and the single speed riders into one heat separated by one minute. So from the moment I woke up until this moment, I spared only fifteen seconds. Wouldn't have been as tight except for I remembered to bring my race tag with my race number emblazoned upon it about fifteen minutes into my drive to the venue. At least there are no pre-race jitters. Instead it's a "here we go" inevitability and ambivalence to it all. I roll out with the group and the race indeed has begun.
Without training at all this season, the races are simply punishment. I pick my way through the some riders and get into a rhythm. In my previous race I was wishing the race to end by the halfway point. This time I feel pretty good ... this is my kind of course. The collective voice of the racers call this a "mountain-bike style course." which suits me perfectly. This translates into a few small hills, narrow twisty tight singletrack and a few obstacles that I can jump where others have to dismount and carry. Many of these riders are roadies getting muddy so the have little skill and instead rely upon strength. I have to rely on skill and caffeine because strength comes with training and...
With two and a half laps to go I really lay it on. The traffic is lighter and my speed is dictated by my bike handling versus some slow rider blocking my way. So I'm ripping and just loving it until...
I get stuck behind this random guy who simply cannot get it together. He flops over and I can't get around him. He does it again for no apparent reason and I nearly crash into him again. The bike flips up and somehow I fall back instead of on top of the guy. Then we come to a stair section and why I'm still behind this guy is a mystery of slow motion suffering. He dismounts and starts walking like it's an elderly group heading home from Sunday brunch. The guy bonks me in the head with his bike in the process. At this point I can finally get around him. During this process of me making every possible error to stay behind this tool, I get passed by a dozen or so guys. If I had cleanly passed this person, I would have made a good go of this race finishing somewhere in the top half. Instead the momentum is gone and I try to get the fire started again.
Why does my bike sound like an eighteen wheeler braking through the Sierras? I've got this metal on metal horrible sound. I peel off to inspect the wheels. I unclip the rear brake rendering it inoperable. This is the most likely culprit for such a sound. Brakes are overrated...go fast I think to myself. I go another twenty yards and the sound is still there. The rear wheel isn't turning easily. The bearing seem to have seized.
I carry the dead equipment off the course and I hang my head. I'm out. It's done. I pick up the bike and carry it to the booth where they're giving out really good free coffee and drown my sorrows as I skulk home.
At home, with the bike on the bike stand, I remove the wheel and adjust the bearings. It's now as smooth as butter. Why this seizing happened I'll never know. The mechanical failure was coincident with the crash with the frustrating Sunday brunch rider. While it's my fault for whatever bike maintenance failure took place and all the poor decisions that put me behind himt, I still find it in my heart to blame *him* ... at least partially and irrationally for the outcome. Come next race I'll pass him and never look back.