Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Charm City CX

I had originally planned for my out-of-state cyclocross trip to be to the Madison USGP. I made a late decision to switch the trip to Charm City Cross in Baltimore, so I could also visit my brother.

In the week leading up to the race, I picked up a cold from the kids. I went to bed super-early every night, and by the time I left on Friday, I felt more-or-less OK.

I drove straight to the park on Friday, thinking that, by Friday evening, surely the course would be set up. I was also thinking it would be nice to spin the legs a bit after the long car ride. I found the park just fine, but I didn't see any course tape, barriers, etc. What's going on? Finally, I got out of the car and started walking around; that's when I spotted an orange spray-painted line winding around the park. After following it for a while, I was pretty sure that this was the course. It did feel good to ride a bit, but with only a general idea of where the course would go, the pre-ride wasn't so useful. I still can't believe they set the whole thing up before the first race the next morning.

I decided to do the 2/3/4 ("B") race for this weekend. It turns out that this was the last race of the day. By the time I rode the course on Saturday, almost every corner was muddy/slick from so many riders going over it. There were also a few deep, sticky mud pits. The day was cold, overcast and spitting rain.

I was called up 80th in a field of ~125 riders. The first few laps were crazy with that many guys! We went through almost every corner 3-4 wide. If you let up just a little, a couple guys would get by. It seemed like I was faster than many of the guys around me at the start, but I had a lot of trouble making passes. I was a little too tentative and just not used to so many people.

Once things spread out a little, I found that I was definitely handling my bike better than the guys around me. In particular, I was really happy with how I rode the muddy corners. I was a little surprised at how well I did, since we don't typically get conditions like that in Michigan. Unfortuntely, from a fitness standpoint, I just didn't measure up. I don't know if it was from my cold, the car ride, or that the other guys were just that fast, but any time we got to a spot where I just needed to put the power down, I struggled. I ended up finishing where I started, 80th. Kind of a disappointing result.

For day 2, I vowed to be more aggressive at the start. I got a similar call-up (84th), so I figured I'd get in plenty of passing practice. I also thought I might physically feel a little better. The course on the second day was drier and the corners were more open; basically, faster conditions. The weather was also much nicer.

There was one corner where some hecklers had camped out. They had a little dry-erase board sign that they used to good effect. During the women's pro race, the sign read "Single Men ->". During the warmup for my race, they'd written "Attack the warmup!". After a couple laps, they started referring to me as "Sea Bass". I thought it was cool...

It seemed like the field strung out faster on the second day. There was really only a lot of traffic on the first lap. I did physically feel better, but I made some bad mistakes. On the first lap, I didn't realize we'd be going through some sandpits, so that surprised me. (They removed the sandpits for the Pro races, and, on the first day, they didn't put them back in for our race. On the second day, they did!) I rode through the first stretch of sand, then decided to run the second stretch. I had an awkward dismount, lost my balance and stepped on the spokes of my front wheel. Doh! I didn't mess it up to the point where it was rubbing, so I just kept going.

At the start of the third lap, I made my final mistake. The barriers were set up on a slight downhill, and the ground in front was a little bumpy. Should have been no big deal; it's almost exactly how I set up my practice barrier at home. I coasted in, stepped through, then couldn't get my left foot out of the pedal. Crash! I hit the barrier with my lower legs and my bike. Somehow I didn't flip over it. The barrier gave a little, but it still REALLY hurt! My legs were scraped, but they otherwise looked OK, so I got back on my bike. It was incredibly painful to pedal, but I thought if I kept going it might start feeling better. It didn't, and I couldn't pedal hard at all, so after a minute or two, I stopped. DNF...

After the race, I could assess the damage a little better. My left knee was pretty badly bruised, and I was scraped and bruised just below my right knee. My front wheel was out of true, but my bike was otherwise OK. I was pretty worried at first that I'd just ended my season with a bone bruise like I did last year, but, by that Wednesday, I was back on the bike and riding hard with no problem.

So, even though my race results were pretty rough, I still had a good time. It was really cool to be in such a big race and with such a quality field. I'm thinking I will go back next year. Maybe try to step up my game a little and get a better result.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Counting to 8

I made the trip over to Plaster Creek Park in Grand Rapids on Sunday to contest the first Kisscross race of the season. Particularly after my less-than-stellar practice race at the 'cross clinic on Saturday, I wanted to get one more training race in before I head to Baltimore next weekend for Charm City 'Cross.

The course was pretty fast and flowy. There were a few fun "roller coaster" turns where you just let the hill slow you down on the way up, and then you turn and bomb down the other side. There were also a few Kisscross oddities: a big spiral and a set of triple barriers. All said, it was a really fun course.

We had a pretty big "B" field: 46 racers in the B field, and 37 in the B-masters. They announced that we would be doing 8 laps ("count your own laps"... remember this), and then we were off.

I held back just a little at the start; I think going out too hard was part of my problem on Saturday. I ended up near the front, but this let John Osgood (one of the few racers I knew) build a decent gap. From then on, I rode pretty steady and picked riders off the whole way. I ended up riding most of the race with fellow Rhino Dan Gosen. At about the halfway point, we started lapping riders, and then it got really difficult to tell who you were racing.

For this race, I really wanted to focus on taking correct lines and being in the correct gear. The gearing thing is something I'm not always disciplined about. For the most part, it was fine, but there was a long 180 degree corner through a baseball infield that I really struggled with. I think I was making two mistakes: going in too fast, and taking a wider line, where the sand/gravel was a little deeper. Dan, and others, always seemed to erase whatever gap I'd built up in that one corner.

About halfway through (what I thought) was our second-to-last lap, I started looking around to see the gap to Osgood and who was in between us, to plan a bit for that last lap. The gap to John was pretty big, and I wasn't sure if the few guys between us were on the lead lap or not, but I didn't think so.

So, as we're riding through the start / finish line, Dan calls out "We're done". I said, "No, we have one more to go." I was so sure, and I still felt pretty good, so I could have definitely done another lap. I must have been convincing, because Dan and I kept going. (In hindsight, I remember seeing a few tags on the spindle already, but no one was standing there.) We went through a couple corners, then I saw John, sitting up and pedaling easy. Doh! Dan and I scooted back to the spindle (where there was now a line) and put our tags on. We crossed the line 2nd and 3rd, but were scored as 10th and 11th. Sorry Dan. (We did get a mention on the results page... "a few people had trouble counting laps...")

Photo of me...

Anyway, the race was a lot of fun and I have some confidence now heading into Charm City and the Tailwind series.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Cautiously Optimistic

I'm cautiously optimistic about the upcoming cyclocross season. It's been a long time since I've posted, but I've been getting in some good training. I've mostly been focusing on longer efforts to try to build up my threshold power.

I've been going to the Thursday night gravel road rides for the past couple weeks. I've been able to hang better than I expected. I'm still getting dropped by the really fast guys, but I seem to be doing well in that next group.

I had intended to do a couple late-season mountain bike races, but life has interfered a bit, so it looks like I'm done racing mountain bikes until Iceman. I'm planning to do the Kisscross race in Grand Rapids this weekend, and then I'm heading to Baltimore for Charm City the following weekend. I'll get some indication from those races, but I won't really see how I stack up against the local cyclocross competition until Munson on Oct 1.

I've been pretty motivated lately. Part of it is that I'm excited just to be racing 'cross. Part of it is also that my optimism hasn't been tempered by reality yet. Motivation is harder to come by when you're getting shelled every weekend... that's definitely been part of my problem with mountain bike races this year. I feel like I'm too fast for Sport, but not quite fast enough for Expert. I need to think about that for next year, or, just get faster!