Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A pro CX wrapper on an amateur CX season -- (By Dwaine)

I fell off the blog wagon for a couple races. This post will include two short race reports followed by a more detailed account of the recent Waves for Water UCI Pro Cyclocross event.

Ribbons of Enumclaw mud

Enumclaw Fairgrounds hosted the second to last Cross Revolution event. And the longest run up of the season. Winter rains had saturated the ground and the majority of the course turned to slop by the second race of the day. By the time the Category three classes started race strategy had evolved to picking a safe line through the deepest sections of mud and minimizing energy or time sucking mistakes. I started well enough and stayed in the top three for a couple laps. The course continued to evolve and on the third lap the descent turned extra slimy, a rider fell, and a couple of us tangled avoiding him. In the process my cantilever style brake was knocked askew and I lost about five seconds fixing it. A lap later, right in front of Mark, I tipped over at two miles per hour. Neither incident cost much time but I did loose track of the riders around me. Without knowing what position I was in I turned my attention to riding the course instead of racing the other riders. I kept my head down, chose the safest lines, and just keep the pedals turning. When the chips fell I had a forty second gap over second. No one was more surprised then me.

Pick your line. Any line. They are all mud.
Frontier Park, just West of Purdy, is comprised of a creek that splits the property into a rolling field on one side and a hillier field on the other. I believe this was the first event at this venue. The ground was frozen solid on the morning of the race and pre race course reconnaissance revealed a bumpy course devoid of many technical challenges. As the morning sun began to warm and thaw the soil the course did not get any smoother while it certainly softened up in areas. Not muddy soft but power robbing soft. The uphill start straight certainly fell into this soft soil category. I started on the front row but chose not to contest the start. By the first corner I was DFL. Within just a few corners I started to catch some of the riders that were not maintaining their start effort. And then slowly worked my way forward over the next couple laps. On the third lap Mark reported my split to the lead group to be just eight seconds. I could see them. I was riding at my limit.

Until the run up. Which featured three low barriers and could be ridden by just a few riders. Of which I was one. Except on lap three. The spectators hollered 'we got a rider' on laps one and two and then cheered again when I cleared the last barrier. Except on lap three. When they were uncharacteristically silent while I picked myself and my bike up off the ground. That fall used extra energy and sapped my spirit. I did not see the leaders again and began to loose time to them. My legs and lungs usually ache a bit during a cross race. But the bumps were working my back muscles into spasm. By the end of the race I was a mess. After finishing I laid on the frozen ground, let the sun warm my face, and waited for my aching back to unbend. It was a brutal course for me and others and it blew the field apart. My effort yielded fifth out of 21 starters. A third of the starters finished a lap down. Only finish positions second through six lost less than three minutes to the winner.

The 'Cheesy Chrismas Sweater' team? Maybe.
They don't yet know just how much the Frontier Park
course is gonna make them suffer.
At Frontier Park I felt some pain. But I also tasted some sweet. That event wrapped up the Cross Revolution season and also locked up my season points lead. I was unable to attend the awards party but was awarded, as a trophy, a Cross Revolution and Phil's Bike Shop branded cowbell. Along with a swag bag of other bike goodies.

The 'Waves for Water' events were scheduled pretty late in the season. Although not originally on my race calendar, this USAC/UCI event at my home course of Fort Steilacoom was too good to skip. As many of you know the event was designed as a UCI event for regional pros needing to earn points towards the UCI championship event.

In addition to the UCI pro races local ameteurs were invited to race under USAC organization. I chose to forego the Saturday event at the Marymoor Event Center in Parkland and race only on Sunday at Fort Steilacoom park. The course shared the same general layout as an MFG event held earlier this year. An event where I struggled to keep pace with the 'Power Brokers' on the long climb and numerous straightaways. Yet the playing field was tilted even further by the removal of a few of the grass infield corners making a fast course even faster. I was the guy holding a knife at a gunfight.

I studied the course before my race in hopes of unearthing a secret line or other magic. I found just a few corners where technique might play a factor. I also found two places where bottlenecks might occur. One bottleneck opportunity was at the bottom of the second descent. I had good luck there last race and took a good long look at the braking zone going into the tight right hander. The other bottleneck would occur where the first corner funneled the riders between a barn and a grain silo.

To my happy surprise I got a front row callup! I had competed in one USAC event this year where as many others hadn't. I was the last rider to take a front row slot.

Some folks claim that cyclocross is the only form of bicycle racing where the sprint starts the race instead of ends it. But at my level I don't think many of us truly sprint off the line. We each use as little energy as possible to get as far up the field as is prudent. My general plan is to round the first corner in the top five. But the first corner was fast and the second corner was narrow. So I pulled the trigger, used some extra effort, and pedaled up to second before the first corner. This worked well and I was never held back by traffic. Half way into the first lap we started the long climb and I looked like I was in reverse. And so it would be every lap. These guys were strong. I would loose positions up the climb and then gain some of them back on the descent. In the early laps I'd usually get two positions at the bottom of the descent.

About halfway through the race I settled into a group of four riders. We stayed together until the end. Roger Burton pulled us down the straight every lap. The rest of us drafted behind and rested while he worked. I'd sometimes get by him on the descent and then he'd power by again on the flats. I pegged him to win the upcoming sprint finish. When we entered the final straight I stayed on his wheel until we were just past halfway down the straight. As soon as I sensed him thinking about accelerating I powered right around him confident in my timing and energy reserve. Just as he disappeared behind me the two tailing riders came by me with even more speed. I finished third in my group, twelfth out of 26, after clearly underestimating the strength of the two following riders.

A fellow racer Colin had a great day. I've raced against him all season and generally been able to keep him behind me. But at Fort Steilacoom he unleashed some whoop. After his third place finish we chatted and he professed to doing well when the course includes some climbing. He wasn't kidding.

My family joined me and we took in the Elite Women's race. Those ladies were fast. The field seemed to split up pretty quickly with the top riders setting a pretty hot pace. Our personal favorite was a woman with a damaged bike that did not give up. She ran, with her bike shouldered, for a good portion of the course. We watched her enter the pits, hand off the damaged bike, and then mount it's replacement without ever breaking out of a run. We rang the cowbell for that bit of tenacity.

Mud Rider at Enumclaw
The Men's Elite race was different. Within about a lap there was a lead group of twelve off the front. And they stuck together. The lead would change, different riders would take a pull down the long straight, but they stayed together lap after lap. Through the tighter sections of the course they rode as if on rails. They seemed to be glued to the soil yet going faster than seemed possible. Only on the final lap or so did the group split with five of the twelve opening a small gap. The finish did not include a wild bunch sprint. Instead an orderly high speed single file finish.

The Waves for Water event brought with it the close to my cyclocross season. I've already starting planning next year's bike and body improvements. And scheduling a proper off season rest. A big 'thank you' needs to go out to the folks that run all the local cyclocross races I've visitted this year. A lot of hours are invested in making sure a CX event goes smoothly. Another 'thanks' to those of you that came out to an event and yelled at me to turn the pedals faster. Just to make sure I didn't forget that part. And I appreciate that the Puyallup Cyclopath's blog is still willing to publish my writings.

See you all next Spring.

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