Tuesday, September 27, 2011

through the Muck: Nor'Easter CX report

photo by pedalpower photography

Cyclocross is defined by mud. In Europe, a "true 'cross" race is one where the racers finish covered from nose to toes in dirt. But like Eskimo's describing snow, cyclocross racers know the wide variety of mud types. Mud can be wet, caulky, firm, loose, sticky, gloppy, gritty, deep, thin, or heavy. Nor'Easter Fest Cyclocross had lots of mud, and lots of types of mud as well. So much mud I threw my socks away after the race rather than try to wash them.

I did not plan for a full mud course on Saturday. The weather forecast only called for a 20% chance of showers. But Vermont has been soaked all year, flooded by once in a century storms. The ground was as wet as a bowl of stew with a thin layer of grass clippings on top. The morning's light rain made it a certainity that the course would be full on muck. Some places had soupy puddles, the ride up was sandy cement type mud, the back stretch was gloppy off camber crud, and the barriers were in ankle deep muck.

I was excited for this race. The masters field was small. I figured that a race of attrition would mean that I could grind my way to a few Verge points. All I had to do was keep pedaling and get one set of bike changes, and let the less committed drop out. The course was not tricky, just slick in spots, heavy in almost all the rest. The turns were slow due to the deep peanut butter mud in the low fields. The only section I could get some speed going was the start-finish stretch.

Off the start I had good position in the middle of the field. I then slid off course on the first slimey descent. Crap! mistake #1. I ran past a couple of guys on the first beach section. I then slogged away around a couple of others to get up to Jerry's wheel by the top of the second slick descent, "the chute". This was mistake #2. Jerry then turned on his magnetic death ray, the one he has reserved for me. The guy infront of him flopped at the bottom of the chute, taking out Jerry. As I almost cleared him to the right, he spun around, taking out my front wheel. I body surfed into the pool of walnut brown muck. Chain off the bike and guys streaming past, I was now near last. I wished I had just trotted down that slippery chute like Bart Wellens would, or like Helen Wyman did later in the day.

photo by pedalpower photography

It took me a lap to get myself going race speed again. I did not help myself by tangling in the course tape 3 times trying to find dry(ish) track to ride. We only had 3 more laps to race at that point. Then I remembered that cyclocross includes running! And I run pretty well for a bike racer. In fact, I've been running twice a week for the past month. So for the next two laps anywhere the mud got deep enough to grind away in the smallest gears, I got off and ran. Then I started catching and passing guys in the deep mud. Running I picked off 5 guys, going from almost last to not almost last, but no better. I missed Verge points by two spots. I only wish I had stayed out of the course tape and on my feet earlier.

So the next time I race a "true 'cross", I'll run down the slick descents ala Bart Wellens, and run through the thick mud rather than grind away. In the meantime, I'll do my Mo Bruno-Roy signature wind sprints.
Cyclocross: you best be willing to get your toes dirty.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Into the Fog: the start of a new Cyclocross Season

New England is a region marked by its distinctive seasons. The transition from summer to autumn is apparent to me in the morning. Rather than the bright morning dew of August, after Labor Day the early hours are often covered by fog, even when the rest of the day is sunny. Each day as I drove to the race this weekend, a thick layer of mist hung over the fields and road.

Mentally I was just as clouded as the fog draped hills. The start of any race season brings some doubts: Have I trained enough? Are the fast guys still fast? Have my rivals gotten faster? Who has moved into my race category? I had more doubts than usual due to my limited racing this summer. To compound those concerns, I also had the first of the school year family head cold. I was so congested I could barely talk, much less race.

Saturday I took a slow wheezing preview lap, then another. I went to the trainer for forms sake. Just getting up to tempo effort was a chore. I thought that finishing a single lap in the race would be a minor miracle. But being the stuborn idiot I am, I lined up anyway.

And then a minor miracle did happen, I managed to avoid the first lap crash at 500m off the line. I slotted into the back of the bunch and just kept pedaling. By the end of the first lap I was catching guys. By the end of the second lap I was passing guys. Frank McCormack bolted past me going up the long hill. I thought about following his wheel, but realized I would collapse doing so. I just kept pedaling anyway. With two to go I was battling with Nat McHugh and a Quad Cycles racer. The Quad racer gapped me on the back side of the course and Nate came around to chase. Coming into the long hill climb on the last lap I attacked Nate and pressed hard. I managed to put in enough distance to keep him off my wheel the rest of the lap. I did not gain enough ground on the Quad racer to make a sprint at the line.

So I finished, and even equalled my Race Predictor position. It wasn't pretty, but it was a result.

Sunday, I made the silly mistake of expecting a better race result. Instead with two laps to go, and in position to make a run on Verge Points, I endo'd on the gravel fill. A twisted shifter, chain wrapped around the crankarm, and a cocked seat made certain that I would have a long slow ride to the pit. That put me 30 seconds behind GeWillickers. I rode an unenthusiastic last lap, and managed to come across 10 seconds before getting lapped. At least I had the legs to race two days in a row despite a raging head cold, so there's that.

The fog of race doubt is starting to lift.