Cyclocross in April…WTF?

Posted: April 23, 2012 in Uncategorized
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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.

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