Monday, November 27, 2017

Seatac Slog

The best cyclocross branding ever!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Cyclocross returns to Fort Steilacoom Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bicycle tire tread patterns in the mud

Friday, October 27, 2017

N Plus One -- by dwaine

Sunset silhouette of bicycle
Today is N+1! The race garage has a new adoption.

Cross season is here and with it comes a new addition to the race garage. This week I brought home a used cyclocross bike. The frameset is just right but the fit and some of the components are not. I'll need to marshal a number of parts to tune this machine into a winner. This is a call out to any Cyclopath who might want to clear out your unloved bike bits in exchange for some cash. I'll keep this list updated as my needs are met.


46mm wide handlebars
90 or 100mm stem with carbon friendly clamp and 10 or 17 degrees of rise
Campagnolo shifters 9/10/11 speed
Crank Brothers Eggbeater or Candy pedals
Lightweight saddle, 140 to 150 mm width


Lightweight 175mm road crankset
Dura Ace rear derailleur
Rebuildable lightweight hubs 24 front, 28 rear
Mountain bike shoes size 46
Crank Brothers cleats
Lightweight 27.2mm seat post

p.s. The image used above is an outtake from an Instagram photo session ( Expect the full reveal when the new bike is ready for prime time.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Final Fondo of 2017: Winthrop -- by Dwaine

The last Vicious Cycles Gran Fondo of 2017 was a tough one. The elevation profile included ascending and descending and little else. The ride was basically four climbs followed by four descents; a 5000 feet climb, two 1000 feet climbs, and a final 4000 foot climb. Those 11,000 feet of climbing were compressed into about 55 miles of gravel roads and 35 miles of pavement.

Elevation profile of Winthrop Gran Fondo 2017
Elevation profile shows lots of up and down and not much in between.
A late family schedule change resulted in my choice to leave our tiny travel trailer at home and spend Friday night in my pickup truck. Camp Nissan was not perfect but my rest was adequate and I was coffee'd up by 7 a.m. Most riders arrived after 7 and 'The Barn' parking lot, which served as our staging area, was hopping with activity as we readied ourselves.

Tire selection and pressure are always important at these events. The Maxxis Ramblers in 40mm width worked well in a previous Gran Fondo and I chose to run 39 and 42 p.s.i. this time around.

Without much extra time I wasn't able to warm up before the 8 a.m. start and hoped for a long and slow neutral roll out. I probably wasn't alone in hoping for a chance to warm up. Race promoter and neutral driver Jake let us loose just a mile or two up the road and the peleton did not respond. The speed increased only slightly over the first six miles with a large number choosing to ride up front.

At about eight miles the course started to steepen. I chose an easy pace and quickly watched the front of the peleton go up the road. Over the next two miles I watched riders go by and estimated to be in about 50th position. At about twelve miles my legs were warm, my pace was steady, and I found myself chatting it up with others.

By mile fifteen I had started to see a pattern that would continue for the entire day. My climbing pace was just a tiny bit faster than those around me. Slowly, one by one, I started to regain some of the positions lost in the first five miles of climbing.

Over the next seventeen miles I climbed and descended and repeated. The views were wonderful even on an overcast day. Each mile up was a slow speed dance to avoid the loose soil and sharp rocks. The descents were balance acts between speed and chain shaking bumps.

At 32 miles I crested the third climb and started the first long descent. This descent started on gravel and transitioned to pavement, included having to pass through an 'on road' cattle drive, and ended at an event food stop in the two stop sign town of Conconully.

For me, the ride, until Conconully, had gone well. My legs were still feeling fresh, I had avoided a puncture, and my water and food intake was on schedule.

At the food stop the workers offered to fill my water bottles to which I happily obliged them. I learned that there were only about a dozen riders ahead up the road. This surprised me and also explained the workers' sense of urgency. I grabbed food for the road and remounted for the final climb.
The final climb starts paved and ends gravel. The final climb is 18 miles. The final climb is roughly 4000 feet of vertical. I estimated two solid hours of work.

Only after climbing for an hour did I realize my mistake. The food I chose in Conconully was mostly real food which generally is preferred by my stomach. But I ate too much. Yes, I'd need those calories but my system couldn't handle them all at once and it told me so. I also realized that I didn't send adequate water after the Conconully stop. Previous experience had informed me that my discomfort was temporary but that it would last for much of the final climb. I saddled up for the suffer.

Previous experience didn't prepare me for the cramp that started to form in my right vastus medialis, a member of the quadriceps femoris muscle group.

I nursed that cramp for 45 minutes. My right thumb went numb from kneading the muscle. My right arm was sore after using it to assist my right leg's down stroke. I dared not pedal out of the saddle as this shortened my quad which invited more cramping. I slowed my pace and spun a high cadence. I watched a strong rider go by. I didn't so much nurse the cramp as I survived the cramp.

The first five miles of descent were on smooth gravel roads and I was able to collect myself. I descended moderately and was able to exercise a few quad stretches from the saddle.

The remaining gravel road descent miles were not so smooth. The stutter bumps were, at times, dangerous. I passed a couple riders during this section only to see them go back by when I stopped to remedy a dropped chain. This process was repeated a second time, with the same two riders, and when we reached the pavement just seconds separated the three of us.

When the road straightened a bit we immediately began to work together. Both riders were stronger than me and I thanked my lucky stars that I was invited to the party. Their pulls were faster and longer than mine. I gave everything I had as I knew I was getting the better end of the deal. My goal was to earn enough 'cred' that they would let me stay in to the finish.

The finish straight was flat, about two blocks long, and followed a tricky downhill left hand cross traffic turn. At about four tenths of a mile to go I warned the group that we were near this tricky corner and then faded to the back. It was my intention that, if they needed to sprint for the finish, I would be well out their way.

Leading up to the final turn our road was mostly quiet of cars. At the tricky left we did encounter an oncoming pickup truck. The lead rider slowed to let the truck pass and made a slow left hand turn onto the final straight. The second rider needed to slow only slightly. The truck was well past for me and, as I completed the left turn, we found ourselves on equal position.

Only my good luck and their generosity placed me on par with just a few hundred yards to go. I decided in that moment I would not initiate a sprint. In that same instant the stronger of the two riders did initiate the sprint and held that position to finish seventh. I trailed the group to earn ninth of about 95 finishers. Quite respectable.

Sprint finish for 7th position
Sprint finish for 7th position. No tactics at play. The stronger riders just earned it. Photo courtesy of Vicious Cycles.
Since the finish I've reflected on my day and have been mostly smiles. My pacing, not too fast on the first climb, worked well for me. My comfort with riding gravel roads was invaluable. Too much food at Conconully was a mistake. Knowing my body allowed me to adjust for the mistake and salvage my first Gran Fondo top ten.

I've also had time to reflect on my Gran Fondo season. I completed three of the five events in this series and enjoyed all three. This reflection also revealed a pattern; the more gravel and climbing the better I finished. I guess you can't take the dirt biker out of the cyclist.

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Sunday, September 24, 2017

2017_09_23 Haller Pass Ride (Photo Blog Post)

Author:  Mike Hassur

John, Martin, Les, Conor, Nick, Kurt (not pictured), and Mike (taking the photo) at Skookum Flats - North Trailhead

A little late regarding the post for this ride which was two weeks ago, so my memory is a little fuzzy.  Here's my best attempt at recollection.  Our start time was 7:30 AM at the Skookum Flats - North Trailhead which meant out of bed by 5:00 AM and ready to leave home with Leon, Martin, and Conor by 6:00 AM.  Conor Collins was home for ten days after completing summer classes at UC Santa Barbara which meant that the drive to our starting point provided me a chance to catch up on the latest "Conor news" (Leon was riding with Martin).

We arrived to find that the forest service road that led to our starting point was "semi-blocked" with tape.  There were forest fires in the mountains; and, apparently, we were not supposed to enter the area.  Since the tape was only across one lane in the road, we assumed that it was just a warning as opposed to a prohibition (we knew that the fires were not near us).  Anyway, we proceeded to our starting point.

Everyone arrived, and we managed to get started around 7:30 AM.

Trailhead on the way to the Huckleberry Creek crossing...

Right after this bridge over Huckleberry Creek was where the climbing really began...

Huckleberry Creek...

The first few miles were a gentle, rolling climb; we did a right-hand hairpin turn over Huckleberry Creek.  This is where the climbing really began.

Nick and Martin on the first and biggest climb of the day...

The views on this first big climb were spectacular...

Les, Kurt, John, Leon, Conor, Martin, Nick, and Mike (not shown - taking photo)...

That's where our road is heading on the mountain across the valley...

Les taking a photo of the scene below...

Pretty awesome view...

This climb was tough.  It was long, steep, and the road was rough which made getting into a rhythm tough.  On the other hand, as long as we didn't "push the pace"; it wasn't too bad.

As we ascended, the group split.  Les and I were the only members of the group who had been on these roads before.  No problem - tough to get lost on these roads.  Unfortunately, part of the group did take a wrong turn and got temporarily lost.  Fortunately, they didn't stay lost for long.

Les continuing up toward Haller Pass...

The view near Haller Pass (note Mt. Rainier on the left in the photo....

View near Haller Pass... Mt. Rainier on the left...

Part of the group at Haller Pass...

When you get to Haller Pass, you have to take a short climb to get to a spectacular viewpoint. The group elected not to go to the viewpoint (except for Les and John) which was disappointing for me, because that viewpoint was to be one of the highlights for this ride.

John at Haller Pass viewpoint...

Les at Haller Pass viewpoint...

John... Haller Pass viewpoint...
Mt. Rainier as seen from Haller Pass viewpoint...

Haller Pass viewpoint...

The descent from Haller Pass was interesting.  The road had some deep gravel added to it in places since last year, and there were numerous "washboard sections".  Nonetheless, we made it down with only one mishap - Nick had a fall.  Fortunately, he was going slowly through some deep gravel when it happened, and no significant harm was done. 

One of the views on the descent from Haller Pass...

Quick break to enjoy the view and to let our hands/arms recover from all of the gravel road vibrations...

Leon heading down from Haller Pass...

Once we reached the bottom of our descent, we had to ride a few miles on Highway 410 to return to our vehicles.  About a half mile from the finish, I had a flat rear tire.  Conor rode ahead and drove my van back to pick me up. 

Kurt heading back on Hwy 410...

Nick heading back to the vehicles on Hwy 410...

Add caption

Eventually, everyone made it back to the vehicles.  The ride was a qualified success.  Some of the riders enjoyed it, and some complained of the rough roads.  The roads were rough, the views were spectacular, and we hope to do similar rides next year. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

2017_08_28 The High Pass Challenge with Adam Abrams

Author:  Adam Abrams

2017 was my second year of cycling and I decided to fully devote my spring and summer to trying out new disciplines of cycling. With that in mind I signed up for High Pass Challenge as a way to experience a competitive Gran Fondo. High Pass Challenge features an out and back course that starts in Packwood then climbs over independence pass before turning at the Windy Ridge Viewpoint. In total the ride climbs 7400 feet in 102 miles. The event is also timed and riders are awarded Gold, Silver and Bronze medals based on their arrival time at the Windy Ridge Viewpoint. My goal for the ride was to race it and put in the best effort I could.

The day started early as I left my house at 4:15 AM in hopes of getting to Packwood by 6:15 AM. I wanted to give myself plenty of time to get ready for the 7:00 AM start. The drive went a little too quickly and I got there at 5:40. With extra time and nothing to do I decided to pull out my lawn chair and watch the riders coming in. I quickly realized that there were some very good riders at the event. The majority of the riders were sporting their race kits and the guy parked next to me was a retired pro rider. Needless to say I felt a little out of my depth but I decided to stick with my original goals.

The ride started fast and I mean FAST! We were flying down Hwy 12 at speeds between 25-28 MPH. Unfortunately, I lined up too far back at the start and had some work to do to get back near the front. Luckily there were several others that made similar mistakes and I was able to ride their wheels back to the front without wasting too much energy.  By the time we turned onto Forest Service Road 25 I was positioned in the front 30 riders.  Holding my position was difficult as other riders were constantly looking to move up. It had the feeling of a race near the front. 

The ride exploded on the first climb of the day. It’s a 1.2 mile climb that averages 6% but starts gradients above 10%. Most of the riders attacked this climb like it was the only climb of the day. Not wanting to get dropped, I burnt my first match of the day and put down a 300+ watt effort for a 6 minute climb. Unfortunately, this left me in no mans land as the leading group of riders was a good 20 seconds in front of me and everyone else was scattered. When we got back to a flat section I tried to bridge up to the leading group but quickly realized that it would take too much to reach them.  I decided to hold my position and hope a chase group would form. To my luck about 5 minutes later a group of 8 riders came by and and I jumped on. This group worked together and we were able to rejoin the leaders after a few miles.

The group stayed together until we passed the Iron Creek Campground and started the 13 mile, 2800 foot climb to the top of Independence Pass. The other riders were more conservative on this climb and the group slowly separated as the stronger riders pulled away while others fell back. I decided to ride my own pace and target 250 watts for the climb. This strategy worked well and I was able to pass several riders in the second half of the climb. By the time I reached the top of the climb I was in a small group of riders and placed somewhere in the top 20. But unfortunately I still had 10 miles of rolling road before reaching Windy Ridge.

This last section of the climb didn’t go as well for me. I was getting tired, the day was getting HOT and I was out of water.  The mental and physical impact of running out of water was surprising. I found myself limiting my efforts and counting down the miles. Unfortunately this meant I had to watch several riders pull away and I got passed by a couple more. But to be honest it didn’t bother me that much as I was more focused on getting to the Windy Ridge Food Stop and some much needed water. In hindsight I really wish I would have taken an extra bottle in my jersey pocket. When the aid station came into view, I was ecstatic and rushed to the line. After parking my bike I filled my water bottle drank the whole thing before filling it up again. Feeling better I decided to check out the food before making my way over to the time check to see how I finished. I finished with a gold medal time of 2:49, 22nd overall and 9 minutes behind the first finishers. 

The ride back to Packwood was pretty uneventful. I was one of the first riders to leave and rode the 51 miles back by myself. Despite the 90+ degree temperatures I did my best to enjoy the ride. I only stopped twice on the way back. The first time to refill the bottles and the second to fix my only flat tire of the year. By the time I got back to Packwood I was hot and exhausted but also pleased with my performance. 

I learned a lot from the ride. First I need to start near the front when I want to ride near the front. I wasted too much energy chasing the leaders in the first 15 miles. Second, I need to take more water than I think I’m going to need. For me that means one bottle for every hour of riding. Most importantly I learned that I really enjoy this style of riding/racing and I can’t wait for my next opportunity to ride an event like the High Pass Challenge.

Picture Post for Rainiering 2017 -- by Dwaine

Oh Chinook Pass, how I love thee! Rainiering 2017 started overcast and evolved into warm sunshine. But the sunshine worked its way through the clouds in fits and starts. As we started up Chinook, nearly devoid of cars due to a road closure, the warm rays of sun warmed our skin and souls.

Climbing over fourteen thousand feet in one day requires over ten hours in the saddle, strong legs, and great camaraderie. I'd like to send a big 'thank you' to Scott and Mike for the great conversation and leadership. This image shows them part way up Cayuse pass relatively early in the day. Their smiles and spirits remained broad and bright all day long.

As we neared the summit of Chinook the clouds rolled back in to create a dramatic lighting effect. In this image the group is pedaling from bright sun back into shade and mist.

Sunrise was the second climb to go into the bag and the author requested a group photo. Just like last year the shot included the mountain and sign. Unlike last year no mud was present. In addition, the photo shows that while waiting for the old guys to get some rest Adam busied himself with a few reps of his cycling centric upper body exercises.

Three tough dudes. The final major ascent was to the Paradise Visitor Center. We did not tarry taking only enough time to fill water bottles and snap this sober shot. (Author's note - The normal riders, including the author, were feeling a bit haggard when this image was captured. Only Adam is wearing a smile. His fitness and lack of fatigue are clearly not typical.)

p.s. It's tough limiting myself to just five images. At least one Rainiering image landed on my Instagram feed: