Sunday, November 17, 2013

Seattle Cyclocross Racing at Sprinker (Tacoma)

Author: Dwaine Trummert

The Seattle Cyclocross season has finished its Northern swing and moved into the South Sound venues starting at Sprinker Park in Spanaway.

Sunday November 17th was wet and chilly. Fortunately the temperatures were nowhere near freezing and the rain was only falling intermittently.

Having honed my pre race ritual by this point in the season I arrived at exactly 7:15 and commenced with the steps needed to keep my nerves calm and get my muscles warm. During my pre ride laps I discovered the course was mostly flat with a fair number of flattish and fastish sections. The portion of the course that ran through the finish line had a fair amount
Photo by Erik Barrett (Puyallup Cyclopath)
of pavement and fast sweeping corners. On the other side of the park, which fell about halfway through a lap, was 'the pit'. This feature looked like a sinkhole with a number of undulations through it. The Seattle Cyclocross folks ran the tapes in and out of the pit. Up, over, and through a number of the hills and ditches. This section was decidedly not fast. And the corners were tight and tricky.

The soil at Sprinker had a fair number of round rocks. Most of the course I was happy with my 28/30 psi pressure choice. But I felt my rear tire bottom out a couple times and upped my pressures to 28/32. This helped protect my rear rim but did not help my comfort or traction.

The start, 8 riders wide and many rows deep, had the field funnel between two yellow concrete posts just 100 feet into the race. I liked the right side due to the first corner being a right hander. But I chose a center start position to help me get safely past the posts.

I've learned who has been running up front lately and Kristofer Koehn was the only name I recognized as a previous podium finisher.  By the third turn I was cleanly in third. By the tenth corner I was happily in second and having no trouble staying with the leader. But looking over my shoulder entering 'the pit' I could see that the leader's pace was no trouble for much of the field. After getting a little tire rub from behind I decided to take charge and set a higher pace.

Photo by Erik Barrett (Puyallup Cyclopath)
My higher pace started to string the lead group out a bit. I was pretty happy with the way the race was playing out, though I wasn't totally happy with my tire pressure choice. My rear tire wasn't hooking up all that well and I found myself going 'slideways' through a few corners.

Part way through the second lap I saw Koehn in second place and my lead over him was just 5 seconds. I kept my pace up but also guarded against getting excited and pushing too hard too early. At the end of the second lap I watched Kristofer close the gap as we traversed the three paved 'S' turns that led to the sidewalk and through the final fast sweeper that put us onto the paved finish straight.

At the next slow section I asked him to set the pace a while. He did so.

I guessed I was stronger on the technical sections and he was stronger on the straights. I followed him until 'the pit' and then attempted to move past. The pass took four turns longer than I had hoped and as we exited 'the pit' I hadn't gained much gap. At this point I chose 'plan B'. If we were going to decide this thing at the very end I wanted to be as fresh as possible. I slowed to a pace that I knew would allow him to catch me before the finish and would also let me rest. He caught and passed me on a long flat stretch of dirt path that lead us to the final paved bits.

Although I hadn't closed the deal in the technical sections of the course I did have a plan. It was my intention to accelerate hard through the 'S' turns, make the pass on the sidewalk (which was 15 feet wide), lead through the final righty, and force Kristopher, who I guessed was a better sprinter, to try to power past in the final 200 yards to the line.

Just before the course changed to pavement I heard him change to the large chainring. He checked over his shoulder. He saw me tight on his wheel. We bent left into the first 'S' turn and we both accelerated smoothly. I was still on his wheel and still cranking as we bent into the second 'S' turn. This is when I found out the limits of off-road tires on wet pavement. As I felt the front start to push I eased off the pedals long enough to regain my line going into the third 'S' turn. I was back on the power quickly but the pass would not happen on the sidewalk.

While scouting the course these paved sections seemed wide and their corners seemed gradual. At final lap race pace I was finding the course treacherously narrow. The final righty was through an open gate and around some metal barriers that, at these speeds, required single file and no stray thoughts. Kristofer played it well and my sprint to the finish was not superior to his.

The RFID scoring system showed that Kristofer took the win and that the delta was zero seconds.

As I took my cool down lap and replayed the race in my head I feel that I made a pretty big mistake. Having a plan 'B' was a good thing.

Resorting to it was not. It is easy for me to get excited in the moment and push too hard while racing. My thoughts are constantly on my pace and my respiration rate. In retrospect I'm pretty sure I took it too easy on the final lap. I've slowly built my cycling engine over the course of this year. I've also seen just how deep I can push it while Cross racing. If I could do it again I would have passed the leader _before_ getting to 'the pit', used my technical skills through the pit, and then metered out everything I had left for that last half lap.

Kristopher may have had enough to still come past me. I don't know. But I do think resting on the last lap played to his strengths and hammering from 'the pit' to the finish would have played to mine.
The next event is at what I consider my home venue. Fort Steilacoom Park was my introduction to Cyclocross and I hope to see you there.
Editor's Note:  fellow Puyallup Cyclopath, Erik Barrett, happened to be watching this race and got pictures of Dwaine during the race (a couple of which are shown above).  To see all of the photos, click on the following link:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Silver Lake Sand Cross 2013

Author:  Dwaine Trummert
A number of Cyclocross events are staged at Thorton A. Sullivan Park each year. This park is on the edge of Silver Lake and has hills at each end with a flat section between them. This provides plenty of variety for the course designers and plenty of challenges for the racers.

The day started chilly but without rain and warmed enough to be raced in short sleeves. As I scouted the course I discovered the variety of terrain we would race over. The sand sections were obviously going to challenge everyone. As were some of the climbs. But two types of technical sections stood out to me. First were the three short steeps. Each was through a corner that prevented much speed to be carried and all three were difficult to ride without dismounting. The second feature I noticed were the number of technical downhill corners. One in particular was at the end of a paved straight that then bent to the right and descended before tightening up and then dumping the rider into a really tight lefty. During my practice laps I experimented on how best to get through these technical sections and also observed other riders to see what else was working.

At the start line I chatted with Damon but did not see the other riders I met at Tall Chief. When the whistle blew I was pretty surprised to see how hard the first three rider were going. I entered the first turn in fifth or so. The pace was high and I was back into seventh within the first minute. At this early point in the race I was concerned that I might blow up if I tried to sustain this pace.

By the middle of the first lap the action cooled a bit. I was back to fifth with a group of three directly in front of me. The leader had earned a gap but was still within sight. It was also in this middle section where my comfort with the technical sections allowed me to rest a tiny bit and still hold the wheel in front of me.

Photo by Woodinville Bicycle
By the end of the first lap the lead group was down to three and tightly bunched. I held third and it was around this time that I took stock of the race and liked what I was seeing. My heart rate was out of the red and it appeared I was struggling less getting up the steeps and down the tricky corners than the guys I was with. Over the next lap or so I would follow the wheel in front of me. Then, just before one of the fast descents I'd slip by, let it hang out a bit down the hill, and see if the other rider wanted to counter. This worked well and at about the two laps point I was leading the race.

Photo by Woodinville Bicycle
After taking the lead I needed some self talk. Talk to keep myself calm as I hadn't expected to be setting the pace. Talk to remind me not to make a race changing mistake. So I watched over my shoulder to monitor my lead, rode the technical sections as smooth as possible, and kept my heart rate out of the red. At the end of the fourth lap I finished first with a healthy gap between me and second.

After the race I chatted with Damon about the course. We agreed that it was pretty technical especially the descent I described previously. He mentioned that other races at this park have been designed to be less technical. This matched with other rumors I had heard earlier in the day.

In retrospect this course was probably designed to maximize my strengths. I could (barely) ride all the steeps during the race while some others gave up seconds dismounting. My descents were fast which also allowed me to gain a second or two at zero energy cost. And the climbs, while certainly not of Cyclopath length, were not slowing me much.

Two images above (the ones showing a Cyclopath jersey) were taken by Woodinville Bicycle .

See you at the next event.