Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sunday, Muddy Sunday: reflections from Gloucester Grand Prix

The New England cyclocross season is 4 weeks done, 11 weeks to go.  The Grand Prix of Gloucester comes very early in the season considering it is the biggest race weekend on the calendar. But that provides a good dividing line. The 'cross dabblers will race little, if at all, and train even less post Gloucester. The cyclocross focussed racers will only get more fit through October and November. This year, Gloucester gave us the first taste of true 'cross conditions too, providing another dividing line. While the first three weekends were dry and warm, we enjoyed cool wet weather for 3 days. The steady rain on the morning of day 2 meant the Gloucester GP would be a muddy Sunday, further separating out the true cyclocrossers. As usual, I had several thoughts on my drive home from the big race.

1) Its All About Traction, Toe Spikes & Tire Selection:
Racing well in the mud takes four things; power, skill, attitude, and proper equipment. I can barely improve my own power numbers on the bike, much less yours. A good attitude toward racing in the mud is easy for a very few racers, such as Mo Bruno-Roy. For most of us it only comes with a ton of gritty experience. That experience also develops the slippery slope side riding skills needed for true cyclocross. Today I am going to write about equipment, specifically toe spikes and tires.

A slick course means traction is at a premium to keep control and make forward progress. This is true both on foot and on the bike. Since a muddy course can mean a geometric increase in the amount of running, traction on your shoes is critical. Bike shoes have horrible traction. Some euro pro's will glue a strip of mud tire tread to the bottom of their shoes for extra grip. But for most of us, mountain bike shoes with toe spikes are enough. For a really slick race like this past Sunday, forget the light weight cleats that come with your shoes. Get a pair of the longer all steel spikes available from Also make to put lock-tight on the threads to prevent losing them in the race.

Tire traction not only keeps you from falling off, but helps keep you moving forward, and keeps you from sliding into things while braking. Good mud tires are more available now than ever. Challenge introduced the Limus and Clement the PDX last year. Vittoria now puts its XM tractor tread on a high thread count casing. But the best mud tire I've ever ridden in the FMB Super Mud. It has great grip and rolls surprising well on fast sections, plus has the superior FMB casing. The Super Mud is even Mo Bruno-Roy approved. Since we do not race in slop almost every weekend like in Belgium or Portland a dedicated set of mud tires & wheels may be tough to buy. In conditions like we saw last Sunday they were worth every cent.

2) The Kids Are Alright Again, Mad Skills:
Racing "with" the elite juniors this season I have a new appreciation for their talent. It isn't just that Curtis White, Nate Morse, and Peter Gougen are fast. They were also riding the mud better than some of the elites on Sunday. These boys have been riping around on 'cross bikes since they were 4 feet tall, and it shows in their confidence in the mud. (see #4)

3) A Bad Day to have a Bad Day, Except it Isn't!
Gloucester will expose any & all of your weaknesses. Just because of the sheer size and depth of each field, any mistake will cost you 6 spots, per lap. Drop a chain and 3 guys go by, blow a corner and 4 more charge past, miss a remount and two more slip by. Racing at Gloucester can be very tough if you face some set backs. Until it isn't. If you've been put so far back by a mechanical or spill that a good race is not possible, Gloucester is the best race to be at the tail end of the field. The crowd is so large & supportive that it can be fun just to keep on pedaling (a beer hand up or two helps). Sunday Colin Reuter lost his rear deraileur and showed how to have a bad day of cyclocross like a boss.
photo by Jen Audia
4) Raising'em Right, impressive Cub Juniors.
I was waiting at the bike wash for the start of the cub juniors race. 30 kids ready to give it their all in the mud. Greg Gunsalus touched wheels and dropped his chain off the line. But rather than throwing a fit when it took over a minute to get things together, he charged after the field, and ended up 5th place. Chapeau to him for his poise and grit. The enthusiasm of the girls in this group has been impressive this year. Each event this season Leah Carlson, Gabrielle Czerula, and the Girls First crew have raced, cleaned up, and then cheered on every other category on course. They can be found ringing cowbells and handing out Twizzlers with as much energy as they race.These kids love cyclocross, both in their race and on the other side of the course tape. I hope they keep that love until they themselves are racing elite.
photo by Tod Prekaski

5) The Top Step of US Cyclocross: Rapha vs. Cannondale:
There are only so many racers that will rise to the top of any race discipline. This season we saw the surprising migration of Ryan Trebon to Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld. Last season we witnessed to rise of Jeremy Powers to team leader of Rapha-Focus and national champion. It is clear already that Ryan is back and Jeremy is even stronger than last year. Throw into that mix Tim Johnson getting onto the podium almost every race, and Zach McDonald's continued growth. I'm certain that Ben Berden, Jamey Driscol, and Todd Wells will make the front end of races. But largely this season, barring injuries, it looks like a contest between the leaders of Rapha-Focus & Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld for the wins.

7) How Big is Big Enough:
The Grand Prix of Gloucester is he biggest cyclocross on the east coast. Providence and NoHo are great events, and getting bigger every year. But Gloucester is still the really big show. I was surprised to see that racer count was up "only" 5% over last year. Paul Boudreau was hoping to have a few hundred more spectators for the weekend, but the rain conspired to make great racing, and poor spectating. I can not imagine more racer getting into Gloucester. All of the fields except for the elites were full. But I do think that NECX should start a "bring a friend to cyclocross" campaign. Sure the best way to understand cyclocross is to race it, but its a whole lot of fun to watch too. We should work at bumping up the spectating for all the big events in NECX. From a spectator count stand point, we're not nearly big enough, yet.

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