Monday, October 17, 2005

Chagrin River Cyclocross Challenge

October 16, 2005

For the last 4 months, my teammate Brett Davis has been talking about putting on a cyclocross race at his parents property in Bainbridge Township. Over the last month, Brett and I and a few others have been there laying out the course, riding it to get the feel and tweaking it to get the distance right and put some grooves down. Now it's time for the race...

It's the start of CYCLOCROSS SEASON!

Maybe it's my mountain biker roots, or frustration at making the road race tactics actually work, but I love cyclocross racing. I love to race my bike in all cases, but 'cross season is the high point of the year for me. The race boils down to a nice mix of technical riding with raw power. You race in all conditions, over every type of terrain. The races are short, so you go pretty much full out for the duration, and can really tell where you stand on the day.

I had all intentions of going to do my first cross race in Cincinatti on October 9th. They had a UCI race there that would have been nice to see how I stood against a large field, Racers from all over Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan would be sure to show up, so I'd probably get it handed to me, but that's what it's all about. Unfortunately, I decided to be responsible. I had to much work to do to blow the whole day for a race. Even a cyclocross race. Hopefully next year will work out better.

Chagrin River Cyclocross

I've already posted on the course layout... including a few comments in my preview article, so I won't rehash that here.

We had our last course layout/practice ride on Thursday night... at which point I decided I could bunny hop the pine forest barrier log set. I made it fine the first time, while I'm timing a lap. I got 6 minutes alone. I wasn't chasing anyone, and no one was chasing me, so I figure the B race will average about 6 minutes, and the A's will be closer to 5. It's a guess.

I decided I could go faster hopping those logs on the second attempt. Not a good idea, as my front wheel hit the second log before I was ready, and I hit the ground hard... followed closly by my bike, Fortunately, the bike missed me. That was the latest in a long string of crashes I've had over the last 3 weeks. And this one hurt more than the road rash I've been giving myself. Add to that the kids bringing home the cold bug, so my whole house is sick, and I've got enough excuses to not even put my leg over the bike. ...but this is the beginning of cross season. You often read of the pro's going on antibiotics, or not racing because they got a virus, Cross season is too short for me to miss any races, especially this one. Usually I race 'cross against the adversity of weather or course obsticles. This time I'm also racing against pain and a slight head/chest cold.

Saturday Fun Ride

On Saturday, Brett invited everyone out to pre-ride the course. After the kids finished their soccer games, we headed out with the van load of bikes. At this point the my 10 year old has done 2 races, my 12 yo has done one. This will be my 14 yo's first race experience. Cross courses tend to twist around on each other enough that they make about the best course to do your first races on. No tactics/group riding issues like on the road, and you're never far from anything, unlike the standard mountain bike courses. So if there's any trouble, they can walk 100 yards across the course to get some help.

When we get there, I take the kids around the course to see if they want to do the race on Sunday. They love the rollers on the back side, and are able to handle the two tough sections of the creek crossing, and sand/hill with little trouble. They are all excited about seeing what they can do on Sunday morning.

We had about a dozen riders show up for the preride. I took a few guys around the course, and gave one guy an introduction to techniques of cross racing. All fun stuff.

Sundy, Sunday, Sunday!

It's a bit cool at 50 degrees, but the promised over night rain did not show up, so the course is "dry", with the exception of the mud. It wouldn't get much warmer as the racing continued.

The C/Junior race started at 9:00, with registration at 8:00. Since I was helping get set up, I tried to get there a bit early. Setting up tents and last minute stuff, I had the kids do their own release forms, and got us all registered. They decided to do 2 warmup laps... cause it was so much fun.

Junior race

The C race looked to be about 20 riders (we'll get the official numbers soon) and we let them go off a few seconds before the 6 juniors were let go. Half the field is mine, woohoo! 30 minutes of fun for the first race. The other three juniors were the Pista Elite team, what looks to be 14 and 15 year old boys that I've seen do some road races. So my kids are pretty much out of there league. My oldest help onto third place for most of the race, but it's one lap too long for her and we get 4, 5 and 6. She said she went out to fast, and died at the end. She looked pretty cooked on the last lap, so I can only agree with her. The winner of the junior race had a mechanical and had to run the bike through the last section of the course. He was almost caught by second place for a nice competitve finish. The story I got was 4 laps, and they should not have done the two warm up laps. Looks like I may need to buy some small 'cross bikes in the future!

Sorry, I don't know much about the C race. I know the race spread out quickly and the lead changed hands when the leader dropped his chain. I didn't have time to hang out after the C race and find out what happened as I had to get the kids story, and then get to the line for the start of the B race. Details will be posted on the SnakeBite Racing site.

B race
The B race was listed as a cat 3/4/5/sport race. The cat 3 part of the race has my goals slightly adjusted to a top 5. The way I'm feeling before the race has my goal adjusted more to not getting lapped. I took some advil, and was just hoping to survive. I still registered for both the A and B race, I think I was optimistic... got to support the guys that put these races on, especially when it's you.

Strategy: The idea is to get to the first obstacle in the front. That way you don't get caught behind a traffic jam when someone near the front bobbles it. If you get caught there, you will never see the front of the race again, as the leaders power away, and everyone else gets untangled. So I lined up in the first row to try to get to the sand section first.

Looking around the start, there are a few cat 3's I know. Out of the 25 starters , I know many of the protagonists. Phil Hines is here, I've chased him through this road season. Bill Marut from Lake Effect was dominating their B races 2 years ago, and moved into the A's last year. John Lorson from Orrville on his single speed. I've got my work cut out for me.

I start with arm warmers and a base layer. I contemplated taking the arm warmers off, but I'm not sure. That plus the total of one half lap of warm up, and I'm still cold.

Remember this is the first time we've done a cross race. At the wistle, Linda, the official, was almost run over as we all jumped for position. Brett remembers to announce the "hot lap prime" for the first person through the finish line as we speed away. The race funnels down and somehow I've made it onto Phil's wheel in second positon. I'm surprised that I made it here. I trust Phil to make it through the sand cleanly, and I encourage him on. Through the sand for the first time, and we've got a small gap. Phil leads it through the field and Brett is again announcing the prime. $40 for the fastest first lap. John Lorson bridges up t Phil and I, and we're away.

I take over the lead through the Pine forest, the off camber section and the gravel road. John comes around before the woods, and gets a gap going into the creek crossing. He's got about 20 yards on me on the remount, but I give it a big push to see if I can help pay for all the Ehrlinger's races today. $40 would be a big help! I end up about a bike length short, but am happy that I'm going pretty well considering how I felt a little over an hour ago.

On Saturday, I figured out the way to ride through the sand section. The only problem is the last little hump coming out. My move is to push the left foot, and step up with the right. Cleanly done the first lap, I screwed it on the second. John was still in front, and Phil came around me as I got back up. A small gap after the hill, it started to open as the race continued. OK, I can deal with third, all things considered. Now I try to settle in, to conserve enough to hold my position. but still push enough to see if I can gain back a spot... or two!

Things are going pretty well. The course is twisty enough that I can see the front guys, and the guys chasing me. As the clock ticks by, I see Phil leave John behind.... then I loose both of them. I don't think I'm going to see the front of the race again. You can't give those guys that much space and hope to get it back. At about 20 minutes, a Summit rider on a 'cross bike comes by me. I try to respond but have nothing there. Now I'm fourth. It's getting really hard to lift the bike over the creek barrier. So I start lifting it over the log on the side.

At about 25 minutes, another Summit guy passes me. Half way to the end... I dig a bit deeper to respond, and still have nothing. Did I blow it all in the failed prime attempt? 30 minutes, how many laps left? I figure 3 to go based on 6 minute laps, but the lap cards say 4. So I start the planning and the count down.

I decide here to drop the warmers. I'm hoping the few seconds I loose will make me more comfortable for the remainder. Fifth place and I've got a guy on a Fisher mountain bike, and Bill Marut chasing me. I keep marking where they are at locations around the course.� They are not really gaining, so I just need to hold them off. We've been lapping riders for about half the race, and I get caught behind 3 on the off camber section. I have a bit of trouble getting around them, as they aren't sure where to go. I make it on the gravel and start to push more. I hope the other guys have the same trouble I did, or that could hurt me.

At 2 to go, I start digging for the finish. I can't loose another place! I'm noticing that the gaps are widening, which is good. Plus I've got another race to do! Will I be able to save anything? 1 lap left, and I push a little harder. Stay clean, and come through. Over the creek crossing, and no one is visible. I know I've got fifth place!

Phil Hines managed the win, and John Lorson was second. On a better day, maybe I could have been up there, but I'm totally pleased with 5th. Off the podium, whatever. I raced through how I felt, and came out all right.

Race Time: 52:11
Distance: 9 laps!
Average Speed: 11.6mph
Max Speed: 21.9mph probably at the first lap sprint to catch Lorson

According to the posted results, it turns out I was only 5 seconds or so behind 4th place, but I never saw Summit's Ed Delgros ahead of me. Had I seen him, I would have turned myself inside out to catch him. I did end up putting some serious time into the guys behind me in the last laps, coming in a minute and a half before sixth place. I guess I did a pretty good finish then, even though I didn't feel like I was giving it everything. I kept thinking about the A race still coming.

You can see in the HRM graph how the effort of a typical 'cross race goes. Pretty much peg a heart rate and hold it there. There is a peak at the hot lat prime, then I get some data anomolies. But it's pretty much constant throughout the race.

Now the race to the next race. My youngest daughter is at the van, as I race to get some food and liquid before I jump into the A race. She's acting as the pit crew for me, grabbing bottles for me, and handing up tools. I decide to put a bottle cage on the bike, since I'm not carrying the bike anywhere, and I'll need something for the second race. They're blowing the wistle as I finish up. Nice having the family here to help out.

A Race
I've got no goals for second races. In the past, if I race the A race after the B's, I only want to beat someone. Today, I just want to finish. This is a survival race. This is a training ride. Stress the system for race distance to get it used to the efforts... or I'm just stupid, and like to hurt myself.

The A race is well attended with 19 racers including the major players... Paul Martin, Ernie Marenchin from Speedgoat, Shawn Adams Honey-Stinger, Brent Evans from Color-Me-Safe, Rudy Sroka and Zak Dieringer from Lake Effect and Jeremy Grim from Savage Hill. We'll see how I can go against these guys later in the season, today I'm racing against the back of the field. Brett is able to jump in the race, but I don't expect to see him much. Phil Hines is also here for two races. Maybe I'll see him, probably not. I figure to be the back marker for the A race.

The start goes a bit better, Brett remembers to announce the hot lap prime before the wistle this time. And away we go. I'm struggling to hold the back of the field and Phil is behind me, saying he wasn't going to last long. I concur, but figure I need to hold on as long as possible. Into the beach, and the lesson is learned. We haven't made the turn to get to the beach and the leaders are hitting the hill on moving to the first barrier set. There is a huge jam, and I decide right away to just run this for the first lap. Up over the hill, and the gap starts to open up at the barriers. I'm off the back before we've completed a half lap. What was I thinking?

The gap is opening as I complete the first lap, until coming over the creek, everyone is out of site. I simply say "this was stoopid" to do this race, but I've got to figure out a plan. As I cross theline for the first time, Jason calls out my place.

I start my planning actually contemplating dropping out. My first DNF! OK, but I'll wait until I'm lapped. It'll be like the Belgian races wear they pull lapped riders. Then it won't be so bad. "I was in the way, so I figured it would be better to just get off the course". Ok, Let's see how long it takes them to catch me.

Heading to the sand I see the next guy in front of me. He's not that far away, maybe I can catch him. Now I've got some goals... this will help me race.

At three laps, I'm still not lapped! Better than I expected. I still haven't brought the next guy back, but I'm closing, and I'm starting to feel a bit better. This might work out.

I catch the guy during the fourth lap. I'm not last! Some of my buddies are on the course cheering me on and ringing a cow bell. Fun, fun. That helps huge. My kids are all around the course cheering also. My youngest is in the van by the tripple barrier. She opens the door or window every lap and says something. Any little encouragement goes a long way.

About half way through the fifth lap, Paul Martin comes by me with three guys on his tail, Zak is right there with Shawn Adams, and a guy I don't know. Theres a gap, then Brent and Rudy come up next, followed by Ernie and then Ross. Hey I've got a pretty good seat for spectating this race. I get to see moves being made by watching the race as they catch me, and as they pull away. I make sure to give plenty of clearance as riders come up. I'll pull off the trail so they have space, and I try to judge what I can make before they get there. This is pretty cool.

OK, I've been lapped, but as long as I'm not last, I'm not stopping. I'm now running from the guy behind me, and I can see the next guy up the trail. This guy has a pretty big gap on me though. He's hitting the tripple barriers while I'm still on the outside of the field. He's holding his gap, and I'm holding and opening mine.

At about 6 laps, I pass Phil Hines next to the fire pit! He's off the bike! He says he's tired, and old... I'm older than he is... but he's going to be warm and comfy soon.

Now I really need to finish this, as long as I'm not last, I'll go to the end. 7 laps, and I see the guy that was behind me off the bike! I tell him he needs to keep going, so I'm running from someone. He says he wrenched his back and is done. Now I've got no one pushing me to go faster. I can only try to chase the next guy up. But his gap is pegged, and it's not moving. I'm still getting passed by riders. 7 down, I see the sign... 4 to go! Ouch, Jason says maybe not, cause Paul is coming again!

Paul catches me the second time at the start finish.... 2 laps to go. I tell Jason that was my fastest lap yet! Zak and Shawn pass me shortly afterwards. Then the other guy. Ernie, Ross, Rudy and Brent catch me in the woods and I see Brent bobble a root. I've been dodging that one all day.

Through the creek, and 1 lap to go. OK, No one else passes me. (easy for me to say) The next guy up has to big of a gap, but I'm going to finish this race. As I come by the tent, Brett announces me, saying I've got 27 laps in both races (a little long actually). Fun, but I'm 2 laps down! I make it though with no more passes, and even have enough to accelerate/"sprint" through the finish.

Time: 1:11:48
Max Speed: 18.7 mph
Average Speed: 10.4 mph
Distance: 11 laps!

img hrm data

Paul Martin won, I think Shawn beat Zak for second place. With the unknown guy fourth. Ernie hung in for fifth, and Ross Clark picked up sixth on a new bike. I think Rudy beat Brent for seventh, and that was as far as I could keep track of.

Post Race

Our first cyclocross race was a great success. We ended up with about 62 racers, which was better than we had hoped. We had some really competitive racing, and lots of fun. Brett did a boatload of work to set up the course and make this all come off well. Linda Miranda and Jason Kurian from SnakeBite and Susan from Westlake worked the registration and officiating great to help it all come off without a hitch. With the turn out and all, it was a great time.

Ishould also add, I really haven't seen a race draw spectators like this one did. Not just the racers families either, though there were quite a few of those also. People came out to just watch the bike race. Very cool development in our racing scene.

Results will be posted soon at

Overall I was really pleased with how I went. Turns out we awarded 5 deep for both the A and B race, so I even got somthing back for 5th in the B race. Very nice. 18 laps of cyclocross pain, and it looks like my conditioning is coing along. Now I just need to work on getting healthy.

Orrville has a couple of cross races over the next two weeks. I won't be able to make them, but check it out at Orrville Cycling Club I did that last year, and it's a fun course with a little bit of everything including an actual run up.

Next up for me is the Bike Authority/Lake Effect series starting in November. Time for me to see how I stack up against the A's. I love racing both races because I could actually win a B race, though I've only done it once. Then I get to do twice as much racing and feel I get my moneys worth. But it's time for me to bite the bullet and see how I can do against the real crossers of the area. Beating Bill this weekend was a big confidence boost, because he was handing it to me two years ago. My condition on Sunday helps that also... so maybe I can be competitive in the A's.

Or at least not get lapped. Which may also be a goal thats a little out of reach. We'll see in a couple of weeks. Hopefully, I won't be falling anymore before then.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Chagrin River Cyclocross Challenge Preview

What is Cyclocross?

According the Gloucester Cross site, Cyclocross is :

The most spectator-friendly form of bicycle racing, regardless of whether you've seen a bicycle race or not, cyclocross can be enjoyed by everyone.

Cyclocross (or just 'cross to the throngs that race week in and week out) is a relatively new discipline of cycling in the US. Though it's been around since the early 1900's in Europe, it wasn't until the 1970's that cyclocross races started sprouting up in the US.

Often called the "steeplechase of bicycle racing" cyclocross races are fast-paced and are dramatic for spectators. Riders compete on a twisting course comprised of grass, asphalt and dirt. At several parts of the course, riders are forced to dismount their bikes and run up steep terrain or jump over obstacles.

I've written about a bunch of 'cross I've done, and it's definitely the high point of my season. Check out my index for my experiences.

Cyclocross races start with the sprint. Traverse all types of terrain, from roads to grassy fields, to double to single track. The race usually strings out after the first lap. The suggestion is to break the race into thirds. A fast start where you setup your position, a slower middle third where you try to recover... so that you can use the last third to make up as many positions as possible. I only remember having to sprint for a position in one of the 20 or so cross races I've done.

You race at max sustainable heart rate for the entire race, similar to a time trial. The efforts vary drastically though as the course terrain changes... what fun to hurt yourself this way! What a challenge!

Chagrin River Cyclocross!
Chagrin River CX Flyer

Pretty exciting... a new cyclocross venue on the east side of Cleveland. Brett Davis has convinced his family to let a bunch of crazy cyclists run a race over their land. It looks like we'll be running some practices there on Thursdays before the race, to help groom the course. We'll be trying to run from about 5:30 to 7:30.

Three of us were out on the 22nd for some testing runs, here's what we've got going.

Course Description

This course would not pass UCI muster, as it has no pavement sections. Here is a link to UCI course layout outline. The course is mostly flat with some very interesting features.

The start is under the trees leading around the main field. We'll do about 100 meters before jumping into the course. Around the field along the woods, the course crosses a ridable drainage ditch... will it be wet in October? It was dry on this night. After the ditch, we loop around a quick switchback, and head back through the ditch and through the first set of barriers. The course will then zig-zag across the flat grass field for four loops.

On leaving the field, we head to the stand of pines. A wide double track winding through the trees. Out of the pines, we cross the gravel road and hit an appreciable off camber section running along Bainbridge road. We cut back into the property, for the gravel road section.

After a few hundred meters of gravel road, we head into the woods on the back. This path is about 2 meters wide. There is a short muddy section and some nice rollers... not hills, but flat, short cyclocross type rollers. You don't really pedal over these things, but use your arms to pump the bike through the section. Very fun stuff.

The rollers lead to the creek crossing. You can coast the downhill before the dismount. This is a narrow, jumpable mud creek, it was just mud when we were there. A barrier set on the short uphill side forces the dismount before the section, and a short carry up the hill. On the other side, the course winds through some more woods before returning to the start area.

We measured the course at .88 miles long. We'll add at least one more set of barriers, for three dismounts. We're looking at adding a new section with a sandpit. Instead of doing the tight turn after the first field crossing, we'll cut into the woods, and down to the river. Then run the sand, and head back up to the course. We'll see how that goes this week.

Laps should be fast, with almost no downhill recovery sections. It looks like we'll be working the whole race to keep moving, so your fitness will be tested.