If the cast of The Wizard of Oz were somehow magically thrown into a cyclocross race, I’d be the Cowardly Lion. Looking back on all the races I’ve done, my weaknesses stand out like a guy wearing a pink tutu and feather boa during a non-singlespeed race. There are parts of some races where I absolutely stunk it up. The hecklers on the course are sometimes kind (“Good idea to run that log, Willie Nelson, instead of risking a crash!”) but sometimes brutally correct (“Come on you pussy! Every one else is bunny-hopping that log, even Julie Lockhart!”). Now, for the record, Julie is 75 years old, has won more National Championships in all sorts of cycling disciplines than even she can count, is one of my true heroes but at this point in her life, chooses to walk and gab with spectators during a race when she doesn’t feel like racing hard or if the course is too difficult.
The bottom line is that there is always room for improvement. I make a lot of mistakes out on the course, most everyone does. Realizing what your weaknesses are is probably one of the most important things you can do to improve and move a step closer to your goal. Strengths are great but strengths are strengths because they’re probably something that comes easy to you. Weaknesses hold the key to success. I’m a decent climber on a bike but when it comes to descending, not so much. I’ve been known to walk sketchy sections when most everyone else is riding them. Any improvements I can make as a climber are miniscule compared to any improvements I can make as a descender. The time differences are huge, especially in cyclocross. If I had been a better technical descender at Nationals this year, I would have been on the podium.
I did 37 cyclocross races in the 2015 season and stood on 14 podiums; 5 of them were on the top step. By most measures, this was a great cyclocross season for me. What would it have taken to have 25 podiums and 10 wins? That is where focusing and working on my biggest challenges and problem areas in the next year come in.
As soon as the going gets tough, I wuss out and ride super-conservatively. I don’t often take the tough lines; I usually take the easiest way through roots or deep mud or around slippery corners even if it means conceding a second or two. I just lack the confidence that other riders seem to have. My guiding philosophy is that I’d rather finish the race than crash out and possibly jeopardize my season. Granted, sometimes this approach works in my favor but sometimes it costs me a few positions. This is especially obvious at the start when bikes, bodies and elbows are fighting for every inch going into the hole shot. At Nationals this year, I threw all caution to the wind and, starting from the second row, managed to be in the top 3 spots at the hole shot. This was a huge psychological boost for me during the remaining 40 minutes of the race.
This is the year when I plan to do a lot more mountain biking and concentrate on improving these skills. Who knows, maybe I’ll even come to like mountain biking?