For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: “It might have been!”
– 19th century American Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier.
I knew it wasn't from the moment Team Big Bear’s Pat Follet (or was it Tom? I don’t know which is which. They both yell a lot, but put on some damn fine races) yelled, “Go!” From that fatal word my Superlink SRAM chain began dancing on my 9-speed XT cassette like Kevin Bacon in the movie “Footloose.” The damn thing wouldn’t stay put in gear and over the clicking noise of the chain jumping between sprockets, I could hear Aaron Gerth’s haunting voice in my head. “Dude, you should never change anything the night before a race.” Over and over again. I don’t know which was more annoying, the ring of Aaron’s words of wisdom that I had ignored or the "click-click-clack" of the chain and cassette as they danced inharmoniously like a couple of 13-year-olds trying to slow dance at a Junior High Winter Ball.
The night before I insisted that Aaron install a new piece of cable housing to replace the stock piece that had developed a slight bend. A week before the bike was shifting fine but a slight click in third gear had convinced me that the tweak in the housing was the culprit. So, against his will I held a spoke wrench to his throat and watched as he replaced the housing that runs from the seat stay to the rear derailleur. The only hitch (I thought) was that the cable housing was too thick for the metal ferrules that we had available to cap off the housing ends. I thought I had the solution, taking a razor blade to the housing to shave the circumference, allowing the ferrules to fit. What I really did was seal my California State XC round five coffin. On the bike stand, without a load the Cannondale Scalpel shifted flawlessly and even during Sunday morning’s pre-race warm-up/spin everything was cool, but as soon as I put the metal to the pedals the trouble started.
Before the race was three miles old I couldn’t take it anymore and stopped, hoping I could alleviate the problem by screwing with the barrel adjuster on the rear derailleur. I only made it worse and by that time the hope of decent finish had been littered, like a Virginia Slims cigarette flicked out the window of a Honda Civic on the 91 Freeway. I did discover however, that I could use the first and ninth gear in each of the three chain rings - without the annoyance of the dancing chain. So, for the remaining 18 miles I did just that. I rode up the five bitches in a higher gear than ever before, I ascended Pirates of the Caribbean in a lower gear than ever before and heading to the finish I drag-raced neck and neck with a Sport-class woman rider as I had never before. She was wearing a leopard skin sleeveless jersey and for that brief sprint I felt like a gazelle on the Serengeti trying desperately not to become dinner. I got the nod by a wheel or two, but she put up one hell of a fight.
I ended up 9th Expert 25-29 of twelve. Tony Manzella got the class win and riding partner Josh Underwood put in a good performance claiming fifth. Three days have past and my legs still ache from pushing such an uncharacteristically high gear. And the regret of not listening to Aaron’s advice still stings like salt in an open wound.
On Monday night we discovered that the root of all-evil was in the cable housing that I had shaved down. Apparently my precision-razor-blade-fix had allowed for the shift cable to dig into the edge of the housing underneath the ferrule. Problem fixed, but we also discovered that my almost new XT cassette was bent on the second gear, which explains why the chain was hopping in the first place. I sent the cassette back to Shimano for a warranty replacement and if they don’t honor it, you can bet you’ll hear about it right here.
Never in 15 years did I ever change anything on a motorcycle the night before a motorcycle race. I don’t know why I decided to do it differently when it came to bicycles. I deserve the horrible 9th place finish.
Guess what girls? I promise no bicycle or motorcycle stuff in the next posting.