Chicago Cyclocross Cup #4 Carpentersville; or “crosstoberfesterific”

In the center of the US, there are a few days close to the end of October that are, without doubt, my favorite of the year. These usually come after a little cold snap brings out the colors in the trees. Suddenly one day, the sun comes out, it’s just cool enough to need a sweater and the greenish orange trees are all thrown into a fiery sparkle against the cobalt blue sky. Heaven. Sometimes only a couple days long, I’ve realized that these days signal that the cyclocross season is about half over. The days of short sleeves at races are over. As much as we don’t want to think about it, we’re one gloomy, windy day away from bare trees and the time when cross starts involving lots more gritting of teeth and just doing it.

Like last year, the fiery trees and cobalt sky days landed right on the Carpentersville race weekend. And really, what a perfect race to get the high point of the autumn. The course was technical, had a new and improved version of the dreaded Big Sandpit, and sported the CCC’s first “pump section.” This course was, seriously, Just Right.

I get my callup, and yes it’s pretty awesome. It isn’t false humbleness at all when I say that the other dudes on the line near me are by far my superiors cross skillz wise. It’s a good day to get callups too: probably due to the nice weather, the M30+ is twice its normal size. Jesse points out that I am the only person on the line without carbon wheels.

My early race is marred by a chain drop on my first trip through the sandpit, barely a couple minutes into the race. I’m sitting around 10th before this, but rehanging a chain when in “start mode” is a good way to dump lots of your “alloted time over lactate threshold” down the tubes. I stand there with a pegged heart rate fumbling with the chain. I get mega-passed. I chase back up knowing that I’m trading good pacing for a chance to stay within contact of the frontish group. I remind myself to breathe.

The front group is gone. I’m just not hooking the corners as well as I need to, probably because I’m still thinking about the chain drop. I crash going over the rut near the start/finish and drop my chain again. The Iron Cycles dude who has been near me jumps when he sees me go down. I chase back on, not wanting to lose him and knowing that I’m tossing any hope of good pacing. At least I’m still in front of Dave Pilotto, I think.

Twoish laps to go. I am cooked literally and figuratively. I’ve sorta dropped the Iron Cycles dude coming into the start/finish road section. I sit up just a bit and try to unzip my jersey and push up my long sleeves.

Pilotto comes hammering by me.

I scream an obscenity (I can’t remember what it was, but I’ll bet Dave does) and jump after him. I get his wheel half-way through the twisties, utterly cooked. I bump him when I pass and then proceed to start running through tape like I’m blind. Dave asks me if my garmin unit is telling me which direction to go. Damn. Somehow Iron Cycles dude is back.

I lay it down on the flat grass and open a gap. I’m thinking that I don’t have a whole lot of gas left in the tank to battle for 20th place, but I have two big power sections left in which I am going to punish these two. By the time we get to the off-cambery hill, Dave is off the back but Iron Cycles is on my wheel. Cresting the last hill I fumble after striking a pedal on the off camber. Iron Cycles gets in front. I’m kinda angry.

I hold a really really close line on Iron Cycles through the toilet-bowl section because I’m gonna nail it and pass him on the hill before the pump section. I do just that. If I just make it through the pumps I have a nice laying-it-down section waiting. Iron Cycles is on my wheel, as we hit the pumps. Exiting the last one, we connect but don’t go down. I stand up to go, and I realize that something is wrong. My bike is heavy. Iron Cycles’s bike is tangled in mine. I don’t even look, I just lean forward and pull.

Pilotto comes hammering by.

Our bikes are free. I still haven’t turned around, but I stand up and kick. I have no rear brake, and there is a rubbing noise from behind. I listen to the noise for 10 seconds and decide I’m going to get off and throw my bike into a tree. Just before I do this, I hear Iron Cycles say “it’s just a cable rubbing.” Well it FEELS like a brake rubbing so either this guy is a: diabolically clever for misleading me or b: a really nice guy for telling me the truth. In either case, just the sort of standup dude I like to be crashing into out on a cyclocross course. I’m utterly ruined now, and the crunchy buzzing sound has put me in an ill-humor so it’s not long before he comes around me.

We finish 22nd and 23rd. The brake wasn’t rubbing. Matt Larson, aka Iron Cycles, is a nice guy.

Next week: a little less chain drop and a little more CCC (calm, cool and collected) is what I’m shooting for. Oh, and no more faux paux on the callup line — I’m bringing the carbon wheels.

October 21, 2009 in cyclocross Comments (0)

Chicago Cyclocross Cup #3 Dan Ryan Woods; or “the sigh”

I wrote up this really long — nay, epically long — account of this week’s race. It reads like the freakin’ Odyssey, and in it I valiantly battle fearless warrior Mark Feary for 10th place in excruciating lap by lap detail. It’s way overwrought. I won’t subject you to it. I shall tell you, however, that I prevailed at the line in the contest against Mark and I got my first top-10 finish in a cyclocross race. I’d lie if I denied that this made me overwhelmingly pleased — this was my unmentioned goal for the whole season. It’s pretty much gravy now from what I can tell. I also managed to slide into 7th overall for the m30+ series. Squeaking brakes, lack of technique, dirty bike and all, I’ll be getting call-ups next week. Watch out starting line.

Now I’d like to tell you about the really important news from the Dan Ryan cx race.

A key feature to Beverly’s powerarific course was an off-camber S-curve down a hill which you rode just a few seconds after running up the hill and tasting your breakfast again. Crashing on this little downhill section was very easy to do. By the time a few of us made it up to the hill for the 4′s races, there was quite a throng gathered. I don’t know if it was the close proximity of both the run-up and the descent, the fact that there were more liquored up fans than I’ve noticed before at races or what, but this crowd was AWESOME. Over the course of the 4s races we gradually migrated from standard cheering to “cowbell in the face berating antagonism.” We helped people fall over. We helped them back up. We expressed lots of opinions about power measuring devices. We suggested people not use their brakes. Surprisingly they complied. At some point, dollar handups sounded like a good idea. J took one in in the mouth high-style. There was lots of crashing. It was a very very good time.

Then something happened that I’ve never seen happen at a cross race, and this is my news. The crowd looked around and realized that the last 4b rider had just run our gauntlet. I actually said “Is that it?!” somebody answered “yeah” and THE CROWD SIGHED. I kid you not. They sighed. Like the moment the lights go on at a 4am bar, this group of people was bummed that it was time to go home.

In my estimation, that sigh is the future of cyclocross sounding pretty damn rosy. I could go on and on about the growth of cross, and how awesome this series is getting, but for now please know that a big ol’ group of fans expressed sadness at the end of a cyclocross race in the way usually reserved for polishing off a good cheeseburger, seeing the credits at an epic movie and packing to head home after a vacation.

Grabbing the 10th place was gratifying, but I’m even more glad I heard that sigh.

October 14, 2009 in cyclocross Comments (4)

Chicago Cyclocross Cup #2: Dekalb; or “Style”

Sunday was perhaps the quintessential fall cyclocross day, and the race put on by Half Acre was second to none: crisp air, gorgeous blue skies and the trees beginning to change. The course in Dekalb was as good as last year , and perhaps better. I managed a mediocre finish at best, and I enjoyed the hell out of achieving it. Since Jackson Park I’ve been working on some conclusions, and they basically boil down to this: I think I’ve finally resigned myself to racing for the middle of the pack. With resignation comes tranquility, and with tranquility in action there is room to finally think about style. And in then end, it all boils down to style, right?

Manifesto of the Mediocre Cyclocrosser

1. Show up to the race with a clean bike. If you’re a top-10 racer, a dirty bike at the start says “I just finished warming up doing intervals for 2 hours.” For the mediocre crosser, it says “I hope this thing isn’t still broken from last week’s race.”

2. Under no circumstances should you display horrible pacing. This is defined as being passed by more than 25% of the field due to bad pacing or “the alka seltzer” maneuver . Losing spots due to mechanicals/crashing/etc are handled under other rules. Grabbing the hole shot and crashing, or blowing up 3 minutes later is utterly bad form (UBF).

3. Learn how to corner. Your cornering should look graceful, or at least not painful. i.e. you should not come flying into a corner, grab a handful of squealing brakes, come nearly to a halt and then dribble through the corner on a bad line. This has nothing to do with cutting people off by taking the inside line (which can be done in high style).

4. Make your brakes stop squealing. Do the PRO’s brakes squeal? No. Neither should yours.

5. Nothing should fall off your bike nor should anything break during a race except under duress. So breaking a chain due to your massive quad strength, fine. Cracking a steerer tube in a hard mixup, fine. Having your crank fall off mid-race (or pre-race) due to loose bolts, not fine. Since you have so much extra time not worrying about training, spend some of it fixing your bike.

6. Do not crash randomly. Working hard to stay ahead of your rival or trying not to break rule #1? Fine. In those cases, crashing is a sign that you just discovered the limits of your ability. Crashing while tooling along by yourself is UBF.

7. If you’re not in the top third of the race, you do not have the right to a game face. Wipe the grimace of pain off your face. Practice looking tranquil. “Yeah, I know I’m off the back, I’m working on a new cornering technique” is what you’re shooting for.

8. When you get lapped or the next race leaders catch up to you, it’s time to put on your most PRO behavior. When the gravy train comes up behind you, you have to yield. Not getting out of their way is UBF. That said, pulling over to the side of the course and stopping for a sip from the water bottle is also UBF. You’re still racing. Try to make it look like you’re gifting them the pass rather than making them put you in the tape for it.

9. No powertaps. A powertap says that you’re more interested in increasing fitness than your style. Since your fitness obviously isn’t going anywhere, this a big yellow marker of futility. A powertap on a mediocre ‘crosser is exactly the same mistake made when someone puts one of those big airfoils on a Honda Civic. I am embarrassed by how long I rode around with a powertap now that I think about it.

10. Your form in the barriers should not change from beginning of the race until the end. Period. A graceful antelope over the first set of barriers and eventually grandma tiptoeing through the garden by the end of 45 min? UBF. Get some barrier style and then stick to it. If you can’t, then go slower.

11. Get some barrier style.

12. Under no circumstance should you ever pass someone by going into the red and then immediately allow them to pass and ride away from you. Back and forths are the essence of the race, but burning all your matches to just make it in front of a person and then getting dropped is UBF.

13. Relatedly: passing someone and then crashing in front of them (i.e. in a corner) is UBF unless you’re doing so to further a teammate’s position, in which case it’s high style.

14. Finally, ignore results since they are likely only to disturb your tranquility, lead to undue striving and ruin your style. Particularly ignore non-top-10 results (which is functionally the same thing for the mediocre ‘crosser). Contesting your 24th place result when you really deserved 19th is seriously UBF.

October 5, 2009 in cyclocross Comments (2)