Carl Decker Journal: The Austin debacle

Decker looks back on a trip to cyclocross nationals that didn't go quite as planned but ended up being nearly as fun as he'd hoped for

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Editor’s note: Carl Decker is a professional mountain biker for Giant and will be contributing rider journals to VeloNews in the coming season. This is an excerpt from his recent blog post about his trip to cyclocross nationals.

“Keep Austin Weird” is a slogan seen on murals and car and truck bumpers throughout that Texas city. I’ve been traveling to Austin here and there since my brother, Chris, packed his belongings into a turquoise Honda Civic and moved there 10 years ago. I like Austin. It’s a little different, and in Texas, a little different is good.

Three weeks ago, my brother sent me a text message with a link to a local news article. Austin was postponing its New Year’s Eve celebration for a week due to inclement weather (read: average Pacific Northwest New Year’s weather). “Not a joke” was all Chris said. I thought it was ridiculous but soon forgot it. Little did I know an important precedent had been set …

I arrived four days early for cyclocross nationals, planning on enjoying the warm Texas weather and maybe some good rides before the race. I was surprised to find that the weather was colder and grayer than the Oregon I had left behind! I guess I didn’t need to pack all that sunblock after all.

The track at Zilker was stellar. The surface was smooth clay and grass, with fun off-camber sections and great flow. The limestone ledges of the run-ups were tall and uneven — difficult, but cool-looking. A look at the forecast that night indicated some rain was likely in the coming days. Surely this would make the track even better — well, at least for the undertrained among the ranks … Happy days!

On Thursday night we headed to the Salt Lick barbecue restaurant with the Bend Endurance Academy (BEA) folks. BEA is an outfit that teaches skiing and cycling to local kids and is building some incredible racers with great skills and attitudes to match. They’d sent a couple dozen riders to the Texas nationals — an amazing feat for a small town 2,400 miles away.

It’s a bit of a drive from the city, but the Salt Lick is worth the trip for a meat lover. It is basically a giant campus dedicated to smoke and meat. I pay it a visit nearly every time I go to Austin.

By Saturday, the rains had come and the track was a disaster. Anything that wasn’t flat was ultra-greasy. Anything that was flat was covered in peanut-butter mud that clogged wheels in frames, and made bikes unrideable in a matter of seconds. I was PUMPED!

Morning dawned and several hours later, I awoke (what’s the rush on race day?) to find that the race had been cancelled. Details were sketchy, but in the end, USAC cancelled the race and then cancelled their cancellation and postponed the race, and finally, later in the day, announced that the remaining races would happen on Monday afternoon on a mildly reworked course.

Tina [Decker’s girlfriend] wanted to do an underground race that she’d heard of from Team Super Awesome and the Radavist. I was reluctant to join some kind of cat-herding mission, but relented and joined the scrum as they left a nearby shop for the longish riverside ride to their unsanctioned venue. After a beer, and a lap of their usual Wednesday night race track, I warmed to the idea and joined in on the fun. The race involved a seated start and a canyon wall scramble to our bikes. Brennan Wodtli had the holeshot and I had to work pretty hard to catch him, but then we rode together, showing each other our best lines and trying to not get too soaked in the river crossings as the sun set. We shared a beer hand-up. In the finale, I barely stayed ahead of Brennan in the steep run-up to the crowded and boisterous finish. Tina and her teammate, Laura finished 2-1 in the girls category and we all stood in a puddle for the impromptu podium and handing out of prize money hastily raised over the afternoon. Thanks to John and company for making a very cool end to a pretty lame day. That was memorable. And we didn’t even die during the team time trial back to my brother’s house in complete darkness.

Monday, Monday, Monday! Just doesn’t have the same ring, does it? Race day was a little misty and overcast. The track was great, but conditions were questionable. I was excited to see what I could do.

I had a decent call-up in the third row, and I lined up one rider over from my favorite wheel to follow in ‘cross races: Ryan Trebon. The gun sounded, I hit my pedal cleanly, and was on Ryan’s wheel. And then he made the gigawatts happen, and I watched him ride to the front while I looked for another less-motivated wheel to follow. And that’s when I saw bikes tangling in front of me. There was a sizable pile-up on the asphalt, and I was trapped against the fence by a couple of fallen riders. I hadn’t fallen and was unharmed, so freed myself and began the long and terrible task of playing catch-up. Despite good fitness a month prior, the legs quickly responded with that not-so-fresh feeling when push came to shove. Today I would not be overcoming great obstacles to soldier to a good finish. Today I would nearly get lapped on the final (9 minute!) lap by a charging Jeremy Powers. So 31st place for this guy! Not what I was looking for, but bad luck on bad days is kind of good luck if you’re a glass-half-full type of guy. And I was on this one.

I write this two days later from on an expensively re-booked United flight. My belly is full of meat. My legs are mostly empty. My mind and body are ready for a month or two of avoiding bicycles even when I don’t want to, so that the hunger is strong for the 10 months of 2015 that I’ll be racing and training. I’m glad I went to Austin, if only for the stupid fun of shopping for turf shoes with my former Mrazek-Deschutes Brewery teammate and brother, Chris. And the slightly smarter fun of a somewhat illegal race among mostly strangers in a park I don’t know the name of, somewhere in South Austin, Texas.


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