Monday, October 19, 2009

Cross My Heart and Hope to Die Willoughby Cyclocross Spectacular!

Spectacular! That's the goal of the Spin/RR Donnelley, SSSMST, and Spin Bike Shop Cross My Heart and Hope to Die Willoughby Cyclocross Spectacular!. Special props to Greg and the guys that put in 6 hours on Friday setting everything up. A very nice course, and I'm not saying that only because it's my sponsors race.

I got a sneak peak of the course plan on Thursday night, when I stopped at the shop for some cable housing... after the mudfest at Leroy, my rear-der cable was toast. So some mechanical finesse was in order.

The wacked off-camber slide that killed me two years ago was out. Good, because I learned at Stark Velo's race I still have to figure out how to do those turns on wet turf. The hill was still in... ouch! Still it looked to be a fun course. It started to rain late on Friday evening.

I realised I didn't have a rear der cable late on Friday night... so it looked like my mechanical skills would be tested the hard way. Stop at the shop first thing, and replace the cable on the morning of the race. Not optimal, but I hope everything works when the time comes. Still it MUST be done.

I got to the course early to help setup... which really just meant help put up the PA system, then go do my own wrenching. The rain continued through the morning. By 11:00ish, I had the bike setup, put some rain gear on, and took the first lap of the day.... by anyone.

Two big features of the course... the sled hill run up, and the spiral of death.

The run up came complete with a barrier at the bottom, not really needed since everyone was off by the time we got to it anyway, but I just race the course. We then went right back down the hill and reclimb a portion of the hill twice more before some slightly tricky off camber stuff. All ridable... mostly, if you don't bobble.

The death spiral took up the complete infield of the baseball diamond. I don't even know how many times we went around, but on my first prelap... it was a sand slurry. Seriously. This was certain death to any and all drive trains, let alone the technique needed to ride in this stuff. I decided once around that was enough pre riding that when it took another half lap before my bike sounded half way normal again. I'd figure it out during the race and save the chain to hopefully make it through the whole race.

The rain did stop before the first race of the day.. but the course conditions were set. Big news was Greg decided to do call ups for the A race. People were mixed, but I think it was a very cool idea. The call ups were for the top 10 in the series points. It worked for me since I was sitting 8th... not because of studly riding, but because I've been to all the series races... and Paul Martin and others have not. So... you reward performance AND consistently showing up. Even if I wasn't called up, I think it's a good idea.

The top ten get the call up, and I try to choose a spot NOT near people that I've seen do poor starts. My goal is to go hard from the gun, and then see what happens. If I blow up, I blow up. I'm not going for a hole shot... since the first feature is the sled hill, and it's at least 500m from the start. And hole shots are over-rated in my book. But I want to get moving and stay out of trouble.

At the start, I'm doing alright. top 10 into the first corner... then I loose some heading across to the first sandy ball field crossing before the hill... where I was NOT ready to have the bike squirm. Up the run up, and the gaps start to open up.

I need to learn how to race more aggressively I guess. I let guys pass me on the inside of the corners of the lower hill climbs to the off camber section. On different laps, not just the first. I could have just closed that door. Don't know.

Down around the log crossing, and near the river, and I get swarmed by a bunch of guys that I do NOT want in front of me. It's all about who you expect to beat, and who you don't.. and these guys should be behind me. Into the death spiral, and about 5 guys just bog down...while I don't.

Huh. I guess this is going to be the place I make my race. I gapped a bunch of folks there... and got back into about 10th spot by the end of the first lap.

There was Me, and the Lake Effect three... John Proppe, Jeff Craft, and Rudy. Second time up the hill, and I did manage to close the door on Rudy once. This is good for me... I just want to hang onto these three, and I'll be doing a nice race. Rudy must have had a bad start... he was first to take off. I sat on Proppe, with Jeff just behind for the remainder of lap two. I opened a gap on Proppe in the spiral, but Jeff got me at the hill (see closing that door...).

Two laps in, and the field is strung out. For the remainder of the race I worked to keep the gaps to John and Jeff pretty constant. I don't know how I did it. But I could see the gap to Zak and Brent in 9th/10th place was NOT moving for the rest of the race.... and no one was near John behind me. I was technically pretty good, though not perfect, but the gaps were not moving.

With two to go, I tried to dig deeper, but was running out of gas. With one to go, I had hoped to hold on, but John must have found he had more gear that he wasn't using. He closed to me on the run up... and I had no answer. I knew I was giving up that spot, but could not (or did not) dig any deeper. I thought I could get him if I could just close before the spiral... but he made it in, and didn't bobble. By the turn around at the center, I knew I could not make up the difference, so I finished 15 seconds down on him.

By the end of the race, my bike sounded like a grinding wheel. I may need to replace the cable again AND my chain. What a mess.

Overall, I'm pleased with my 13th place finish. I was 40seconds out of the top 10. The course had similar conditions to Leroy, where I felt I didn't really race hard or clean enough. There is still room for improvement, but I did race my bike... which was a goal for the day.

This also put me in fifth in the series overall, which I am VERY pleased with. I won't stay there, since Paul is only 4 points behind me... and there are others that will be dropping some "no show" races that will soon be out of my reach. We are far enough into the season that I can start setting some realistic goals though. Like getting good starts, and racing my bike through the whole hour. We'll go from there.

Next up... Chagrin River Cyclocross Challenge p/b Solon Bicycle... it's always a party if Brett is involved.

Monday, October 05, 2009

What a day...

A rough day in Leroy Township yesterday. Chagrin River Cycling put on the second annual Leroy Township Cyclocross race. Last year, I felt I did pretty well, and I was hoping for a nice repeat.

Warm ups went smooth. I was bunny hopping the barrier because it was only three inches high, they fixed that before the start of the A race though, and I was able to ride the whole course. The rains had moistened everything, the puddles were cold, and mud was found. I figured it would be another power course... which was fine with me, if I brought my power legs along.

30 or so lined up for the A race, with 8 from Spin, and Aussie Rob from the multisport team. I seem to be lining up second row pretty regularly... which I guess is silly, because I'm giving up all control of my start to the guy in front of me. It would be fine if I chose better, but I seem to not be that wise. Ray already posted about his start, and I was on his wheel. So, that put me WAY back... heading into the single track section (which probably could be classified as double track if I had nerve), the whole field was standing still as guys picked their way into the woods... hindsite says I should have dismounted and shouldered the bike across the ravine to get into the woods... I'm getting pretty good at that hindsite for the first lap also.

By the time I exited the woods, and could see the front of the race, they were 45seconds+ up the road. Not good. Then I started going backwards... as the power guys took off. Place by place, I think I lost 10 or more places in the course of two laps... then finally started to get things working again. Ten places is tough to make up, especially when some of them are 1/4 to 1/3 of a lap ahead of you when you actually start moving forward.

I was able to picked up three of those place, plus a couple of others as guys blew up from the effort. In the end I figured out how to ride the course reasonably well with 4 to go, though the entry to single track and the best way to handle the barrier/ditch crossing were puzzles that cost me time every lap. The barrier/ditch was the worst since I had it cold in warm up... and only cleared it the way I wanted in 1 of the 7 laps.

I got lapped with 2 and a half to go by the leading trio of Weeks, Adams and Martin, but held off the everyone else over the course of the remaining lap. Dropping 10 places and only getting back 5 really hurt. I'm still shocked I made the top 20 (in 19th place). Still far away from the personal goal of a top 10. Maybe if we go back to the days of A fields of only 15 guys...

...and worse yet... my legs are not sore today. Even when climbing my little commute hills. Am I sandbagging on myself?

I need to figure out how to ride my bike faster. How to decode those nasty technical puzzles so I don't loose huge time every lap. And mostly, how to ride to my potential so I am totally thrashed at the end of a race.

I'm not going to Cinci... which really hurts... so next up is the
Cross My Heart and Hope to Die Willoughby Cyclocross Spectacular on October 17th! Time to get some resolve going for that one.