We asked Ben Chaddock to tell us about racing at night. What follows is in his words.
At night. If it’s raining or even just a little wet it looks icy, totally glazed. You half the time don’t know who you are riding with. It’s dark, it’s hard to see, you have no idea whether it’s someone you trust or respect. Basically you are cornering shoulder-to-shoulder and blocking and trying to stay on Carlos’s wheel, blind. You tense up, try to feel your way through it but all you feel is your bike for sure and the ground maybe. You are running on sensation. You expect anything and everything. You sit on your bike that way and with that in mind. Your position, all about mitigating the inevitable, is uncompromised. You react. You avoid or deflect and if it’s really bad, absorb.
Some Jerk is always streaming down the inside line. You pass one of the course lights on the way into a corner, everyone behind you is suddenly closer, bigger and faster, and threatening to chop you on the inside. You angle or counter-angle and move to cover only it’s a phantom problem, it’s not real, it’s the shadow of some dude five or ten feet behind you. This happens five times maybe more, each time in roughly the exact same spot and you are over it, the stress, feeling foolish, spazzing out. The sixth time, the time you don’t cover it, it’s the Jerk. By the time you figure it out he’s on his way to the front.
One of the corners on the backside of the course is pitch black. An off-camber right-hander with a deep gutter for an inside line. The approach is almost as nice. A strip of gravel in the middle of the road. Potholes all over the place. A blinding light pointed into your face. It’s like turning, recently blinded, into a curtain of darkness. A shitstorm. You want the inside line but the gutter is inches deep and the edge so gnarly you can’t just steer your way out or carve out or whatever, you have to bunny-hop, anything else means rolling your tire off or folding a rim or worse. A race like this is a lot like mountain biking, like cleaning or trying to clean a section of single-track.“Every lap is different. Things change. Not falling is cleaning is surviving. You want to survive.”Ben Chaddock
The darkest section of the race is also the fastest. Half way into a 500 meter downhill straightaway where four lanes funnel and collapse into one, just before the second to last turn and a hundred meter sprint finish, one-and-a-half laps to go, in the back of bubble between the front and the middle, the death zone, you choose left. You see sparks. The silhouette of someone upside down. Thirty dudes to your immediate right disappear, vanish. All of them, wiped out. Gone. You move up, you finish 12th.