Menno By Numbers

MennoCross this Saturday at the Canadian Mennonite University was yet another feather in the chapeau of the 2011 cyclocross season. A record number of racers came to pound it out on an almost storybook fall day, surrounded by a warm and fuzzy vibe of camaraderie, pacificm and fun. I found out that even under the best of conditions, you can have a shitty race – something I succeeded to do with almost terrifying perfection. Serves me right for partying with Tom Boonen the night before – that guy is an animal.

The course itself was probably one of the most thoughtfully designed I’ve seen. It had everything a good cross course should offer – fun grassy switchbacks, straightaways, barricades, and a couple of technical features that make you want to kill yourself. It was a symphony of cyclocross delight. Unfortunately, if this course was an elegant sonata, I showed up and played the kazoo.

I was pleased with my start, moving up several spots from the nosebleed section before hitting the first ninety degree turn on the pavement. I knew this would be a trouble spot, and sure enough a couple of riders on the outside went down amid much scraping and commotion. The next turn was equally treacherous due to the stampede of riders trying to squeeze through the narrow opening simultaneously, but somehow I remained upright and entered a grassy roller coaster of hills and dips and turns with enough elbow room to feel fairly relaxed.

On to The Stones. On the other 364 days of the year the The Stones are a lovely decorative feature of a landscaped courtyard. During MennoCross, they are transformed into a hellish pit of soul sucking despair. Your wheels sink into the rocks, which are about the size of charcoal briquettes, thus causing you to grind to a near standstill. Falling on the rocks, as I discovered last year, is not entirely comfortable.

Again, in spite of a couple of dabs (shamelessly putting your foot down to avoid falling) and close calls, I did not fall on the stones. In fact, as the race went on, I began to look forward to The Stones because as I came to a grinding halt, it was the closest thing I had to a break from the lung searing pain of trying to go fast.

At the end of The Stones was a path of smaller stones – a loose gravel section roughly 12 feet long, and I’m guessing, about twice as deep. If you were going slow on The Stones, you certainly didn’t gain any speed on the gravel, which led to a nice steep grassy hill. Due to the unfortunate effects of gravity, hills are much easier to ride up if you are going fast. I was not going fast.

Back to the roller coaster. I had come to help set this section up before the race and saw the grassy hills impaled by what seemed like hundreds of wooden stakes. Without the tape to define the course, they created a baffling puzzle even The Dark Lord himself had trouble deciphering. Especially when his son the J-Train started to help out by adding some extra stakes here and there.

Being a lazy roadie I love nothing more than a straightaway with a tailwind – we hate hills, wind, turns, or basically anything that makes riding hard or slow. I am lost on a cross course without the security of a peloton around me like a fuzzy blankie to protect me from doing any hard work for an extended period of time. Indeed this straight section was awesome, but entirely too short to be of much comfort or use.

The next feature was a nice little romp through the University’s organic garden, which was being lovingly harvested by a number of fresh-faced students. As much as I dislike gardening, I might have enjoyed the tranquility of the scene if it didn’t mean I was almost at The Bunker, by far the most devilish part of the course.


The Bunker is a small man-made hill in the middle of a field. It is about 10-12 feet high, with a small, flat top. After jumping some barricades to get to the top, you had about 2 feet to remount your bike and clip into your pedals before hurtling down the backside, praying to God you didn’t slip onto your top tube and ride down on your crotch. Having tried that particular technique last year, I was not eager to repeat it. Extra thanks to the heckling spectators for providing the inspiration to make it up (ie. not wanting to give you the satisfaction of watching me wipe out).

I come from a long line of sturdy, plow-pulling women, and have been blessed with a strong and healthy back. For whatever reason, by the third lap my back hurt so much I just wanted to stop dead and lie down – which I did, immediately after I crossed the finish line at the end of the race.

I skulked away like a wounded rabbit looking for a private place to die. For ten minutes I lay on a not-so-private patch of grass  listening to a group of university students six feet away discuss their weekend plans. If they noticed the woman dressed in bright red and white spandex sprawled beside them on the grass gasping for air, they made no sign of it.

Thankfully, even a very bad race can make for a very good day. Exchanging war stories with people who’d had an equally miserable race was pretty fun, because nothing lifts the spirits more than misfortune of others. I was discouraged, however, by tales of Brad the Impaler, who finished about the same time as I did in spite of his bike being in pieces for much of the race.

But by far the best part was the mingle-fest afterwards, where I got to chit chat and eat faspa with people who are starting to feel a bit like family. Not to mention the people I didn’t even know who came up to introduce themselves. That was crazy awesome. It’s nice to know I have fans who are not of the bovine variety.

Next up… Southern Cross in Altona. If Tommy Boonen calls, tell him I’m busy.