Culture

‘Cross nats: One racer’s recollections

“That’ll work,” I told Keith Novello about an hour before the start of the elite men’s race at the U.S. Cyclo-cross National Championships this past weekend in Portland, Oregon. I was referring to his $7000 Moots Psychlo-X cyclo-cross bike, which I had just taken for a 45-second spin. He asked whether the seat height needed adjusting, and I said, “Nah, it’ll do,” drawing a chuckle from him in response. “Now I have to ride fast,” I said. Keith replied, “Don’t worry, man, it’s all gravy after this morning.”

By Matt Pacocha

“That’ll work,” I told Keith Novello about an hour before the start of the elite men’s race at the U.S. Cyclo-cross National Championships this past weekend in Portland, Oregon.

I was referring to his $7000 Moots Psychlo-X cyclo-cross bike, which I had just taken for a 45-second spin. He asked whether the seat height needed adjusting, and I said, “Nah, it’ll do,” drawing a chuckle from him in response.

“Now I have to ride fast,” I said. Keith replied, “Don’t worry, man, it’s all gravy after this morning.”

Keith, the owner of Red Rocks Velo in Morrison, Colorado, is one of the biggest ’cross fanatics I know, plus one of my biggest supporters. And he gets pretty fired up when one of his friends rides a bike fast. So after I won the single-speed ’cross national championships earlier in the day, Keith got busy.

Within 45 minutes he had rounded up a second Moots for a spare. It was unbelievable – I went from a steel single-speed not worth more than $700 to a pair of bikes worth close to $13,000. And within six hours of my win in the single-speed division, I started my warm-up on one of the nicest bikes I have ever had the opportunity to throw a leg over.

8 a.m. Sunday, December 12
I left the hotel in the dark. It had definitely been a while since I had watched the sunrise while warming up. I probably would have to think all the way back to my days as a junior to remember an earlier warm-up.

After the previous day’s masters and U23 races degenerated into footraces, the organizers decided to re-route the course around the muddiest parts. With the mud shin-deep in many places I was quite happy to have a fresh swath of grass to pedal on.

After my brief but effective warm-up I found a spot on the front line and waited for the start of the single-speed championship. I was surprised at the turnout – there were 75 yahoos out at 8 a.m. for a single-speed race, which was pretty cool in my opinion. At the gun we raced towards the finish line, 200 or so meters away. The first rider to the line got a bottle of Oregon’s finest red (wine, that is), and luckily I made it there first.

After taking the prime, I was able to settle into an almost comfortable pace behind Jamie Driscoll (Richard Sachs), an under-23 powerhouse. He got me up against the ropes a couple times, riding sections of the course that I didn’t have the power to make. But I had been racing single-speeds throughout the season back in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado, and I knew that if you didn’t watch your efforts in the early parts of the race, they could come back and bite you. So I rode my own pace and tried my hardest to keep things smooth while getting a chuckle from the announcers butchering my name and playing with my nickname – the best version was “Paco Taco” or something to that effect.

After passing Jamie on foot while he was riding I was able to take the lead and run with it. In the end Jamie’s early efforts, and those from the previous night’s U-23 race, proved to be his undoing, and I was able to ride a solid race, finishing with a comfortable lead and taking a pretty cool win. I collected my spoils, a sixer and bottle of wine, threw my arms up on the podium and enjoyed it.

Then it was back to the hotel for a six-hour break until the elite race – woo hoo, number two – plus some super-fanning for the junior race and the Boulder juniors, Brady Kappius, Adam McGrath, Peter Stetnia and Alex Howes.

2 p.m.: T-minus 1 hour until the big show
I just acquired two very expensive Moots ’cross bikes. Believe it or not, they were lighter than my one-speed; pretty impressive. I already had Keith in my corner throwing elbows to all the guys lining up an hour before the start to sit on trainers. I elected to warm up on the roads, which were a little less claustrophobic.

Just before the start, as Ryan Trebon was called up to the line, a couple of young ladies marched up and dropped trou’ to expose the letters T-R-E-E-F-A-R-M written on their undies. I missed it – what a gyp – but luckily I got filled in after the race.

The start was crazy, almost like a kermesse in Belgium, and I was way back, frantically fighting my way from the 60s up to the low 20s. I was running on adrenaline and the crowds – it was very cool, and very loud. It is an awesome feeling when the antics and craziness from the fans flow over the race; it helps you ride faster and harder.

I had a great first 45 minutes, but as the race wore on I cracked. The lack of recovery from the morning races coupled with the adrenaline-fueled start left me empty and contemplating dropping out in the pit on the last lap with less than five minutes left to race. It was one of those high-quality bonks that I’ve only had a few times in my entire racing career.

After the race I ate almost a whole tray of salami at the TIAA-CREF trailer, one of those bonk-induced pig-outs, washing it down with a nice local brew, Black Butte Porter from Deschutes Brewery in Bend. Then the Boulder crew hit the Burrito House by the Best Western – it was the third time in as many days Frank Mapel and I ate there. The meal was followed by an evening of debauchery to end the cycling season; that story will be withheld to protect the guilty, which was pretty much everyone. I will say that it was fun.

So what do you think? Maybe you should come to cyclo-cross nationals next year. The racing is good fun and your efforts give you an awful good reason to throw down and get down with some of the big names in the sport.


Matt Pacocha is a pro cyclist for the Tokyo Joe’s Professional Cycling Team who doesn’t get paid, and is thankful that on this double-day he didn’t have to shower in some Belgian elementary school between races. You can find him working the front desk at VeloNews, making sure no one runs out of copier paper or staples.