Cyclocross Season

Well, things are a bit different these days with the working life and all. Less time to while away with detailed race reports from the weekend’s exploits every Monday at lunch. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been racing, I definitely have been. I did five forest orienteering events this September after getting into it in the river valley parks over the course of the summer on Wednesday evenings. I also participated in the whole Frank McNamara Wednesday Night Cross Country series of races again this fall amongst some other running races. I’ll recap the fall running season once it’s finally over in another two weeks. On top of that was a pretty enjoyable cyclocross season, the highlight being the amazing weather we had for all of it. It took a while to get the body moving again following Ironman at the end of August but I slowly came around and was able to put together a few good races, and a few good parts of a few more. The cyclocross season really lacked specificity in training, I didn’t work on technical skills at all, I kept up an acceptable level of basic mileage on the bike by commuting to and from work, and going for some very enjoyable century rides out amongst the fall colours. I did some intervals on the stationary bike while coaching but didn’t really do anything I could call ‘training for cross’ beyond maybe 3 or 4 rides in addition to the races in the past couple months.

  • The season debuted at The School of Cross and I got destroyed. More accurately I destroyed myself. Off the start line I pulled the wheel out of my dropouts by putting down too many watts [not kidding, it happened!] and got dropped on the race to the first corner. After readjusting my wheel I caught the tail end of the peloton by the time they left the road at which point everything was single-file and there was already a breakaway forming. My prospects of having a “good race” were bleak. I worked my way up a bit, passed most of the guys who are old enough to be my Dad. Then the crashing began and I started to get passed by most of the guys who are old enough to be my Dad. It is definitely my responsibility to show up for the race with race appropriate equipment. It turns out that a bald 34cc that I’ve been commuting on for two years is not race appropriate equipment for very dry and dusty grass. It was like my tires were lubricated. A few crashes got inside my head and I got pretty hesitant… and pretty slow. Good thing the lap was long, I didn’t get lapped out, but did need to get Keegan to hand-up a bottle of gatorade of which I drank every last drop… with only a half lap to go. I was in a world of hurt at the finish and it took three cans of coke and laying in the shade for 30 minutes to feel a bit better. The season was only going to get better from here!
  • Photo from gallery: Cyclocross 2011
  • Cyclocross continued the very next weekend in Calgary with the Dark Knight event. I had purchased appropriate tyres and tightened my quick release, nothing could go wrong. The race started with a long paved climb and because of the size of the field (60 guys) I really wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to get caught up behind everyone and have to expend a ton of effort passing people on this tight and technical course with limited visibility. Did I mention that the sun had set an hour before my start time? I was third or fourth up the climb and immediately following the lung-busting effort the course turned onto a section of the downhill MTB track at Paskapoo. I managed to show that I’m better suited to skinny tires and straight lines by dropping my chain, getting it stuck in my spokes and crashing off the side of the third downhill corner at my first sight of “technical difficulty” encountered in 2011. By the time I got my shit together I was in last place. Being familiar with this situation I was determined not to blow myself up like I had by going as hard as I could and causing subsequent crashes due to reckless cornering. I caught back on to the tail end of the pack pretty quickly and slowly made my way forward through the group. The crowds were riotous in their support (well, the music was loud and a few people knew my name, so I got myself pretty motivated somehow). I spent basically the entire race catching and passing people, I also had some rather conservative pacing imposed on me by the fact that I got stuck in slow traffic a lot for the first few laps. In the end I was basically the last person on the course to not get lapped out. About half of the field got lapped out, so despite rolling across the finish line in nearly last place I actually did pretty well for myself considering the situation with a mid-pack finish, limiting my crashing to only one instance.
  • Photo from gallery: Cyclocross 2011
  • The morning after Dark Knight we headed back to Paskapoo for the Cross for Kids race. I was determined to get off to a good fast start for once, this time I really overdid it and after going off for a good fast start I made the mistake of staying at too-quick a pace for a couple laps before settling in to a reasonable and sustainable effort. The course was tricky but I had a fair amount of time to pre-ride and there was actually a lot of the course that I was able to ride relatively smoothly if I had my wits about me. After my fast start and subsequent detonation I was passed by a fair number of guys who all deserved to pass me, there was no question in my mind that they were faster, but after maybe 3 short laps of moving backwards through the field I found myself amongst the guys who I should have been racing from the beginning. Then the race became really really fun, three or four of us were in close contention and places swapped regularly and each person pushed the pace where they felt they had an advantage to do so. I don’t know if it was residual fatigue from this being the third race of the weekend for me or perhaps I just didn’t bring my suitcase of courage, but I couldn’t hammer the uphills as hard as the guys who I was racing with. Instead of trying to do what I was finding very difficult I decided I would be wiser to attack on the long downhill and try to gain a gap there instead. I put in my big attack and was starting to put time into them with only one and a half laps to go when I clipped my handlebars on a stake when trying to go too fast around a tight corner and lauched myself off my bike. After calling for help and getting someone to extract me from the wreckage I decided I didn’t really have a good reason to quit, and I climbed back aboard my bike and rode it in for the last half of the lap. The crash took enough time to get me lapped out by the leaders so I finished an inglorious +1.
  • Photo from gallery: Cyclocross 2011
  • Thanksgiving weekend served up some spectacular weather and I took advantage of the sunshine with 170kms on Sunday at a pretty good pace with some great company. Sunday was to be Red Cross, the next cross race, and I did a bunch of things right, I got in a decent pre-ride. I actually got nice and warmed up before my race instead of warming up way too early and then getting cold and damp before starting (the weather is the main contributor to that good decision making). I also pounded a can of coke immediately before the start to ensure I had some good blood sugar on my side, it wasn’t guaranteed with the long ride the day before. I missed my clip-in on the first try off the start and got stuck mid-pack for the first lap of the race. By the time that I had freed myself from the clutches of the traffic jam there was already a breakaway off the front of the race of about 5 guys and the pack was splintering all the way through the field. I slowly worked my way up from my position from one person to the next, I typically paused briefly behind each person I caught long enough to feel like I had got my effort under control before attacking and trying to close down the next gap. It probably could have been paced a bit more evenly, but as people started to fatigue, my lack of max-efforts in the first 15 minutes gave me a huge advantage over the rest of the guys who I was riding amongst. I eventually broke away with a lap and a half remaining from Jan Plavec and the guy who rides for Slime. I dropped the hammer and went for a max effort to try and get across the gap to Tanner Broadbent from ERTC. It was going to take a heroic effort, but for the first time in the season I felt like I might have a heroic effort in me. That last lap had me sprinting out of every corner and rolling huge gears on the flats, I probably closed a full 15 seconds on Tanner in the last 5 minutes and caught him just as we crested the final hill with a long drag race to the finish. He immediately attacked hoping to prevent me from getting any draft on the run in to the finish. It sort-of worked, I couldn’t close the gap enough to really get “into” the draft but he didn’t put time on me. Into the last corner I caught his wheel as we hit the brakes and I picked my sprinting gear exactly right. I turned myself absolutely inside out in the final 80m to the line and with a pretty fantastic bike throw, took him at the line by less than a half a wheel. It felt like I won the world championship. In fact I was sixth in the expert category, but I didn’t really care, it was a big victory for me.
  • Buoyed by my success I headed to Red-Deer the following weekend for Riverbend Cross and hoped that with a bit better start I could maybe get a race with good execution start to finish. I lined up aggressively and tried my best to stick with the guys who I had finished amongst the previous weekend in Edmonton for the first few laps. It was too tall an order. After about 3 laps I was hurting, not breathing well, and feeling dead in the legs. It was a pretty flat course with a fair number of long straight sections. Everyone before the race was commenting on how this was a course that suited me well, it wasn’t. At the beginning and the end of all of the long straight sections was a corner, and 95% of the corners on this course were well more than 90o bends. I didn’t have the cornering prowess to take them at the same speeds as the guys around me, and so I had to accelerate harder out of the corners than them, and lug all 200+ pound of me along. Me and this course were not match-made for eachother despite what people had said. I still thought though, that I should be able to hang with those guys, and so put myself over the edge early in the race trying to do so. By lap 4 I had done too much damage and in a moment of poor judgement caused by blurring vision and the taste of blood in my mouth I drove off the course into the woods. Unfortunately the crashing had only just begun and two laps later I crashed off the side of a hill when I missed a mount and fell smack-dab in the middle of a lane of oncoming traffic. No-one hit me, but the same can’t be said for my bike. Standing up, I didn’t have a ton of reasons to quit so got on the bike and kept riding. The subsequent crashes weren’t so bad, just minor bike handling errors leading to me tipping over, you know, the usual. I wasn’t quite last place once it was all over with, there was still the really old dude behind me.
  • Photo from gallery: Cyclocross 2011
  • The next weekend was provincial championships at Lions Den Cross in Devon. This is a fun course and it’s one I have some pretty good memories from. There are some fun bits and pieces and the climbing and descending is limited to once per lap. Being under 30 meant I had to race at the elite level to contest provincials which meant racing against all of the really really fast guys. It was a challenge I was ready for, I did my best to pre-ride well and get warmed up well. I also decided that my strategy was going to be to go hard off the start and get in a good position and then try to settle into my best pace possible right away instead of trying to stick with anyone. There was no guarantee there would be anyone to stick with anyways, and if I wanted a real time instead of just getting lapped out, I needed to pace myself to a max effort for an hour instead of an explosion and dawdling in for the second half. I lined up next to Peter Knight who had declared he was going for the hole shot, and I got myself to corner #2 on his wheel, ahead of everyone else, including many-time-defending provincial champ Aaron Schooler. I got heckled a bit by him, telling me not to crash him out, but I just joked back that I had a hard time hearing him because I was so far ahead. Within 400m I had backed off the pace of the leaders and was settling in to my own effort. It wasn’t very hard to let the fast guys get away for that first lap and a bit, I was up amongst guys I cheer for all season long, I wasn’t going to finish anywhere near them and I knew it. It was a good strategy I think and I settled in for a good solid effort. I was really having a great race despite the fact that I was battling to stay off the podium of last-place-ers. As the race came to a close I got some good cheers when I rolled up to a barrier pretending I was going to bunny-hop it and then a big round of Boooooo!!! when I hopped off and dismounted instead. The next time around I decided that I’d better not let my fans down and attempted the bunnyhop. I had attempted this three times during warmup. Twice were barely on the side of “success” and one was an absolute catastrophic failure. My fatigued brain figured that my chances were alright, it was too fatigued to take into account that it should be calculating my chances of bunnyhopping while fatigued. Well, I hit the deck hard, the bike went flying and I lost some more skin. My fans loved it. The end of the race was pretty good, I nearly closed the gap on a young Juventus guy, it turned out he had a lot in the tank to sprint with despite his fade on the final couple lap. In the end I stayed well ahead of Aaron who defended his title as provincial champ and so I would definitely chalk this race up as a success as well. Good way to finish off the season for sure!

I learned a few things this season at ‘cross:

  1. If you want technical prowess, you have to earn it with practice.
  2. Whatever I might think I’m doing to get better and bike handling doesn’t count as practice.
  3. Cyclocross is very hard to do when you’ve got some ego, or even an idea of who you’d like to try and beat.
  4. I had better never buy carbon wheels for cyclocross, they probably won’t last one warmup lap.
  5. It is way easier to blow yourself up cyclocross racing when you have been working on 5min power, than when you have been working on aerobic endurance
  6. Despite being easier to blow yourself up doing shorter harder efforts in training, it does make you faster.
  7. It’s very important to downshift into corners, or I destroy my back.
  8. I should probably buy some new shoes, mine are 6 years old and the velcro comes undone at very inopportune times.
  9. If I don’t get any better at cross I don’t think it will diminish the fun.
  10. I’m really happy I don’t have to race as an ‘elite’ all season.

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