Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Old and the New -- (By Dwaine)

SeaTac Park might appear to be a new course to the CX newbies. But, in fact, it was a regular on the 1990's cyclocross schedule. The actual newish course, just its second year, is the Frontier Park course just outside Graham. Both courses consisted of primarly single track trails. Both courses offered enough technical challenge to keep me competitive. But they also differed. SeaTac was subject to the near defeaning air traffic noise while Frontier Park, with the presence of vacant barns and outbuildings, gave the feeling of a wooded country farm.

Course knowledge was important for both venues. Trails can lead to bottlenecks and I knew that to be competitive I needed to keep moving. At Seatac I prerode the first corner. Then I prerode it again. I didn't see anyone else studying this corner which, later, became even more evident. The course surface wasn't challenging. But figuring out how to link the sections together while saving energy took some figuring.

The start at SeaTac park used a first lap only course alteration. The first lap only first corner was a tight uphill 180 degree turn. Not every rider seemed prepared for this and I found myself easily at the front with Erik as we exited that first corner. Eric set a conservative pace and I held his wheel for the first half lap but I could feel the riders chomping at the bit behind us. On a short climb at about the halfway point of the first lap their patience gave up. In just a few seconds three or four riders went by as they took the pace up a few notches. I responded too slowly and found myself well back but still in the lead group.

Near the end of that first lap a lead group rider went down. Eric went right and I went left to avoid the rider. I came to a complete top off the trail but was able to resume quickly. Eric hit the deck and required a detangle before resuming the chase. From this point forward I was out of touch with the other racers.

Hurdling at SeaTac Park. Photo courtesy Woodinville Bicycle.
So I focused on racing my own best race. This required balancing the energy usage from the two substantial runups. And finding the few spots where a powerful acceleration could be complemented with a short rest or descent.

To this end I succeeded in maintaining a fast and consistent pace. Eric later reported that, in a places where the course doubled back, he could see me and our gap stayed the same throughout the race. Relative to each other anyway. The leader was well off the front and finished over 30 seconds ahead. I finished alone in second. Eric came in fourth.

Looking back on the day it was no surprise that a mostly singletrack course could be good for me. There were plenty of spots where a little preparation, like preriding that first corner, could even the odds against the power brokers. The winner, of course, probably prepared AND brought the power. But I did do my part. My suffer factor was at ten. (Only Fort Steilacoom Park generates an eleven!) And my tired factor was pegged. After the race I felt like I had given my all and left not even fumes in the tank.

SeaTac Park marked the middle point in my CX season and a time for reflection. I concluded that my improvement curve was still up but that it was becoming less steep. I alco concluded that I was having a great season. In five races I had visited the podium four times. My season points total for the Cross Revolution series was on pace to finish at the top. But finish at the top for Category 3 35+ was something I had done the year before. I felt it was time to step aside and let someone else earn that crown. So I graduated myself to Category 2. Kind of.

My USAC license was still Category 3 and, for USAC races, that's where I would be staying. But I decided that for non USAC races, which often take place on the more technical courses, I would elect to share the course with the Elite riders by changing to Men's Category 1/2 45+. This decision was not taken lightly. Dr. Doane's comment 'Those Cat 2 guys take their racing seriously...' continued to concern me. I needed some time to prepare for the tougher races and lower finish positions.

Men's Category 1/2 45+ starts as the third wave of the Elite race. I would be altering my race day preparation schedule. I would be seeing new faces. And I brought a belly full of nerves to my first Cat 1/2 race start.

Race day also brought the rain. Frontier Park is on what is probably a glacial moraine and the soil is generally well drained. Yet there was still some mud on top where the topsoil was thick. In the places that the course layout included tight corners and the ground was turning slimy, the course was as technically challenging as I've every seen in a CX race. I was able to ride those sections. Barely. I pre rode as much as possible and found that the course was changing from lap to lap. I settled for finding lines that may not have been the fasted but at least weren't the slowest.

Going into this race I did not expect to win. I wanted to get a fair representation of how I faired at this new level of competition. I also had the goal of not getting lapped by the leader of the Open Category 1/2 race. Going into this race my strategy was pretty plain. Race for an hour at the pace I felt I could sustain. And, to give myself a better chance at avoiding a narrow trail bottleneck, execute a start sprint from the last row.

Starting from the back row meant I had a lot of riders to get past to even see the front. The start was on a crowned dirt road with shallow ditches on each side. Which is how I found the space to move forward. By using the right side ditch I found some space. I had to bunny hop some roadside debris and by the time we reached the barriers, which immediately followed the second corner, I was in about 6th or 7th.

Cross Revolution typically uses two successive two by twelves for the barriers. But at Frontier they found four ten or twelve inch logs that resembled barked telephone poles in length and taper. These logs were easily rideable. But the course was slightly uphill and running turned out to be significantly faster. Although I'm typically more efficient when I can figure out how to ride obstacles, I did find a decent technique for the logs that felt good enough to run them every lap.

So I entered those logs easily in the top ten, passed one rider who decided to ride them, and remounted on the other side feeling pretty good about my start. But the course was long and about half way into the first lap it was time to stop following the wheel in front and dial back to a pace I could sustain over the entire hour.

The Frontier Park course took over ten minutes per lap and consisted of mostly trails with plenty of hidden rocks ready to bash an aluminum rim. It also consisted of plenty of short climbs and and opportunities to accelerate and then coast. Over the first few laps I concentrated on finding this eb and flow of effort and recovery. Making sure to miss the rocks and roots. And at about the fourth lap I did find that just right rhythm that allowed me to suffer properly when appropriate but also rest just enough to stay out of the red.

Of course, I was loosing positions. But Mark and Mario cheered me all the way anyway. At the end of the fourth lap I was comfortably in the zone and saw the 'two laps' to go board.

I sat on that data for about two minutes. I hadn't been caught by the leader yet and I decided that I would burn some matches to keep it that way. I clicked my effort level up in an effort to prevent going a lap down. And it worked. For most of that 5th lap I was burning as many matches as I dared and I passed the 'One lap' board before the eventual winner passed me.

After exhausting many matches on lap five, lap six got real tough. But I was slowly reeling in another racer. I closed that gap with about a quarter lap to go and then followed him while trying to regain my composure for the finish. It was not to be. He made his move a little earlier than I anticipated. And when I attempted to respond all I could do was go through the motions. No extra power was available. I was cooked.

After a few minutes of cool down I learned that I had finished 12th of 28.

Not bad. And not lapped.

I was congratulated by a number of people who had taken notice that I was out in my first Category 1/2 race. I also noticed that the venue was markedly different than at the end of a Category 3 race. There were almost no spectators. The sun was setting, it was cold and quiet, and the only action was the Cross Revolution crew continuing to remove the course markings.

As I loaded my gear for the drive home I quietly reflected on my first 'big boy' race. I was pretty pleased to not have embarrassed myself while wearing the Puyallup Cyclopaths jersey. Finishing mid pack felt pretty good. And I was no longer second guessing my choice to self upgrade. Men's Category 1/2 45+ seemed the be a good fit for my skillset. At least when racing on the trail centric Frontier Park course.

My next event will be USAC sanctioned, at my home course of Fort Steilacoom, and I'll be racing with the threes again. I'm hoping that I can parlay some recent racing success back to the venue that usually makes me feel most humble.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Perfect Race -- (By Dwaine)

My last blog spoke of a good finish at Swan Creek Park on a new and some what peculiar course. Since then the Cross Revolution series has returned to the familiar venue at Sprinker Recreation center.

Sprinker never seems to get muddy. A thin layer of grease will form in areas on top of the hard packed ground when the rain is falling. And then, as quick as the rain came, the soil will drain and good traction returns. My daughter, again, accompanied me to the races. This time we remembered to bring her bike and we rode a course sighting lap together. Her wheels were shod with slicks and she managed to, how do we say, exceed their coefficient of friction. Fortunately neither body nor spirit were affected and we continued our sighting lap without further incident.

As the day went on the rain stopped, the sun started, and the course quickly dried. By 11:00 the course was no longer slick and at race time the sun was out.

One of the themes I'm learning this year is the art of racing my own race. I'm learning to keep an eye on the racers around me but to think twice before letting their actions dictate my race pace. At Sprinker I figured even if I lost a few seconds on the faster sections I could make up the difference in 'the pit'. The course layout through 'the pit' forced us to make many tight turns up, over, and through some elevation features. This part was highly technical and usually catches some riders off guard. And it usually plays well to my skillset.

Vintage Sprinker action from 2014. Photo curtesy Mark.
The start of a Cyclocross race is not where we choose to limit our effort. And this year the first corner was metal barricade lined. This corner could be taken pretty fast and was probably the most dangerous place to loose control. My previous good finish did earn me a call up to the second row and I worked hard enough to file into that first corner safely and in 5th or 6th position. Within a lap I was in second and could hear the leader's fans cheering him on. Soon I was hearing those same fans telling me I was 'only ten seconds behind Erik'.

Bending into the fast paved corner was nerve racking. Any mistake and I would have met a metal barrier one-on-one! Photo courtesy Woodinville Bicycle. Image post processing courtesy the author's daughter.
Lap after lap I closed a little bit of the gap in 'the pit' only to see it open right back up at the other end of the course. My pace seemed good and I was confident that when, not if, I finally did close the gap, I would have the gas left in the tank to put up a good fight.

On my second to last lap I bobbled coming out the tiny sand feature. This mistake cost seconds and energy. By the time I regained my composure I was taking the '1 lap' board. I took the first two minutes of this lap at standard pace and then clicked up a gear.

It felt good to put down some power and I thought I was making up some time on Erik. I wasn't slowing for any lapped traffic. I simply rode off into the weeds to get around when necessary. With about one minute to go I got to within a couple seconds of Erik and then I hesitated. I hesitated in passing a lapped rider. I chose the safe route of following the lapper through the corner and setting up a safe pass on the exit. To have a chance of closing the gap I realized, just a second too late, that I needed to aggressively take the inside line and pass the lapper entering the corner.

I did _not_ close the gap to Erik Anderson. I did _not_ show him a worthy sprint. I did finish a close second.

After the race Erik, who I've come to know through Cyclocross racing, was elated. He grabbed the holeshot, lead every lap, and then claimed the win. A perfect race.

My post race celebration was less grand. I played it safe, didn't tangle with another racer in the final 60 seconds of our race, kept the rubber side down, and still finished a solid second. Less obvious, however, was my success at riding at my pace. Despite the smallish gap between me and the leader I didn't get lulled into working past my limit to get to the front and go into the red in the process.

Best of all, though, was the retelling of the race to my daughter on the drive home. Instead of having to explain scrapes and bruises from a failed inside line move gone bad, I extolled the virtues of patience and wisdom in regards to last lap passing. Which was certainly the parent (and cyclist) modeling I hoped she might someday follow.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Swan Creek Park - Cross Revolution - 2015 -- (By Dwaine)

The race course at Swan Creek Park was a bit different than I've ever experienced. The off road portions could accurately be described as single track. With plenty of half exposed rocks and roots. The on road portions were flat, smooth, fast, and numerous. These paved portions of the course comprised about fifty percent of the actual course and included two long straightaways in addition to the many shorter sections.

An odd component of the course was that the paved sections were laid out in a grid. My initial thought was that we were racing on land that was intended to hold homes but that the project was abandoned just after the streets were paved. Later research revealed that these 'streets' have been in place a long time. They are the remnants of a portion of Tacoma's Shalishan housing project that started during World War II. By the early 1950s there were more units than need so about one half of the units were demolished. Over the next 65 years nature took back most of the lots. But the paved streets have waited patiently for the bicycle racers to arrive.

My initial reaction to this 'street' course was dread. I though 'another fast course that allowed the strong road racers to flex their muscle'. Closer inspection of the off pavement sections showed that the course had two faces. The long flat paved sections _did_ favor the power brokers. And the rough single track would allow the more technically inclined riders a place to shine.

For this race day I was lucky enough to have my daughter Dana with me. She helped me pin my number on. (Actually, she wore the jersey and I pinned the number on her. But she let me wear the jersey for the race.) Between the time I scouted the course and started warming up we walked around the area and discovered old hidden sidewalks and half buried metal pipes. She also helped me put my extra wheels in and out of the pits. And she was pretty patient during the boring times, too. So I owe her a big 'Thank you' for helping me out on race day.

Race plan creation usually runs backwards chronologically. For Swan Creek I reasoned that by mid race the field would be strung out a bit and that few drafting opportunities would exist. So by half way I'd have plenty of room on the single track portions of the course. But the first few laps seemed ripe for traffic jams on the narrow single track sections. So I wanted to be in at least the top ten going into the trees on the first lap. And no call up meant that goal would need to be attained from a third row starting position.

When the whistle blew I knew what needed to be done. No saving energy mode. No time to let the race settle down. I sprinted for the full length of the 300 meter start straight and found myself in sixth position going into the first corner. After just a few corners we entered the first of the single track sections and I knew I would be able to ride a more moderate pace for the remainder of the race.

Dwaine rides a less popular line in this corner. Photo courtesy Woodinville Bicycle
For the first lap I raced in fast traffic. The lead group riders were not slowing me in the single track sections and I worked to hold my position on the paved sections. During this lap and the second I was repeatedly impressed by the bike handling taking place around me. Entering a sweeping right hander off one of the fast straights I bumped into another rider as we both aimed for the same line. Both of us stayed cool, we altered our lines a little, I slowed a bit to let him ahead, and we continued on. In another corner I was passed on successive laps by late braking riders. Both times the rider braked later than me, carved up the inside, and left me just enough room to safely navigate the corner. These descriptions sound tame, of course. But during racing conditions with skinny tires on loose soil the difference between making a clean pass and two riders hitting the ground can be the tiniest of mistakes by either of the riders.

For the first two laps I lost a few positions here and there. I was also passing a few riders as they tired or when they chose imperfect lines. By the end of the second lap the lead group was no longer a group. We were now strung out. Which, of course, played to my strengths. I was able to ride the exact lines I wanted through the single track sections. I coasted into the corners to save little bits of energy. My knowledge of the course allowed me to find those little spots where I could pedal on or two revolutions less, use less braking, and save that energy for accelerating onto the next straight away. I was lost in the moment as I refined my riding for maximum efficiency.

And I was lost in the race, as well. My position inside the top ten was solid. But _where_ in the top ten was unknown. With the leaders strung out and also mixed in with slower riders from the previous start, there was no concrete way for me to figure out my exact position. Which was good. I needed to keep focusing on riding efficiency.

One place I was not efficient was the run up. Mark and Mario were present to cheer for me as I climbed that hill. The soil was loose. The grade was steep. And long. I was face down full suffer every time up that hill. To my credit I did recently learn how to properly sling my bike over my shoulder like the pros do and I _did_ carry my bike up the hill every lap. Each of which was a real test of grit and determination.

Sitting in as we pass the potties. Photo courtesy Woodinville Bicycle
At the end of the third lap I was fully into my groove. I knew just where on the course to rest. I saved and used those extra Joules at just the right places. I was completely focused. Until I being unraveled on the finish straight. Over the loudspeaker I heard "...and here comes Dwaine, current leader of Cat 3 35+ ..." I sat up. No riders close ahead. A quick look behind. Then a second. No riders close behind. At which point my thought bubbled exclaimed "Holy Cow! I'm leading!!".

For the next half lap I was jittery. I now knew that the race was mine to lose. I kept reminding myself of what worked for the first three laps. I reasoned that as long as I didn't overextend my efforts I should be able to stay away. Yet it was hard to restrain myself. By the middle of the third lap I settled back down. I was refocused and back to concentrating on the job at hand.

At the beginning of the sixth and final lap I considered my now usual six minute extra effort. No rider was close. Only a big mistake such as tipping over would likely affect my finish position. So, I slowed slightly in the trees to play it safe and hammered on the pavement. Just for good measure I finished as I started; in my best full sprint. (My daughter later commented "Yeah, I saw you finish; the bike was moving all over the place!")

After a race I like to analyze what worked and what didn't. With the analysis of this race and a recent race where I finished 14th I'm starting to distill a little nugget of wisdom. I need to ride my own race. Yes, I sometimes need to extend my effort to stay in a group. Sometimes it makes sense to work a little extra to hold a position. But the big picture is, for me, at my fitness level, my race usually only plays to its full potential if I manage the pace and not let the race manage it for me.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

2015_09_26 Windy Ridge Ride - Mt. St. Helens

Author:  Mike Hassur

The plan was to be in Randle at 6:45 AM which dictated that Leon and I were leaving our neighborhood by 5:15 AM.  I hopped into my van and backed out of the garage at 5:15.  Leon was waiting just outside.  He hopped in, and we were on our way (the bikes and gear had been loaded the previous evening).  As usual, the drive to our starting location went by quickly – we visited about all manner of things.  We arrived at Randle at 6:45 AM to find Les and Dwaine pulling in just ahead of us.  We hopped out of the vehicles, used the “Johnny On-The-Job”, and began to discuss how warmly we should dress (the temperature in Randle was in the mid to high 50’s, but we were sure what it would be like up at Windy Ridge).  Eventually, I settled on the following: short sleeved t-shirt, long sleeved t-shirt, long sleeved jersey, and vest - which turned out to be too warm for the climbing portion of the ride but just right when descending from Windy Ridge.

We were on the road by a little after 7:00 AM.  The road leaving Randle is flat for the first couple of miles.  It then climbs fairly steeply to a plateau which again is fairly flat for 6-7 miles until you reach the turn off for Forest Service Road (FSR) #26.  That climb up to the plateau made me take off my vest and deposit it in the back pocket of my cycling jersey.  I always forget how much work that first climb demands.

Riding the plateau above Randle...
Starting up FSR #26...

More of FSR #26...
Riding across the plateau was peaceful and beautiful.  Before long, we took the right fork onto FSR #26.  From this point on, it was mostly uphill until we reached Windy Ridge.  FSR #26 is a one lane road (really more like a lane) that ascends through the trees with almost no traffic for about 8.5 miles.  It is really beautiful, peaceful, and deceptively hard.  You are climbing consistently on this road for about 5.5 miles before reaching the high point lookout on FSR #26.  The constant climbing is somewhat tiring; and, just before you arrive at this lookout point, you encounter two really steep climbs that take you up to the lookout.  I went up the first of these two climbs pretty hard (having forgotten about the second).  The second climb is short, but it was long enough to demoralize me when I saw it.  We got to the high point with me bringing up the rear.
Dwaine and Mike:  FSR #26 high point...

Les and Leon...
We stopped, briefly, at this lookout to take some photos.  From there it was probably a half mile of downhill, followed by some flat road and small rollers which took us by the trailhead for the Norway Pass Trail.  The final mile or two of FSR #26 included a couple more gut-bustingly steep climbs before we got to hwy #99.

Les, Dwaine, and Leon heading toward Spirit Lake on Hwy #99...
We took a right onto hwy #99 (by Meta Lake) and started the final 7 mile portion of the climb up to Windy Ridge.  The weather was cooperating (alternating clouds and sun with no rain), the road surface was fine, and there was still very little traffic.  Once again, we were constantly climbing.  It wasn’t steep, but it was tiring.  Not long before we arrived at Spirit Lake; I was following Les, went to stand up, lurched (not gracefully) to the right, caught his back wheel, and found myself lying in the gravel on the shoulder of the road before I knew what happened.  After silently cursing myself for my carelessness; I hopped up, inspected my bike (everything seemed to be fine), and inspected myself (again all was well except for a couple of minor scrapes).  We resumed our ascent, and everything seemed to be going well.  As we rounded the next corner and began a short downhill, I clicked my left shift lever to go to the larger chain ring – AND NOTHING HAPPENED.  Crap.  A quick inspection revealed that my crash had damaged the ratcheting mechanism, and I could no longer shift to the larger front chain ring.

We headed on up to one of the turnouts overlooking Spirit Lake, took some photos and headed on to Windy Ridge.

At Windy Ridge, Les and I went to work on my bike.  Since we knew that it was mostly downhill on the way back (about 1200 feet of climbing in those 36 miles or so), we re-adjusted my front derailleur cable to keep me on the big chain ring in front for the trip back to Randle.  While we worked on my bike, Dwaine decided to climb all of the steps leading up the rather large hill at Windy Ridge – in his cycling cleats!  Leon, stayed on his bike and kept moving.

Dwaine and Mike at Windy Ridge...

Windy Ridge...
It was pretty chilly and windy up there.  I started to feel chilled as we worked on my bike.  As soon as we got my front derailleur cable adjusted (and got Dwaine back down the hill), we put on our wind jackets/vests and headed out.

Mt. Adams as seen from Windy Ridge...

We had a blast flying along the curving descent of hwy #99 to FSR #25.  The few uphills we encountered were negotiated fairly easily in the big chain ring (Dwaine rode all the way back in his big chain ring as well to show his empathy for my situation – thanks, Dwaine!!).  Because the roads were tree lined, the sun had not completely dried out the road surface from the night before.  As a result, Les and I were a little more careful on this long descent.  Dwaine and Leon, on the other hand, may have been equally careful; but they did it at a higher speed than we did!!

We got down the FSR #25, turned left, and took off for the last 20 miles of our trip back to Randle.  Again, most of this was downhill or flat.  There were a few uphills, but they were not steep and were short.  This is a fun section.  It is easy to paceline and go fast.  The problem is the road surface – it is not good.  You have to be very observant and careful to make sure that you avoid the areas in the road that could create problems.  Thankfully, we negotiated this section safely (and fairly quickly) and made it back to Randle in one piece.

I always tend to underestimate this ride.  Each year I think, “I’m in good shape this time of year – this ride will be easy”.  Each year at the end of the ride I’m thinking, “how did I forget from last year how much work this ride is – I’m tired”!!  The ride ended up being about 70 miles and about 7200 feet of climbing.  In addition, our relatively small group had good riders who were well matched; so we cruised along pretty quickly (which I suspect added to my fatigue).

This is a great ride.  Climbing up the single lane FSR #26 is just so cool.  The views on the way to Spirit Lake and Windy Ridge are spectacular (Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood (on a clear day), and the residual damage from the 1980 Mt. St. Helens eruption, etc.).  The ride back from Windy Ridge to Randle provides lots of opportunities for fast, curving descents as well as riding in pacelines (on the lower portions).

Even though I am always tired at the end, this remains one of my favorite rides.

To see all of the photos associated with this ride, click on the following link:  Windy Ridge Ride Photos

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Battle at Fort Steilacoom -- (By Dwaine)

Author:  Dwaine Trummert

Readers of this blog may infer that the Battle at Fort Steilacoom was waged against one of the other cyclocross competitors. That is not the case. Long time readers might read between the lines and conclude that the battle was between me and the Fort Steilacoom venue. Yes, my poorest finishes often come at this venue. And I might blog about that statistic on another day. But _this_ post is going to focus on the 44 minute battle of my will against the soil, rocks, sand, hills, grass, and kidney jarring bumps that made up the racing surface for the MFG South Sound Super Prestige cyclocross race at Fort Steilacoom Park.

I don't usually do well when racing at Fort Steilacoom Park. The course description by MFG read:

Another speedsters course, starts fast with a few sweeping turns before turning uphill for long while. The downhill plunge demands attention to your cornering technique; the finish your sprint.

To fill in the detail lets break the course down into sections:

The start/finish straight was paved and fast and not quite long enough to make drafting helpful. Pedal power mattered most. There was no place to rest here.

Smooth grass section was fast and fun
After bending into the first corner the course made a few zigs and zags through a pretty smooth mowed grass field. This section had one corner of concern but was otherwise almost completely open. Acceleration mattered as did raw speed. I found I could coast into the one corner but otherwise I was on the pedals most of the time. Looking back this might have been the place to slow just a tad to save energy for elsewhere on the course.

Next up came the climb. The corner making the transition from flat to ascending allowed me to coast for a second. Then it became each rider's 60 second power to weight ratio that determined their time. I hoped to climb efficiently with a steady effort from bottom to top. But there is no getting around the physics that every watt spent is a fraction of a second shaved. I lost many positions on the first half of the climb and then lost fewer on the second half. I suffered the most at the top of this climb which was a good indicator that I wasn't far off my potential.

The descent seemed the only potential rest period. After a short burst at the top to get up to speed the course wound down for almost a minute which gave legs a well earned rest. Halfway down a deceptively squirrelly corner caught a few riders off guard. Me included. Then the final pitch steepened as it dumped the rider into a ninety degree right hander. Concentration was required in this section as it quickly developed stutter bumps in the braking area and holding on to the bars was no small feat. Because I've studied this descent I regained positions on the descent most every lap.

Lead group in the 1:50 race
Barriers were placed on a short smooth grass section. A short section that divided two sections of long grass field. These long grass sections really defined the course for me. The soil under the long grass was soft. The soft soil and grass required extra effort. And the soil was bumpy. Really bumpy. I tried riding seated for high efficiency but was rewarded by being bounced out of the saddle. I tried clicking up a gear and riding out of the saddle. This saved my body from the violent bouncing. But my tired legs could not handle that much work for that long. I even tried floating my bottom just over the saddle but that solved neither the bouncing nor leg abuse issue. These sections were long enough that they really sapped my energy and spirit. At best, I can say I survived these sections of the course. Barely.

At the end of the second long grass bump section we were asked to re-accelerate back onto the start/finish straight away.

Save for the descent, every section of the course required lots of what I was lacking: sustained power.

Before the race started I figured this course would be a real test of my fitness and grit.

No call up came my way and I was lucky to find a slot in the third row. In the starting grid I finalized my race plan. It was pretty simple. Sprint up the front group on the start. Then hang on as long as possible.

By the second corner I was in 6th or so and content with my position. I worked to hold the wheel in front of me until the climb where I started to bleed positions. On the descent I started passing groups of riders and snuck up to fourth as we entered the corner that ends the descent section. Despite the little bit of rest on the descent I could already tell I was over extending myself. At the barriers I gave up the chase and dialed down to a pace I hoped to hold to the finish. My first lap finished respectively with a time of about 6:50 to the leader's 6:40.

But I was well into the suffer zone. My first lap effort put me into the red and I was paying the price. With a course that offered few places to rest I managed my effort as best I could. The 'bumps' section was especially tough as it required leg power and mental concentration. I was low on both.

My second through fifth laps are not distinct in my mind. My head hung low on the straight. Slobber fell to my frame and shoes. To save energy I used the brakes only during the descent. The climb continued to humiliate me as lead riders from later starts sped by. The bump section jolted my kidneys if I sat and burned my quads if I stood. And I dug deep to provide the effort to keep the bike moving over the soft grass and soil. These laps were about forty seconds slower than my first lap at about 7:30. And I was steadily moving backwards from my high point of 4th position.

The '1 Lap to Go' board never looked so good.

My 'time to go' spot was on the climb. At the halfway up point I popped out of the saddle and started asking my legs for just a few extra watts for just a few more minutes. I was surprised when they responded. My speed was better all the way through the end of the 'bumps' section. I could feel that my body was fading fast just as I entered the start/finish straight for the last time. I looked and felt pretty bad but was able to pedal across the line.

I did not crash after finishing the race. I don't know how. My respiration rate was off the chart. My muscles were shaky. I coasted off the course and then pedaled at 4 mph to my vehicle. Against which I gently leaned Blue Moon and then gingerly laid myself on the ground. Everything hurt. The combination of bumps and pedaling turned my arms and legs to Jello. My skin stung from Blackberry scratches. And sweat was stinging in my eyes. It was a full ten minutes before I was ready to become vertical.

Later that day I learned that I finished 14th. Not my best. And that I was over three minutes behind the winner of my class. Compared to some of my better finishes that was pretty humbling. The 13 riders in front of me were clearly better racers that day. On the bright side my last lap effort had some effect. It dropped my last lap time to about 7:15. It was also on this lap that I put in a good enough time to be 5th on the Strava 'descent only' segment. With only Elite riders posting faster times. That felt good.

But my finish position was not the real story. Getting my butt kicked so thoroughly by the course was the lesson that will stay with me for a while. Damn, that was tough.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

2015_09_12 Vancouver to Whistler Gran Fondo (Les Becker's Account)

Author:  Les Becker

I was eager to ride the 2015 Whistler GranFondo since last year I had ridden it on my own and knew it would be much more fun with fellow Cyclopaths. As Mike pointed out (and Leon I believe will give more details), the logistics of transporting and positioning riders, bikes and vehicles was complicated and not w/out glitches. Embedded in my memory is the dark early hours of race day, hunkered down in the Suburban between quiet riders and bikes,  with Tom driving along windy narrow streets trying to get to the starting location. I had finally given up hope of starting on time. Won’t be so bad though; we can still ride together after the masses had left and enjoy the scenery. So I was ecstatic when circumstances fell into place and we found ourselves in position in the 4-4.5 hr corral of the starting line. It was a comfortable 62 deg as the sun was rising over Stanley Park. I suspected we could shave a few minutes off my last year’s time of 4 hr: 39 min.

The racing began as we rode over Lion’s Gate Bridge. Pushing up Hoffman Hill, I’m not sure what grabbed my attention more, the 10% grade or the people lining the street, cheering us and ringing cowbells. It’s a great fantasy to pretend they were there because we were so important. Two lanes of the Sea to Sky Highway were closed to traffic and dedicated to the riders for most of the course and there was never a place requiring us to slow or stop for traffic; very nice! The smooth, steep, sweeping downhills were fast and fun; lots of 45mph+ descending. Of course lots of that was just trying to stay with Dwaine.

We had planned to use only one rest stop on this ride. The salt shed rest stop was approximately one half the way up the final long hill and about 20 miles from the finish, so it seemed appropriate to get water and also visit the Porta Potty if needed. Mike & Leon were up ahead so we were hoping they would stop there and if we could make our stop very quick, might help us to catch up. As the three of us approached we decided the pee-break was not needed. There were a couple girls at the edge of the road with a large water container. So I stopped w/out getting off the bike, holding my uncapped water bottle which they quickly filled with several cups of cold water. As I started moving, I had to close the gap Tom and Dwaine had created (I guess they didn’t stop at all) but was pleased I had gotten the refill so quickly. Sort of like a NASCAR pit stop.

After awhile Dwaine saw Mike & Leon in a large group up ahead so shot up the road to join them. Tom and I eventually also caught up but Dwaine had left that group by then. I started to cramp in my thigh so had to slow down, fortunately didn’t have to stop. I didn’t know how much energy I had left or if the cramps would resume, so my mind was distracted and much of the rest was a blur. Somewhere Dwaine left the group as did Leon, then Tom. I’m not sure where the rest of the group went, I suspect some in front of us but some behind. Anyway I was very happy to ride with Mike and cross the finish line together. More cheering and cowbells! And we all beat the socks off last year’s time since ours ranged 4:03 – 4:06. I was pleased.

Staying at Mike’s condo in Whistler Village (thanks Mike!) made this especially fun. We drank beer at the pub, watched downhill mountain bikers, had dinner at an Irish restaurant, took walks, and saw a black bear on the golf course. We had a great weekend.

2015_09_12 Vancouver to Whistler Gran Fondo (Tom Peterson's Account)

Author:  Tom Peterson

I don’t know how it is possible to keep this blog post about the Whistler Gran Fondo ride short as it seems like so much happened in just 3 days.  Thank goodness I am not a great writer and I have a bad memory so that will help keep it shorter.

I met Mike, Leon, Dwaine, and Les at McDonalds in Federal Way at 9:30 on Friday morning and we were on our way to Vancouver.   Our mission was to drive to Vancouver where we were meeting at a storage facility.  Leon had been told that we could keep our bikes and one of our cars there overnight at no charge and that we could pick them up in the morning at 5:00am.  When we arrived the manager of the facility decided that he wanted to charge us for this and we were worried that he would not be there at 5:00am  when we needed to get our bikes.  We were stuck!  We had the option of paying for the storage and our ride completely depended on this guy waking up in the morning and letting us in at 5:00 when he normally does not open until 9:00am on Saturdays.  We stood in the parking lot for a while and tried to figure out a new plan of action.  It was suggested by someone that maybe we could put all 5 bikes in the suburban and if this could work then we could all ride in the suburban from Whistler to Vancouver the next morning – 5 bikes and 5 people.  We accomplished this crazy task and decided to not use the storage unit and to leave for Whistler where we were staying the night. 

Upon arriving at the amazing town of Whistler (if you have not been there before, it is a must that you visit) we headed to Mike’s condo.  This condo was plush and was such an amazing place to stay (Intrawest Resort Club).  Thank you Mike!  We unpacked and headed to dinner at the Old Spagetti Factory.  After a great meal, we walked back to the condo and discussed the plan for Saturdays ride and the logistics of getting there.  We found a hotel close to Stanley Park (race start line) that had a parking garage and we knew the car would be safe and we would be close to the race start.

Saturday morning I woke up at 3:45 in true Cycloplath fashion.  I had some cereal, dressed and chatted with the others.  This was a big day and I was a little nervous having been told that the team time depended on the 5thperson on your team crossing the finish line – ugh.  That seemed to be me.  We had loaded our bikes in the back of the suburban the night before and we were ready to hit the road at 4:35.  We had all 5 bikes in the back of the big rig and Les was sitting on the floor of the second row in between the 2 bucket seats.  This was super nice of Les to take one for the team by sitting on the floor for the ride to Stanley Park in Vancouver (no seat belt either). Two thirds of the way on our drive to the start, we were diverted to a side street with a speed limit of 30 mph and traffic.  It was at this time that I began to worry that maybe we would not make the start of the race in time.  All this work and we would be late.  We eventually made it to the hotel, parked the car, and rode to the start line.  I checked the time once we got in place and it said 6:51.  Wow, we still had 9 minutes to spare.  This was a little stressful and it seemed like we had been doing a lot of planning just to get to this point, but thank goodness, the Cyclopaths had arrived and were ready for the race to start. 

It was an absolutely beautiful morning with the temp around 60 degrees and clear skies.  As I waited for the race to start, I started to look around at all the other cyclists which was a little intimidating as they seemed to all have expensive bikes and everyone looked to be in really good shape and strong.  This was starting to look even more like a serious race than I had anticipated.   The race soon started and finally we were on our way.  We all stayed together for quite a while even though the pace seemed very fast to me for the first few miles.  Many riders seemed to be already looking to push a fast pace.  On the first big hill my chain came off and I was behind our group by one hundred yards – ugh – it had begun.  I was worried this was the start of me riding alone and trying to keep sight of the Cyclopaths.  I think they slowed for me or maybe in my panicked state I had gone faster to catch up than I realized.  The race was intense in that I felt like I was not able to look around much at all and that we were often working really hard to go up hill or we were riding downhill at a fast pass.  It was difficult to grab anything to eat and when I did, it had to be ultra -fast.  There were a lot of girls/women riding also which was awesome to see and many of them were serious and tough.  Leon and Mike pulled ahead of Les, Dwaine and I and it seemed like we might never see them again.  Dwaine kept us on a good pace for the first half so that we could maybe have the energy to go a little faster in the second half of the race.  Just over halfway my chain got all goofed up again on a big hill and I fell way behind – ugh again – I was somehow able to catch back up to Les and Dwaine though.  Soon after this while riding up another hill, my bike handlebar bumped Dwaine’s seat as we rode next to each other and this bump caused his seat to break.  The left side of his seat was way lower than the right side.  Dwaine had to ride (sorry) with this weird seat position for the rest of the race.  With maybe 20 miles to go (Best guess for my memory), we spotted Mike and Leon way up ahead.  Dwaine took off like crazy and was sure to bridge the gap between the groups we rode in.  Les and I just looked at each other and thought wow – that was awesome.  Les and I rode on for a little while longer and then I think we began to feel like we had to try to make the leap and see if we could accomplish what Dwaine had done and try to make it to the next group with Mike and Leon and Dwaine unless he was already way ahead.  Les and I made the jump and rode like crazy to catch up to for what seemed like a long time.  We did catch them and both of us were completely dead at this point.  The Cyclopaths were back together again except for Dwaine who was a few hundred yards ahead.  The four of us rode together until the last couple of miles when Leon pulled ahead and I was next with Les and Mike not far behind.  We all finished the ride within 2 minutes and 47 seconds of each other which is amazing with almost three thousand riders and so many good riders.  The finish line made me feel like I was a professional rider for a few seconds with all the people yelling and the grand set up. 

This was truly an amazing ride, experience and weekend.  I had the best time with my fellow Cyclopaths.  What a great group of guys.  I laughed so much all weekend and enjoyed every second of our time together.  The stories and memories are special.  I cannot wait until next year’s ride – hope we all do it again. 

2015_09_12 Vancouver to Whistler Gran Fondo (Dwaine's Perspective)

Author:  Dwaine Trummert

Les had a great Gran Fondo experience in 2014. Convincing me to join him in 2015 was not a heavy lift. And before you knew it, we had a team of five Cyclopaths. In the next few paragraphs I hope to share the high points of my Gran Fondo Whistler experience.

Going into this event I felt more stress than usual. The logistics were complicated. Packing and preparing my gear required more thought. And the looming choice between maximizing my own individual finish or helping the team finish well in the '5 man' team division weighed heavily. By Thursday, though, I threw in the towel and accepted that this event had way too many variables for me to control. From that point forward I decided to just roll with the punches. Which turned out to be a good choice given the upcoming (mis)adventures.

Bicycle jigsaw puzzle assembled!
Plan 'A' was to store our bikes overnight in a downtown Vancouver storage unit. Then a monkey wrench was thrown we moved into 'work the problem' mode. We had that thought that _maybe_ we could jam five bikes AND five riders in one vehicle. A test fit was proposed and soon the tiny U-Lok parking lot was littered with five bikes being ferried around by four Cyclopaths between the three rigs after two rear seats were removed from one Gran Suburban. When this Chinese firedrill type exercise was done we found that all the bikes fit nicely and the five riders would likely fit as well. A big 'Thanks' to Tom for bringing 'The Bus'.

While the Chinese Bicycle Drill took place I pointed my camera skyward at the U-Lok building architechture.

After aborting the U-Lok plan and then picking up our race packets the three vehicle caravan started off towards it's next task. Almost immediately the vehicles became separated. The map happened to be in Les's van. While he drove the van I became the de facto team navigator. While advising Les on when and where to expect the next turn I was franticly answering incoming calls from both Tom and Mike. On each call I would quickly figure out where on the map the caller was and then try to give directions. Traffic in Vancouver is no walk in the park and I had to work fast to keep all three vehicles traveling in the right direction. Although we did miss a turn or two I can happily report no vehicles were permanently lost.

Last corner. On the gas!
After all the logistical surprises the start of the race seemed calm. The Cyclopath team rode together for quite a while. About a third of the distance Leon and Mike got into a good group and stayed 500k or so in front of Me, Les, and Tom. This CycloTrio kept our powder dry and rode patiently figuring we would slowly grind up to them or they would eventually fall back to us. Neither happened by the 88k 'Salt Shed' rest stop. At which point I figured it was time for me to go my own way. I powered up the road. I tried to work hard on the climbs and  find a wheel for each short descent or flat. This worked well and I quickly bridged to the fifteen rider group that Mike and Leon were in. I sat in with this group until, again, I saw a chance to put in some work on a short climb and bridge up to another group ahead. This pattern worked for only a short while longer. Soon I found no more groups ahead. And the road wasn't climbing enough. A strong blue jerseyed rider powered the 15 man group across the flats and I knew I would be caught. I was furious with myself for burning matches only to be caught. About the time this train caught me the gradient started to increase and halfway up the short climb I was able to make the move that kept me out front of this group. With only about 20k to go and still more energy to burn I was able to ride a good pace the rest of the way to the finish.

Nice Jersey, Mister.

Sunday morning found us well rested and bright eyed. Leon took a short walk. Tom, Les, and Mike went bear hunting. (Yes. Really. Ask them.) And, with the condo all to myself, I made coffee. Then reclined on the sofa, drank my coffee, listened to Van Halen's 'Hot for Teacher', and stared out the window. And let my batteries recharge. And recalled the previous day's race. Dreamy.

I'd like to finish by saying 'Thanks' to my four teammates. The weekend had some unexpected surprises. Tests, almost. Yet we all stayed cool and just kept 'working the problem'. These issues did not deter us and this event turned out to be a great weekend that I'll remember fondly for quite some time. Thank you gentleman.

2015_09_12 Vancouver to Whistler Gran Fondo (Leon's Perspective)

Author:  Leon Matz

The trip to Canada for the Whistler Granfondo was a wonderful experience. The weekend was filled with challenges and fun with 4 great guys.  I am going to focus on two segments of time (Friday afternoon and Saturday morning).

After meeting in Federal Way on Friday morning, the five of us drove in 3 vehicles towards Canada. We stopped in Bellingham for a Subway lunch which turned out to be a little crazy since we could not find a convenient Subway.  After driving in circles, we finally found our lunch stop.

 Upon arriving in Vancouver, our first need was to find the U-Lock storage facility. We found it easily and then went on a tour of the facility looking for the best spot to keep our 5 bikes.  Through a set of e-mails I had found a place (U-Lock Storage) that said they were willing to do an overnight storage for our bikes for free. The guy even said he was willing to come in 3 hours early to open up for us Saturday morning. When I went to the office to fill out the paperwork, he then announced it would be $143.00. WHAT??? What about our agreement??? He denied ever agreeing to do it for free just a reduced monthly rate. I quickly ran out to the vehicles and announced the problem. After discussing the situation the group decided to try and explore the possibility of getting all the bikes into Tom’s vehicle. I went back inside to see if I could negotiate cheaper price. He was willing to reduce the price to $83.00.  Again I went back to the group to see what we wanted to do.  Mike and I felt we should go ahead and take that offer, stash our bikes in the storage unit, pick up our registration packets, and head to Whistler.  I felt very guilty for the miscommunication and was willing to pay the full amount. Tom, Dewayne and Les were more determined to not rent the facility. We were able to get all 5 bikes into the back of Tom’s Suburban and we made a plan for all 5 of us riding in the vehicle with the bikes from Whistler to Vancouver the morning of the race.  The only other issue was where were we going to park the Tom’s vehicle while we raced up to Whistler and spent Saturday night there. Les believed he knew of some street parking that was convenient.  The two hours or so we spent problem solving the situation is an example of why the Puyallup Cyclopaths is such a special group. Instead of griping and complaining about the failed agreement for parking they jumped into solving the problem.  It became a challenge to them to see if they could solve the puzzle without using a storage facility. The co-operation during this problem solving was amazing!!! One of the reasons people decided to not use the facility at a reduced rate was not the money  but just the fear the worker would fail to show up 3 hours early and we would not be able to do the race. A realistic fear.

So off to Whistler we went.  If you have never driven this road (the Sea to Sky Highway), I encourage you to do it.  The drive is beautiful! Frequent views of the colorful water, many small uninhabited islands, and a string of mountains some of which still have snow in areas. The road continually goes up and down and curves left and right. The mountains are on your right and the water on your left. It is an incredible drive!

On Saturday morning, our plan was to leave the condo at 4:30 AM. We were about 5 min late in leaving but that still left us with 2 hours to drive, unload and make it to the starting line. The drive in the dark went pretty quickly I kept track of the time and distance and was confident that we would arrive at our strip mall parking lot with 40 min. for us to get to the start line. As we neared Vancouver, work crews had us get off the freeway and drive on side roads.  Instead of going 55 mph we were now going 25-30.  The anxiety started to grow as we slowly approached the bridge that would take us to Stanley Park and the starting line. Finally, about 6:10 we arrived at the planned parking area but we did not stop. What is going on? After I went to bed on Friday night; Mike, Tom, and Les decided that the strip mall may have signs for towing authorized vehicles and found a hotel in Vancouver that we could park at for a fee (which turned out to be $50). We did find the hotel after running around the block a few times. We unloaded quickly hit he restroom and made on our bikes to make it to the start line.  It was very stressful and hectic and the worst possible way to start a race but we did make it to the starting line with a little time to spare.

2015_09_12 Vancouver to Whistler Gran Fondo (Mike Hassur's Perspective)

Author:  Mike Hassur

If one of the goals of a Puyallup Cyclopath ride is to create lasting memories for each of us, then last Saturday’s Vancouver to Whistler Gran Fondo was an unqualified success.  The trip had everything:  anxiety, uncertainty, mental fatigue, physical exhaustion, exhilaration, and lots of camaraderie.

The trip was complicated, and we spent a lot of time trying to figure out the logistics.  The crux of the problem was that the race started in Vancouver and finished 74 miles away in Whistler.  We were staying both Friday and Saturday nights in Whistler, so the challenge was to figure out how to get all five riders (Leon, Tom, Les, Dwaine, and Mike) and all five bikes to the starting line and still have enough vehicles in Whistler to get us (and our bikes) back the next day.

Finally, we settled on the following plan:
1.       We would take three vehicles (Mike’s van, Les’ van, and Tom’s Suburban)
2.       We would unload our bikes at a storage unit in Vancouver that was close to the starting line and that told Leon that they would store our bikes over night (Friday night) for free
3.       We would pick up our registration materials in Vancouver and then drive all three vehicles to Whistler
4.       All five of us would ride down from Whistler early Saturday morning in Tom’s Suburban, get our bikes out of the storage unit, and ride to the starting line (leaving Tom’s vehicle at the storage unit until we returned on Sunday morning)
5.       We would do the race ending up back in Whistler
6.       The next morning (Sunday) we  would load all the bikes and riders into the two vans that were still in Whistler, drive down to Vancouver to pick up Tom’s Suburban, and head home

That was our plan.  We thought that it was a pretty solid plan and were feeling good about it, BUT things don’t always go according to plan… ????  Suffice it to say that I was mentally exhausted by the time we went to bed Friday night.  I’ll leave it to Leon’s post regarding this ride which will be posted tomorrow to fill in Friday’s frustrating  details.

The race itself was pretty straight forward.  Riders as far as the eye could see in front of us and
behind us at the starting line in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.  Groups of riders were ordered according to their predicted finish time.  We had decided to join the 4 – 4.5 hour group of riders (which ended up being a pretty accurate prediction).  Everyone started together with the fastest groups at the front of the pack and the slowest at the back.  We rode a couple of miles in a “neutral rollout” until we got out of the park.  The term “neutral rollout” was dubious at best.  The roads were narrow in the park and a lot of the riders had too much adrenaline, too much energy, and too little sense.  We didn’t see any accidents, but there were a number of “close calls”.

As we left the park, we rode over the Lion’s Gate Bridge and into North Vancouver.  We quickly made our way up to Canada’s Highway #1 where the race organizers had two lanes closed and dedicated to the cyclists.  Once we got on Highway #1, people really started to take off.  Our group of five stayed together, found pace lines that fit our pace, and made our way to the beginning of the “Sea to Sky Highway (highway #99)” which would take us up to Whistler.

Once on highway 99, our group started to gradually move forward.  There were no big climbs at this point, but the road was always going up or down with few prolonged flat portions. 

At about 29 miles into the ride, we came to the “Gran  Fondo Whistler – Furry Creek Climb”.  This was a one mile climb with an average grade of 6-7%.  It was a “race within a race” as it was timed for all of the Gran Fondo riders with cash prizes given to the top overall times.  Due to a lack of training over the past month (pinched nerve in neck with secondary tingling/discomfort in right arm), I was not confident that I could maintain my form to the end of the race; so, at the bottom of this particular climb, I decided to see how many people I could pass on the way up (there were a load of folks making their way up the climb, and we passed a lot of them).  I learned later that Leon followed me and was close behind when we got to the top and the rest of our group was about 200 yards behind. 

After cresting the top of the Furry Creek Climb, Leon and I latched on to some larger rider who ended up descending the other side at a high rate of speed.  For the next 40 miles or so (a section that included a lot of climbs), we would maintain our position and sort of rest by following some fast guys on the downhills and the few flat sections that we encountered; and we would make up ground on most of the rest of the riders around us on the uphills.  It was a good strategy and worked well right up until the time that fatigue got the best of me about six miles from the finish.  By this time; Dwaine, Les, and Tom had caught up with us.  From there on in; Dwaine, Leon, and Tom were ahead and riding strong, while Les and I rode to the finish together.  Thank you, Les.

In the end, the time difference between the first guy in our group to finish (Dwaine) and the last (Les and me) was about 3 minutes.  Dwaine could have gone significantly faster had he not held back for a good part of the race to make sure that everyone on our team had adequate support.  We had three riders in the 60 – 69 age group (Leon, Les, and Mike) who all placed in the top 10 out of 220 riders in that age group, and Tom Peterson – who is recovering from back surgery  - ended up riding a VERY STRONG race (he looked fully recovered to me)!!

This delicious food sort of went to waste - I was so fatigued that I wasn't very hungry...

The next morning Tom, Les, and I walked to Starbucks and then took a walk through a local park and along a beautiful golf course.  A fitting “capper” to this wonderful trip occurred as we walked beside the golf course and spotted a large black bear “grazing” in the middle of the fairway adjacent to us – unbelievable!!


This was a wonderful adventure, and I believe that it will always be toward the top of my list of favorite Puyallup Cyclopath rides/experiences.  Thanks to Les, Leon, Tom, and Dwaine for a special memory. 

To see all of the photos associated with this ride, click on the following link:  Vancouver to Whistler Gran Fondo Photos

Friday, September 11, 2015

A Taste of Cross -- (By Dwaine)

Cyclocross season kicked off on Labor Day in the Pacific Northwest. And it did so in style with the optimistically named 'Labor Day Cyclocross Championships'. Fortunately the promoters have a good sense of humor and expectation. This event is usually considered a fun warmup to the CX season and is always a good time.

Grass barrier?
Kurt had called me a day or two before and said he'd be joining me for his first Cyclocross race. Cool.

We met early and took a few scouting laps together. We learned that this year the promoters used basically the same Joint Base Lewis McChord training grounds as previous years but changed the course to include a couple gravel roads. These two parallel straights were each about a quarter mile long and drafting would be a factor. After a full lap of scouting we also realized that there were still plenty of twisty sections in the trees to challenge our bike handling skills. We took a second lap together and tried to figure out how to assemble all those corners into one smooth racing line.

At the end of our second scouting lap Kurt headed for registration and I headed out for another lap of scouting and warmup.

(Which is where we start the first of two racing tales)

story one: By the Numbers

On that third scouting lap I created a bit of levity that could have ended my race day. I caught a couple 10 or 11 year old kids who were also pre riding the course. I announced 'on your right', they held their lines, I passed, and all was well. I approached a left hand corner I hadn't yet perfected, bent the bike into the corner and instantly realized I was riding the line for a different left hand corner. My entry into the Salal bushes was at full speed. The bushes were so dense no braking was necessary. Fortunately I did not discover any hidden stumps with my front wheel. Just as I lifted myself and my bike out of the waist deep leaves the two younger riders passed by and I coolly announced, 'Hey kids, this is _not_ the racing line...'.

When I finished my third warmup lap, which I took at closer to race pace, I felt some concern. While setting up my trainer I worried over my race plan. But it wasn't until I actually started my trainer warm up that the worry faded. My concern was the advantage that the 'power broker' riders would have on those long straights. Drafting mattered so I figured I needed to be in the lead group and keep my nose out of the wind. And the answer was to rest my legs a bit in the trees. Instead of powering by if a rider put his wheel out of line I planned to use just enough energy to maintain my position while we rode the twisty tree section. Then I hoped to have the energy necessary to close any gaps as we entered each straight away.

Soon after my anxiety faded Mark and Kurt came by to wish me luck. I promised Kurt that, after my race, I would be sure to see him off at his start with my camera in hand. My warmup finished and I was off to the start line.

I found a second row slot. I anticipated the starter's announcement. I was ready to go if I perceived any movement of the rider in front of me. And yet, my start was horrible. I let my rear tire spin on the loose rocks, bobbled, and watched as the rest of field pedaled forward. For the first minute or so I burned matches getting up to the lead group of about six. But, importantly, I was on the tail end of that group getting onto the straight away.

Just holding that wheel.
My execution matched my game plan perfectly. When other riders were braking into the corners I was easing off the pedals early. If I found a better line through a corner I coasted alongside but did not accelerate out of the corner to finalize the pass. And I worked hard to nail the corners leading to the straights to minimize the effort needed to close any gaps.

I was working near my limit but it looked good that I would be able stay with the group. A few riders were making moves. Mostly I did not contest them. As long as I stayed in the group I was content  with any position in the group.

As plans are created they are also changed.

Part way through the third lap the third place rider tipped over. The fourth place rider took the long way around the fallen rider and body. I stayed on the racing line, passed both, and found myself in third. With a small gap between me and the lead group of two.

With no wheel to follow I started asking myself 'Is this too fast?' and concentrated on not overextending myself. But I held out hope I could reconnect. At the end of the tree section the gap had grown from 100 feet to 100 meters. My nose was in the wind, fourth place was well back, and I made the decision to ride my own pace instead of attempting to close that gap.

What Dwaine sees when cycling
in the red zone.
The race continued with no real change. Save the last lap. I chose my time and executed my six minute extra effort. Apparently so did the lead group. When they turned up the wick they stretched their gap to 300 meters. I finished third, well drained, coasted to the sideline, and waited for the fog to clear.

I wasn't alone. A female rider was looking as winded as I felt. She sat down. And ignored my first joke about how bad I felt. When I looked back I could see her eyes starting to glaze over. Just as I bent down to check on her she started falling over and asked me to hold her up. She struggled to tell me that her inhaler was in her back jersey pocket. I quickly removed the cap and she inhaled. And then, after what seemed a long time, but was just seconds, she announced 'OK, I'm getting better'. After another 30 seconds she regained composure and we chatted a bit.

She introduced herself as 'Emily the asthmatic Cyclocrosser'. She told me that in her race she was solidly in second. She figured she had second locked up. And that pushing to the lead might trigger an asthma attack. And that she made the right decision. Then there was a pause. I searched her face for an answer but found none. So I had to ask 'What position did you finish?'. She grinned a little when she responded 'first'. Wow.

After offering my congratulation and waiting for her friends to arrive I excused myself, put on my virtual photographer's cap, and headed for the next start.

(Which is where we pick up racing tale number two)

...fine looking jersey...
story two: Mr Cool

Kurt found himself on the front row of the first wave for the two lap event. The two lap event is designed as a 'test the waters' or 'get a taste of cross' race. No licenses. Low entry fee. As welcoming as can be for a sport that knows how to serve up the suffer.

I think Kurt posed for my camera while waiting for the start. And why not? That is one fine looking jersey...

Front row start
Kurt's start was clean. He accelerated smoothly over that riverbed of round rocks.

Run run run up.
Mark is pretty keen on finding a good spot to see multiple sections of the course. I snapped some photos and watched as Kurt passed. Kurt was not leading and Kurt was not last. But he sure looked comfortable through the corners. He rode smoothly and efficiently every time I saw him. And his expression changed little. He seemed pretty cool under the pressure of his first race.

The end of the second straight. Are those legs warmed up yet?
After Kurt crossed the finish line I snapped a few images. Up close he didn't look as calm as before. He rode hard and he was showing it! He was  winded and just trying to recover. Once he could talk he exclaimed "That was a gut buster!". After a few minutes he told Mark and I about his race. He confirmed to us that he felt comfortable skittering around on semi knobby tires. And he mentioned he hadn't trained specifically for a twenty minute effort. And he was still surprised at just how strong some of the other 'two lap event' racers appeared.

That was a gut buster!
Before we all headed our separate ways I snapped one more image of Kurt and Mark. All rested up. And the smiles are showing. Another fine CX raceday.

Another fine CX raceday

I wanted to share my enjoyment of Cyclocross with another Cyclopath. I tried to guide Kurt's first CX experience to be high on the fun meter and low on the stress level. I hope I succeeded. Either way, I can report that it warmed me to get the opportunity to share what I know about CX with a willing participant. Especially when that participant races in such a fabulous jersey.

Braking in the tree section

How many Cyclopaths could travel to the races in this?!