Friday, February 9, 2018

CX Nationals in Reno (looking in the mirror) -- by Dwaine

Cyclocross racers riding the sand feature
After a month of pondering on my Reno CX Nationals adventure I’m feeling quite content. The big picture summary is that I created and refined a game plan, executed that plan with intentionality and focus, and brought home some wisdom and experience.

Additional introspection required me to weigh my gains against my costs. My costs included some dollar...  Continue reading

Friday, January 26, 2018

CX Nationals in Reno (the race) -- by Dwaine

Racers lined up at start of cyclocross race
By Thursday of Reno CX Nationals week I was  accustomed to a routine. Sleep a little long, walk from my hotel to the TA travel center for mediocre coffee, and then slowly pack my bike and gear for another day of racing at Rancho San Rafael Park.

To prevent my nerves from getting the better of me I jotted down a time line of tasks between arrival and race start. I’ve done these lists in the past and they help me remember what to do and when to do it as the clock winds down to race time and my anxiety winds up.

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Monday, January 22, 2018

CX Nationals in Reno (day two) -- by Dwaine

Cyclocross bikes on hooks at cyclocross race
In today’s post I’ll fill in a few details regarding ranking points and describe how I spent the Wednesday rest day. This post will be short so I can resume writing about the main event.

Ranking points 

The previous post mentioned USA cycling ranking points. Continue reading

Thursday, January 18, 2018

CX Nationals in Reno -- by Dwaine

Bus to motorhome conversion in Cannondale livery
My first Cyclocross Nationals is in the bag. My experience in Reno was an overwhelming success and I’ll be sharing what was seen, the events that unfolded, and what was learned over a few posts starting today. Reno’s Rancho San Rafael Park held host to the 2017 USA Cycling Cyclocross Nationals. The course designers utilized …

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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

What’s Next Cyclocross 2017

My cyclocross racing season is still in motion. The end of the Cross Revolution series usually signals the beginning of rest season. But, as of today, just one more event separates my legs from some well deserved rest. Let me elaborate.

Cyclocross Nationals, which comes to town in December of 2019, uses a ranking system to determine call up order. Acquiring ranking points requires competing in USA Cycling sanctioned events. This year I extended my season to include four sanctioned events in the timespan of just fifteen days.

December 3rd 2017 – Fort Steilacoom Park

Rutted muddy cyclocross course
Fort Steilacoom Park _did_ have a short but seriously deep mud section.
Going into this event I was optimistic. The course designers cut a new longer run up, a treacherous descent, and rerouted the previous run up as a short-n-steep descent. My course preview proved these sections were tough but certainly within my wheelhouse. The remainder of the course used familiar sections of the park.

This was my first USA Cycling sanctioned event and I started near the back of a 25 rider field. The more difficult descent came just two minutes into the first lap and it was in my best interest to avoid traffic on that first go down. I worked really hard for two minutes and cleaned the descent clear of traffic and in fourth position. At this point my plan was to settle to my own pace for the remaining 43 minutes of racing.

The very next corner was a simple right hander that required no special attention. I let my mind wander, washed the front tire, and hit the deck hard. I was able to quickly scramble back onto my bike and then take inventory of my situation as I continued to pedal.

Two riders take on toughest descent at Fort Steilacoom Park cyclocross course
This descent started off camber and then transitioned to a steep left hander. Running wide guaranteed meeting a small tree or two.
Blood ran from my elbow but not in enough quantity to reach my hand. I felt contusions on my forearm, rib cage, and hip. I was still functional and pedaled on.

After about one full lap I had collected myself and had dropped to about tenth. But I wasn’t racing at my full potential and slowly slid backwards to finish, without further drama, in 12th.

New run up at Fort Steilacoom Park shows riders in distance at bottom
This is a proper run up. Long enough. Soft soil. After remounted racers got to climb some more. If you didn’t see max heart rate you might be blind.

December 10th 2017 – Kayak Point Golf Course

No, we did not race on the golf course proper. Instead the race course utilized the perimeter of the driving range, a few unpaved maintenance paths, and some of the paved golf cart paths. Yes, there were a couple descents, a little mud, etc. But those features all paled when measured against the long, steep, paved climb.

After previewing the course my hopes were not high. That paved climb was tough even at preview pace. My goal was to finish in one piece.

The start went well enough and, when we dropped down the first descent I found myself immediately near the front. The second descent of lap one found me at the front as we hit the paved climb. That climb hurt me more than the others. I lost positions. My 38/28 gearing wasn’t even close to low enough and I was forced out of the saddle for most of the climb.

Lap after lap I’d gain time on the two descents only to give up even more time on the paved climb. I finished 6th out of 15. This turned out to be a much better result than I anticipated.

Cyclocross racer descends steep wooded and rooted section
Plenty steep. Some roots. And a FAT tree at the bottom of this descent. This is the run up turned short-n-steep descent at Fort Steilacoom Park.

December 16th and 17th – Fort Nugent Park

This double header weekend just outside Oak Harbor included the WSBA (Washington State Bicycle Association) CX Championship on Sunday. This may be a championship in name only but it did bring in a few more riders from a wider geographic area. It also presented an opportunity for me and my family to turn a cyclocross weekend into a family road trip and our vintage travel trailer was enlisted as our base camp.

Every rider faced the choice of riding one or both days. Every two day rider faced the dilemma of trying to save energy during Saturday’s event to be used for Sunday’s event. I hoped to swim opposite the current by burning all available matches during Saturday’s non championship race which might sabotage my chances on Sunday.

Fort Nugent Park is nearly flat. There course included a little bit of everything. It didn’t favor my technical riding style. The ground was wet but no rain was falling and the course didn’t look to turn too sloppy.

Just ten riders lined up for Saturday’s start. It was not my intention to charge towards the front but the inside line was wide open going into the first corner and I slid into third.

Over the next 45 minutes I put in a solid ride avoiding major mistakes and making just a couple tiny ones. The riders around me seemed to be stronger than the week before and there were few technical sections where I might shine. I finished 6th of 10. The gap between the winner and me was just under two minutes as is usual. But the strength of this field meant that a two minute gap put me behind mid pack.

Saturday night was spent refueling, hanging out in our tiny travel trailer at Deception Pass State Park, and listening to the rain showers come and go.

On Sunday morning the rain stopped but the damage was already done. The promoter reversed the course direction. The additional rain along with a second day of racing changed the character of the course. A nearly unrideable mud section evolved. The three off camber sections became slick and much tougher to ride. In short, the course came to me a bit. Too bad I brought rubber legs.

The field grew to 18 riders and, as I was to find out shortly, it didn’t grow by adding weak riders. Right from the whistle my lesson started. Riders on both sides bounced me around for the length of the start straight. My first corner technique was ugly. Foot down and dabbing to get around the corner stake while most riders rode the faster, but clogged, racing line. I was mid pack and surrounded by really strong riders.

I immediately set my focus on a proper 45 minute pace and staying clean amongst the traffic. By the end of the first lap I had dropped many positions and had found my pace. I focused on hitting my marks in the technical sections.

The course was changing quickly as each passing tire chewed up the course. Most riders where altering their lines lap to lap to avoid the increasing number of tricky sections. I also started to gain time on a few riders.

Looking down on muddy bicycle bottom bracket and rider's feet
Looks like it’s time for some bottom bracket maintenance
First up was a singlespeed racer who had finished well the day before. He picked perfect lines and I resolved to stay on his wheel. After a lap or two he bobbled, I slid past, and didn’t see him again.

Second was a local rider named Jeff. Jeff had soundly beat me on Saturday. I was surprised to catch him and as we raced we were slowly closing on a rider ahead. Again, I resolved to stay on this wheel. Surprisingly, after following for half a lap, he waved the white flag and motioned me to pass.

Once clear I put in a little extra to close the small gap to Rodney, a rider from Bend, Oregon. We traded positions a few times. He bested me on the off camber a couple times. Three corners from the finish I sailed my bike through a slick corner, erased any gap, but could not close the deal. Rodney kept 10th position.

After four races in fifteen days I was spent. My legs were barely adequate for walking at slow pace. It felt like everything I owned was caked in mud. It seemed a natural point in time to end my racing season. I didn’t. Over the next day or two I resolved to racing one more event. January 9th to 14th brings the 2017/2018 season Cyclocross Nationals to Reno Nevada.

That decision set the stage for where I am today.

The Present

Unlike Nationals in December 2019 I won’t be in top form for this event. I don’t expect a good finish result. I’ll be attending this event to gain a few more ranking points, get an insight to the way a Nationals level event is run, and see firsthand what it’s like to rub bars with 149 other racers. Let’s call this a test race for when the show comes to town in 2019.

In Reno, on Sunday January 14th, the best men and women cyclocross racers in the country will race for top honors. It will be a spectacular event. Don’t look for me on the course.

Amateur ‘Masters’ riders race earlier in the week and are broken down (pun intended) by age category. On Tuesday I’ll race a ‘preview’ race of just thirty minutes. My final race of the year will be on Thursday where I’ll race for the Masters Men 45-49 championship.

Between now and January 14th I’ve got some work to do. After January 14th I’m looking forward to a glass or red wine, some rest, and writing a bit about my adventure.

Bicycle racer showing scratched forearm.
Evidence of bicycle racing gone awry and how the racer in questions feels about it
(The content and images in this blog are syndicated from

Monday, November 27, 2017

Seatac Slog

The best cyclocross branding ever!

North Seatac Park lies right under the path of southbound jets landing on runway 16C34C at Seatac International airport. Every two minutes the jingle of cow bells was drowned out by a four engined monster descending directly over the venue. While the jet setters carried on overhead this year's participants jockeyed hard for the Cross Revolution series season podium positions in what I called the 'Seatac Slog'.

The Cross Revolution season champions are based on a racer's best five out of six finishes. Going in my best mathematical outcome was third if I had my best day and almost every other competitor did not.

The course at North Seatac park consists primarily of trails. Some are probably narrow enough to be called mountain bike trails. There is a variety of soils and most of them create slippery or slimy mud with adequate moisture and mixing. The previous days of rain and previous races provided the necessary ingredients and the course was categorized as hard and tough and tricky and challenging by racers who had seen the mud first hand.

Every flavor of mud including 'soup'.
I was only able to get two course preview laps. There were different types of mud in different sections of the course. There was an unfamiliar trail with some roots. There were three run ups with the longest being the traditional North Seatac staircase. There were also a number of places where the course went up then down. I've learned these are sections where I can give some extra effort on the up knowing I'll get a short rest on the down.

Start of cyclocross race
This isn't Dwaine's start. Even if it were Dwaine's
start he would be invisible behind the front row
of riders.
My first lap was uneventful but only due to luck. On the uphill paved start I was boxed in and entered the first corner in heavy traffic. The third corner of the course was a slick off camber 180 degree lefty and I was lucky to get through cleanly. I finished the first lap without incident and by the beginning of the second lap I was following the well respected Craig Undem and content to hold his wheel.

Cyclocross racing on an off camber corner
This is the third corner. First lap mayhem often ensued right here.
By the end of the fourth lap I had learned a bit about my situation. Craig was leading so I concluded I was second. We each excelled in different sections of the course and he repeatedly opened small gaps on me. People cheered for Craig constantly so I always knew where he was. I was able to close any gap before the finish line on every lap.

Muddy rutted cyclocross course
Here's a slippery corner leading to a rutted mud section. Racers just needed to go fast, not fall, and
then repeat and repeat and repeat.
A few times I felt like Craig slowed a bit to see if I might come around. I did not. Craig has a lot of racing experience and I was content to let him choose our pace. Just to keep us on our toes the announcer asked, over the PA system, if a sprint finish might be in the making.

The course designers used a hillside to good effect in their course layout. The mud was slick and maintaining forward momentum was a challenge. Craig got crossed up in a rut and was forced to dismount. I rode the section and when I doubled back at the next 180 degree corner I could see a small gap in my favor. We were about to enter the rooted trail section where I felt strong and I stretched my legs out a bit.

Staircase at North Seatac Park
My camera can only show the scale of this staircase. The suffer is invisible.
I expected to be caught between the second and third run up but was not. For the remainder of the lap I gave extra effort at every little 'up' knowing I could get a little rest on the 'down'.

As I started the last lap my gap was over ten seconds. I rode strong and smart. At half a lap to go I was well clear and uncorked any and all energy reserves. I was not challenged from behind and took my first Cat 1/2 win.

Cyclocross fan presents cheese puffs to racers
The CX pranksters were at work again. This time it was stale cheese ball offerings for hungry racers.
My win surprised some of my fellow racers and it also surprised me. The North Seatac course was about as near perfect for me as it could have been. I probably started the race at my best fitness level of the year.

My win did not have much affect on my season points position. Other riders who have been strong all year continued to be strong on Sunday. I'll be in the top ten but not on the podium. But it still felt good to know that I did my part, brought my 'A' game, and had my best day of racing this year.
Two muddy cyclocross bikes
Dirty, dirty bike love.

Mud covered cyclocross racer and bicycle
Dwaine had a good day.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Cyclocross returns to Fort Steilacoom Park

Bicycle wheels
Bicycle jewelry on display in the pits.
During casual conversation in the cyclocross crowd I claim Fort Steilacoom Park as my 'home course'. I've discovered a mostly car free route from my home to the park and regularly ride to the park to train. This past Sunday the Cross Revolution crew brought the show to Fort Steilacoom Park for a great day of Cyclocross.

The ground was wet. Rain was threatening. It was perfect CX weather.

My pre race routine went as usual including bumping in to Adam and Mario who had already finished their races. After receiving an excellent verbal description of the course from Adam I set out to preview it in person.

My first impression was that there was a good balance of sections that included a soft soil run up, a multi stage climb, a technical grass section, some flatter and faster grass sections, a bombing descent with a wide open sweeper, and two sets of barriers.
Cyclocross run up
Short, sweet, and steep.
At my start I received a second row call up. To avoid any early race mayhem I prefer to get near the front and stay near the front for the first half lap. This is tougher from the second row. The first few corners were tight but after about a minute of racing I was up to 5th and content with this position.

At the end of that first lap I was still in the top five. In previous races I've gotten a little excited when near the front and raced a little too hard. On Sunday I concentrated on finding my just right pace.

During much of the race when I checked over my should I saw a freight train of hungry racers right on my wheel. On a number of occasions a follower passed wherein I would hold that wheel until the rider waved me through by way of suboptimal line selection.

As the laps dwindled the following group started to string out a bit. I wasn't being threatened and felt I was near my maximum sustainable effort. Basically, I was doing my part without letting my emotions control my pace.

Most of the race I made ground in this corner and the others in this section. By mid race the soil
was becoming slimy and I was lucky to not find the ground in this corner.
As my final lap started I was caught by Craig Undem, the usual winner of my class and a racer with a formidable palmar├Ęs. I believe he had a mechanical issue early and had been working his way forward the entire race. I held his wheel for about half of the final lap and thought I had a chance as we entered the technical grass section. I was wrong. Earlier in the race I had picked up positions but Craig brought a higher level of game. At the end of this technical section he had a five second gap and I did not get any of those seconds back.

Sunday's race was my best performance this year and I was rewarded with a 4th place finish in 45+ Masters Mens Category 1/2.

After the race I grabbed my camera, strolled the venue, and snapping photos while I thought back on my race. Compared to previous events I did nothing new, different, or special. Instead I refined my game just enough to shave a few seconds per lap and squeak out a great finish among a strong group of racers.
Cyclocross fans play prank on racer during race
Yes, those fans did move their fire pit into the course for the final lap of the final race. Yes, the racers
did find as much humor in this move as the pranksters.
For those not already aware, the 2019 Cyclocross National Championships will be hosted at Fort Steilacoom park in December of 2019. Local racers such as myself are already preparing for this event. Amateurs will race the same course (but on a different day) as the pros. For cross racers it will be a 'big deal'. Expect many more words and photos from me in regards to 2019 Nationals over the next 24 months.

Bicycle tire tread patterns in the mud