Monday, December 17, 2007

Nationals are in the Books

I have done two national competitions and both have been held in extreme weather. But, cyclocross racers pride and boast all the time about how tough it it and how they want the poor weather so I figured why not give us the worst possible. They will still hold the race and someone will still win. So, as I watched the weather change from Thursday to Saturday it actually got better as the week went on. The snow fall totals were lower but the biggest thing I watched were the temperatures and how they affected the course. All in all this was one to remember and I am glad I got to take part.

Thursday--40+ B Race Day

The temperature was cold but eventually got above freezing making the course pretty muddy. I pre-rode the course at 8am with my race being at noon. I did 2-3 laps and it was clear where the danger spots would be. The first turn past the start/finish had an innocent little berm that I am sure grew daffodils and green grass during the spring and summer. Now what was left was a muddy sheet, scarred with deep tire tracks. The entry was a puddle and the hill was slick. The other danger spot was the off-camber 180 degree turn that hugged a ridge. If you missed the inside line you would slide down the hill. The stair run-ups were not bad but the off camber parts after them leading back to the pavement gave people fits. I could ride it 25% of the time.

I hung out in the warm up tent until they started calling us up. Once lined up it was pretty cold but the first part of the course was a long paved hill so it would get warm quickly. I had a great start and it the muddy turn without any problems. Soon 6 of us were away and had a nice gap. Over the course of the race the mud was the invisible force that guided you. It took you where it wanted you to go and as long as you did not over brake or turn thefront wheel too much you were OK. You could ride it fast if you tried. I felt like if you could just keep your feet going your traction was fine. There were two slight uphill mud bogs that were hard to power through but other than that I really liked the course conditions.

During the race I would catch 4-5th place on the stairs and then they would gap me on the hill through the start/finish. I got hung up on the last lap on the 180 off-camber by a lapped rider who would not concede the line to me so I had to go down the embankment and lost about 10 seconds. During the race I had the 5th placed rider looking tired right in front of me. I told him not to give up and keep giving 100%. He then rode away to 3rd place! Doh! He did share his strawberry prize with me later. I was only off of the podium by about 20 seconds and I was thrilled to earn 6th.

Course Evolution

The next 3 days were really cool to watch. As the temperatures and weather changed, the course evolved as well. Friday's races started out as ice sheets for the juniors and gave way later as 37 degrees and 500 riders plowed the course into deep furrows and mud bogs. They took out the barriers in the morning because of danger but they would return and disappear throughout the 3 days. After Firday the temperature dropped into the 20's and as snow fell the ponded water on the course was insulated and super-cooled. The frozen ruts were soft on Saturday but there were ice patches hidden under the snow. The water puddles would instantly freeze to your clothes/skin upon contact and the course near two pit areas were two big mud bogs. By Saturday the treacherous spots were the ice patches and frozen ruts--there you had no control and somtimes you couold just power over them and sometimes not.

Saturday--Masters 40-44 Championship Race

A 2pm race time was actually worse today since the high temperature was at 8am. By 2pm it was 20 degrees and the wind was blowing at 15 mph with snow falling. Besides raining toads, or locusts, this was about as bad as it could get. To be honest, I delivered newspapers on my bike back in the day and delivered in the same conditions many times. It was fun to remember that.

Emerging from the warm-up tent 100 guys made it down to staging where the officials looked weary and cold. They were calling names too quickly and mispronouncing them and I missed my call-up. I eventually was placed 2 rows back from my registration row. The start was great and I was around 15th heading up to the nasty right berm. Once there it was like a Tour de France first week sprint stage where riders lose their minds and the pile up falls like dominos. Here is the shot with me in the middle of the pile up:

So now I was in around 22nd but still optimistic because the crash had split the field. I hung in there for another lap and on the next lap I could feel my back tire losing pressure. I had a tubular so I rode it back to the pit--that was a real challenge, riding a flat tubular over ice and snow! Once at the pit Shey and I did a bike exchange but the new bike was one we all shared, I did not check it properly and the tire pressure was too high and the bike would not shift into the big ring. I had lost a lot of places, probably around 60th now and managed to make up some ground. I was taking a lot of risks and crashed a few times. I was still having a lot of fun and sicne the pit was double sided, we got to use it twice a lap. Shey had my regular bike outfitted with a new rear wheel and I was back on course. I was worried about getting lapped so I really put in a big effort the last lap and a half.

The stair runs were interesting because so many riders would run the stairs and spend time remounting down the hill in between stair sets and then dismount and try to ride the off-camber iced part that led back to the pavement. I decided that each lap I would shoulder my bike and run the entire section, up both stair sections, the downhill section in between, and all the off-camber stuff and remount near the pavement. I passed a lot of riders this way.

In the end I was pretty haggared from the effort, cold and had some cuts and bruises. But I felt great that I did not give up even in the worst weather and bike conditions.


Trish Albert's Photos Reports

Some Video


1 comment:

greg said...

nice large photo of the climb outta the pile here: