Monday, November 23, 2009

Kirtland.... details.

It's all in the details.

The family was off doing their thing this weeknd, so I thought I'd shoot down to Kirtland park on Saturday to help team Lake Effect setup for the Sunday race. A nice day to ride through the city... without the back pack. Arrived at 1:00 and most of the work was done, so we did a bunch of laps and scoped out the course together. It was cool.

Sunday morning, I again arrived early to help with the remainder of the taping, and just hang out.

Cool things I saw this week... lots of "hipsters" came by to watch the action. A guy walking his dog was asking if we were handing out turkeys... and during warm up on the Norht Marginal, a group of guys were playing bike polo on a tennis court near the Muni parking lot. How cool is that?

Tricky parts of the course were the west end stairs, the off camber crossing and the twirl of dizziness, with rain it would have been a twirl of death. Then there was the uphill in the amphitheater and the bumps on the descent. The bumps were probably the worst thing going. Lots going on, and little space to recover.

On Saturday, I rode the course with my Michelin Muds. I didn't like the idea of riding down MLK with tubbies, and what the heck, it wouldn't matter anyway, I'd be doing pre-laps on Sunday.

I've hear the best investment to improve your time trialing is to purchase a helmet. To improve your cyclocross, tubular wheels and tires are the way to go. That said, tubulars totally open up your setup options. That's why the cyclocrosser greeting is "Hey, what pressure are you running?" Infinite possibilities... an infinite way to choose right... or wrong.

In mud, I'm pretty safe with 25psi. Last week at Kent, there was little mud, and I ran about 30psi. This week, I was thinking the same, everything was pretty dry. I forgot that for more than half the race at Kent I thought I was getting a rear flat.

A nice feature this week, Rudy had the top 10 in the series move to the front line. Thanks, I'll use that as long as I can. It put me next to Gerry Pflug and Ernesto. So my goal was a good start and fall in behind them for as long as I could.

Well, I think I found the problem with my starts. I couldn't figure out how I would be near the back almost instantly. This week I changed up my crank position, and was ready... and I realize that when Lynn counts back from 3, half the field is already moving on 1... I'm still standing there waiting for "GO". Gerry must think the same as I do since I got his wheel for the straight stretch, and lost it around the first turn.

Quinlin stacks it in the second straight, which causes some braking but everyone got around. I was in the top 20 at the top of the hill. I ran the stairs the first time up, and the race is away.

Short laps... at nearly 1 mile each, Lynn had estimated 5 minutes per. First time up the amphitheater hill, I'm off the bike again. Things are spreading out pretty quickly, though as the leaders pull away.

Second lap, I'm riding the west stairs. I'm having serious trouble turning though. If I'm in the zone, I can dig the two wheel drift. For some reason, I do not trust my tires today, I want them SOLID through the turns. Every turn I'm giving away speed, which means I have to dig hard once out of the twisty bits to gain it back. It seems to be going alright though. I'm ahead of the guys I think I should be, and behind maybe two that I have been beating most weeks. Time to get to work.

I put in a some good laps. I have trouble with the dizzy twirl, and the turn entering the theater. I also have a hard time lining up the bumps. I was so much better yesterday.

About 4 laps in, I caught Jeff Craft when his chain dropped off. I had been hunting Jeff and Nate Lohman, so one down was good for me. Jeff jumped on my wheel once he had it figured. I came around for the ride up the stairs. I told him I was not happy with my tire pressure. I think I could have gone to 35 for more grip on the dry stuff. He takes the lead into the theater... On the hill, he takes a line that I was NOT expecting, and I hit his rear wheel... am off the bike, and remount. He climbs off and calls it a day...

Then I put together about three of the WORST laps ever. I stall on the stair climb, and wrench the twirl. Chip Meek comes at me for the next time up... and I stall again forcing both of us off the bike. Then I get tangled in the tape on the twirl and he's by me and gone. Blah!!!

I contemplate asking my son to get the wheels I ran yesterday... I throw away time on every turn... and the concrete around the stage is TERRIBLY slow thinking I'm going to slide out every lap. Ugh!

Lynn gave 5 to go, and I loose another place to Derek... and see that I will almost certainly get lapped today.

4 to go, and Matt Weeks is closing in me. I get through the theater and the bumps, and he makes the pass before the east stairs. I think I can catch Derek in 2 laps.... we'll see.

Paul catches me somewhere, and I let Gerry and Ernesto have the line on the bumps. Quinlin is closing, with others close behind. Run for my life again on the last lap. Derek stays just out of reach, and I sprint to hold of Quinlin. He probably thinks it was hillarious, but I have to salvage some pride somewhere. I was only lapped by the top 4.

Mistakes, blah. I don't think I've ever wished I could do a race over... but I certainly wish I had this one to try again. I watched Ernesto doing some pre laps, and should have seen the speed he carried through the 180s. I should have known then that there was a problem with my setup. I certainly knew it two laps in.

All in all, 20th place is alright. I lost at most 4 points in the series. I'm still sitting about 10th in the overall, since 4 guys moved up just because they showed up. This wasn't my worst race, and at least this time I can point directly to where my problem was. A learning race then.

Great course and good times hanging with everyone this weekend. It was a blast.... Thanks Lake Effect and a special thanks to Lynn and the other volunteers for the work you're doing... and putting up with all of us.

One more to go. With my form this season, I'm hoping for something a bit muddy... and a descent setup.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Back to school. KSU 11.14.2009

Another lifetime ago, I spent a year at Kent State. I did not bring my bike to school, as I had a drivers license, so what good would a bike do... add in all the other stupid things I did at the time... (say that as if bike racing was NOT stupid). So it was a nostalgic trip to KSU on a beautiful Saturday afternoon to race CYCLOCROSS.

Lake Effect setup a really nice course full of many transitions: grass to gravel to pavement to grass to single track to full on hills, ride them if you can, off camber turns... this had it all. Even though it was dry, there was some soft and not soft stuff, nothing to slippery, but not really dusty dry. I took some laps with about 25 in the tubs, then increased it to 30 because it didn't feel very good in the corners.

The sun brought out big fields again, with 50+ in the B race and 30+ in the A race. The team had 7 in the A race, Jason, Brent, Dave, Derek, Zak, Tom and myself. We staged two deep again, with warnings about the gravel on lap one, they sent us off. Sure enough, the warnings were pointless, as a couple of the leaders still went down in the second gravel section. Carnage was every where, the turns, and transitions were taking all sorts of folks down.

My start was again slower than I wanted it to be, so I went into full on chase mode. I'm seriously wondering about starts lately. I've been a bit conservative at the start, then chase down as much as I can. I was probably in the low 20s heading into the single track on the first lap. I ran the hills, and tried to stay clean on everything else. Once out of the woods, it was time to get busy chasing down guys up the road.

I picked off about 3 over the course of the next lap. I felt pretty good. The single track was all right, though I didn't like the off camber at the top of the first hill, I tried to take it slow enough to keep it upright, but still on the edge of that. The descent after the second hill was also a bit weird. I had trouble clipping in, then holding the right hander quick, and getting lined up for the log hop. I think I went far to the left every time. Then the left hander heading up the hill was also kind of weird.... So do my best through the technical stuff, and push hard every where else.

Two laps in, I had caught Derek, and Aussie Rob caught me just past the start finish. Aussie's got the power, so I figured I'd stick on his wheel for as long as I could. It might do us both good if I could just sit on and drive it if I could. Through the wet grass, onto the gravel to pavement right hander. I was a bit cautious, but Rob had the line I would take, so I figured we were fine... then I have no idea what happened next, but Rob has a yard sale... Totally crossed up, I grabbed a fist full of brakes and tumbled right around him. Both of us are cursing as at least Derek and Zak come around us. I jumped back onto the bike quickly, before I even thought about the damage. Might as well be moving while I take my inventory.

Ouch.... skinned knee is bleeding and sore. My hands hurt, because I didn't take time to put on gloves.... not to bad, but I've scraped them both up. OK, hit the reset button, and see if I can start my race over again with 5 to go.

It takes about a lap to get over the screaming in my head. Why was I following a triathlete through a sketch section. Should I have backed off just a little, then jumped back onto his wheel? Right.... back to my race.

Rudy and Nate from Lake Effect are together, then Zak, then Derek. Bill, Ryan, and a couple of other mountain bike guys are behind me... so is Aussie Rob. One at a time, lets see if I can catch Derek first.

Rob came around me somewhere in there, but I'm not sure I was even awake. Derek kept a good pace going, and stayed mostly out of site.

I had this weird feeling that my rear tire was flatting, but I didn't want to hit the pits, since it would require a wheel change. Still every time I passed the pits for 3 laps, I was thinking, do I need a wheel?

Eventually Nate Lohman was my only target when he took a bike change. We were pretty evenly matched riding, with 2 to go, I caught him, and tried to attack before the single track. He hung on, I tried multiple times, and would get a small gap, and he'd claw back up. I was pretty sure I could take a sprint, but didn't want it to come down to that. So I kept the pressure up.

With one to go, Nate was dropping off a bit more. I drilled it up the hill, and got a bit of a gap. Through the off camber, the idea is no mistakes, and drill it where I can. On the run up, I got more space... then clean through the remainder of the single track. We both knew I had it as we exited the woods, but I took no chances, and kept the pressure on through the line.

Battling Nate made it a race to the end. So that was fun. The results have me posted at 15th, though I don't see Rob posted, so it's probably 16th. I'll take it as good for me, especially after going down.

The damage isn't to bad, though I haven't REALLY gone over the bike. It was shifting fine, and I only noticed some more ripped bar tap. Both my bar end caps are still laying on the ground in that corner. The body damage is just a few scrapes on the hands and a skinned knee.

I never did take a wheel change, and the tire seemed to hold fine. It probably means I should have run a little more pressure in those conditions. The higher pressure would have given me more confidence going into many of the turns... though I don't know if it would have given me the 25+ seconds to catch Derek. It certainly was distracting. Pit bike for next year maybe?

Two races left. Next weekend is at Kirtland Park right downtown. Sure to be a fun course with the stair run up. Every year that course gets better.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Chagrin River Cyclocross Challenge: Day 2

Sunday's race at Brett's place promised to be FAST! By the time I had pre-ridden the course backwards on Saturday, it had mostly dried out. The run up in the opposite direction was ridable, and I had a plan for the mud puddle, going far to the left. So the difficulty was the first ditch after the start finish.... and the only dismount would be the barriers.

I expected a higher turn out on Sunday, partly because of the weather, and partly since it was Sunday. I also expected this race to be MUCH faster than Saturday. If I can ride the course that fast... I will not be alone.

I learn that embrocation on day two will let you know exactly where you were scraped up in your race on day one. My left leg had some extra burning during the warm up laps. I took a lot of laps also... I didn't want day two to be effected to much by day one's efforts. Advantage to the guys that didn't race Saturday and had fresh legs.

37 in the A race. We had 7, Jason, Zak, Dave, Derek, Tom K, Uncle Ron (his first of the year!) and myself. I again get a front row spot. This time between Jeff Craft and Rudy from Lake Effect. More of the fast guys are also there. Gerry Pflug, Brad Wilhelm, Mike Mihalek and Matt Weeks. So a top 10 may not be a good goal for today.

At the gun I get pinched... and really have a poor start. That get's guys behind me yelling, and puts me easy half way back in the field. Then we go almost immediately to the run up from the previous day. It's ridable if there isn't a cattle jam.... I dismounted early and ran through the pine tree to get a spot or two. Around the pole right behind Bill Marut, who caught my left lever trying to remount, and fell down in front of me. We were both stopped while he got up and back moving again.

So now I've got some serious ground to make up, but we're almost immediately back in single track. I make my move heading through the pump part heading into the mud puddle. Everyone else was staying left and coming back right, so I got past a few until the dry part had me pass Dave through the bushes into the mud. More scrapes I guess. A little bit aggressive for me also... I'm usually the guy that get's pissed off at others pulling that stuff.

Once things got spread out, it became more of driving well again. I was going better for some reason. Maybe cause I was to tired to really think to much. The bike did seem awfully heavy though the barriers.

I was picking off spots and moving. Then Zak came by me in the fields, so I tried to stick with him for a while, but didn't have it. Half a lap later, Ray came by, and I tried to grab that also. Still not enough....

When I saw Dave had a mechanical, and was out of the race, I half thought that would be a nice option. Then I could just sit and enjoy the sun for a while, and maybe get something to eat.... weird thoughts when I'm on the limit.

Greg from Carbon must have had a good start but was feeling the effects from yesterday, so I got by him. Derek again had a good start and was riding well, I ended up coming by him about half way through, and he stuck on my wheel.

So Derek and I go in pursuit of Ray, who's chasing Zak, who's chasing Jeff Craft. With Derek on my wheel, I'm pushing hard... partly to catch Ray and partly because Derek is still on my wheel. I can't shake him, which just makes me keep pushing.

Zak caught and passed Jeff, so now I'm thinking maybe we can catch both those spots. I have no idea where I am in the field, so the race is just focused on those three guys. Greg is behind Derek and I, but I'm not overly concerned that he'll catch us.

It feels like we're chasing Ray forever, probably two full laps. The gap to him is not moving either... when we go through the finish, I asked "how many more" and I died when they said 4. I've got 40 minutes, and they say 4 more laps? Are we really doing 5 minute laps????

Deep breath. 4 it is. I can count down now. Ray and Jeff seem to be coming back... oh this is good. 3 to go, 2 more times through that ditch. Dig hard out of the mud puddle... Derek is still right there. Ray and Jeff must have started running from us a bit to... the gap opens back up.

2 to go, and it dawns on me that I haven't seen anyone behind us for a little while. Where are the leaders? Then right after the beach section Matt and Shawn are heading to the run up section. AH! I do not want to get lapped now! Dig in and take everything as fast as I can.... Derek is right there... and we make it with maybe 100m to spare. I still want to catch Ray.... so another deep breath and go!

Derek shuts it down right after the ditch.... so I'm on my own. Ray has enough, plus he really wants Jeff.... in the end my race was to the finish line with one to go. Half way through the last lap, I just wanted to stop... it hurt.

I now have a couple more guys I do not want to start near. Actually, I think that's happened with them before... so I should have know. Either that or I need a faster start with elbows out.

I ended up in 16th on Sunday, but am much happier with my race. Having Derek sit on me for those 6 or so laps really pushed me harder than I could have pushed myself. It was perfect. Well, I probably could have done a few things better, but I have fewer regrets on that race than any I've done this year.

I did pick up a few more little tricks this weekend. The Ernesto magic stick trick will come in handy at the muddy races. Embrocation is really nice for those marginal days. I can race a bit more aggressively than I have been, at least push harder aggressive. I can run tubs at 25, and now am confident I can actually know I have 25psi in there. I just need to remember all this when next season rolls around.

We're at the halfway point of the season... or so. Three more races for me, then it's back to total concentration on work for a while. A week off before we head to Kent State! I think I'm still in the top 10 in the overall.... I wonder if I can hold on? it really has less to do with me, and more to do with who else shows up for the remainder of the races.

Chagrin River Cyclocross Challenge: Day 1

One double weekend this year.... Brett Davis' Solon Bicycles, Chagrin River Cyclocross Challenge. Beautiful warm Friday evening... temps in the 70's... until 1:30am, and the rain starts to fall with the temperatures. 7 hours later, and the Davis property is sure to be a nice mix of mud and grass. Isn't that how they make bricks? Race temp about 50... maybe.

Although it was damp on my way to the race, it didn't actually rain on anyone. I did not costume this year, for no particular reason. I just can't compete with Bob Rodger's in the hot dress. Seems there were not the costumes that we had last year either... I think there should be more marketing.

I've got to give props to Brett for another nice single track addition to the course. Aside from the ruts which I managed to avoid, it really added to this course made for bike drivers. Brett also has the fire going, and the beer flowing to add to the ambiance that is his race. Barriers by the beer just add to the fun.

A small field of 22 in the A race, but the regulars were there. We only had 6 Spin riders... a low turn out for us. Dave, Zak, Derek, Tom K, Justin and myself. I lined up on the front row, hoping to repeat my Spin start. But it wasn't to be. I ended up half way back by the first corner, and further by the run up.

Derek was rocking the start though, got the hole shot to the first turn.... and further. Nice work there.... even if a few crashes in the woods killed that nice move.

I wasn't alone. Shawn Adams crash in front of me at least three times in the first lap... but had the power to get up and get by me each time... until he figure out the mud. Zak seems to spend most of his race recovering from his start also. He came by me about 2 laps in.

For most of the race, I was chasing Zak and Greg from Carbon, and trying to hold off John Proppe from Lake Effect and Bob Rodgers from Solon. I was succeeding in keeping everything together too. Riding through the course with minor mishaps. Zak was going well, and managed to get by Greg and catch onto Rudy. My plan was to work to the same as Zak.

About three laps in, I see Bob stop... and take a beer? It is hard to keep racing while everyone around you is having a party.

My trouble spots were the hill before the barriers, and the big mud puddle.

In the barrier hill, I kept trying to stay close to the inside and turn sharp instead of straightening the turn out going outside, through the apex and back outside. My reason was the wet slop on the outside approach, but I ended up bogging down on the rise, and having my rear wheel slip instead of grip. Even with the Grifo's between 25 and 30. Maybe some true mud tubs are the answer to this... or just go for it and deal with the slop. A tip from Ernesto... though I didn't get it until after the race.

I also kept trying to take the right side of the mud puddle. I'd spend more time lining up my path, instead of just riding through. I picked up that tip with three to go, when John caught me and dropped me right there.

I worked to keep him close, especially when Robert Sroka yelled that I may have been in the top 10. Top 10! That would be fantastic. So head down, let's see if I can bring John and or Greg back to improve on that.

John is running the hill to the barriers.... so I change my tactic and do the same thing, for the last three laps. I did not change my hesitating at the big mud puddle though. I probably lost one place with my technique through that over the 7 or so laps we did.

Battles were raging up ahead. Zak and Rudy were close to each other, Greg responded when John came by him. I was just trying to keep myself close, but I could tell that it would be some serious work to bring myself up there.

In the end, I was content to stay where I was. The best part of the day was I was not lapped on this short course. That alone made my day.

I counted back from the top 5 and was sure I was 10th.... for about 15 hours. When I remembered Ross Clark was up there also. Checking out results the next day confirmed I ended in 11th. I'm not complaining. I put together a good ride in conditions worse than my two "bad" races this year at Stark and (worse still) Leroy. This will put to rest any thoughts that I don't go well in wet grass/mud. I didn't really believe them, but there is always a slight nagging thought when you have a couple of not good days in the same conditions.

I did a long cool down, since I needed my legs to be recovered for Sunday. Right before leaving, Brett asked me to take a lap backwards to check out the course for day two. So I did... Bob Rodgers and I gave a thumbs up being the first to preview the layout for day 2.