Monday, November 24, 2008

Kruger’s Crossing

Sunday was the 10th straight weekend of racing, and race number 12 for the season. It sure feels like it has been a long season. This race was out on Sauvie’s Island, so it was close enough to ride out there. Since it was a non-series race, myself, and a few other usual Master A guys all lined up in the regular open A field, aka the really fast guys. Only, as I mentioned, it not being a series race and the 10th weekend of the season, the field was not as deep as a Cross Crusade race. That’s not to say it wasn’t as fast, or at
least it sure didn’t feel any slower.

I lined up in the second row and had a decent start. After a lap or two I settled into a group with Ryan Weaver, Jeff Bannik and Matt Wills. We spent several laps together, while I stupidly spent a lot of time on the front, although I eventually pulled away. I even managed to momentarily get on the wheel of the next rider, but as soon as I got there he turned on the afterburners, and I just couldn’t hang on and blew-up. That allowed Ryan Weaver, on a single speed no less, to take advantage and close back up to me, and then right past me with two laps to go. I was helpless to do anything about it. I dangled there for a lap then fought vainly to get him back on the last lap but just ran out of time and energy. I came across in 9th. Not bad, I was hoping for a top ten, so I can live with it. Just always seems like Weaver finds a way to beat me. One of these days Weaver…one of these days.

I have one free weekend coming up then finish the season with a double race weekend at the Portland Cup, the USGP finale. Always a fun way to end the season.

Hope to see you out there racin’ or cheerin’

Monday, November 17, 2008

State Championships

Finally! I had been trying for this all season long, and it couldn't have been better. Not only was it a race where all the top guys were there and avoided any major mechanicals (as far as I know), it was a neck and neck battle to the final hundred yards. On top of it all, it was the series finale' and the Oregon State (more precisely OBRA) Championships. It also came at a perfect time for me.

With all of the mishaps (colliding with Butler), bad luck (being sick, broken derailleur)and mistakes (hitting the barriers, loose shifter)I was feeling a bit down about my season and feeling like I had lost some of my excitement for cross. I really wasn't even motivated to race on Sunday. The course looked kind of boring; real flat, soft yet bumpy grass, and a livestock corral of nasty mud/manure. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?. But I was there, and I had already paid for the series, plus I had to try to beat Tre to defend my third place series standing.

After a half-hearted warm-up I was off to the line-up. Once I was standing there, I decided I should focus, and thought "what the hell, let's see what we can do". I got off to a good start, somewhere around 3rd going into the first turn. Most of the race is a blurr, but I took the lead for a while having no idea who or what was still behind me. At one point Jeff Bannik, a strong rider who had been racing in the A's, came around me, which was impressive as he was lined up in the back of the field. Once he got on the front, the pace really picked up, shattering the large group at the front, and leaving Tim Butler, me, John McCaffrey and Erik Schultz (maybe Tre was still there?) with him. We kept up for several laps trading off at the front. Slowly, Tim, Jeff and myself opened a gap on Erik and John. The three of us continued to battle, each trying to attack, but unable to shake the others. With two laps to go, I managed a gap in the mud section as we tried to ride through some A riders. I decided this was my chance and I gave it all I could to try to open a lead. No Dice, Tim was able to get back to me near the end of the lap. As he took the lead I remember hearing that voice in my head try to give up, saying, no, more like pleading, to 'just hold off Bannik for second'. Luckily I ignored the pleading and followed Tim's wheel. I caught back on to him as we passed the pits for the second time in the lap. This was a stretch that I felt strong on every lap, and I decided then that if I was with Tim when we came through on the final lap, this is where I was going to make my move, if I could get around him, it would be tough for him to get back in front until we hit the mud corral, and even there, passing would be tough. I might have a chance.

As we passed the finish line for the final lap, I heard the announcer say that Bannik had dropped back a bit, so it seemed like it would come down to Tim and me. As the final lap progressed I tried to get around a few times, but Tim always managed to counter and hold the lead, while at the same time Bannik seemed to be closing. Finally we were approaching the pits for the last time, I carried as much speed as I could through the preceding corner, got out of the saddle and gave it all I had to get past Tim, and hold him off to the next corner. As I came into the corral Margi was at the entrance cheering me on, Tim was on my wheel, with the race on the line. It was like the showdown at the OK Corral. I hit the mud thinking “don’t ‘f this up, just keep pedaling’. Out of the corner of my mind I thought I may have heard Tim bobble, and did I hear someone yell to Tim to run? No time to think, just pedal. I got through the hole in the first puddle, caught the inside line, and had to pedal through 10 feet of very thick mud. As I hit the thick mud it was a grind and I almost came to complete stop, I could hear Tim’s footsteps behind me, and I gave it all I had, I pushed through the last few feet of thick mud and into the easier going puddle. Then like a man posessed, fearing Tim would pass me, I pedaled as hard as I could the whole way to the line, Victory!

Tim came in a few seconds later followed by Bannik, John McCaffrey and Erik Schultz. One hell of a race. Had to be one of the most enjoyable and exciting races of my short career. While Barton was a similar back and forth to the finish race, that seemed to be a cat and mouse sit and wait type if race. This race felt more like 60 minutes of constant battling. And of course, battling it out with Tim made it even better. And hats off to him as well, he was just as congratulatory afterwards as
anyone. I am sure he wanted the win as much as anyone, but you wouldn’t know it after the race. Thanks Tim. And congratulations on the Series win.

With the victory, and double points for theseries final, it looks like I may have moved into second palce for the Cross Crusade series. But most importantly I'll get the all important call-up for the USGP races in December.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Double the Pain, Double the Fun

ed. note: I wrote most of this a week ago and never got around to posting, so here it is, a little late...

My personal crusade to finally get a victory at a Cross Crusade Race continued this past Sunday at the Portland International Raceway. For those of you familiar with the locale, the race took place outside the race track at the site of the 2003 Cyclocross Nationals. I’ve raced here twice before and really liked the course.

The weather leading up to the weekend was good cross weather, nice and rainy. Race day itself was relatively dry, but being that PIR is located on what used to be a huge wetland associated with the Columbia River floodplain, it doesn’t take much rain to saturate the place, and it stays wet for awhile. The result was some sections of really thick peanut butter like mud, and lots of good slick off-camber riding.

Being the same day as the Single Speed Cyclocross Word Championships (SSXCWC) it was quite a bit rowdier than the normal ‘cross race, which is anything but normal.
For some really stupid reason I had signed up for the SSCXWC in addition to my normal race. This meant I would race two races back to back. Yeah, like I said stupid.

With all the excitement, we got there early and had plenty of time to hang out and take in the scene. One thing I couldn’t help but notice before the race was how many broken rear derailleurs I was seeing. My friend Ken Pace, celebrating his 40th birthday, broke his in the Master C race. It was all I could do to not think about it, and hope I wouldn’t suffer a similar fate.

Race 1:
After a seemingly long time, it was finally time to race. Once again I feel the need to apologize to anyone lined up behind me as I managed to screw up my start again. Lately I have been having problems finding my pedals, and yesterday I think I figured it out. A few weeks ago, in response to some back issues, I had a bike fit, and moved my seat forward significantly (about 4cm), the result is no more back pain, and maybe some more power, but with that I think I am missing my pedals. Now that I am more forward I keep overshooting my pedals, not just in the starts, but after many remounts as well. At least I figured it out, so now I just need to spend time practicing.

Anyway, back to racing. I muffed the start was around 15th, Mr. Butler was once again at the front driving the pace, and I was convinced he and a couple others were about to ride away off the front, leaving me stuck behind 10 or so other riders and out of the race. However, a half a lap later I surprisingly found myself in second place sitting on Butler’s wheel. As the laps went on Tim and I slowly pulled away from the rest of the field, while at the same time I was slipping further from Tim. Then with about 3-4 laps to go while riding through the thick peanut butter mud, my pedals came to a dead stop. I instantly knew what happened, my derailleur had snapped off! The most embarrassing part was my behavior right afterward. I cussed up a storm and even threw my bike. If anyone that saw my outburst reads this, I apologize for being a twit. You should have heckled the hell out of me for that, I deserved it.

Shortly after my outburst, I realized that no Master A’s had gone by, and I wasn’t too far from the pits, only a couple hundred yards. I could still salvage some series points if I hustled. I was about halfway there when Tre Hendricks and John McCaffrey passed, and as I entered the pits Erik Schultz passed. Now since I was planning on racing the SSCXWC after my race, my pit bike was set-up as a single speed. The gearing was enough to keep anyone else from catching me, but not enough for me to be able to make up any ground on Schultz, resulting in yet another 5th place finish. That’s my 3rd time finishing 5th this year.

Race 2:
After finishing the Master Race, I collected my dead soldier of a geared bike from the pit and went to line up on the Single Speed. At least I knew it working ok. For those of you unfamiliar with Single Speed racing, it is as much a spectacle, if not more, than actual racing. Single Speed racing likes to think of itself as the James Dean of the cycling world. A bit of a rebel that likes to make a parody of normal racing. To where taking it serious and actually competing is frowned upon by many. To that end, a soap sud machine and giant putt-putt like windmill were added as additional obstacles to the course.

While there would be a handful of guys off the front actually racing for first, the remaining 200 or so participants would be doing nothing but riding for fun, myself included. Even if I hadn't raced already, I wouldn't be able to keep up with the winners, so this was nothing more than a time to have fun. The start was pure pandemonium. We started lined up side by side, 200 wide. It felt like a scene from Braveheart, with a pack wild maniacs charging for the hole shot. It was just crazy, but a blast. Although after about 30 mins, it started to become a more torturous than not, at that point I had been going for an hour and a half, and I was a bit tired of barriers and run-ups. Luckily I got some beer hand-ups to ease the pain and help me finish the race, coming in around 26th.

While I didn't get the victory I have been searching for, and suffered yet another mechanical/mishap, I had a blast, although I think next year I might stick to spectating the SSCXWC. Then again, maybe not.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Barton Park

The weather forecasters got it right for once and we were rewarded with a nice wet day of Cyclocross. It was the annual return to Barton Park, a misleading name as most of the race takes place at the County’s gravel quarry, next to the park. And as you’d expect, there was no shortage of rock. And while there was a good amount of mud, it was more if the gritty, eat your shift housing alive, kind of mud, as opposed to the stick to everything make your bike weigh a ton variety. Either way, it made for an enjoyable ride for some. Unfortunately it was really mean to some others. I think it was at the end of the B/SS race that somebody crashed real hard on an off-camber decent, requiring an ambulance trip, and a change in the course to keep the lawyers at bay. This took out the tricky off-camber and the long run-up afterwards, replacing it with a flat section and another big concrete barrier. The course was also mean to Margi, who crashed hard and wisely dropped out. She has a pretty nasty abdominal bruise. Hopefully she’ll heal quick, or is it quickly…no quick…no quickly….let's just say get well soon.

As for me, I am pleased to say that I didn’t have any mechanicals, flats, loose bolts, slipping breaks or any other of the myriad of maladies that seem to follow me like hippies on tour with the Dead (knock on wood). The course, similar to last year, was a pretty flat and fast course, and before the race I was predicting that the race would become a duel of group riding tactics. With several long flat stretches, any advantage someone could get in the technical parts, could be easily brought back by a couple of chasing riders. That being the case, I felt it was going to be important to be near the front to jump with an early break. Unfortunately I had a bad start, going from the front row to 15th or so. I frantically moved back up to the top 5. Got caught behind a little slip on a slippery slope, losing a little (see the 1’06” mark in the video below). This had me riding fast, fighting back to the front just as Tre made a break. Good timing for me, as I had the momentum to catch up to him quickly and we were able to separate from the pack, with Erik Schultz bridging up to us a half lap later. We opened a pretty sizable gap from the next group behind us, and it quickly became clear it was a battle for 1-2-3, something like a game of 5 card stud, it would be a matter of playing your cards right. To be honest I know less about this type of racing strategy than I do about poker, which is to say absolutely nothing. This is only my 5th year racing cross, and I have only raced MTBs for 4 years. I don’t do the road thing. For this reason, I just don’t get it. So now I find myself racing with 2 other guys and I am trying to figure out how I am going to not finish 3rd, while trying to remember my history of mechanicals on this course and realize I should be glad if I can keep it together and finish 3rd. For the next few laps, every once in awhile one of us would attack, and the others would respond, while alternately accusing the others of doing too much wheel sucking. Then with 3 laps to go, as we got mixed up with a rider from the A field, Tre attacked on a stretch where we couldn’t immediately get around the A rider. Once we got around him, I realized Tre’s lead didn’t seem to be growing too much, so I worked on closing the gap without putting in too much of an effort to kill myself. I guess Tre started losing air in his rear tire (that’s what you get for riding Tufos) and we were able to close the gap within a lap. Sometime later as we were all taking it a bit easy, another A rider caught us from behind, I jumped his wheel then attacked. Tre, with his bad tire couldn’t respond, and Erik and I opened a gap. Now it looked like I wasn’t gonna get 3rd! So, how not to finish 2nd…. Good question. I tried to go too early on the road by going around Erik as he sat on someone else’s wheel. He was able to respond, then went around me on a section I rode a little slower, giving him a small 20 foot gap with a half lap to go. I worked to close the gap, but just couldn’t get the job done and came across for 2nd. Yes, I have every reason to be psyched, unfortunately I am left with a good case of racers remorse, a “what if I had….” feeling, where I sit here and rerun the race in my head like an episode of Twin Peaks, trying to make some sense of it, to figure out what I should have done to pull out the win.

Like I said, I know next to nothing about strategy in these things, but I think it is safe to say, it is more of a fine art, than a science. Too bad I suck at art.

Here’s video from yesterday’s race, you can see me at the 1’05" and 1’36” mark.

Links to a couple photos and if you buy one I’ll autograph it for you :)
Over the barrier:

Into the finish