Thursday, October 24, 2013

2013 Cyclocross Season - Week 4 - Waffle Cross #1 & #2

The Idaho Waffle Cross series kicked off this past Saturday at the Eagle Bike Park under sunny skies and pleasant temps.  Over 110 racers showed up to tackle a challenging course and enjoy the festive atmosphere created by the Waffle Cross crew.  In addition to an awesome, technical course, we had Bob's Red Mill waffles and delicious adult beverages from Payette Brewing to look forward to post-race.

My Waffle Cross almost didn't happen.  I woke up the Wednesday prior with the first signs of a nasty head cold and I tried to nip it in the bud by taking Wednesday off of the bike and keeping the rides short on Thursday & Friday.  I REALLY didn't want to miss Waffle Cross, but I also didn't want this cold to go "nuclear" on me and leave me unable to function the following week.  Armed with a handful of Hall's Menthol cough drops and embrocation, I decided to give it a go Saturday morning.

Dropping In! Photo by Reed Cycle
Masters 45+ Race - Waffle Cross, Day 1
The Waffle Cross course at the Eagle Bike Park is no grass criterium race...and I dig that!  This venue rewards bike handling on a variety of surfaces and forces you to think about what you are doing out there.  After a couple of recon laps, I felt good about my strategy for racing this course. 

With a front row call-up, I decided to step on the gas and try to stay in front of the inevitable carnage that was going to take place in the first tricky section.  Rob Burke was glued to my wheel and made a quick pass when I bobbled in the sand early on. Rob and I would be locked in a tight duel for the remainder of the race.  I was able to make a pass on the 2nd lap but Rob was always right there, waiting for me to make a mistake.  And this course was a mistake waiting to happen!

As we rode through the finish line and I saw "1 Lap To Go", I got a little nervous.  I am not used to being at the front of a bike race.  I needed to stay smooth but also stay on the gas.  I made it through the trickiest sand sections and steep hills just fine but Rob was still lurking a few bike lengths back.  Into the grass section, I ran the big double barriers pretty well and was feeling good about my gap over 2nd place...and then I crashed.  I lost my front wheel on a grassy downhill, left-hander and went down in a splat! Shit!  I scrambled to my feet and remounted as quickly as possible and was relieved that Rob did not pass me in the process...but now the gap was tight.  I stomped on the pedals, bunny-hopped the final section of short barriers before the paved finish straight, and crossed the line in first place. Holy shit, I just won my first bike race! 

Masters 45+ Race - Waffle Cross, Day 2  
We would race the same course, but in reverse, on Day 2.  The reversed course presented several new challenges because there were now several sections that were possible to ride, but potentially faster to run.   

Pushing! Would a shoulder carry have been faster? Photo by Reed Cycle
We also had a new rabbit to chase. Ron Miller, who didn't race Saturday, line up with the Masters 45+ on Sunday. 

Ron Miller, smooth like butter. Photo by Reed Cycle
I took a similar approach to the start on Sunday and was the first rider onto the grass and through short double barriers.  I was able to bunny-hop these each lap and keep my momentum through the following corner.  Ron was kind enough to let me lead through most of the grass but then flexed his quad muscles on the grassy climb-to-pavement and passed me handily.  Ron is wily veteran of cross and was riding really smooth. I think he made one small mistake, on a very tricky course, the entire race.  Speaking of mistakes, I tried to ride the steep, loose "S" turn on the first lap and paid for it. I bobbled mid-turn and had to dismount while losing all momentum. Ron's gap instantly went from 10" to 30"...and I would never get it back.

Lurking not far behind was my nemesis from Day 1, Rob Burke. Every time I looked back, Rob was not far behind so I had to stay smooth and on the gas.  Day 2's course kept you on your toes and made you think on every lap. Should I try to ride this section?  Should I run it?  If I run it, should I push my bike, suitcase carry it, or shoulder my bike? I have a lot to learn in terms of which technique to use at a given time during a race.

Ron Miller opened a solid gap by the end and easily won Day 2. I finished in 2nd and Rob Burke placed 3rd on the day.  I am looking forward to several more close battles when the Waffle Cross series resumes on Nov 9th & 10th. 

Random Gear Note:  The 10spd SRAM S-700 Hydraulic Levers appear to be more durable than the carbon 2012 SRAM Red Levers I rode last season. I crashed a couple of times over the weekend and I am happy to report that I did not break a lever! I broke two SRAM Red Levers last year crashing on grass and their fragility led Tim to nickname them "SRAM Breakaway Levers".  

Post-race recovery waffle!
The registration tent...PRO
Eastside Cycles was onsite with a full arsenal of Ridley Cross bike to demo
Take your Cyclocross cheering to another level with a bell from Donger Mfg
Huge thanks to the Waffle Cross crew for putting on a GREAT event.  This year's Waffle Cross was unofficially the biggest cross race to date in the Treasure Valley and I think that trend will continue.  It would be great to see my friends from Sun Valley and Teton Valley / Jackson make the trip over for Turkey Cross in November.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

2013 Cyclocross Season - Week 3 - Moose Cross

Moose Cross is a race that I helped start six years ago in Victor, ID.  I remember planning the race that first year and wondering whether anyone would come to Victor, ID to race cross.  Now the race draws over 100 racers from all over the west.  I know first-hand that it takes a ridiculous amount of work to put on a quality cyclocross event and I sincerely appreciate the great job that Victor Velo and the Fitzgerald's Bicycles team did this year in putting on Moose Cross.

Heading into Moose Cross weekend, I was feeling a bit over-stressed and over-cooked.  It was the perfect storm of "life stress" and fatigue.  In fact, had it been any other race than Moose Cross I would have pulled the plug on the trip and stayed home to recharge the batteries.  In hindsight, my perception of being over-cooked was dead-on because I came down with a cold the Tuesday after Moose Cross. Doh!  

Saturday's Master's Race
A big field lined up on Saturday to contest the Masters 35+/45+/55+ race and I had a first row call-up based on registration order. Woot! Why not pin it off the line and see what happens?  I will tell you what happened:  Sputtering, black smoke coming out of the tail pipe, and a massive slow-down halfway through the fist lap...that is what happened!  As a result, I think most of the field passed me.  And nothing kills your mojo faster than having most of the field pass you. I wanted to quit only 10' into Moose Cross, Day 1. Ha!
Everything changed when I saw Fitzy on the grassy knoll.  In classic Fitzy-style, he had launched off of the front on lap #1 in an impressive display of fast-twitch ability and took the first lap preem but was now riding mid-pack.  With about four laps to go, he had a good 30" on me.  From this point on, all that mattered was catching Fitzy! It was ON!

Trying to shake Fitzy through he Grassy Knoll
With two laps to go, I had closed down the gap and was on Fitzy's wheel.  Strategies were bouncing around in my head as I calculated where I was faster vs. where he was faster.  I really didn't want it to come down to a sprint between Mr. Fast-Twitch and myself if at all possible. Just before the end of the lap I made a pass on the short pavement section.  As the lap bell rang signalling one lap to go, Fitzy was right on my wheel.  I gave it everything I had up the railroad tie run-up because I know Fitzy has an advantage there with those long legs of his. And then came the grass. There was a tricky little single barrier on the grass that was hop-able but I chose to run that section while Fitzy hopped it. He was like a skinny piece of velcro...I couldn't shake him. With a hard right-hander before the finishing straight, this was going to be tricky.  After clearing the final corner, I sprinted for the line and expected to see Fitzy pull along side for a bike throw...but I crossed the line alone, well in front of my nemesis. Evidently when Fitzy stood up to unleash his own furious sprint, he cramped. Doh!

That was some serious mid-pack drama and made for a memorable race despite not feeling my best at the start.

Sunday's Masters Race
Sunday's course was the reverse of Saturday, with a few minor changes. To make it interesting, we had rain overnight and the grass section was very slippery for our race.

Where's Fitzy? As I scanned the start line, the black Fitzgerald's Bicycles skin suit was suspiciously absent. Sunday's race would present a new set of adversaries shortly.  I took a conservative approach to the start and didn't blow myself up right off of the line.

As the race quickly unfolded, I found myself in a battle with Pocatello Idaho's wily veteran of cross, Bob Walker, and a rider from Montana wearing a red jersey who, from this point forward, will be respectfully referred to as "Big Red".

Bob, Big Red, and myself were very evenly matched in terms of power. Whomever made the least mistakes would win this little mini-battle.

The slippery grass claimed its victim when Bob aggressively tried to ride an off-camber section that we had been running on previous laps. Bob lost his front wheel, went down hard, and Big Red and I squirted by on the inside.

Note to self:  Just because you can ride a section doesn't mean that riding is necessarily faster. Try both in practice.

Big Red was a monster on the power sections and I could barely stay on his wheel. My only shot was to get around him on one of the technical sections and hope I could stay away. However, Big Red was having none of that. In fact, he had his own trick up his sleeve. Big Red was pinching off every inside corner through the grassy knoll and left no room to pass...none, zip, zilch, nada.

Once we got through the grassy knoll for the final time, Big Red dropped the hammer and I was not on his wheel when he dropped it. The gap went from one bike, to two bike lengths, to more than three bike lengths very quickly and that is how it ended. Good job Big Red!

After the race, Bob Walker and I relived our glorious duel and he jokingly accused me of taking him out on the grassy knoll. Ha!  Fun battles mid-pack in the Moose Cross Masters Races for sure!

Be sure to put Moose Cross on your 2014 Cyclocross Race Calendar and "Like" the Moose Cross Facebook Page to stay in the loop.

Lastly, check out the Moose Cross album from Cody Downard Photography.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

2013 Cyclocross Season - Weeks 1 & 2 - Avimor & SICX #1

9/28/13 - Boise Cyclocross Season Opener, Avimor

Avimor's grass was a touch wet
This year's cyclocross season kind of snuck up on me.  I had planned to race one more mountain bike race, the Draper 50, on Sept 21 but "life stuff" got in the way and I didn't make the trip. Since I had planned on being totally blown from the Draper 50, I hadn't really considered racing the first two local cyclocross races.  With no Draper 50 in my legs, there was no reason not to jump into the season opener at Avimor.

The Avimor race proved to be a great kickoff to the season.  There was an informal clinic on Friday that was good for some barrier practice and a course preview.  One thing was immediately evident during the course preview; Avimor has some crazy-thick grass.  I felt like I was in slow motion.  As an added bonus, the course designer threw in a little section of buffed singletrack that was a nice break from the grass.

The "Corkscrew of Death"
The Race
My USA Cycling racing age is 45 this year and Avimor would be my first time lining up with the Masters 45+ group.  This just in...these guys are fast!  The twisty nature of the Avimor course allowed you to see where the competition was most of the time and it was fun trying to gauge the gaps and then trying to close them...or stop them from widening.

Did I mention the mud? Evidently the sprinklers at Avimor run ALL NIGHT on Friday nights and nobody thought to shut them off so we had soaking wet grass, which turned to mud, on most of the course.  The file treads that I thought were "money" on Friday afternoon were marginal at best on Saturday. Doh!

My race was fun as I was locked in mortal combat with Troy Nichols for the second half and we traded positions many times. I had a little extra zip over the last barrier and was able to hold him at the line...barely. I think Troy and I will have some fun battles later in the season.

The CX bike was a little muddy after the Avimor race

10/5/13 - SICX #1, Sandy Point

The SICX Flyover made an appearance at the first race
I typically love racing at Sandy Point.  Ironically, I have yet to have a good race there and the SICX kickoff race was no exception.  Captain to engine room, "Scotty, I need more power!"    

The highlight of my race was my little "race within the race" with Michael Shaw.  "Shaw-Zam!" typically crushes me on the mountain bike so I was a little surprised to gain some ground on him and latch onto his wheel near the end.  On the last lap, he dropped me like a bad habit and left me alone in no-man's land.  That really wasn't very nice of him.  I am looking forward to future rematches with Shaw-Zam! at future SICX races.

Mmmm...sand in the drivetrain

One of the coolest pieces of gear I have used in a while is the Billie Rack.

The Billie Rack slides out to make access SO much easier. The hand-brake is to prevent the rack from moving while traveling or while parked on a hill.
Billie Racks are made here in Boise by a couple of great guys who genuinely want to build an innovative product.  The single biggest benefit so far is NOT having to crawl into the camper shell to load heavy items. I can simply slide the Billie Rack out, place the items on the cargo top, and slide it back in.  The cross bar in the front is 1 1/8" so it is compatible with all Yakima crossbar accessories. Nice!

I will do a Blog post on the Billie Rack soon.