Cyclocross 2011: On Start Positions (Race Report Roundup #2)

As threatened last time, here’s the long-boring-race-report coverage for the next few races… But look, pretty pictures!

Surf City #1: Aptos High School

How I felt: Not so good! The Bad Sensations were in place, feeling like I had an impending cold, perhaps. Whatever. The course looked fun, but actually really damn hard too, with 200 feet of climbing per lap. The start led straight into a steep and sustained road climb, then turned around at the top of the hill into a bumpy singletracky descent around a tree, then across a street (down a curb and up another one) into an off-camber dirt drop-in to a hardpack descent with a chain-link fence to the right. Then there was a chicane around a tree (first bottleneck on course) that led to the super-fast singletrack section down to the road… Actually does anybody really want to read this? Suffice to say, Aptos High School. Watch Hans’ video of it or read Jim Hewett’s reports if you want a good recap of the courses.

Cupcake + Megaphone = Heckle Machine #cyclocross
If you let your kids come to our tent we will hand them a cupcake and a megaphone and teach them how to heckle. And Tim Westmore will take photos.

In any case, it was quite hot, and as the race drew nearer I was feeling less and less good. Several rides over the 4×4-ish log barriers had convinced me that I could ride them, but not very fast. I’m pretty sure that running it would be faster than riding it slowly (though of course, riding them fast is the best solution). Once again, the “small” barrier problem manifests itself: If you can’t hop them and most people can, you’re at a disadvantage (in addition, there were real log barriers which I knew I couldn’t ride, so those weren’t even an issue).

kurt getting rad
How you’re supposed to ride the logs… Demonstrated by Kirt.

Of course I rode them so badly that I thought I might have pinch flatted and developed a slow leak in my rear tire. I mentioned this to Chris, who had just finished his race, and he said “take my bike!”. I asked for just a wheel, but he insisted on it. So I took it… A 16lb S-Works Tricross with file-tread tubulars and SRAM Red. Plus, Chris’s saddle height is the same as mine so it was good to go immediately (with a little more air in his tires). Oh, and I had decided to ride without gloves (er, lost them), but I was fine the week before so “what’s the worst that could happen”. The pros ride without gloves all the time, right?

Bike change? Why not?

In any case, I set myself up for a good start position just to try it out, lining up in the front row (on the inside) alongside the Spokesman kids and the Above Category Junior Hit Squad. Those juniors know how to line up, especially for guys who can’t even drink the beer that you can win at Surf City races. The whistle went and I was off. I didn’t lose too many positions up the hill and got to the first dirt in a pretty good position. Rode the rest of the race and, well, had nowhere to go but down in positions. At the end of the first lap, Jonathan Krier passed me like I was standing still. Literally, he was going twice as fast as me into the road climb. Damnnit. Also, my left hand had developed two holes in it (well, blisters) from my death grip on the hoods over a very bumpy course with no gloves. I’m still recovering from that one. Well, I kept riding and held my own, finishing up in a respectable 16/46th. I can’t blame anything on my start position, either!


After the race, I recruited Simon to our team:

Simon is a member of #SheilaMoonRacing #DogsOfCross

Stafford Lake CX – Novato, CA (A Murphy Mack Joint)

This was a new race and nobody knew what to expect. But news had started to leak out ahead of time from the course-building volunteers (thanks guys!) that it was pretty burly. It was also raining pretty heavily the day before, so the prediction was for a mudfest on course. The night before, I got a call from Andrew offering to loan me some mud tubulars (brand-new Challenge Limus), so I couldn’t refuse that. I picked them up on the way to the race and slapped ’em on my bike to go out for a pre-ride. Without checking the tire pressure. But they felt fine! At least until I came into a sharp downhill right-hander (after the “off camber descent” which was after the “long off-camber traverse” which was after the “staircase runup”). That’s when I decided to really rail it and slid out onto my right side (hitting my knee, hip, and head on the ground, as well as jamming my left index finger on… something). When I got up,  I realized that the lack of adhesion wasn’t between the tire and the ground, but rather the tire and my front wheel. Yep, I had rolled a tubular. So I put it back on and rode back to my car to change back to the clincher (Michelin Mud, at 28psi, I now know… The rear Limus tubular stayed at 24psi as-delivered, I learned later).

The stairs before the rollers before the whoop-de-doo before the uphill slog to the the offcamber corner of doom…

So then, off to the start. Or rather, off to the bathroom first. They called 2 minutes to go when I was getting into the outhouse. And since the A’s were still finishing their race (well, the slower ones anyway) I didn’t think there was so much urgency for the B’s to start on time. Well, I was totally wrong, because I saw the B field take off while riding to the start! Shit! I kept my cool and rode through the SS field who was still staging, then concentrated on getting up to the back of the field before the first bottleneck. And basically, I did. The course started with a gradual gravel road climb until reaching a left-hander onto a bridge that led to narrower dirt. And at the bridge is where I caught up with the back of the field. I’m saying it wasn’t any worse than lining up on the back row.

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Shifters
Not my start… Not even my race in the picture. Hey, I see Hans there! That means there’s a video.

In any case, I fought like hell to make up positions along the way, although I was still very far back in the pack at the exit of the singletrack and across the bumpy grass to the bottom of the runup. I passed a few more people on foot, and then a few more on the off-camber section. I’m not usually aggressive enough about going for passes, but I needed to take positions wherever I could in this case! Of course I still managed to take anything that was offered to me on course (a few welcome sips of beer from Andrew, and an entire chocolate chip cookie from Sarah, making them the best support team EVER).

[Missing Photo which I would pay good money for: Me crossing the finish line with cookie bits flying everywhere as I attempt not to choke]

(barriers of unusual size do exist!)

Eventually I was trying very hard to catch Nick Navarro and equally hard to hold off Daryl Rogers. This pair from Freewheel-Hunter are basically my rivals right now (CrossResults-Confirmed!). I had just caught up to Nick on the last lap when I took the high line down the off-camber-descent and succumbed to the bumpiness, tossing me off the bike and losing me 5 or 10 seconds in the process. Finished 18th/36. Mid-Pack from the worst start position possible.  Maybe I could have done better with a good start, but I was satisfied with how I rode the race afterwards.

Bay Area Superprestige #2: Sierra Point, Brisbane CA

This is the site of my first-ever ‘cross race, and one of the few venues I’ve raced at four years in a row. And the weather cooperated like it never has before, producing a fast, (relatively) smooth, and dust-free course. And I even got a call-up, delivering me to a third-row start. Sounds pretty good, right? Well, the fact still remains that I suck at starts, be it my gear selection, getting clipped in, or just not training. You know, one of those. So I lost positions fairly quickly (as evidenced by the aerial video… Check me out on the right!). Well, I rode hard, and gained back some ground once we hit the dirt. I ended up battling my way up in the field and duking it out with a couple guys who I don’t know.

After the barriers, I was always slow to get back up to speed in a very bumpy remount zone. The better strategy was to run all the way to the top of the hill before remounting, and had I swallowed my pride and done this, I’d probably have caught Daryl sooner. He was smarter than me and gapped me every time in that section…

That is, until I got within sight of Chris Atkinson (Teem Crash!), and smelled blood. Maybe it was my own, because that bit of excitement in the chase led to a silly crash right after the “muddy plywood board right-hander onto pavement”. I was on the ground, but not hurt (much). Catching up to Chris would be difficult though, as I had lost time and positions. Still, I eventually caught up to Daryl and laid on the gas to get around him in last part of the lap. After that, I came around the U-turn into the finishing straight and found myself in the midst of almost a 5-up sprint down the finishing straight. I didn’t catch any of the guys who had the drop on me, but I held my position for a respectable 31/92.

The rest of the Sierra Point festivities were, of course, madness… Complete with HeckleGate and lots of good times up on the hill for the Elite race…

(photo by Jeff Namba ) It’s Kitten of Flanders and friends!*
*Not an actual TV show.

And Ultimate Radness being provided by Scotty Chapin:
Scotty Chapin Ultimate Radness

What Next?

Well, SSCXWC happened in Golden Gate Park the very next weekend. I went to Friday night’s kickoff party (No. 1 of 3 for the weekend). When I woke up the next day for the qualifier, I was sick. As I was scheduled to get on a plane for Japan on Monday, I didn’t want to risk further illness and stayed in bed all day. On Sunday, I took the sensible option and didn’t saddle up my bike, though I did go watch. It kind of sucked to not actually participate in the event that I had so much invested in, but that’s the breaks. The event was amazing, but I’m going to defer to the coverage handily provided by other folks for now.

The consolation prize was that my CX bike and I spent the subsequent two weeks in Japan. More on that later…

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