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