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.

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