Know the other, know yourself, And the victory will not be at risk; Know the ground, know the natural conditions, And the victory will be total.
- Sun-Tzu's The Art of Warfare
This book is often paraphrased to mean something as simple as "know your enemy". That understatement doesn't quite capture the essence of the lessons Master Tzu was teaching. This particular quote comes from the end of Chapter 10: The Terrain. It points out a significant element to waging war, that knowing the terrain on which you go to battle on is just as important as knowing the enemy with which you will meet.
I've made a lot of parallels over the years between this book and life in general, but bike racing more so and 'cross in particular. One can argue that in a stage race like a Grand Tour you need to scout the course and know where you are strong, where you can attack, and where you need to just hold your ground. You have 21 days to work your strategy and make adjustments as necessary. In 'cross, you have 45 to 60 minutes to race and instead of minutes making the difference, you have milliseconds. Where the slightest falter or lapse in concentration can open up a gap that can't be closed. So knowing the terrain as well as your enemy is vital in cross. 'Cross is also about knowing the riders behind you as well as those you're trying to catch. Understanding where they are weaker or stronger can give you an advantage over them.
Saturday I made the solo trip to Fair Hill to race the excellent event hosted by the First State Velo Club. The venue wasn't new but the course was completely different, much improved over years past. Warming up it was apparent the course was going to be difficult to race on. The use of a lower corral that has this deep sand/gravel/ground up tire mixture was ridable but would take a lot of energy making running the first 100m the better bet. I hate running.
At the start I lined up behind Bradley, the kid who rolled his tubbie a the start of the Wiss race so I was a bit worried. As we started up the road and through the first stretch of grass, I was sitting 4th behnd Bradley with Linder and Fife on the front. In the first turn fatMarc made a nice move on the inside. I don't mind following his wheel so I settled in and protected my position. A series of 180 degree turns kept the field at bay letting the 6 or so of us ride between turns and pick good lines. I re-pass fatMarc on the upper corral, ends up he had a flat. I try to stay with Linder and Bradley as long as I can riding a just a few seconds behind them but by start of the second lap, the legs were not feeling the love of the long run.
A chase group of about 5 riders formed with two HVB guys, Rotten Rob and myself. Rob was little extra Rotten today as he took to the pace making and was setting a good tempo at first but then fatMarc came storming around me as we entered the stables. As soon as he moved to the front I knew what was going to happen so I yelled at the HVB guys to get moving because Rob was going to start blocking. As soon as fatMarc got clear from the front, sure enough Rob sat up and the HVB guys didn't make a move. Unfortunately, this also allowed Rob Campbell and David Crouse to bridge to our group.
Our group eventually broke up and the rest of my race was spent chasing Rob C. and David, who with a lap to go picked off Morgan and Fife, as I battled with one of the HVB guys. He was strong between turns but wasn't a good bike handler, my best bet was to set the pace and pick my spots to attack him. On the last lap I attacked him out the lower corral and the series of several tricky turns through the upper corral, just in time to see Morgan a few turns away.
Through the pit area and on to the back half of the course Morgan kept a couple second lead. I finally closed it going into the stables but he attacked on the grassy section leading up to the road where there was one small wooded section to get through before the turn onto the finishing straight. I closed the gap back down but he got on to the pavement with about 5m on me and a long 200m finishing stretch. I remember Morgan telling me last year he didn't want to go up against me in a sprint, not sure why as I am in no way a sprinter, but this ran through my mind as I started to chase him down. After a series of mis-shifts I caught him with about 50m to go and on the line we both lunged, Linder said I got it by a foot.
Afterwards Morgan asked me why I had to chase him down, it's nothing personal but if I didn't I would have just wasted 45 minutes. The race isn't over until I cross that line and I don't give anything away.