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