Tuesday, September 28, 2010

You need the Skills

photo by Janice Checchio

The variety of skills needed to race cyclocross is under-appreciated. Cyclocross is not always a criterium on grass, it is not usually a mtb cross country race on narrow tires. The skills are more than just hopping off the bike and over a set of planks. Going fast in cyclocross takes a long list of techniques for the various challenges.

photo by Janice Checchio

Nor'Easter Cyclocross at Loon has to be the most challenging course I've raced in New England. In Europe near impossible descents on cyclocross courses are more common than in the U.S. In the early days of cyclocross, courses would include "death drops" that today seem like mtb gravity stunts. I've watched Belgian races on the inter tubes where some downhills are better to run than to ride. Loon was challenging because the descents were HARD, white knuckle full brake grip hard. Anyone who could carve down the loose steep twisty descents got plenty of free speed to help them win. I was pushed to my limit in transitioning from tough climb, to tougher descent. But I made it down everything without touching the dirt, at least in the race. I would have liked to go down it faster, but I made it clean. Of course you still had to run, sprint, and dismount, but it was descending that made the race.

photo by Rob Bauer

Sucker Brook CX required other skills than just hopping barriers. SBX is a flat course with few features that experienced cyclocross racers would find challenging. The only places you can get into trouble is cornering too fast on the grass or in the loose section on the fire road. So I went back on word to myself, and signed up for the Killer B race. The only time I've left a bike race in an ambulance was the last Killer B (cat 3) race I did 6 years ago. I needed to be at the front early to avoid the carnage. I figured that top 15 coming off the start would be good enough. I was wrong.

I got to the start a little late and was on the 3rd row. I popped the start hard and moved up to 10th coming through the grassy turns, so I figured I was golden. But as we came over a set of dusty little whoop-de-dos, the guys in front of me stacked it. Anyone who pre-road the course would expect to just roll over these. It was hard to see in the dust, but no need to STOP. From going 20 mph to complete stop shot me off course. I jumped back on the course from behind the pile-up, only to be blocked and forced off the bike again 100 meters further up. And I drop my chain too. To add actual insult to injury G-Ride heckles me as he comes past. (like Nelson going Ha-haw, "kryptonite") So from 10th to DFL in under a minute, just because kids these days don't know how to ride their bikes in the dust! I jumped back on full of fury, racing in anger. I managed to ride everything clean the rest of race, hopping the log feature every lap, chasing back up to the front half of the group. I even cut under G-Ride in a loose corner as revenge, but without taking anyone out. I could make all the turns, but I could not keep my head together enough to move up to the top 20. I was mentally exhausted from my rage over the first 3 laps. The skills are not just bike handling. I needed to keep a grip on my anger.

A completely clean race and a top 10 result would have been nice. I should apologize now to all the cat. 3 racers I yelled at as I tore past in laps 1&2. I was loud, I was angry, I wasn't nice. And everyone has to learn their skills somehow. The cat. 3 race is the place for guys who have more speed than experience. I realize that I did not get the nick-name "CCR" by accident, but by lots of accidents, and slips, spills, splash downs, generally poor bike driving. Yet, each incident taught me something to improve my CX skills. Everyone falls down sometimes, good racers develop the skills to go faster and fall less. To race cyclocross, you need the Skills.

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