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From pacifist to warrior

Amager, Denmark

Words and photos by Martin Paldan


It´s my chance and I put the hammer down. Or at least I feel like putting the hammer down. I pedal hard to catch his wheel, and with the orange lightning rider pushing down along the lagoon, I can´t help feeling the excitement of racing. How would I ever get in this situation? I once swore to never wear a bib number…

Original Online Story
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With two-digit Celsius degrees and the sky and autumn leaves in a complimentary blueyellow color battle, it is far from the standard cyclo-cross weather scenario of mud and dull grey near-darkness. It is hard to believe that the calendar suggests November. We´re at Amager – For some seen as the seedy, less-posh region of Copenhagen, Denmark – for others a heaven of nature areas, beachesgreat kebabs anwatching planes coming and going from the airport.  The Copenhagen Cyclo-Cross Grand Prix is well underway with multiple categories racing all day long. 

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This race will be my 3rd attempt at a cyclo-cross race. When I got hooked on cycling, it was never with the intention of racing. Life was way too short to be competing when I could just ride out and be a winner each time I found pleasure in being on the forest trails. So why CX? My main objective is to improve my technique on the bike and push myself out of my comfort zone. Without getting too deep in self-development, I strongly believe in the value of getting yourself into a bit of trouble from time to time. And pinning a number to my jersey was for me a way to dive into the unknown. 

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Out of respect for the other participants, I position myself at the very back at the start line. I would hate to be in the way. Friends and colleagues have told me to ignore that, and just let the other riders worry about passing. ´It´s their problem – it´s a fight – You gotta get in there´. Well, I guess I´m not ready to be a CX warrior just yet. Standing at the back, with seconds to the start, I feel more like a pacifist; disarmed, out-of-place, facing a war, on the verge of abandoning ship. A feeling that lasted until the last lap, when the pacifist got a taste of swinging the sword and then went into battle-mode! We will get to that part.

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The race is on. A machine, probably stolen from a garage-band somewhere on Amager, sends out gusts of thick, smelly smoke as the almost 40 riders in the ´non-license amateur category´ blast out on the course. I don´t remember if the smoke is accompanied by some sort of worn-out CX-playlist with AC/DC, but for a moment, I feel part of something big. That changes as soon as I realize with certainty that I´m the last rider in the bunch. I knew it would happen, but to be honest there´s a feeling of ´don´t accept this destiny´ about it. As the peloton reaches the first 90degree turn followed by a short, aggressive uphill with a 180degree turn down to the beach, I catch up and feel part of the race again. I dismount and run through the sand, throwing my bike onto my shoulder. I feel pro. CX is cool. Getting back on the bike is less cool. I prepare for a jump, but in a split second I hesitate, scared of the consequences of a failed jump and decide not to. Instead I lose all momentum as I swing my right leg over the bike and clip in. Damn it! 

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I pass two riders and admit it makes me feel relievedI´m no longer the last rider. There´s a long way up to the next riders, so I do my best to find a rhythm and a breathing that I imagine can bring me through the race. The cornering troubles me a bit, but on the other hand I feel strong on the running sections. There are no barriers so no need to worry about bunny hops. After a few laps the riders ahead come into sight. I feel confident about the course, and my thoughts are all about ´how fast can I go without losing control of the bike? and without the risk of burning out mid-race?´ It´s a mind game, and while mind and body are working full speed – not always with the same mission – I get up close behind the two riders: The Watt-man and the Tech-man. I stay behind and judge their speed. I have trouble staying on their wheels, especially after the dismounts, so being the pacifist, I stay behind, and let the Watt-man and Tech-man charge ahead. With my lack of race experience, I am curious to see how the two interact. They are clearly battling. The Watt-man is stronger on the straight sections, while the Tech-man is excellent on the tight corners. Several times he takes back the lead on the inside in the 180-degree turns. I ride behind and watch with admiration and soak up for future practice. I make the easy decision and tell myself that I´m happy with a third-place in this battle-in-the-battle and do my best to hang on to the Watt-man and the Tech-man. 

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Only on the running sections do I feel comfortable. I could overtake, but haven´t got the guts as I wouldn´t know what to do after that. Just charge ahead with them chasing me? Sounds quite stressful. This is where my lack of race experience shines through like a penetrating laser beam. I´m not sure of my own capabilities and have no idea how to kill the pacifist within meIt almost gets ridiculously philosophical. Why am I here? What am I doing in this race, if not competing? The solution comes from behind. Our three-man group is being lapped by the leading rider and as we cross the finish line, the bell rings and we head out for the last lap. A few more riders jet by, lapping us and leaving only small kicks of dust hanging in the air. We blast on as well and we breathe hard to keep up speed. 

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At the most technical section – a small descent into a sandboxa section where I ended up riding in the shallow water of the lagoon a few times – several things coincidedthe Watt-man makes a mistake and crashes in the sand, cursing. A lapping rider yells from behind and passes between me and Tech-man. I´m right behind this orange lightning lapping man as we exit the beach, and this is where I get handed the hammer. With a decent number of races watched on tv, I know instinctively that I´m being served an opportunity not to be missed. I jump on the bike (hell yeah!) and pedal hard to catch his wheel. And as a newborn warrior I wheel-suck down along the lagoon (am I even allowed to do that?)I´m not looking back. Not worrying about running out of energy. Speed is all that matters. Sticking to his back wheel, feeling the spray of sand being catapulted up in my face. 

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We reach the tight corners, and I want to keep his wheel in order to get a feeling of how to ride in an even faster situation. I manage to stay close for a hundred meters and then he´s gone. I´m back on my own. Got handed a ticket for an advancement and grabbed it without a fling of an eye and hammered away. What a feeling! The pacifist turned into a warrior right there along the lagoon. I manage to throw a curious look back and see more lapping riders approach me. Jesus man! Better get a move on! No sight of Tech-man and Watt-man. I push on in my newly acquired warrior mode and rush through the sand section with the bike on my shoulder. On the last stretch, I get lapped again, but my personal victory is solid. The warrior emerged and swung his sword high above his head. I cross the low-key finish line and find my way to the campervan, where I return my bib number and chip. CX is serious. Serious fun.

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How to remount like a pro. As the jumping-back-on-the-bike part was where I lost momentum, I asked Rasmus Berg, organizer of Sillebroen CX – The very first CX race I participated in – to share a few tips on how to properly remount the bike after a running section.

‘The aim is not to lose speed, so the objective is to keep your speed from running and transferring it to the jump. Don´t try and clip in before you are on the bike. This is a common mistake. It is very risky and you lose speed. Instead, you make a jump, taking off with your left leg and then swinging your right leg over the back of the bike and the saddle. The correct technique is to make your inner thigh (right leg) slide down the saddle until you are seated. This makes the risk of making a hard (painful) landing much lower. And is less tough on the saddle. Both hands need to be on the bars, before committing to the jump.
Practice on a soft grass area and mark the spot (with a bidon for example) where the remount must take place, so timing is practiced as well.’


The photos in this story are from the different categories taking part in the race.

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