BRO Athletes: Luke Woodward Takes on the Sport of Cyclocross

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With the radio off, I try to take deep breathes and chill out as I get on the entrance ramp. It had been a rather hectic week of bike building, tubular gluing, car appointments, packing, and getting in extra hours at work to take off early Friday afternoon. Not that pre-race weeks aren usually this hectic, this week just happens to be. And I didn’t mind it all that much, I just needed to consciously make an effort to quiet the mind a bit, which there was plenty of time to do. I had two and half hours of driving before I met up with my mom and brother (fellow BRO athlete) Eli and another seven and half to Rochester ahead. It was finally time to let it just flow. The weekend was finally here, and with it, so was the start of Cyclocross season.

I wouldn’t have normally considered driving 10 hours to race, especially for the first one of the year, and a pro race at that. That being said, in the weeks leading up, I had started feeling good on the bike, but more importantly, most of my mom’s family lived in the area, and a race provided a great opportunity to visit with family. So despite another seven to eight hours of driving ahead of us the day before a race, when I met up with my mom and brother, we were all excited. Shoot, I was even excited about the time in the car just to catch up with them.

When we finally pulled in to my Grandma’s driveway, I awoke to a time past midnight on the dash. We tried to sneak in, but it was to no avail as we woke up my Aunt Amy’s Bull Massif, Ruby, and not knowing who I was, she had a bit of a barking fit until we made friendship over some dog biscuits, graham crackers, and Cheetos. With the dog calmed down, we each found a couch, and passed out.

Despite the late arrival and really wanting some more sleep, I got up at six on Saturday morning to finish building Eli’s bike. I had been working on Eli’s bike all week, which meant that his first time on it would be a mere 2 hours before race time. Not ideal by any means, but at least he opted for an eleven o’clock race and not the nine o’clock he could have done. As I finished up, I handed it to Eli to ride and make fit adjustments, and then headed inside for much anticipated coffee and oatmeal. Grandma, Aunt Amy, and my mom were all up, and my younger cousins, Brooks and Elias, were slowly getting up to cartoons. Brooks and Elias had caught the mountain bike bug from Eli over the summer when he was up there, and they were both excited to go see a race. Hello hugs were had with coffee mug in hand, and we figured out the logistics of the day.

With Eli’s bike at least rideable, I say goodbye to Grandpa and we set off for Ellison Park, a short fifteen minutes from my Grandma’s place. We both checked into registration, grabbed numbers and checked out the course. One look and I knew I was in for a heck of a weekend. It was essentially up a hillside, down a hillside, and then some flowy sandy sections with steep kickers. Not exactly single speed friendly. Oh well, it would be ridiculously hard regardless of course.

I checked in with Eli, caught up with some friends from Cincinnati that had made the trip up, and after watching Eli’s start, rolled over to the pit. With a bike that I had literally just finished putting together, I wasn’t exactly confident he would go the whole race without needing some kind of adjustment, and certain he’d need water in the already 80 degree heat. Sure enough, halfway through, he stopped in the pit to have me look at anything that might be dragging. He looked like he was working harder than he should be, but I couldn’t find the immediate problem. His race ended, the junior road champion taking the win, and Eli just glad to have gotten through. We switched wheels, quick, and I did a warm-up lap to check out the course and my single speed gearing. My hunch was confirmed. I needed at least a tooth lighter.

With my race not for another four hours, we decided to head back to Grandma’s. Air conditioning sounded great over hours in the now 90 degree heat. Once back, I changed my rear cog out from a 16 tooth to a 17 tooth, did a quick once over on the bike, ate some couscous, and pinned numbers. I had forgotten how much of a pain shoulder numbers are. It took me a solid five tries to get them right.

With numbers pinned, I took some time to just take some deep breathes before leaving, trying to clear my head.  I’m on a single speed, on a hilly course, in 90 degree heat that I don’t usually do well in. But I didn’t care about any of that. It was finally time to go race some Cyclocross. After a few minutes, my mom arrived back from a coffee run with Dunkin Doughnuts, and we piled back into the car, Pumpkin Spice iced coffees in hand.

After finding the lost pit pass (I swear, it’s always something), and getting on the same page as Eli, who was going to be in the pit, just in case I needed anything, I rolled off to get warm. Which didn’t take long with such heat and humidity.

3:45 finally rolled around, and I once again found myself at the back of the start grid. Names such as Powers, Page, Driscoll, Berden and Dodge were at the front. I can’t say no one knew my name, though. My grandma, aunt, cousins, and of course my mom, were all there, cowbells in hand and ready to cheer me on.

1 minute till start…30 seconds….Anytime within 15….The anticipation is always killer. The whistle goes, and we’re off…

No matter how hard you push yourself in training, there’s nothing that quite replicates the start of an actual cross race. By the time the pack rolls through the end of the start chute and dismounts for the stairs, I’m already cross-eyed. As the beginning of the race rolls out, I slowly make up positions. But it’s short lived, and at the pace we’re going, I’m quickly alone. Half way through the race, I see the leaders. But I’m not catching up to them. They’re behind me, and I’m about to get lapped. I descend down the hill for the last time, and get pulled just before they catch me. Race over. I get off my bike and roll over into the grass next to Eli in the pit. As bummed as I am, I look on the bright side. I lasted longer than in the last UCI race I did, and in conditions I usually don’t do well in.

The race ends with Jeremy Powers taking a commanding win, and then came the highlight of the weekend. After the last racer finishes up, Eli and I take Brooks and Elias, on a lap of the course.  Just like the pros, we start out of the start chute, and through the many curves and hills of the course. I give pointers on how to dismount and remount, help hike their bikes up the pro run-up and watch as they skid their way around corners. Watching them, it’s easy to remember why I love racing in the first place.

We pack up and head back to the Grandma’s place, not without a Wegman’s stop first. On the list: Razors for Eli’s still hairy legs, mojito mix, and Gatorade. Back at the house, I promptly open my first Devil Backbone’s Pumpkin Hunter of the season, and fill the bathtub with cold water to cool the legs off. A homemade dinner, a leg shaving lesson, and a few too many ice cream sandwiches later, it’s time to crash on the couch for the night.

Sunday brings much the same schedule, and results. After switching out to an even lighter gear on my bike and tuning up Brooks’ and Elias’ bikes, we head out for the course. Eli’s race goes similarly to yesterday. With more time on the bike, he makes riding up the stairs look easy and is one of the few all day to do so. Throwing a whip on the fastest descent of the weekend, he has more than a bit of technical skill. That doesn’t mean he never finds himself on the ground though. Halfway through the race, a mistimed hop up the stairs finds him over the bars, just to try the same thing successfully next lap. With two to go, he casually rolls into the pit to take a water feed from me. As he rolls in he asks casually, “Hey, can you put my crank arm back on?” Apparently not all the kinks were worked out from yesterday. It takes me 30 seconds to get his crank arm back on. As he takes a last sip of water and hops back on his bike, he says, in as chill of a voice as you can possible have in a middle of a race, “Thanks! You’re the best mechanic ever.” I chuckle, knowing even in the middle of a race, he means it. Riding and going on race weekends with my younger brother is one of, if not my favorite parts of racing. It’s a huge part of who we each are, and being able to stoke each other’s stoke is such a cool thing.

After his race ends, I take a lap of the course, and head back to Grandma’s, grab some food, pin numbers, and chill out.

My race Sunday is almost the same story as Saturday. All the family is there to cheer me on again, including my Uncle Andy, who raced at the elite level on the road when he was my age, and a big reason I got into it. Back row call-up, I start hard but blow up quickly, and get pulled 35 minutes in. Whether it’s the run-around of the week leading up, or too many ice cream sandwiches the night before, my legs and confidence definitely aren’t where they have been.  I’m slightly consoled when Belgian Vincent Baestaens takes the win. Sure, it may not have been a great race, but hey, this is international!

After another lap with the boys, its back to Grandma’s for some burgers, mojitos, and a good ol’ night of storytelling with my Mom, Aunt Amy, Uncle Andy, and Grandma.   It’s a perfect end to a great weekend of hot dusty racing, car tripping, leg shaving and quality family time.


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