Tuesday, December 09, 2003

BA Cyclocross 7 - 2003

The 2003 Bike Authority Cyclocross Series

December 7th, 2003

Finally, something that resembles classic cyclocross weather. We got a couple of inches of snow on Friday night, and a bit more on Saturday night. So race day is 32, and cloudy, with about 6-8 inches at the course.

This should be interesting. I've been perusing the cyclocross board on roadbikereview.com for snow riding tips. Standard advice seems to be run the same pressure as you would for mud. The course won't stay snowy long, and then we will be mud riding again.

I got the replacement 48/38 FSA crank early in the week and installed it. I did a commute and a couple of trainer sessions with it, so I'm comfortable with the front shifting... not that I've shifted the front in any race so far... but it's nice to be comfortable.

The Course

We're at Boughton Farm again this weekend. As expected, we're running the course backwards again. Only with the snow they've shortened it up... and removed all the barriers. (the 6th race)

The main difference this weekend, is we are not circling the cabbage field. Instead, they route us through the woods over the logs in the same direction we crossed them before. Then we head to a long gravel/dirt/mud road back to the start/finish area.

So how do they handle snow on a cross race? I've seen video of the World Cross Championships, and they are not riding through fresh powder.

The farmer was a bit "helpful" by dragging the bucket of a front end loader along the gravel/dirt/mud road on Saturday night... which made it more dirt/mud than anything else. For the rest of the course field sections, they drove a tractor over the snow. So there were 2 tracks we could follow. The fun part was picking a passing lane. Plow through the powder... pass on the less used track, then plow back through to the traveled track.

The wooded sections were left to be packed as we progressed through the race... you can't fit anything wider than a bike through most of those sections.

On points, I'm currently in 5th place. I need to make up about 50 points to get into 4th (the race winner only gets 30, and it works down from there). I'm also 13 points clear of the 6th place rider, so as long as I finish, I should be OK. I'm gunning for another top 5, just because I think that's where I should be.

The fun part is the 2nd, 3rd and 4th places. They are all separated by 9 points. The guy in 4th missed 1 race, but has been winning recently. Phil Hines, the guy in 2nd place has had a hard time when the course gets technical, so there should be fireworks at the top today. I won't fight any of these guys for points if it comes down to a sprint.... but I'm not going to give them any gifts either.

The Pre-Race

I arrived at about 10:10. I left early so I'd have plenty of time to pre-ride and figure out how to handle the snow. I'm glad I did... it also gave me time to figure out what to wear.

Typical winter riding... take every piece of technical clothing you own, put it all on, then shed until you get to a comfortable temperature.

So... 32 degrees. I start with a standard base layer, my long sleeve base, a PI Kodiak jersey and my wind vest. I wore my heaviest tights, and a pair smartwool liners under smartwool socks. I also tried medium weight shoe covers. These aren't the booties, but a neoprene/fleece wind type cover. I have the PI pittard gloves, these aren't super heavy, but have been comfortable for those under 40 rides. for the pre-ride I also wore a fleece ski hat.

On the first pre-ride, it's pretty obvious that this is going to be a handling race. The snow that's hard packed is not exactly smooth... so the back end of the bike gets thrown around a quite bit. It's lots of fun on the off-camber stuff, especially when the back end is thrown down the hill.

The log crossings seem to be OK, so I'm planning on riding them more today than last time. Besides, I'd rather not get my feet too wet. So I'm concentrating on practicing the crossings to get them smooth.

After one lap, it's pretty obvious I'm over dressed, everything was pretty sweaty. The shoe covers may work fine for the road, but they aren't going to work on the trails. I saw one guy cut holes in the bottom of a pair of rubbers, just enough to keep the shoes dry.

I ended up riding 4 or 5 laps at different speeds. I found handling over the rough snow to be better at faster pace. The bike seemed to float more... once again moment is your friend. I was really glad I did as many pre-laps as I did. It helped to plan passing lane and strategy, to know how to brake (early), and how to accelerate. It also gave me practice on the logs... which was really helpful.

I again made sure to drink a lot before the start. This time I tried to be finished with everything except water by 11:30 for the 12:00 start.

I did the last pre-ride lap with Phil Hines. We were talking about tire pressure for this and I suggest the lowest we could go... my tires are rated 35-80, so I stayed right at 40. Phil followed my suggestion and was much more comfortable than with the higher pressure he did his first laps at. It was pretty obvious that I had an advantage on him with handling... if my fitness held out. I've beaten him twice before but he had mechanical issues on one day, and crashed pretty hard on the second.

Brett Davis showed up again, his third race of this series... I told him to go home, cause he was messing up my chances for a top 5 finish. He asked if it made a difference to my placing, and then asked why I did so poorly at race 6. Nice to know someone else is as addicted to the results site as I am.

I read somewhere that it's a good idea to change after pre-riding. That way you start the race dry, and don't run the risk of getting chilled after your warm up. I brought enough clothes so I had the option. Since I was sweating so much, I wanted something lighter anyway. So I went with the next jersey down my warm scale. The PI Kodiak light. I also change my base layers and socks. I had thought about wearing a headband to keep my ears warm, but every time I've tried to wear it, I've ended up taking it off. So I decided to just go bareheaded under my helmet. My head was a little cold at the start... but once I got moving I was comfortable throughout the race.

With the weather, we weren't expecting many people to show up. I knew the top 6 overall would be there. But I was expecting a field of maybe 10 to 12. Well, I was wrong. Last race of the season brought a lot of people out. There were 22 starters with 2 women in the B race.

I figured today would be carnage at the starting turns as everyone got used to racing on snow. The idea again was go hard at the start and try to be in the top 5 through the first set of turns. Then I could afford to settle in and start working the race as best I could until the last 2 laps when I hoped to pick up the pace enough to gain a few more places.

The Race

There was a bit of confusion at the start. They like to start the race with a reasonably long straight to spread the field before the first turn or obstacle. The problem here was the long straight was a bit chewed up by the front-end loader. So the start was about 100-150 feet and then we hit the turns around the greenhouse.

I ended up lining up near the front of pack. Since we were on the course, we couldn't really spread out, so it was about 3 across. I was somewhere near the third row.

As we start off, everyone seemed to make it through the first two turns fine. I'm sitting about 7th as we hit the third turn taking us to the first long straight across the open field. We're still pretty bunched up and Phil is on my wheel as I slow for the turn. As I start to accelerate out, I hear someone say "slowing. rider down!". After I get to cruising speed, I look back and I have a gap on the rest of the group. I'm wondering if Phil was the guy that went down. Of course the first 6 riders are opening a gap on me also... but I'm riding comfortably and seem to be safely into the spread out part of the race.

As I make the turn, I see that Phil is 50 meters back, and then there is another gap...

Of the 6 riders in front of me, I know one of the guys goes out hard at the beginning of the race, and blows up. 3 other riders are in the top 4 on points, and then Bret is up there... so I figure I'll only see those 4 again if someone is having a bad day. Phil is behind me, so I'm looking comfortably at 6th or 7th depending on Phil catching me... with 1 unknown up ahead.

Making my way though, I'm doing OK at holding Phil off. He may be gaining a little, but not very quickly. As we head into the wooded section with the log crossings, I slow to make the turn before hopping the the first log. I make the first one fine, and accelerate to the second, as I hit the log, my front wheel slides out, and I'm down. Again I'm reminded that you need to make these every time, or you'll loose all the time you've gained in riding them. I get back up fine, but spend a bit of time getting out of Phil's way, as he passes me. We both hop on the bike at about the same time, and we off again.

Actually, this isn't a bad place for me. As we make our way along the gravel/dirt/mud road, I let Phil set the pace, and I just sit on. I'm not going to let him gap me, and I can benefit from the draft. We cross the start/finish together and I follow him across the field. I can see the guy that blows up is just ahead of us, so I figure we're doing OK. The only thing that I'm at all afraid of is that he is on Phil's team. So they may try something team like tactical.

As we cross the field, I come around Phil right before the turn. He's really tentative on the turns, so I figure I'll either pull, or leave him somewhere. I hope for the later. Next time through the logs, I run them with Phil on my heels. Right after the logs, we catch his team mate.

So through the start/finish again. Three laps down and there are three of us in line, Phil's team mate, me and then Phil. Someone makes a comment about pace lining in 'cross... I figure hey, at least I've changed leaders! And we're moving up.

Around the field again, as we get to the turn, there are some slight gaps between us. As we go through the off camber stuff, the front guy rides completely off the course, up the hill! I take this opportunity to attack these guys, since we're in the most difficult control section.

OK, I'm in sixth place, not bad... now don't let anyone pass me, and start looking ahead to see if I can catch anyone. As the race progresses, some sections of the course are starting to get muddy. Before each of the 2 wooded sections on the back straight are these short climbs. They aren't steep but they are getting chewed up and a muddy. I'm still in the 27 on both of them... thank you for my 38 chain ring! Just past the first wooded section is a really choppy field section. It's pretty hard packed snow that bounces the bike all over the place. The gravel/dirt/mud road just turns into mud patches. Every time through the logs, we get bogged down in the mud, hit the road, then accelerate as we come to the muddiest sections to try to float through.

I'm watching the clock at every pass of the start/finish line. I'm somewhere close to 6.5 to 7 minutes laps, so I start to count them down. 34 minutes.... 3 laps to go. I can hear Phil and his team mate talking/shouting somewhere behind me, so I know I don't have a gigantic gap. I'm also passing a lot of the C racers and slower B racers. I end up riding the logs on each pass except for on that I passed a C racer as he was crossing the first log. I'm still not sure what method is faster. At least riding, my feet stay out of the snow.

The good news is I keep seeing Bill Marut, the guy in first on points, up ahead of me. That means I may be able to get a place or two before the end. I don't expect to catch him, but if I can see him, there may be leaders between us.

40 minutes... 2 laps to go. And they're ringing the bell! What? They say last lap as I pull through. I have enough time to ask "For B's?" and to hear the reply ..."Yes". OK, 1 lap to go... time to get to work. Around the field again, I'm reeling in another guy. I catch him on the off camber stuff, and ask if he's on the first lap or not. He says he is, and asks me where I am. So we're racing!

He stays in front through the first wood section... and I try to make a move on the outside before we enter the second section. I got a good jump, but couldn't make it in before he caught me on the inside of the turn. As we come out, I turn to the inside of him, and jump past. We head into the logs and I had a pretty good gap, so I just rode them... I didn't even think about running it. Through the mud bog, and hammer the straight. I had the advantage of a lapped rider running into the finish also, so I just tried to catch him. I didn't quite make it, but I held off the guys behind me.


Phil ended up 7th. The 4th place guy won, and 3rd place took third, so the 3,4 and 5 places turned completely upside down. The difference between 2nd and 3rd place was 1 point.


So... 5th place finish... right on my goal. Which was nice. I finished solid in 5th on points... a testament to consistently showing up. I'm pleased with the season. I've learned a lot about cyclocross and about racing in general. Prep, warm-ups and strategy. I'm hoping the cyclocross racing will do what they say... improve racing ability... plus it was just plain fun.

Next year I hope to bolster my series by consistently placing also. The big question then is do I race A's and stay mid pack or race B's and go for the wins. The guy that won the points thinks that the first 5 places should move up (including me)... with a few of the less consistent riders, like Brett Davis. I like the idea of winning something, but I would not be ashamed of shooting for the top 5 in the A race. We'll see how I'm riding come next September.

...and Brett came in second place again. He was mixing it up for the win, and lost it in the last straight. He ended up in 7th on points and only showed up for 3 races. Then he raced with the A's, which I was thinking of doing also, but I had to make a dinner date. He finished 10th out of 10 but wasn't far off the pace. Not bad considering he had already done the B race hard. I think I might have been a bit further down.


There are pics of the A race at Team Lake Effect. It looks like it got warmer, since all the snow is gone from the course. The A race was also a bit slower than normal. My extrapolated time would have put me in 5th for that race. I figure the mud slowed them down a lot.

... until next year! Though I did hear that Vultures Knob has a cross series planned... I wonder how they'll layout the course. That might be fun!