Did you ever have that moment when you sort of sit bolt upright and think "dammit, that's when I missed the chance to put the race away?" Well I had that the other day, on Sunday, after the race.
We had gone through the turn after the barriers, and then up that gravel/broken asphalt catastrophe and down the shallow downhill dirt track section into that crazy winding left. I was leading, going hard but not attack hard - partly because that turn had been getting the better of me all day. Charles came underneath me in the turn, going really really fast, doing some crazy bike equivalent of the Dukes of Hazzard thing, tri-podding his inside foot way out there. Then he kept on going fast. It's no kind of a whatever statement to say it was the first time he'd been on the front since the first lap. He's good at not leading until he really wants to.
So I stay with him, and Matt stays with me. It takes a little bit to close the gap, but instead of countering, I thought "what I'll do here is turn the screw hard and maybe they will die." I knew Matt was fading a bit, and Charles gave a big tell by looking back with that "oh please God tell me I am opening a gap" look that I so often look back with. We were starting that short rise before you go back through the pit and then onto the last sections of the course, behind the play ground. I had plenty of gas, and should have gone as hard as I possibly could, all out attack, at least to the 180 left above where the waffle truck was, and then ridden the last sections balls to the wall.
By simply trying to slow roast them, I gave them the chance to draft on the fast paved section. Even though I was continually gapping them in the last sections, I never got decisively clear. Drafting counts in cross, it counts a lot, even if I continue to discount its importance week after week after week.
Cross is a game of fitness, skills and sharpness. Of those three, the longest leg of my triangle by a good bit is fitness. Skills I'm okay, sharpness I'm okay, but they're more "livable weaknesses" at this point than things that are going to do me any good.
Staring down the barrel of the move to elites just makes me see how much I actually suck at cross. If I'm going to be any good next year, there are a lot of things that I have to improve so much. I was a little nervous in September because I knew a lot of guys had really been practicing hard and focusing on cross all summer when I didn't even get onto a cross bike until 2 weeks before Tacchino, and that was just for a few hours and then it was back to the road for Green Mountain. A lot of the guys who'd been really pressing their cross games all summer are completely spun out right now, sick of cross. For me, it's been a long season but my head's still in the game. The big challenge will be to spend enough time working on the big weaknesses in my skills yet not be ready to completely throw in the towel by DCCX.
Immediately, I'm just going to try and do what only one guy has been able to do this year and that is to keep the jersey for more than a week.