Tuesday, September 23, 2008

2008: A new season begins

After months of anticipation and counting the days until the start of the Cyclocross season, I suddenly find myself wondering how it got here so fast. Has it really been over nine months since that cold wet December day at PIR? Apparently so. It is also amazing to me how quickly I forget what I need to do before a race. By the end of the season I have a routine down. I can wake up race day morning, and without even thinking, get to the start line ready to race. How nine months can wipe the mind clean.

This past Saturday was the un-official start to the national Cyclocross season with the legendary Star-Crossed race at the Marymoor Velodrome in Redmond WA. It originally looked like I was not going to be able to race, as we had a wedding to go to in Seattle that night. But since I am one hell of a lucky guy to be dating Margi, she let me go race instead of attending the ceremony, and only show up at the reception, AND it was even her idea. I am Lucky indeed. For some reason I didn’t check the forecast for Seattle, and as we drove up, or should I say sat in traffic, I watched in disbelief as the rain fell. Normally I am a fan of racing in the mud. Not because I have superior bike handling skills (I don’t), but because I truly enjoy racing in nasty conditions. The nastier the better. But for the first race of the season? With a rear tubular that was pretty worn down? With no rain gear? And with a bike I had to keep in a hotel overnight? I was not prepared in any way. Well, after finally making it to the race venue, I found myself aimlessly wandering around. Trying to decide what to do first. Get dressed? Register? Check out the course? I felt like the amateur I am. Long story short, I managed to register, get dressed and get in a lap on the course. I then proceeded to freeze my ass off riding in circles waiting for to line-up. Speaking of line-up, I was ‘randomly’ assigned number 366 (3 blocks down from the devil). With call-ups beginning at 300 that put me 67th (more or less). Either way I was in the second to last row. Sweet. The good part was that it eliminated any expectations for results, so I felt pretty relaxed. As for the race, it went pretty well. I did ok in the start, avoiding the crash to my left, and Feldman dropping his chain. I surged up a bit and held my ground duking it out with some guys. The first lap was pretty scary, guys were crashing into everything. Each other, fencing, poles, or just the ground. It was obviously the first muddy race of the year. After a lap or so, I remember thinking that I felt like I was just cruising along. I was not being aggressive at all. I picked it up a bit, and started moving my way up. I passed Davinney who looked like he was not having a fun race. Then saw Ian Leithheiser and Bravard. I spent a lap chasing down Bravard and as I caught up to him, he pulled into the pits asking for a front wheel. Suddenly I was pretty much alone. Leithheiser was 10-15 seconds back, and the next guy was equally far in front. It gets pretty hard to keep the effort up when there isn’t a wheel right in front to chase down, and I could feel my effort waning a bit. I think I moved into 20th when I passed by Bravard, and picked off a couple of guys in the two remaining laps to finish 18th. Not bad. For the first race, my bike did ok, I kept it upright and moved up the whole race. I think only a couple guys with a higher numbers finished ahead of me. For the start of the season, I can live with that. The telling point for things to come is that Tim Butler finished 2nd, Bannik was 4th and Patrick Wilder was 11th. Those guys were fast, and unfortunately luckily I’ll be racing these guys all year long in Portland.

After the race I managed to wash off the bike in the pits, and get back to Seattle, gear unloaded showered and to the wedding reception before dinner was even served. And it was a lot better meal than I would have had anywhere else on my own. The downside was that we were staying at the Ace Hotel in Seattle. It’s located above a bar with loud music, and has beds for people that want a Little Pony category for cross. To say I had a good night’s sleep would be like saying I had a good starting position at the race.

Sunday brought drier weather, and race 2 of the season. Racing twice in less than 24 hours is one heck of a way to start the season. The second race, the Rad Racing Grand Prix, was at Steilacoom park in Lakewood WA. This course is best known for the Knapp-Time Run-Up, an 80 meter long run-up that just kills you. It’s named after Dale Knapp, a legend in Cyclocross who also races in my category. After registering, I got number 233, and getting in a couple warm-up laps, and having to rush to get my second bike to the pits, add air in my tires and throw down some gel, I got to the start just in time for the call-ups. My place was a bit better. While still in the second to last row, I was closer to the front in a smaller field. Despite pulling out of my left pedal on that start I had an ok one, hanging on to the back of the main group. Knowing I wasn’t too far off the front I was more motivated at the start and began to move up, attacking whenever I could. The main group was quickly splitting and I was desperately trying to get on the main chase group but I seemed to keep getting caught behind some slower rider in a tight situation and I’d lose contact with chase group. After a couple laps I was just outside the top 10. There were two off the front followed by a group 6-8 and a couple stragglers. The two off the front were Feldman, former national champ, and Doug Reed, races in a Veloce kit and won the night before. Tim Butler, Patrick Wilder and Dale Knapp among others, were in the chase group. A couple times, at the top of the run-up I would get so close to that group, but I would seem to once again get caught behind someone that would let the group get away. With about 2 to go Tim Butler fell off the lead group a bit and I was determined to chase him down. Just before the end of the penultimate lap I got around him. By now the chase group had splintered some with a group of 3 about 15-20 seconds in front of me, with Dale Knapp being the closest to me. I have always wanted to beat Knapp and gave it all I had, but that guy is just too strong and I didn’t gain much on that final lap. I still had a great race, finishing 8th and close enough to watch the finish go down and see Doug Reed beat out Feldman. To show how strong Portland is at Cross, there were four Portland bike shops represented in the top 10, Veloce, Cyclepath, Sellwood Cycle and River City. Not too shabby. Ok, ok, the winner who raced for Veloce really lives in Seattle WA, but obviously still represents. And since he killed us all two nights in a row, I am glad he lives up there.

Overall it was a good weekend for me. I had a great time. After nearly nine months of training, mostly with a focus on cross, you occasionally start to wonder if it is worth all the effort. After your umpteenth interval you forget how fun ‘cross is and question your motivation. I can’t say I wouldn’t have as much fun if I had spent the past 9 months training for the Clydesdale category instead, but at least I can convince myself it was worth it.

Next weekend is the Battle at Barlow.