He’s up the road; that’s it. Never mind the road is unpaved, only as wide as a sedan and peppered with rocks like black pepper on scrambled eggs.
How easy it is to choose resignation over determination. He climbs better; I descend better—but he’s ahead and we’re on a climb. It’s simple addition, math a second-grader could do.
A field of granular rock gives way to woods and gravity. The singletrack briefly gives way to a trail the width of French doors. I have a shot at passing him, but then insecurity and caution get the mic.
It’s early. You have plenty of time. You don’t want to lead for another five laps.
He makes a mistake, loses his momentum and I’m at his heels, unable to shoehorn by. I know as I dab I could have been building a lead. He leads the opening of the next lap, and opens a gap. It stretches. I realize my mistake.
At the bottom of each descent I close enough to overlap his rear wheel. The singletrack is eponymously narrow, bounded by loose leaves or poison oak and sometimes both. I dodge rocks the size of a cat.
Nothing. Maybe I can slip by on the inside of the bend. No. Maybe go wide in the turn. He fills that space as well.
Into the start finish, back into the uphill grade and he begins to pull away once again.
Just had to have that beer. Forget what the wine cost; you’re really paying for it now.
We roll another lap this way, him pulling away on gentle slopes that feel like mountains at this effort. The gap is larger at the top this time. He disappears around a bend.
More salads. More effing salads.
I draw close in a puzzle of rock, shadow him like a little brother. He brakes too much in the turns, has to pedal out of them, and I am forced to pedal when I’d coast, if only I were ahead.
Another lap goes by, from sun to shade to sun to shade and out again. I think back on the one moment of indecision I had. I bring the hammer down, but not on him.
The race is half over, but the best you can hope for is second.
There’s another race unfolding behind us, but I have no idea what it is until I heard the whine of a freehub behind me.
That’s not good.
The sound of the coasting bike is replaced by the panting of a rider trying to keep pace but seconds later I can’t hear anything except the voice in my head.
You’re not going to pass him.
At the top, the juniors are comparing notes between our performances.
“He’s got suspension but brakes through the rock. This one doesn’t have any suspension and doesn’t use his brakes.”
From where they sit, they can only see a small slice of the course, an eye to a keyhole.
I use my brakes, boys, but only enough not to end up wearing that wild mustard at the exit of the turn.
The real battle is whether I give up hope, resign myself to second place, dial back enough to ease the burn, or do I keep the pressure on, hope to catch him in a mistake? Maybe he blows up or washes out in a turn. I need to be there—carpe momento.
There seems such a gap between the win and the loss, between hope and resignation, but how long is a second, really?
And suddenly, there it is, he’s 45 to the trail, headed toward the green, a foot out. Even as I hear the discs lock, I’m shooting left.
Track! Track! Track!
And with that, I’m by. I shift, shift again. I stand up, give another acceleration, feel the wheels slide in the turn and then a final few strokes before getting into a tuck. Indexes at the levers, ready, 38s planted in the berm and suddenly I’m out of the chute and digging the final meters to the finish.
I cross, too shocked to raise a hand.
Image: Jorge “Koky” Flores, JustPedal