Tuesday, October 28, 2008

All Dressed-Up and Going Nowhere.

Another weekend or riding around in circles jumping on and off a bike is in the history books. However, this wasn’t your normal weekend of Cyclocross racing, not that such a thing exists. This was the annual Halloween Cyclocross weekend, and for the first time it was also a two-race weekend, guaranteeing lots of pain and mayhem.

While not quite the norm for the Oregon coast in October, or any other month of the year, the weather was sunny and warm, figures. The result was another round of back bruising bumps, and it was brutal. How does dry ground get so bumpy?

Saturday was the ‘non-costume’ race. I was finally feeling better health wise and my legs were real fresh from the rest I had gotten. The course, aside from some gopher holed fields, wasn't too bad and had some good elevation gain, including a brutal barrier at the bottom of a ridable hill, requiring an uphill remount. It was torture, followed by riding through a series of barns then an extended climb up another bumpy hill. Out of the start I was around 5th or so. Moved up a few on the first hill, then went right to the front on the second one and got a great line from the top to open a bit of a lead. I felt great and was ready to just kill it and try to take the race the rest of the way. No such luck. Coming around to the six pack I clipped my bike on the first barrier, but luckily grabbed the front wheel and carried it with me, unluckily the chain fell of. I quickly got it mostly back on as the lead group came through, only to have it come right back off. I got off again, fixed the chain for real and was now way behind the front. I dug as hard as I could and managed to move all the way back up to 3rd place with about 2 or 3 laps to go. By then my legs were telling me they had given me all they could and on top of it my chain wouldn’t stay on the big ring, it kept falling to outside, forcing me to stay in the small ring. Not something I like as I tend to just mash away in a big gear. Either way, the end result was two riders got past me and I came in 5th place. Not bad considering, but I am really sick of all the asterisks I keep putting after my results. I really need to get my crap together and have a solid race from start to finish. Prove to myself what I can do.

Unfortunately Sunday wasn’t the day for that either. It was, however, one heck of a circus atmosphere, with people dressed in all sorts of outfits and costumes. There are really some incredibly creative people out there. There are also some really uncreative people who just ride in their normal team kits. I don’t get it. It’s like going to a costume party in regular street clothes. Lame. OK, I can understand if you have a job and a family. That makes it pretty difficult to keep training, work and fulfill your family responsibilities, but can it really be that hard to go to Goodwill and buy a little skirt and some fairy wings? Wear an old torn-up kit from road crashes with some white face paint and fake blood? Yet I digress. For my costume, I went for a play on my category, Masters A 35+, and dressed as the hip-hop artist known as Mix Master A. This included a white hoodie, gold bling, a dumb hat crooked on my helmet and even taping my MP3 player and speakers to my handlebars and racing with some classic rap music blaring. I actually liked having the music, much better than the garbage they normally play on the PA system. I might just leave the sound system set-up for the rest of the season. On the other hand it probably inspires my competitors as much as me, and they can hear me coming. Maybe not the best idea.

As for the race, the course was altered for the day. A lot of it was run backwards with a stretch of road thrown in to lengthen the laps. But to continue the pain and torture, they put in a good hill right after the six pack. It was brutal, maybe even worse than the day before. I had a slightly better start than Saturday, and was third coming out of the start. I sat there for awhile and waited for my legs to come back to life. Meanwhile I quickly learned that the bill of the hat I was wearing was covering my right eye, taking away my depth perception, maybe I should have warmed-up with it on. Stupid costume, but atleast I wasn't lame unlike most of the other guys in the lead group. I had already ditched the sunglasses and was contemplating ditching the hat. Luckily I was able to rotate the bill a little more to the side. Problem solved, AND I was still stylin'. If only I could do something about wearing a sweatshirt on a warm sunny day. Man I was roasting. Where was the barmaid with a cold beverage?

As we were going through the barriers on the first lap I realized I forgot to downshift before dismounting, meaning I was in a gear that would be way too big to get going again on the uphill remount, so I just ran it up the hill. Eventhough I was heckled mercilessly, it actually paid off as I moved up to second, then took first place on the off-camber after that. By then I was beginning to wonder if my legs were going to come back to me. I was far from feeling as fresh as I had the day before. I decided my best bet to stay at the front was to control the pace as best I could. I had figured out where my strong and weak parts were, so I decided to try to keep the lead to control the pace to my advantage and make it a battle of attrition. Sometime in the 3rd lap maybe, a couple guys got by me, one was Tim Butler. On an off camber rough section I made a desperate attempt to move back to the lead. As I was passing Tim on the left, our lines quickly came together and one of us must have hit a bump resulting in us bumping into each other pretty good. I heard Tim curse and looked back to see him crash. I immediately stopped and got off my bike to see if he was ok. I saw him get up and remount the bike, assuming he was ok, I got back on and cruised along waiting for him to catch up, so I could apologize and hopefully we could work together to bridge back up to the rest of the leaders. Tim was justifiably pissed and only grunted when I apologized and asked if he was ok. In hindsight my move wasn’t the smartest in the world, and I felt real bad about screwing his race. I’m real used to screwing myself, but I really don’t think it’s cool to mess up someone else’s race.

Tim was obviously riding stronger than me and eventually got around me again, which I gladly let him do. I tried to stick on his wheel, but between being physically beat, and having lost some of my mental drive, I just couldn’t find it in me to really dig after him.

Tim was able to get by one more guy and in the end I was 5th once again and Tim took 3rd. Based on how I felt on the day, I am not sure I lost a whole lot on the incident, maybe one spot. On the other hand it may have cost Tim the win. Who knows. Luckily he and his bike are ok. He has since told me he was really ticked because he had a horrible start, got caught behind a crash and was at the end of the field to start the race. The fact that he made it back up to the lead group in three laps is a feat in itself. When we tangled and he went down right as he was about to take over the lead, it was more than he could tolerate and I don’t blame him. Lucky for me I know Tim, and he would never go for revenge. Right Tim?.......Tim?.......hello?

Next week, Barton Park. I’m not sure I have ever had a good race there. Last year I dropped my chain and it got wedged in my crank. The year before I had two flat tires. The year before that I ripped my derailleur out of my frame and ruined my back wheel. Hmmm….maybe I should take a week off. I’m suddenly feeling under the weather.

Speaking of weather, the current forecast is for rain to start on Friday, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Cool vid of the barns:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Dropping Anchor

After a week of being sick, I wasn’t feeling so hot today. I had this weird pain in my right lung, whenever I would run it felt like someone was stabbing me on the right side of my chest. Luckily it was a bike race, and except for a couple barriers there wasn’t much runnin. The course, though was a real bruiser. A lot of elevation gain with a big long climb. Normally I like climbing, but with my lungs feeling like they were filled with wet sponges, I wasn’t so sure about this one.

With the call-ups, I was on the front row, so that was somethin. I didn’t get a great start off the line, but quickly killed it up the hill and moved into 3rd or 4th. For the first lap and a half I fluctuated between these spots as Tim Butler was slowly riding away. Then the freight train of Trey, John Bravard and John McCafferty came flying by. I jumped on as the caboose until we hit that brutal hill at which point I dropped my anchor and started moving backwards through the field. It wasn’t pretty, and felt even uglier. Oh well, you can’t be fighting for the podium everyday.

I know, I can blame it on being sick all week. But I also can’t help but feel like I used that as a crutch during the race. As soon as I started to hurt I found myself thinking “I’m suffering from being sick” but I hurt in every race. It’s part of racing. Today I just had a nice excuse to be a big ol wuss. So enough with being sick. I done with it. I actually feel better after the race than I have all week.

I’m looking forward to next week, My ego needs some redemption, and I have two races to try and get some.

On a brighter note today, Margi had a great race, I think she finished 5th in the B’s. I knew she had it in her, and she showed what she can do today. It’s easier when her mechanic isn’t screwing up her bike.

Time to work on my costume for the Halloween race in Astoria, after I finish this beer.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I Am My Own Worst Enemy

It’s hard to win a race when you’re out to get yourself. And that is what happened on Sunday. It was race #2 in the Cross Crusade Series, located on the site of the former Damasch Mental Hospital, back in the day it was a beautiful place in a way, flowing fields of grass, trees, birds and various wildlife. A rather nice place to get away from it all, or so I’m told. Since the good old days, the hospital and its grounds have been bulldozed to make room for some quality cookie cutter McMansions. Unfortunately (or is it fortunately?) with the current housing market and economic nightmare, construction is slower than a Clydesdale on a run-up. The resulting site is a pit where the hospital foundation used to be, and a lot of rough ground covered with ruts from heavy machinery, with a bit of road left over from the hospital driveway. On Sunday it probably looked much like it used to, a bunch if crazies running wild all over the place.

After trying to pre-ride the course, I can say I wasn’t too psyched to race. I had been feeling a cold coming on for a couple days, and I wasn’t too thrilled about the course. I think watching the live feed of the Superprestige race in Belgium had me looking forward to a classic Euro-cross course, and this couldn’t have been anything farther than that. Not in a bad way I guess. It just wasn’t what I really like. This week we were called up based on previous results, so I got a nice front row spot. Going into the first corner I was sitting about 4th or 5th. Tim Butler was in the lead, and I remember Tim Jones was there, as was Shane Fletcher and John Mitchem among others, with everyone else strung out close behind. I am pretty sure a group of 4 or 5 of us got some separation sometime in the first lap. I was going back and forth from 2nd to 4th, but was mostly concerned with us keeping on Butler’s wheel. I eventually jumped into the lead for a half lap or so, them Butler took it back. About a lap later I attacked again, trying to get past Butler and an A rider before a tighter stretch of the course so I could get some distance on him. It seemed to work, and I hammered it. For the next 3 laps or so I held the lead, maybe even opened it up some. I heard someone tell me I had 20 seconds on him. With two to go I was feeling confident……Until (there’s always an ‘Until’) I noticed Butler gaining quick. Real quick. A couple A guys I already passed came back by, and I couldn’t figure out why I was riding so slow. I didn’t feel like I was falling apart. But there was Butler, and still closing. Then going around a turn I saw John McCafferty close behind Butler. With the road stretch coming I felt I could open it back up, I put it in my hardest gear and gave it all I had only to have Butler fly past me! I had felt stronger than him on that stretch all day, I knew something was up. John got by me too, now I was in third. The victory I thought I had was gone. We came to the run-up and when I lifted my bike the front wheel came to a dead stop! My front brakes were rubbing! No wonder I felt slow, I was fighting my brakes, not the best time for some resistance training!. I tried to adjust the inline brake adjuster, which helped, but it was too late. I tried to at least catch John but he was flying. In the end I came in 3rd.

Why did my brake rub? Earlier in the week I had a bike fit to deal with some back issues I was having. This resulted in changing seatpost, stem and handlebar position. Turns out I didn’t tighten my left shifter enough, and with such a bumpy course it slipped a little pulling the brake cable tight with it. Even funnier is that before the race I double checked all the bolts on the bike EXCEPT the shifters. Some would say lesson learned, sadly, a similar thing happened to me at Alpenrose last year when my right shifter was loose during the race, distracting me in the barriers leading to my now famous barrier crash thanks to Oregonvelo. What’s the old saying about teaching old dogs new tricks? That’s what I get for being my own mechanic.

Oh and speaking of being a mechanic. Not only am I my own worst enemy, but apparently Margi is sleeping with the enemy. I set her cross rig up as a single ring this year. On Sunday her race was ruined by having her chain drop multiple times, getting wedged between the inner ring and the outer guard ring. The reason? Yup, I put the inner ring on wrong, leaving too much space between the two. Nice one. Fortunately I am lucky to have a very understanding girlfriend. Right babe? Right?

The shifter is on tight and the chainring is on right. Hopefully it will all work out for the next race, Ranier HS, a really fun course last year (except for my broken chain).

Here’s a quick video of me coming through the barriers:

Thanks to Brooke Hoyer for the pics.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Alpenrose 10/5/08

The Crusade Begins

This past Sunday was the first Cyclocross race of the 2008 Cross Crusade Series at what has become the traditional kick-off venue of the Alpenrose Dairy, a favorite course for many. Making it extra special this year was the first real rain of the season. We had a good 3 days of on and off rain leading up to the race. Didn’t quite lead to any epic conditions, as the ground was so hard and dry, but it did soften it up a bit, and provided lots of slick sections, especially after nearly 1300 racers had a chance to tear up the course.

As normal, leading up to the race, I was nervous. I really had myself wishing I could feel eager and excited, instead it is more of a sense of nervousness and even a touch of dread. It really makes me wonder why I do this. I chatted briefly with Dean before his race and he echoed my sentiments, even wistfully wishing he could just retire from the sport. Hearing the same feeling from a guy who has been racing much longer than me helped to ease the pre-race stress, but only a little.

We were there plenty early to cheer on friends, and get in some warm-up laps, plus catch up with all those who we only see in the wet and muddy cross season. Being the fourth race of the year, I am starting to get my pre-race routine down again, but I am still feeling a bit unorganized and rusty. After checking out the course a couple times, it seemed like it would be a good one. For the most part it was rideable, but the slickness kept you on your toes. Pretty much the same course we’ve seen for the past few years, with a few small changes here and there, but nothing major.

After the warm-up laps, I got ready for my race and cheered on Margi a few times. I could tell she wasn’t happy with her race, she had that look of frustration, even though I thought she was doing great. In only her second year she was in the top third of the B’s with an injured shoulder. She’s gonna do great, and I think will be in the top 10 by the end of the season. As for me, my nervousness kept me from doing too much in way of a real pre-race warm-up. I did a loop on the road and a couple laps in the field, then went and hung around the start area. It is a funny dynamic. We all circle the start area ready to jump in and line-up, but no-one wants to be the first! It’s like the swifts at Chapman elementary, circling the chimney, waiting to see who will make the first move, then…Bammm! We’re all lined up.

I, unfortunately, was a bit slow, but still got a second row spot. We were lead to believe we would get called-up but Brad didn’t have a list so that was it. Not a problem. I was real indecisive about my start gear, and slyly kept checking everyone else’s choice. I settled on the 36-21. After waiting for what seemed to be an eternity, and then another two-minutes after the A Men started, we were off!

First, let me apologize to anyone line up behind me. The gear choice was fine, the ability to find a pedal…not so. I mashed on the pedals, got in a few turns trying to get my left foot clicked in. I got a little close to the wheel in front of me, then my left foot slipped off and I had to step down and push off right away, gapping me from the wheel in-front, and I am sure pissing off a person or two behind me, so sorry. When I was finally back on and moving I seemed to be in 20th place or so. Not so good. But I was pissed, which is good, so I just rode real hard. Pushed it more than I would through wet pavement turns and just killed it. I really don’t have any memory of the first 1/3 of a lap. I think someone crashed infront of me on the first muddy corner and was lucky to be the one of the last to sneak around it without slowing. From there I guess I moved up pretty well as by the time I got up to where all the team tents were lined-up along the road, I could see I was in 5th or 6th place (I heard some tell Trey he was 7th). Over the next third of a lap I managed to move up to 2nd. The only thing I remember from that is coming out of the infield at the track, I heard Trey Hendricks go down pretty hard after going wide onto the painted surface. Once things settled down it was me, John McCafferty and Tim Jones fighting for 2nd, 3rd and 4th, while trying to chase down Tim Butler. John and I went back and forth a few times, and, had I been thinking clearly, I should have suggested we work together to real in Butler, but in my blind competitiveness all I could do was try to get ahead of these guys and focus on catching Butler. We stayed close for a few laps, but it seemed like once we hit the riders at the back of the A race, things started to spread out. At the turns I was noticing that I was just as close to Butler as John was to me, and lap by lap that started to spread out even more. I think I kept up with Butler more than the chasers were keeping up with me, but it’s hard to tell. While I like to think I cut a little into Butler’s lead at one point, in the end he continued to pull away. With two laps to go I knew that without a crash or mechanical Butler had first locked up and I would be second. While some epic crash or mechanical allowing me to catch Butler for a sprint at the line would make for a good story, the last few laps were pretty uneventful and I took second. Not too bad.

Not a bad way to start the season, even though I hate getting beat by Tim Butler. Looking at crossresults.com, you would think I would be used to it by now. I guess that is why he is my nemesis. Tim Jones had a great race. I think this was his first race in the Master A field, after putting on a clinic in the singlespeed category last year. He’s gonna be a tough one this year. I do have to admit that I was a little bummed to see Benno, Bannik and Enderle racing Men A’s. They are all tough, and had they raced Masters yesterday I am not so sure I would have been 2nd, as they had great races. So I guess it is a bitter sweet thing.

Next week we’re racing in Wilsonville on the grounds of a former State Mental Hospital. This should be good. I’m gunnin’ for you Butler, and looking out for all the other fast guys that I managed to beat this weekend.

For some really awesome shots from yesterday's race check out pdxcross.com if you haven't already. Great stuff there.