Cyclocross 2011: The Season So Far

Okay, I’ve been slacking off. So before things get too out of control, I present to you my race reports for the early season. Too long, didn’t read? Have a look at the photos instead!

CCCX #1 – Fort Ord, Monterey, CA. Men’s B.

The first CCCX race is traditionally the first race on the Norcal calendar, and a great place to give the bike and the legs a shakedown for the season to come. Or, to put less of a brave face on it, it’s where I go to get the first-race debacle out of the way. You see, Fort Ord and I have a history. In 2009 I went ass-over-teakettle on one of the venue’s loose descents, then flatted immediately after the pit on my second lap. First race DNF. In 2010, I managed to bang my knee up bad enough the weekend before by slipping and falling in a train station, and wasn’t even able to show up. And that brings me to 2011… My first race of my second complete season as a B. I carpooled down with Eric at the wheel and the CX Magazine Cheap Bike (“Zeke”) on the roof, hoping for the best … But already signs of trouble were appearing when I “Joey’d” a barrier on my pre-ride, knocking the front wheel out of true and sending me scrambling to get it straight enough to not rub Zeke’s V-brake pads. A friendly mechanic sorted me out before the start and I lined up.

P1140891

Right from the get-go, there was a 2-minute climb that brought me to redline and had me wishing for a slightly lower gear than the 1×9 setup on the Zeke, but not getting totally dropped. So far, so good. At the top of the hill, the course turned into a mostly singletrack descent, punctuated with a few loose sections (including my old nemesis from 2009, which my skills were better-developed to handle now). My teammate Ted had edged ahead of me on the climb (nice work!), and I settled in behind for the descent. I didn’t go around because I figured that with 29er tires and hydraulic brakes he’d be able to descend faster than I wanted. This wasn’t actually the case though. I should have asked for a point-by, or just gone for it. In any case, the race was young so it wasn’t much of a problem. It turned out that Ted and I would be battling the whole time, but due to circumstances I hadn’t foreseen.

Photo by the inimitable Tim Westmore.

The second half of the course contained a stretch of paved road with a U-turn at the end to form an out-and-back. I had worked my way back up and into sight of the front, when the pack came into the U-turn. Three wide. I was on the outside. A note for future reference: you know you’re in trouble when you hear the apology before the crash. And the crash came: I was pushed off my bike and into the pavement by a rider in red. I didn’t even see who it was (though I did see plenty of red after that).

The good news is that it had happened in the slowest part of the pavement, and that I wasn’t seriously hurt. The bad news is, I had just lost several positions, my bars and left lever were tweaked to the side, and getting crashed out in the first lap tends to take the spring out of your step. In any case, I hopped back on and banged the shifter back into place, but not the bars, and tried to get back into the race. And I was making pretty good time too, until a few (!) chain drop incidents dropped my position accordingly. Zeke’s 3rd Eye chain keeper was useless every time the chain dropped on the inside. I lost more time to this than to the crash, from what I can tell. At least having to stop to put the chain back on gave me a chance to straighten the handlebars!

In the end, I came through in a respectable 12th place, having neither had a successful race, or an utter debacle. And I tried to outspent a guy in red on the finishing straight, for justice! But I failed. And it wasn’t actually the one who crashed me out. Turns out, it was a friend of mine who did it, and all was forgiven when he handed me a beer by the finish. I came in 12th out of 19 riders, 4′:00″ behind the winner.

CrossVegas – Las Vegas, NV. Wheelers and Dealers Race

Sin City. Interbike. CrossVegas… The industry race. My second time. I don’t have a UCI license, nor am I “elite” in any sense of the word, so I did the industry race as a representative of Sheila Moon Athletic Apparel. The events leading up to the race itself were easily more colorful and had more of an impact on my result than anything I did on course, but that would fill up an entire post on its own. Suffice to say, with 23 rows of starters and going from the very back of 150-ish riders, it was utter insanity. My only goals were to go as hard as I could (which I did, results be damned), and not be lapped by Jon Cariveau.

Lee at Cross Vegas by Toby

Starting from the back is never great for success, but it barely mattered in this case. I was so compromised, and the first lap included an oval circuit to string the field out, and the course was so wide (UCI-legal, yo) that I wasn’t really caught behind anybody at the start. I rode hard, moved up some, and settled in for the race. The course was actually more technical than usual, given that there had been a few days of once-in-a-lifetime rain in Vegas to soften up the ground and even create the tiniest bit of mud underneath the legendary “Velcro-grass” of the Desert Breeze soccer complex. And so it went…

Success! I came in 105th, which means I passed 61 people. I suppose that means I did better last year, but you know, extenuating circumstances definitely had an impact on my race-readiness. I took a cooldown lap or two, wherein I tried to ride up the stairs, and got passed by multiple world- and national-champions doing their course inspection. Only in Vegas… Maybe the rest of the story will be told in another post…

ITS VEGAS BABY

Video Feature! It’s not about me at all, but if you have a spare 42 minutes, check out this awesome video feature by Sporza featuring Bart Wellens and Rob Peeters. It’s awesome, really. And will take you less time than to read this post.

And Then I Got Sick for like two weeks.

After Vegas, I promptly displayed signs of “Interbike Plague”, which put me in the hole for about two weeks or more. Screw that place. Again, My Vegas Strategy needs definite work in 2012. Coming back on Saturday after Interbike means I missed the Folsom race, and my sickness kept me from racing the weekend after at CCCX. It’s okay though, I thought, I’m pre-registered for the Lion of Fairfax! That’s a fun race, even though I have no shortage of “history” with it (last year: My love-hate relationship with my tubulars began when I flatted one on the bumpy, rooty section of the course. Whoops).

Intermission: In which I endure ridicule for being a roadie.
Levi’s GranFondo – Full Route + Willow Creek “Gravel” Option.

Wait, what? This isn’t a CX race… On the eve of the Lion of Fairfax, I got the opportunity to ride Levi’s GranFondo in Santa Rosa. After feeling like a sad sack for the prior two weeks, this sounded like an excellent idea even as it opened me up to condemnation from all my dirt-loving friends. Whatever. It was awesome, and I even met some of my internet friends like The Noodleator. She wrote up the actual event far better than I’ll ever be able to do, so check it that link if you’re interested!

In any case, I wanted to do more races this year than the last two years… But I started thinking about it, and realized that there’s more to life, even during CX season, than racing every weekend. Balance! In any case, I’d race ‘cross the next weekend, right?

line up the dirt

Intermission Part 2: Medocino Fat Tire Festival

Jughandle Juggernaut XC Race – Caspar, CA. Men’s Super Sport.

No, it turns out I wouldn’t. Instead of going to  Sacramento and/or CCCX the next weekend, I drove up to Mendocino to join about fifteen of my friends and teammates for the Mendocino Coast Fat Tire Festival. We rented a house, hung out, did awesome XC race on Saturday, and awesome fun-ride on Sunday. Due to a mix-up at the bike shop, I didn’t have Mr. Moots for the weekend, but rather a Santa Cruz Blur TRc. What an interesting bike that was… In any case, it kept me out of trouble and let me get at least 50% more rad over that weekend.

I also rode the prototype of Ibis’ new big-wheeled machine:

Team effort to ride the world's biggest Mojo

CCCX #4 – Manzanita Park, Prunedale CA. Men’s B.

Okay, we’re back. Back to ‘cross. I had given back Zeke the Wednesday before, so I had to get my Cannondale back into racing shape. I swapped the big ring to a Salsa 46t, and installed the other half of my Poor-Man’s Mini-V setup in preparation. Because, you know, the best time to do mechanical work on a bike is the day before a race.

Manzanita Park CCCX #4 (photo by Steven Woo)

CCCX at Manzanita Park. The course was the so-called “reverse” configuration (running the opposite direction of the week before, and the time I raced there in 2010). The advantage of the reverse direction was the elimination of the paved climb, which absolutely killed me the year before. This course was super fun! There was only one runup, with a barrier at the top, a shallow sandy climb, a couple of cool sections through the trees, some loose singletrack turns, and more 180-degree turns on baseball fields than I could count. And the conditions were “good”, meaning dry and loose, much different than last year’s epic slog.

There were definitely nerves at the start, since it was a flat dirt approach to a corner, and nobody wanted to go down there. I went out decently fast, but not fast enough to be in the front group, and just kept my pace through the whole race. I definitely got bottlenecked in the first narrow section, and it took a while to work my way up. Yells of encouragement from my friends told me that I was near the top ten, so I kept drilling it, eventually even catching up with and passing Jason, who had been hanging out at the front of the race at the start (and had placed 6th the week before, as well as at Lion of Fairfax). I got a lot of encouragement from friends on the sidelines, including Chris Matthews, who told me to “pass those three guys!”. People should tell me that more often, because I did. I eventually ended up working with Mike, the winner of the singlespeed race. We were fairly close in speed, at least in the sections where I couldn’t cheat with gears, so neither of us was really dropping each other. Later on, he told me that I was keeping his pace up by being there… Glad to help!

At the finish, I found out I was actually 13th, out of 32, at 2’36″ back from the winner. Top-10 would have to wait for another day.

Rookie cyclocross racer Rand Miller also came in 4th in the Elite race, only 1’07″ back from Andy Jaques-Maynes (who was taking it easy after winning the 24 hours of Moab the week before. Slacker).

Later that week, I’d attend a clinic with rockstar Joachim Parbo…

Today @JoachimParbo put on a clinic. Literally, though.

He knows what’s up.

CCCX #5 – Toro Park, Salinas CA. Men’s B.

Double-race weekends. I don’t do them very often. It’s usually more driving than I want to do, plus I am a lazy bastard. And finally, this race was the day before the “big race”, so there was of course the temptation to save myself for the next day and concentrate on the Super-Prestigious race to come. Well, with BASP no longer being a points series, I decided that they aren’t any more of a priority to me than any other race. To prove it, I showed up to race in Salinas.

I arrived within minutes of Sasha and Marko, forming a three-pronged Moonie Attack on the lightly-attended field. It turns out that lots of people were saving themselves for BASP, because there were only 15 starters in the open B field. The 35+ B’s raced at the same time, so we were all going simultaneously. The course was pretty simple: A shallow paved climb that quickly turned sharp (very sharp, 15-20%), then veered off into haul-ass singletrack for about half the lap. Braap! Things were going pear-shaped from the start though, as I did not have the legs to keep up with the “kids” in my race. Sitting, standing, pushing my granny gear or not, I just wasn’t going hard enough to keep a good position in the first lap up the hill and settled into mid-pack. As the race wore on, I kept moving up, picking people off in the turnarounds, or over the barriers. As were approached the end, the front group was long since out of reach, and I was battling in a group of three or four.

P1150933

I made sure to get in front across the finish line coming into the bell lap and gave a good effort up the steep climb, but as soon as my nemesis on the carbon Scott MTB came alongside for the 5th time, I just pulled the plug and settled in behind, figuring that I’d make my move in the latter half of the course. See, using energy up the climb was a tactically smart move, because the long descent provided ample recovery time, but I just didn’t have the legs to stay ahead of him (or couldn’t hurt myself enough to do it). So I waited. Down the singletrack, and into the right-hander through a gully that started us back on the gradual climb to the start (and contained the paved U-turns, the dirt U-turns, and the barriers). I don’t even remember where I made my move, but it wasn’t that hard to do considering he was slower than me on this half of the lap even without any turns. After that I just drilled it without looking back, and was able to stay ahead across the finish line.

I’m not sure who came in 6th, but I found out after the finish that I had come in 5th! My first podium since upgrading to the B’s… And the first time I brought home the berries. Definitely an awesome accomplishment for me, even with the lightly-attended field.

CCCX #5 B podium: Snuck in!

I was 5th out of 12 riders, 2’47″ behind the winner (John Elliot from The Team, who had a healthy 1’32″ gap on second place).

Sasha blew through his field and most of the open B field (including me) to win his first race. Nice work!

BASP #1 – Candlestick Point. San Francisco, CA – Men’s B.

Fresh off of my first B podium, I came to Candlestick Point for the first race in the “big show” of Norcal cyclocross – The Bay Area Superprestige series (aka BACX). The course was hot, dusty, loose and bumpy, and set a record for the amount of broken glass at a venue. The character of the course was somewhat like Sierra Point Squared: Mostly flat, but the course made you go up and down whatever hills there were as many times as possible. There was a single barrier at the top of an otherwise-ridable riser, as well as a double-set with a bumpy flat approach. There was a “sunup” on the course that was completely ridable, if somebody wasn’t screwing up in front of you. There was also the first appearance of the flyover, which was fun for racers and spectators alike, and a few really flat-to-downhill sections before the finish that were great places to catch people napping.

From the gun, Jason jumped out in front (capitalizing on a good self-selected start position… Mental note, hang out with Jason before the race) and I did my best to stay with the front as the race got strung out. As soon as the bottlenecks came (maybe the second corner) I was off my bike and running on the inside to gain positions. I don’t know if it cost me or won me positions, but by the time I reached the (ridable) runup, aka Heckler Hill, I was in 32nd place (according to Jenny’s video evidence, thanks Jenny!) and 30 seconds down during the first lap. After that, I was moving up again, and basically riding my own race… There wasn’t much going on tactically with me, unlike the day before. I was picking up positions though, up to and including the last corner where I passed a Fremont Bank guy who was approaching the final turn too slowly. The joke was on me though, as he grabbed on my wheel and easily came around me in a sprint for 18th. I guess he races road, with that kind of smart thinking.


Best video of the event, for sure!

19th out of 81 racers (or more, depending if you trust the results sheet or BikeReg). I don’t know the time gap because BASP doesn’t give them, but I’ve Strava-estimated myself to be about 2.5 minutes back from a podium spot. Not the top spot, though…

Coming Soon!

Tomorrow, I’ll race Surf City Cyclocross’s Halloween race at Aptos High School… After that, there’s one more weekend of racing (Possibly Sac CX in Folsom on Saturday, followed by Stafford Lake CX on Sunday) before the Sierra Point BASP Night Race… And then onward to SSCXWC and beyond. The season is still young, and I’m hoping to keep it up!

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4 Responses to Cyclocross 2011: The Season So Far

  1. Lovin’ the KoF flag pic. Congrats.

    • Slonie says:

      Thanks Mark! I finally brought the flagpole last week and left the KoF in the team bus, so the flag will be flyin’ high at every race setup, even if I’m not there!

  2. Pingback: A Cryptic and Convoluted Announcement of Import | Counterattacking Reality

  3. Pingback: Chocolate and Peanut Butter: The Post That Wasn’t | Slonie

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