Tuesday, January 2, 2018

What’s Next Cyclocross 2017

My cyclocross racing season is still in motion. The end of the Cross Revolution series usually signals the beginning of rest season. But, as of today, just one more event separates my legs from some well deserved rest. Let me elaborate.

Cyclocross Nationals, which comes to town in December of 2019, uses a ranking system to determine call up order. Acquiring ranking points requires competing in USA Cycling sanctioned events. This year I extended my season to include four sanctioned events in the timespan of just fifteen days.

December 3rd 2017 – Fort Steilacoom Park

Rutted muddy cyclocross course
Fort Steilacoom Park _did_ have a short but seriously deep mud section.
Going into this event I was optimistic. The course designers cut a new longer run up, a treacherous descent, and rerouted the previous run up as a short-n-steep descent. My course preview proved these sections were tough but certainly within my wheelhouse. The remainder of the course used familiar sections of the park.

This was my first USA Cycling sanctioned event and I started near the back of a 25 rider field. The more difficult descent came just two minutes into the first lap and it was in my best interest to avoid traffic on that first go down. I worked really hard for two minutes and cleaned the descent clear of traffic and in fourth position. At this point my plan was to settle to my own pace for the remaining 43 minutes of racing.

The very next corner was a simple right hander that required no special attention. I let my mind wander, washed the front tire, and hit the deck hard. I was able to quickly scramble back onto my bike and then take inventory of my situation as I continued to pedal.

Two riders take on toughest descent at Fort Steilacoom Park cyclocross course
This descent started off camber and then transitioned to a steep left hander. Running wide guaranteed meeting a small tree or two.
Blood ran from my elbow but not in enough quantity to reach my hand. I felt contusions on my forearm, rib cage, and hip. I was still functional and pedaled on.

After about one full lap I had collected myself and had dropped to about tenth. But I wasn’t racing at my full potential and slowly slid backwards to finish, without further drama, in 12th.

New run up at Fort Steilacoom Park shows riders in distance at bottom
This is a proper run up. Long enough. Soft soil. After remounted racers got to climb some more. If you didn’t see max heart rate you might be blind.

December 10th 2017 – Kayak Point Golf Course

No, we did not race on the golf course proper. Instead the race course utilized the perimeter of the driving range, a few unpaved maintenance paths, and some of the paved golf cart paths. Yes, there were a couple descents, a little mud, etc. But those features all paled when measured against the long, steep, paved climb.

After previewing the course my hopes were not high. That paved climb was tough even at preview pace. My goal was to finish in one piece.

The start went well enough and, when we dropped down the first descent I found myself immediately near the front. The second descent of lap one found me at the front as we hit the paved climb. That climb hurt me more than the others. I lost positions. My 38/28 gearing wasn’t even close to low enough and I was forced out of the saddle for most of the climb.

Lap after lap I’d gain time on the two descents only to give up even more time on the paved climb. I finished 6th out of 15. This turned out to be a much better result than I anticipated.

Cyclocross racer descends steep wooded and rooted section
Plenty steep. Some roots. And a FAT tree at the bottom of this descent. This is the run up turned short-n-steep descent at Fort Steilacoom Park.

December 16th and 17th – Fort Nugent Park

This double header weekend just outside Oak Harbor included the WSBA (Washington State Bicycle Association) CX Championship on Sunday. This may be a championship in name only but it did bring in a few more riders from a wider geographic area. It also presented an opportunity for me and my family to turn a cyclocross weekend into a family road trip and our vintage travel trailer was enlisted as our base camp.

Every rider faced the choice of riding one or both days. Every two day rider faced the dilemma of trying to save energy during Saturday’s event to be used for Sunday’s event. I hoped to swim opposite the current by burning all available matches during Saturday’s non championship race which might sabotage my chances on Sunday.

Fort Nugent Park is nearly flat. There course included a little bit of everything. It didn’t favor my technical riding style. The ground was wet but no rain was falling and the course didn’t look to turn too sloppy.

Just ten riders lined up for Saturday’s start. It was not my intention to charge towards the front but the inside line was wide open going into the first corner and I slid into third.

Over the next 45 minutes I put in a solid ride avoiding major mistakes and making just a couple tiny ones. The riders around me seemed to be stronger than the week before and there were few technical sections where I might shine. I finished 6th of 10. The gap between the winner and me was just under two minutes as is usual. But the strength of this field meant that a two minute gap put me behind mid pack.

Saturday night was spent refueling, hanging out in our tiny travel trailer at Deception Pass State Park, and listening to the rain showers come and go.

On Sunday morning the rain stopped but the damage was already done. The promoter reversed the course direction. The additional rain along with a second day of racing changed the character of the course. A nearly unrideable mud section evolved. The three off camber sections became slick and much tougher to ride. In short, the course came to me a bit. Too bad I brought rubber legs.

The field grew to 18 riders and, as I was to find out shortly, it didn’t grow by adding weak riders. Right from the whistle my lesson started. Riders on both sides bounced me around for the length of the start straight. My first corner technique was ugly. Foot down and dabbing to get around the corner stake while most riders rode the faster, but clogged, racing line. I was mid pack and surrounded by really strong riders.

I immediately set my focus on a proper 45 minute pace and staying clean amongst the traffic. By the end of the first lap I had dropped many positions and had found my pace. I focused on hitting my marks in the technical sections.

The course was changing quickly as each passing tire chewed up the course. Most riders where altering their lines lap to lap to avoid the increasing number of tricky sections. I also started to gain time on a few riders.

Looking down on muddy bicycle bottom bracket and rider's feet
Looks like it’s time for some bottom bracket maintenance
First up was a singlespeed racer who had finished well the day before. He picked perfect lines and I resolved to stay on his wheel. After a lap or two he bobbled, I slid past, and didn’t see him again.

Second was a local rider named Jeff. Jeff had soundly beat me on Saturday. I was surprised to catch him and as we raced we were slowly closing on a rider ahead. Again, I resolved to stay on this wheel. Surprisingly, after following for half a lap, he waved the white flag and motioned me to pass.

Once clear I put in a little extra to close the small gap to Rodney, a rider from Bend, Oregon. We traded positions a few times. He bested me on the off camber a couple times. Three corners from the finish I sailed my bike through a slick corner, erased any gap, but could not close the deal. Rodney kept 10th position.

After four races in fifteen days I was spent. My legs were barely adequate for walking at slow pace. It felt like everything I owned was caked in mud. It seemed a natural point in time to end my racing season. I didn’t. Over the next day or two I resolved to racing one more event. January 9th to 14th brings the 2017/2018 season Cyclocross Nationals to Reno Nevada.

That decision set the stage for where I am today.

The Present

Unlike Nationals in December 2019 I won’t be in top form for this event. I don’t expect a good finish result. I’ll be attending this event to gain a few more ranking points, get an insight to the way a Nationals level event is run, and see firsthand what it’s like to rub bars with 149 other racers. Let’s call this a test race for when the show comes to town in 2019.

In Reno, on Sunday January 14th, the best men and women cyclocross racers in the country will race for top honors. It will be a spectacular event. Don’t look for me on the course.

Amateur ‘Masters’ riders race earlier in the week and are broken down (pun intended) by age category. On Tuesday I’ll race a ‘preview’ race of just thirty minutes. My final race of the year will be on Thursday where I’ll race for the Masters Men 45-49 championship.

Between now and January 14th I’ve got some work to do. After January 14th I’m looking forward to a glass or red wine, some rest, and writing a bit about my adventure.

Bicycle racer showing scratched forearm.
Evidence of bicycle racing gone awry and how the racer in questions feels about it
(The content and images in this blog are syndicated from trummert.com)

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