Monday morning I rise with a slow burn. I’m not sure what it is, but after a bike race it seems your body is intent on continually burning fuel, producing an elevated temperature for some time. Is it an immuno-defense mechanism? The body rebuilding and repairing? Not sure, but it’s cycling’s afterglow.
The last two weekends I’ve raced cyclocross in Chicagoland. Here’s how it went (in agonizing detail):
Sunday (10/24/10) the wife dropped me off in Bartlett, IL to race the ABD Sunrise Park Cyclocross Race. This was the sixth stop on the Chicago Cross Cup circuit. It was my first race in the Chicago series and my fourth cross race ever. For all intents and purposes, I’m counting this as my first “official” CX race. My first three races were done in soccer shoes, in 2008, so the jump to clipless pedals in 2010 was only surpassed by the use of tubular cross tires. Oh my, how those things are magic. After training on the Kenda small block eight clinchers, the Challenge Grifo tubulars are heavenly. Bumps are suppressed yet you have more traction and better control. No pinch flats. Glorious. Forget about fancy frames and such; put your money into a tubular wheelset. Single biggest equipment benefit in CX (according to this novice!).
The Course and Conditions:
Overcast with intermittent drizzle. Temps in the high 60’s for most of the day. Not quite proper cross weather, but good enough. A fair amount of wind (10+ mph) was gusting over the course and made the “power sections” well, that much more power intensive.
73 (according to results) guys and gals lined up for the 4A’s and 4B’s. The A’s had 2/3 guys who looked like racers, while the 4B’s had about 1/3 that looked like racers. I’m not making judgments here - everybody should be there - it’s just an observation.
The 4(Z)A race:
Starting from the third row (we lined up 30 minutes prior to the race, just silly!) I witnessed a crash in the first 100 meters. I rode over a guy’s rear wheel (not a Zipp, and by accident) as he went down right in front of me. It was bedlam. My teammate (who handily won the 1/2/3’s!) told me I took the first corner outside of the top 35. I jumped out of every corner and booked it through the straight-aways, working my way up to the top 10 by the start of the second lap. At this point I was competing with the guys who got call-ups. A little gassed from the efforts so far, (cat 2 teammate) Razzle Dazzle/Jason goaded me to move up and keep it smooth. I really appreciated it. Perhaps my calling out splits and encouragement helped him earlier? Well, I kept jumping during the straight-aways and while my back was tightening up pretty bad I worked my way into third place. I couldn’t shake the 14 yr old (Lombardo of Verdigris) off my wheel and when I washed out the front on an off camber 180, the kid took leave of me. I got back to his wheel once or twice but he was much better technically and I was running out of steam. I bled one more spot before the final twists and turns leading into “heckle hill” where I was promptly reminded from the bullhorn of my cat 3 road compatriot (and cat 2 crosser) Jason Knauff (Burnham) that I was beaten by a junior. It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last, I’m sure! Crossed the line in 5th a little disappointed at missing the podium when it was within reach. I still had a blast. It is so good to be back racing after coaching soccer.
The 4B(aggin’) Race:
After washing down a hammer gel I jumped in the grid for the 4B race. Seeing how I had to drive 3 hrs to get there, I was not leaving after 30 minutes of fun – and besides, it still says 4 on my license for CX. (Guilty conscience?)
I felt kind of bad hoping in there but I thought that the previous race would tire me and we’re all out there to have fun anyway, right? Well, I stopped feeling ashamed when CAT 4B CALLUPS started. Guys that take series result callups in the 4Bs? That is shameful. Now the guys in costume or the guy that youtubed his post race hurling from his helmet cam – those guys should get the 4B callup. Anyway, when I see homeslice on a full carbon Ridley/SRAM Force/Carbon tubie setup getting called to the front row of the killer Bs, I don’t feel so bad about beating him.
No start gate crashing in the B’s, and coming around the first turn in 20-30 something I worked my way up to start the second lap in 1st place. I attacked into the wind on the open stretch before the pit and opened the gap up to about 1:16 by the end of the 3 lap race. Disgusting? Perhaps. But not as disgusting as the hot dog, donut hole, and twizzler I consumed during the race via “Heckle Hill Handups.” It seems the 4B’s race is always a spectacle. Granted I was ridiculed as a dirty rotten sandbagger by a couple dozen folks, it was still worth it. But I won’t do it again. Regardless, between the 2 races I got an hour of racing in, and that’s why I came out. 1 hr of going hard, learning how to drive my bike, and all of it great fun.
(10/31/10) First Cat 3 Race:
Costumes got a callup since it was halloween. I wrapped myself in the lamest costume ever perpetrated on a cross race: white shorts, white base layer, 50 cotton balls taped to the front of the baselayer, black arm-warmers, white helmet w/ 2 black paper triangles taped to the sides. What was I? I was going for “lamb” but I would tell everyone that I was a wolf – in sheep’s clothing. Cue: groan.
The field looked much faster than the 4’s, mainly because they were. Guys that have been eating my lunch on the road all year were lined up around me - I was a little nervous.
I rode hard and got into the top ten on the first lap, even passing Whipple (Tati) and Luke (xXx-Athletico) [who had enough breath to yell “sandbagger” as I passed!]. But like most cross races I was all “fly then die” and by the second lap I needed a tourniquet I was bleeding spots so badly. Goodbye top 10 - it’s been great. There were countless passes and repasses, miny duels that make CX unique in cycling. (Perhaps some track events are like this? I don’t know.) I crashed once, in traffic, during the off-camber heckler packed section. Needless to say I was appropriately mocked. Rob (Psimet) laid it on heavy throughout. I’m pretty sure he heckles because he loves us.
By the end of the race I finished 12th out of 50 some riders, my back cooked and my mouth parched from the smoke. Did I really expect to line it up with the 1/2/3’s in an hour and have anything to put to the pedals?
(10/31/10) First 1/2/3’s Race:
Warming up I caught a chat with Liam (xXx-Athletico) and then introduced myself to Barry (Kona). Both are nice guys. Both are faster than me. I asked for tips since it was one of my first CX races, Wicks’ words: “go fast and have fun.” Good advice indeed. I was looking for barrier hopping tips or something bike-ninja-esque, but “go fast and have fun” seem like things I should strive for out there.
Since there were only 26 of us in the race it wasn’t too hectic at the start and while my goals coming in were: 1) don’t get lapped and 2) don’t get pulled, when the whistle blew I forgot about those goals and cranked on it. I even worked my way into the top ten I think, passing Jason (Burnham) after a bit of braggadocio between us. But per the usual, the blood loss began until I was even passed by a triathlete. Oh the shame! We dueled for at least a lap where one or the other would take the lead. Eventually I blew myself up and drifted backwards.
Bryan (ReCycling), a cat 1 on the road then caught me – but not before calling out: “I’m reeling you in!” I said something like: “you’re a cat 1!” while sprinting out of each corner. Who knows what I actually said as I was pretty crosseyed at that point. He passed me after a barrier and opened up a gap. On the last lap there was a technical section (4 or 5 off camber up and down the hill-side deals) that I rode better and better as the race went on. Bryan had to dismount and run them and I heard him yell: “I left the door open!” Forget the technical misstep, those words were his chief error! My confidence soared and I ignored the pain in my lower back, standing to close the distance. I caught him on a climbing section and took him on the inside of a 180 (something a MTBer did to me in the 3’s race earlier!). We headed downhill, left, into a super-technical 180. The surfaces changed from grass to pavement to sand+rock to grass then to loose gravel. Oh, and the sandy/rock part was a bridge over a creek. Yeah – scary pour moi. Surface changes are not my bag and this one was always a really slow corner for me. Bryan didn’t accelerate around me coming out of the previous 180 since the downhill was kind of a “recovery section.” Knowing this I got in front and moved him to the left side while coasting. Since we had to enter the turn from the right he was “pinned” where I wanted him and I could rest before swinging out to make the turn. It’s a small thing, but I’m pretty proud of it. I guess you had to be there. I survived the turn and held him off to the finish.
Another interesting (to me, ha!) point of the race was following Barry Wicks (Kona) for a bit. Barry’s bike was acting up and the single speed he was killing us on kept droping the chain. When the chain was on, he would ride away from me instantly. Then I would pass him while he was stopped on the side fixing it. Anyway, entering the “single track” wooded section, he was blocked by slower riders in front. This gave me the opportunity to take his wheel and see how the section aught to be ridden. The realm of the possible expanded. The first thing I saw was the whoop-de-doo after entering the single track. If you went over it in the standard way you came out aimed at a tree on the right and had to brake or hope you didn’t slide out banking hard left. Barry made the line straight by ramping over the much higher dirt pile/vegitation on the left, something nobody else was doing (based on the absense of tracks, etc), maybe caught some air, and carried way more speed through the section. It was smashing. I copied his line thenceforth. I also saw how he rode the roots, finding clean lines when during the entirety of the 3’s race I was convinced there weren’t any. Again: copy cat. Afterwards the wooded section was one of my fastest – something I didn’t realize until I was stuck behind 2 other riders thinking: c’mon grandma, let’s go! I even passed a guy on the whoop-de-doo taking the high side!
I finished 14th of 26, beating PRO road racer Alex (Team Type 1) and PRO Barry Wicks. To be fair to Barry, his bike did most of the beating. But lest you think it’s Kona’s fault, my Kona didn’t drop any chains. Woot.
The last two Sundays of racing were awesome. The events are extremely enjoyable (both the races and the people) and they were great workouts. If I can just figure out how to push through the back pain some more I might be able to hold position better (is the answer to buy a Stevens carbon frameset? Lol). Currently I’m nursing my war wounds, but I hope to get back out there asap. I can’t wait to get to the next CX race.
Special thanks go to Nick Dornick who continues to lend me his front EA70X tubular with Grifo. It is perfect bro! Thanks also to my wife for letting me play bikes!