Six Months in a Nutshell

Posted: October 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

Since I haven’t posted since April, I suppose I should offer up some weak-assed excuse as to why. I’ve been busy. Well there you have it. That being said, the last six months of cycling have been a mixed bag. The rest of this post will summarize my last six months.
Rockhopper XC
After the Wente Crit, I went up to Vacaville to race the Rockhopper XC race. This was my second MTB race and I fared much better than the debacle that was my first. The course was tough and the weather was HOT. I’ve certainly never suffered as much in a race as I did that day. I was in the 2nd row @ the start, right behind my teammate. I had a good start, but after the first little downhill, I out thought myself and tried to downshift too early for the upcoming little kicker and dropped my chain. Several people came by me and I spent the rest of the race chasing. I made up a few spots as some of my competitors were taking breaks on the big climb. Fitness baby! Unfortunately two of them dropped their seatposts and flew by me on the descent like I was standing still. Skills, or lack there of. :( I ended up midpack (5th) which I was happy with. Details: http://app.strava.com/activities/8511814

Modesto RR
The last two years, I had fared well at the Modesto RR coming out with two top 10s. I expected to perform well again this year as I had more fitness coming into the race. My sprint was strong, so I felt as if I may be able to crack the top 5 or better. I had full intentions of trying to get a breakaway going with ~3 laps to go, only to find myself on the side of the road with a flat during the 1st lap. After changing the flat and going into TT mode (training) for ~1 lap, I got another flat. This time I inspected everything and found that my rim strip had slid over and exposed one of the spoke holes. Just as I finished fixing that flat, my group was coming up the road to put me a lap down. I chased onto the back of the group and told the moto-ref that I was a lap down and would stay at the back and not influence the race. I ended up being the last of the finishers. While I was riding around at the back, watching how the field was not racing, a funny thing happened. I found that riding around at an endurance pace, only to sprint for the last 200m or so to be incredibly…well, boring. I think I came to this realization because after gaining some experience in MTB and CX races, where one is generally full gas for the entire event, I decided I’d rather race hard for the full event. Racing on the track is very similar as the shorter nature of the races causes the intensity to ratchet up into the stratosphere. I love road racing, but I no longer think that I am going to be the wait it out and sprint type of racer.

Pittsburgh to DC
First, the setup. In Spetember of 2011, my dad started cycling. He did this to become more active after a 110lb weight loss. He rode the Rails-to-trails that are near his house and are part of the Greater Allegheny Passage, which stretches from Pittsburgh, PA to Cumberland Maryland. In Cumberland, there is another trail that used to be the towpath for the C&O Canal (now a National Park) which travels parallel to the Potomac River, all the way to Georgetown. The total trip length was 360 miles and I told my dad that if he trained for it, I would ride it with him. He trained his ass off (literally as it turns out). So in August, I flew back to PA and we did it. We went the bikepacker route and did the trip unsupported. I rode my CX bike and he rode a MTB. It took us 7 days and 2 hours, with a moving average of ~12mph. My dad kicked ass and it was the trip of a lifetime. I WILL write about this trip more, so stay tuned.

Livermore Cyclocross Festival
In the background of my adventures of 2012 was my effort to bring Cyclocross racing back to Livermore, but after I returned from my bike tour w/my dad, things got really crazy. I’m so proud to have been the driving force behind the LCF and I certainly couldn’t have done it without the help and support of many, many people. I will write up all of the sordid details one day in my tell all book, but until then an race report will have to do. Up before the crack of dawn, no breakfast, no warmup, hard manual labor for several days leading into the event, stress overload, etc… Recipe for disaster, right? Not so much. I rolled up to the the start just as we got the 1 min to start warning. I squeezed into a 2nd row position and was contemplating either totally going for it all or to roll around and just enjoy the moment. I chose to gun it. I got the hole shot and just kept going. About 2 minutes in, one of my teammates passed me and I settled into 2nd position. I just kept chugging along with one rider a couple of seconds back, I just wanted to ride a clean race and make him really work to catch and pass me. He eventually faded, but another racer started to move up and close in on me. I was really hoping to have an easier final lap, but he was chasing hard and I had to keep the pressure on. I crossed the line with my best ever CX result, 2nd. And if it wouldn’t have been for my teammate, who by the way is an expert MTBer, and in this instance a total sandbagger (even though he had never even seen a CX race before), I would have gotten the W. Next time, I’m gonna put him in the fence, rubbin’ is racin’, right? ;P Seriously though, it was a great race and really was the icing on the cake for an incredible event. Thanks to everyone who made it happen, and those who came out to race. It was a great day.

BASP #1
Following my success at LCF I was hopeful to have another good result at the first BASP race. The course was bumpy and technical, but I was running in the top 10 when I burped my front tire. I tried to nurse it to the pit, but on a dirt to asphalt transition, I ate it. I ran the rest of the way to the pit, got a neutral support wheel and started to chase. I put together some nice laps and passed a bunch of people, but I only came away 21st, which is actually in the top half of the field.

BASP #2
I tackled my burping problems that trace back to the Sea Otter CX race by using a front wheel with a wider rim. The week leading into the Candlestick Repachage race had me feeling a bit strange. I don’t really know how to explain it, but when I start to feel that way, I know that I’m either going to race really well, or the wheels are going to completely come off and I’ll end up in a corner, crying in the fetal position. Well the race was more like the former, if only it wasn’t for yet another flat tire. It happened at the start of the second lap, where the course transitioned from asphalt to gravel. I must of hit a sharp rock or something as post race inspection revealed a sidewall puncture of my rear tire. Anyway, I was running in the top 5 only ~5s behind the leader when I heard the tell tale pssst…pssst…pssst. I thought tubless setups were supposed to prevent this crap. This time, however, I was able to nurse it to the pits without ending up on the deck. I commented to the neutral support guy that our meeting like this was becoming an annoying habit. He helped me out and I was off, chasing again.
Coming into the season, I was a little concerned that I hadn’t had a lot of practice passing people. Well, I have plenty of practice now. I still need to improve, but I’m light years ahead of where I was just a few weeks ago. By the beginning of the last lap, I caught sight of a group of racers that I was pretty sure was in my field. I took to the task of trying to catch them and was successful with ~1/2 a lap to go. I cruised by them and figured I was set with my position when I had a brain fart. After a dirt to asphalt transition, I just zoned out and completely missed a left hander and rode right into the course tape. Two of my competitors passed me while I was untangling myself, but I was hell bent on catching them and reclaiming my position.
The first guy wasn’t too hard to catch and I passed him on the entrance to the “maze.” To catch the second guy, I made up a little time around the last technical turn on the course (required a late apex to be fast) and the rest was made up by putting a big dig along the asphalt straight and white-knuckling it around the last gravel corner w/o touching the brakes. I was on his wheel when we went over the “curbs,” but wanted to wait to make my move until after the “finishing hump” as I figured one of us would crash us both if we went over that hump side by side. After we cleared the hump, I dropped the hammer w/about 50m to go, came along side of him and beat him to the line with a bike throw. As I was passing him, he was screaming “NO, NO, NO.” Pretty dramatic for 16th place, but it was fun.

To say that this year has been one of ups and downs would be an understatement. I think I’m paying back some of the Hidden Vigorish that I’ve tallied up over the years as before this year, I never had a mechanical issue that jeopardized my standing in a race before. Well that’s bike racing, and hopefully my bad luck will run out sooner rather than later…Now if I could only find some new CX tires…..

2012 Wente Crit

Posted: May 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

The 2012 Wente Crit was the first time that I got to witness the VSRT train in full effect. There were 7 of us lined up for the race and the goal was to protect me for the finish. Most of the race was spent hanging out near the back and trying to stay out of trouble while sitting on the wheel of one of my teammates. Let me just tell you how relaxing it can become in the middle of the storm that is known a Masters Criterium Racing when you have teammates that you absolutely trust and know that they will put you in the right position throughout the race.

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Normally I spend my time in a crit trying to identify who the strong riders are, who’s wheel can be trusted, and who I should use to lead me out. When you have teammates to protect you, you don’t have to do any of that. All you have to do is not lose their wheel.  For most of the race three of us were camped out on the left side of the pack while the other four were free to go for primes or ride where they like. We were moving up with 3 laps to go when I was pinched off and lost my teammate’s wheel going into one of the corners. Within a second, I was 4-5 bike lengths back and boxed in. I maintained calm and waited until someone passed me so I could hitch a ride to the front to find them. It just so happened that the first person to pass me was another one of my teammates. I jumped onto his wheel and asked him to take me back to my leadout man. He dutifully moved me up through the pack until we reached the front, where our other teammates were nowhere to be found. Eventually with ~1.5 laps to go, I found my leadout train and we were in good position by the time we took the bell for the final lap. As is typical for this crit, and most others, all hell broke loose as everyone realized suddenly this was a bike race. We were moving up quite nicely and were in good position, though a little further back than I would have liked, when one of my teammates went down in a heap just to the front and to the right of us. As everyone tried to avoid the crash, we had to get on the brakes, destroying our momentum and letting the racers on the right side who were not inhibited by the crash gain position on us. Once around the final turn it was evident that there was nothing to sprint for, so I told my leadout man to pull the pin and I coasted home in 47th spot. I really can’t be more thankful to my teammates for keeping me clean throughout the race, responding when adversity struck, and for sacrificing their chances to help me to a good finish. Though I’m disappointed that we didn’t get the result we were looking for, that’s just racing and I couldn’t be happier with how well we worked together throughout the race. Finally, I hope our teammate that crashed heals up quick and is back racing soon.

So the Sea Otter Classic decided that since they basically had every other type of race that involves a bicycle at their annual gathering they should have a few cyclocross races as well. When I found out about it, I was stoked as I’ve wanted to go to Sea Otter for a number of years and after my 3 race sojourn into the world of cross last fall, I was jonesing for more. So for the last two weeks, I’d been busting out the cross bike at regular intervals to knock some of the rust off.

Leading into the race, I was pretty stressed due to a number of things that in the scheme of things aren’t all that important, but hey that’s what I do. My fitness, I think, is the best as it has ever been, but my technical skills on the cross bike were still a bit rusty. Damn you winter road miles! My goal was just to go as hard as I could and have some fun. As I was racing the 35+ open category, I had no expectation to be in the running for the win as I know that I just can’t hang with the Cat 1s.

The day of the race was anything but typical. I had asked my family to come down and watch me as they had never been to a cross race and I hoped that they would enjoy the atmosphere. Also, I had no idea what kind of BEAST Sea Otter was. I expected to show up and go through my normal pre-race routine, but that was not possible due to the ~30 minute commute from the parking spot to the start line. So, I registered and walked down to the expo to hopefully look around a while when I realized that if I continued to do that, I wouldn’t make the start of the race.

So I humped it back up to the car to get the bike ready and change into my kit. In typical fashion, I dropped my bibs on the ground while I was changing. About 2 minutes later, I felt this unusual burning sensation on my leg. Yep, fire ant. Leave it to me to park the car on top of a giant fire ant nest. There were thousands of them. Thank the Cycling Gods it bit my leg and not something…um…more sensitive.

All kitted up, I humped it back down the hill, through the expo, over to the start line, where I’d hoped to get a few laps in before the W 3/4 race started. Only problem was that they hadn’t finished setting up the course yet. I rode out to get a look at what they did finish and discovered what turned out to be the most technical section of the course, the most important feature being a steep, downhill, off camber, bumpy and sandy as shit, chicane. “Fun.” The first time I took it, I was ok, but on my second pass, I burped all of the air out of my front tire, merde!

Fortunately, Stan’s No Tubes had a sweet booth location that basically everyone had to pass when they walked into the expo. I high tailed it over there and begged for some help. They were very gracious and got my front wheel squared away. By this time, the W 3/4 race had started, so there was no more pre-riding until just before my race. I decided to hump it back up to the car, warming up on the way, to retrieve my forgotten bike computer and grab some more water.

Did I mention it was like a thousand degrees! Come on Monterey; it’s April! Who the frack ordered the 80 degree weather…for a cyclocross race?  Anyhoo, I made it back to the car only to realize that I had left the keys with my wife for safe keeping, and my water too. So, back down the hill I went, where my wife was off somewhere trying to win a new frame (she has pretty good luck with this sort of thing).

Alas, she didn’t win the frame, but I did get my legs opened up by climbing the big hill @ Laguna Seca. Once the W 3/4 race finished, we were told that we had time for one warm-up lap on the course. This is where I found out exactly how hard the race was going to be. The start finish line was directly under the big “Sea Otter Bridge.” About 300 meters of the race track lead to the first 180, which led into a asphalt climb, a 120 onto the dirt, across a double set of barriers, then back down the hill to one of the gravel pits that slows race cars down after they leave the track, but before they hit the wall. This 30 meter running section was the most difficult part of the course for me as I don’t run well and the soft nature of the material puts you in the red in just a few steps. A smooth dirt section led into a break in the tire wall, where we picked up a grass climb and then a nice steep run up, before we worked our way back to the chicane of death. As I approached the chicane, I was hoping that I wouldn’t blow the tire off of the rim again, but that is exactly what I did.

I figured that my race was over before it even started, but I bee lined it to the SRAM neutral support, where Vincent Gee hooked me up with a sweet Zipp 404 (upgrade!) just in time for me to make the start. At this point I was so worked up that I was literally shaking. I spent my time at the start line calming myself and mentally preparing myself for the suffering that I was about to endure. At this time, I started really wishing that I had some water with  me, because it had been at least an hour after my last drink and it was going to be another 45 minutes before my next one.

Oh well, the whistle blew and we were off, I was in the middle of the pack, L, and was in perfect position as the carnage unfolded at the first turn. Two riders went down, right in front of me, so I immediately dismounted, went around them, ran up the hill and remounted. See boys and girls, watching all of those cross World Cups and Behind the Barrier episodes does pay off! By the time I made it to the gravel section, I was already red lined and the run didn’t help. I continued to punish myself up the grass hill and run up. When I made it to the chicane of death I took a moment to watch how some of my competitors negotiated the obstacle. Basically, the quickest way through was to take it wide then cut the apex as soon as possible on the first part of the chicane. The second part was just hold the line you made for yourself and try not to hit anything hard.  After a few laps this “groove” was worked into the course and I began to make it through much faster. And as a bonus, I was able to keep all the air in the tires for the whole race, yay me!

After the chicane of death, we cut across the race track to the dirt “infield,” which was nice, smooth, and flat. A rhythm section followed, where the penalty of overshooting the exit on one of the 180s was a trip into the lake, which wouldn’t have necessarily felt bad, considering the heat. After the rhythm section, there was another 180, leading directly into a set of barriers, right in front of the beer garden. Nothing remarkable about the rest of the course as it just looped around to the start finish.

As per my M/O, I had a lousy start, got marred behind some slower traffic, and then began to pick off riders in the next couple laps. I was racing one person particularly hard, when we came up on some slower traffic in an area that was tough to pass. I took this opportunity to take a bit of a break and unfortunately, I followed the slower rider right into a ditch that, when I tried to exit, deposited me into the tire barriers. Five riders passed me, while I was untangling myself from the tires and getting back up to speed. That was on lap 3. I finally passed the last guy who passed me on the next to the last lap. I never did see the guy I was racing hard with again. Oh well, moral of the story is don’t screw up and crash. I ended up finishing 17th out of 32 in my field. They started the 45+ field, which included current Masters World Champion Don Myrah at the same time as my field, so I ended up crossing the line 24th, 7 minutes behind Don, who smoked both fields. At least I can say I finished on the same lap as the World Champ.

My take away’s from this race are not all that surprising. 1. Be more prepared for Sea Otter or other festival type events in the future. 2. Keep your keys and water with you! 3. Use neutral support, that’s what they’re there for. 4. Improve my starts, I’m tired of spending time passing riders that I should already be ahead of. 5. Improve technical skills, Instead of trying not to lose time in the technical sections and then make up time in the more rode like sections, I should be on par in both sections. 6. Run and then run some more! 7. Remounts! They are still a bit slow, but my dismounts were making up for it. 8. Make sure your tubeless conversion is set up properly.

Finally, I want to thank Sea Otter for adding cyclocross to their slate of races and cycling disciplines on offer. The course was challenging, which although wouldn’t provide me with the best result, it was fun and had all the elements that one looks for in a well rounded course. I would definitely race cross at Sea Otter again, if it’s offered. My only complaint is that my placing wasn’t recorded in Sea Otter’s results page. But, I know I was 17th as I crossed the line with the clock reading 50 minutes and some change. I also want to thank the spectators who made me smile with all of the “BEARD” cheers.  The only thing I would change is that the “BEARD” needed a beer, especially on the last few laps, but at $6 a pop, I can’t say I blame anyone for not handing one up.

SSCXWC 2011

Posted: November 24, 2011 in Cross

I had been looking forward to this race since I bought my cross bike a few months back. All of the web pics and videos from previous years had made the event look like an over-sized party with bikes, cheep beer, mud, and cross dressing. If you would have told me 15 years ago that I would be competing in a bike race, in the rain, in drag, I would have probably beaten the shit out of you. With the benefit of age, it has become very comforting to not take myself so seriously and just go with the flow. Since I was in San Francisco, I thought it befitting to dress as a ballerina.
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2 words for ya, NEW AVATAR! As far as the race goes, every one bandies about the word epic. But it wasn’t. There was no hypothermia, or frostbite, or life threatening moments. It was just a good hard course, with some crazy obstacles, a large helping of mud, and a bitchin’, leg sapping, run up. I raced so early that very few revelers were there, and unfortunately no photographers, but the ones that braved the inhumane start time, cold temperatures, and torrential downpour were loud and gave us C-Men (pronounced semen) all that we could hope for. The promotional crew was cool and organized. The course was well laid out and marked. The only complaint that I have was there were only 2 hardworking gals at reg. A few more bodies would have been nice to keep the queue down. At the end of the day, I was in perfect position for a top 10 finish when I took a lousy line through a 180 and had to come to a complete stop. A gap opened that I was never able to close down and I ended up 11th. The finishing position, however, was not important. The amount of fun was, and I clearly was on the podium on that account. I think that this video, as Dickey Dunn would say, captures the spirit of the thing.

SSCXWC 2011 from mark colton on Vimeo.

I hung out for the whole event and had a blast. Santa Cruz was announced as the locale for SSCXWC 2012. See you there, keep it sexy!
Not in a 0068urry at SSCXWC 2011

I (Heart) CX

Posted: October 10, 2011 in Cross

That’s what it says on the cowbells that Team Mad Cat sells at the Sacramento Cyclocross Series races, and after getting my 2nd CX race under my belt this past Saturday, it is a pretty good description of my feelings for the sport. Team Mad Cat did another great job of creating a welcoming and festive atmosphere for racing, this time at Harry Renfree Field in Sacramento. The weather forecast was looking perfect so at the last minute, I decided to bring my dog along with me. He’s used to being crated at agility events, so I figured he would manage while I raced. During my warmup, it was pretty obvious that I was a bit under-geared for the course, as it was a flat, smooth dirt crit, but it was the only gear I had and plus October is cadence month anyway.
My goals were to not crash anyone, including myself, during the start, settle into my rhythm, and since I was under-geared, try to win whatever group I ended up in. The main features of the course were (in order), a 180 around a tree, a set of 16 inch barriers, a long, fast, dirt single track section, then a maze with ~6 consecutive 180s coming into a set of 10 inch high barriers, leading to a final 180 with ~100m to sprint for the finish.
As I was warming up, there were the usual spectators (racers, assorted family members cheering, ringing cowbells, and being generally festive, curious passerby’s wondering what the heck they were witnessing, etc…), but there was one “fan” that particularly caught my attention. It was a lady wearing a pink feather boa and cheering with a maraca instead of a cowbell. She was yelling something at me every lap, both in warm-up and during the race, but I’d never seen her before in my life, nor can I recall what she was saying. It was only after I read a race report posted on the web that I learned that the strange spectator was none other than the legendary Jackie Phelan. Holy crap, nothing like having true cycling royalty cheering for you during a non-descript CX race at some ball field in Sacramento! Anyway, on to the race.
My start was lousy as I picked the outside line, which put me into a bad position going into the first turn. I let a few riders pass, so I could get in line. My bad start snowballed around that first 180 as I was slowed to a crawl, while the leaders were over the first set of barriers and headed for the single track. Once the field was strung out, I started picking off riders and moving up, but it was difficult to pass on the outbound part of the single track. As I said, the course was fast, and drafting was useful, so I patiently sat behind someone, until there was enough space for me to pass. As soon as the space opened up, the person on my wheel came roaring past us and I jumped on to his wheel and let him take the wind.
Over the course of the next several laps, we caught and passed a number of riders in our race and a few from the Open B race as well. As we were churning out the laps, I was sizing up my opponent. He was a bit better through the technical sections of the course (~1/2 bike length overall), we were about even on the dismounts, his remount was significantly better than mine (~2 bike lengths), but I had a much better spin and was able to close down the gaps he was opening on me in the faster sections. I knew that to beat him, I needed a gap going into the final technical section of ~3 bike lengths and I knew the only way to get it was to wear him out and then attack him on the last lap.
With 3 laps to go I began my strategy by attacking him on the inbound section of the single track. He reacted, closed the gap, and retook the lead in the technical section. With 2 laps to go, I attacked again and he closed it down again. Finally on the last lap, I let a gap open up and then accelerated around him w/ about 1k to go and opened up a gap that he wasn’t able to close. To my surprise, I actually bridged up to another rider who was ~50m in front of us when I attacked. This rider was incredibly fast through the technical section as he was able to bunny hop the last set of barriers. I knew that I would have to outsmart him as he would be faster than I leading into the sprint. I made sure that when I set up for the last set of barriers, that I gave him the inside line, which would put me on the inside of the last turn. As I predicted, he took the inside line, bunny hopped the barriers, and pulled even with me, but around the last 180, I made sure that I kept him on my hip and then rode him right into the edge of the course and accelerated away.
As to how I finished, 23rd out of 42. It was a big field for a single speed race, but considering I was under-geared, I was happy with the result. As for the day, it was great. I cheered on 3 teammates and one former teammate, with Jim Lund powering away for a victory and the series lead, took some cool pictures, and even the dog had a fun. Can’t wait till next time, later.

Trying new things

Posted: October 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

As many of you know, I climb hills about as well as a super model attacks an all you can eat buffet. This fact has helped reinforce my belief that the only problem with mountain biking is the first word. So why, would I endeavor to drive 6 hours round trip and haul my (fat) ass up and down a mountain that I’ve never seen before, when a nice flat road ride or even a cross race would more than satisfy my need to thrash the living shit out of myself? I guess the crux of why I did it could be summed up in a quote attributed to Albert Einstein: “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new. “ Recently, I’ve been doing a fair amount of offroad riding and my CX race last week helped improve my confidence in my bike handling.

So there I found myself setting on the start line at 6000ft about to begin the Sawtooth Ridge Challenge, the seventh and final race of the Sierra Cup Series. I think a more apt title for the race would be: “The Sharp Pointy Rocks of Death Challenge.” During the warmup, I sat on the wheel of my new teammate a former National Champ as we took in the first half of the climb. I found that my preparation was adequate for the technical nature of the climb. On our descent back to the start line, I was a bit slower than my teammate, but I gained confidence in my handling, as the descent wasn’t too technical.

Once the whistle blew, our group took off up the hill. I was dropped early on, as expected, so I settled into my rhythm and just churned away. As we were climbing, I was continually passing people from earlier waves. Towards the top, I passed a couple of guys from my wave, though I wasn’t sure if they were in my category or not. I just assumed that they were a kept motoring. As the climb leveled out and the speed picked up, I came to a stream crossing. I was not pleased. First of all, I was wearing my white jersey as I had loaned my black jersey to a teammate who actually had a shot at winning his race. Second, no one said anything about mud, WTF, I’m a roadie! I don’t do mud! I picked a line and plowed through, without getting too messy.

Once the descent started, I learned all too well that I am not a mountain bike racer. I was not prepared for the technical nature of the descent, especially the Upper Woods Trail. I was able to ride the whole first lap (slowly) without significant incidents and returned to my now favorite part of mountain biking, the climb :).

The second time through the mud, I was off line and performed a spectacular, slow motion, over the handlebars, crash with a magnificent splat. Though no replay exists, I gave my form of flight a solid “Joey” and my landing a perfect “Pig fell in the mud.”* I really wish I had a video of the crash, because it was indeed comical. I’d love to know what the guy who was leading the pro men’s field thought as he lapped me while I was fishing myself out of the mud.

The second time down the Upper Woods Trail, wasn’t uneventful either. Just as I was entering the trail, I peaked over my shoulder and saw a lapping rider approaching. As I left the trail to allow him to pass, I lost my footing and toppled ass over teacup. Strike 2. Strike 3 came further down the trail where there was a ~3 foot drop which led into a right handed switchback. I picked my line, felt confident, and when my front wheel hit something hard (one of those sharp, pointy rocks of death), I thought for sure that my collarbone was toast, or worse. At this point, I ask if a crappy mountain biker screams in the woods while he crashes and no one hears him, did it really happen? I can assure you it did, and though I came though bruised but not broken, I won’t soon forget the flight. The third time was indeed the charm as the rest of the race was at nearly walking pace, which I think was more dangerous than if I had went faster, but fear will do weird things to a person.

All in all, I recorded my best finish of the year, in any discipline, or category 4th. Unfortunately for me, it was out of only 5 racers. Failing at DFLing yet again (I can’t even do that right!).

At the end of the day and as a physicist, I don’t really believe in mistakes, they are just learning opportunities. As a brogger and crappy bike racer, perhaps the purpose of my life is to serve as a warning to others. As far as the day goes, I was overmatched and underprepared. I have no one to blame but myself. To that end, I don’t think that I’m a mountain bike racer. Does that mean that I’ll never enter another mountain bike race? No, I probably will. Does it mean that I will be competing for a state title, like both of my teammates won yesterday? I think not. But, as it turns out, if you need to get mud out of your white kit, I’m your man!

*How someone crashes into a mud pit in a white helmet, and doesn’t get a spot on it, I’ll never know.

Death Before DNF

Posted: September 29, 2011 in Uncategorized

When I was a boy, shortly after the training wheels came off of my orange Dukes of Hazard “General Lee” bike, I learned to take great delight racing over the root and slate covered trails of the Killdigin Hills and the bustling metropolis that was Wyano, PA. My formative years astride a bike were spent in fruitless efforts to keep up with the boys of the neighborhood who were years older than I and trying just about anything once. Little did I know then that I would relive the age old sensations of those bone rattling trails as I pinned number to jersey at a cyclocross race some 30 years later in Clarksburg, CA.
Even though it seems that my initial foray into cyclocross racing was years in the making, and in some ways it was, I essentially started ‘cross racing on a whim. I had started practicing ‘cross with my teammates in the fall of last year, strictly for fun and I had no plans to race cross this year, or any year for that matter. Call me short sighted, but I wasn’t interested in racing ‘cross on my mountain bike, plus I was already firmly entrenched in the bustling track and road racing scenes in NorCal. A late summer crash, requiring significant skin donation to the cycling gods, changed that as the crash left me without the services of my trusted Lemond Zurich for nearly a month. During my convalescence after the crash, I began contemplating about adding to my bike stable. A ‘cross bike was the only logical choice.
I had a groupo lying around waiting on a frame, so I began perusing the web. I found what I wanted in the Mission. A Kona Jake the Snake that had been converted to a single speed. It took me all weekend to perform a hipsterectomy on the poor thing, but the bike slowly took shape. I had intended on converting to a 1×9 drivetrain right away when a teammate mentioned that I should give it a try as a single speed to see if I liked it. I did, and I loved it. Knowing my family would be away for the weekend, I decided to register for the first race of the Sacramento CX Series. But before I could race, I had to put the new machine through its paces.
I went to the local CX training ground and began practicing my dismounts and remounts, I worked on my cornering technique, I adjusted tire pressure trying to find the Holy Grail of minimal rolling resistance with maximum traction. All the while fixing and adjusting a host of issues that percolated to the surface on the bike as I was trying to get ready in the 2 short weeks I had before the race. Once the brakes were adjusted, wheels trued, lock-tite applied to a bolt in the chain tensioner, and new tubes with removable cores (so I could add sealant) acquired, I felt the “Purple Nurple”, as my family and I had named it, was ready to race with only a day to spare.
The morning of the race found me stuffing a cooler with a nice Belgium Ale and a sandwich as I intended on making a day of the races in order to cheer, heckle, and learn from the other racers and spend time with my bike friends. After registering and kitting up, I went out onto the course to warmup and get a feel for it. The majority of the course meandered through a flat field with various levels of bumpiness, some wide open 180s, a few other corners to keep your attention, and a couple of wet, but not too muddy, turns. Nearing the finish line, there were a few rough whoop-dee-do’s and some washboard trail to make sure your fillings were secure. Once through the finish line you found yourself on a section of BMX-style flow track, complete with banked turns, table tops, and for the daring, doubles.
My plan was not to contest the start, settle into a nice rhythm, get a feel for the race, and then begin to pick off riders as the race went on. Oh yeah and see where I finished at the end, but most importantloy have fun. My plan worked to perfection. I was in the back half of the race at the start, I settled into a nice hard pace, and started passing riders one by one. Almost immediately, I noticed that I was closing gaps in the corners. I had expected cornering to be my biggest weakness on the dirt, but I guess it turned out to be a strength. I made most of my passes just after the exit of the turn as I was able to carry more speed through the corners than the other riders. At about half way through the race, my chain tensioner began acting up. The cage that keeps the chain on the guide pulley had rotated around and began rubbing against the chain. Dammit, I had used red lock-tite on that thing to make sure this wouldn’t happen during the race! I did my best on the bike to alleviate the issue by pedaling backwards for a second when it would rub, but eventually, the chain jammed and pulled the tensioner into the rear wheel. Coming to a quick stop entering the flow section, I surveyed the damage, which, fortunately, was limited to a bent derailleur hanger. I made a quick field repair and lost only ~20s in the process.
On the next lap, I noticed something rattling, but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was, though I was worried that the damage I had caused was more extensive than I had thought. Turns out, it wasn’t, as to my horror, my saddle fell off as I rounded a 180. I stopped to remount the saddle, sans tools. Knowing that my good finish was now lost, I endeavored to finish the race. Over the next two and a half laps, I stopped 3 times to finger tighten the seatpost bolts. My only fear was that the saddle would fall off again as I was going through the BMX flow section as there was no reasonable place or way to stop and remount it there.
As I passed the 1 lap to go sign, I was planning to tighten the bolts one final time. Unfortunately, my fears came to fruition as the saddle fell off just as I entered the BMX section. With one lap to go, there was no way I wasn’t finishing the race, saddle or not. After the BMX section, I stopped to remove the rest of the seatpost hardware, so I wouldn’t lose it, and I spent the last lap reminding myself not to sit down. I was happy to cross the finish line as my legs were burning in ways that I had never felt before. After commiserating with my friends and teammate who had cheered hard for me, I ravaged that sandwich and kicked back with a beer to heckle and cheer the day away. It was a great introduction to ‘cross racing and I can’t wait to be out there again…this time with a secure saddle and chain tensioner…and a multitool in my jersey pocket.