Sunday, September 30, 2007

Month of Mud - Grove City

8th place masters - 4 laps at 47.42

Last year Grove City was my first attempt at a cyclocross. Didn't go very well, here's a hint, a heavy full-suspension bike does not make a good cyclocross bike. Last year I did three laps in 45 minutes, was lapped by a sport rider and had to end my race there.

This year, I hoped that the 29er would be a much better bike. Got to Grove City early and had a really good warmup. The course was pretty much the same as last year, but it was being run backwards. We all lined up on the pavement start, and off we went. I couldn't stick with the front of the pack, as most of them were road riders and I just don't have that burst that's needed.

Did a prologue lap then we started the course. Very quickly we get to a double barrier. The Mammoth race really helped my technique, and I felt I got through the barriers pretty quickly. The course then heads downhill, takes a sharp right into a root-filled trail, then gravel road, and then some mini-singletrack with a sharp hill or two and some mud.

This section is where I did my best. Every lap I would catch several cyclocross riders. The sharp turns through the roots were no problem for the dos salsa. The gearing was perfect for the short sharp hills, as were the tires. I also held my own in the baseball field part of the course. I was able to really take the turns quickly.

But on any firm straightaway, the cyclocross bikes were geared such that I couldn't stick with them.

Anyway, on the first lap this guy who appeared to be in my class decided to shoulder me off the course. I'm not sure why as we weren't battling for first place or anything. I shouted some clever sarcastic remark to him, and then quickly passed him after a few turns.

Somewhere along the way, he passed me. I don't really remember when. At the end of the second lap, I decided I wouldn't let him finish before me. I really picked up the pace to see if I could track him down. After about half a lap, I saw him. Slowly started to reel him in on the "off road" sections. At one point on a steep dirt hill, I passed him on the third lap. I kept ahead of him for a bit until we got to the flat straight sections, and he would get ahead of me.

Fourth and final lap. He pulls ahead of me on the paved road section, but again I am right on his tail on the technical section. The race ends on the paved road, and he pulls ahead a bit. I finished probably less than five seconds behind him. We talk at the end, congratulate each other, and I find out he wasn't even in my class. Ah well, it did motivate me though.

The good news: I wasn't lapped this year. I did four laps this year in the time I did three laps last year!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Month of Mud - Bavington

12th place masters - :56.27

One of my favorite race sites. Mark and I got to the course early, registered, and then went for a ride. Mark had never been to Bavington, so as a warmup we rode probably about six miles of the course. Slight changes had been made to the course from the year before. Most of the changes were slight except for somewhere near the middle they put in a new steep, short downhill - a bit of foreshadowing.

While Mark and I were hanging out waiting, Joe B rides over to us. I can't believe that he'd already be done with his race, he was back too quickly. Notice immediately that he is not himself. Turns out that he crashed hard on the new downhill section. We weren't sure what he hurt, but it was obvious he hurt something. I helped him load his bike and sent him on his way to the hospital. It turns out that he had a partially collapsed lung and some sore/broken ribs. I am often amazed by the lack of injuries in bike races. Everyone rides harder than they normally would, must pass people, and ride trails that you haven't been on much.

Anyway, race started late, but finally it was my turn. We were released one minute apart as part of a time trail. I really like this concept as you are not all bunched up going in the singletrack. And when you do catch someone, it's usually one person at a time. Jerry, who is 71, went off two before me. It's inspiring to see someone of that age out competing. I hope I can do the same some day.

3, 2, 1... and off I go. This year the trails are completely dry, and I easily make it up the first windy root-filled slope. I also easily make it up the hill that comes after the first road crossing. Both of these were problems last year, probably due to the rain burst that had come through.

I quickly pass Jerry, but not too much later I see another racer, Charlie, slowly gaining on me. I picked up the pace to hold him off as long as possible, but not too long after I make room for him to pass. I then try to stick with him to help improve my pace. He slowly pulls away from me, both in the technical tight turns, and also in the areas where you can just bash your pedals.

The trail, one of my favorites, is in great condition the whole way through. I'm making pretty good time, though in the middle somewhere, I go through that phase of wondering why I'm out there, that perhaps it wouldn't be such a bad idea to pull over for a bit, sit down, and ponder life's mysteries. But at some point that passes.

I make it up every single hill this race, and not once do I need to get off and stretch my back, big improvement over last year! I had also left the big ring on the bike, which was a great move. I was able to use it quite a bit, even with the different gearing of the 29er.

Over the course of the race, I was passed by about four racers, and I passed about five. I think I may have only passed one of the guys from my class, I think the rest were sport racers.

About half way through the lap, I have to make a left turn where usually I would go right. Immediately I realize it's the new trail as it's still really soft, not worn in yet. I can see why Joe wrecked. The trail heads left, then a hard sharp right down the steep downhill. The downhill is mostly hidden by some brush, so unless you set up for it right it would be easy to take a bad line. Needles to say, after Joe's wreck I run/slide my bike down the hill.

Soon after I come out on a road, turn left, and then another left back into the woods. It's a definite hike a bike section. Very, very steep hill I take my bike up. Even lose my shoe part way up. But this section is worth it as the last two miles are a lot of quick ups and downs. If hit right not a lot of pedaling is needed to get up the hills. Almost near the end of the race, I hear my tire rubbing on something. Started to ignore it but thought better of it. Looked down and noticed my front skewer lever was hanging down. Uh oh. I have to stop and tighten it, losing about a minute, then finished the race.

Finished much better than last year. Couldn't do an exact comparison due to the trial changes, but taking into account that we were in the woods more and on the road less, I think I improved quite a bit over last year!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Month of Mud - Mammoth Park

4 laps 10 miles
9th place Masters - 53.09

The last two years I race in beginners, this year I've decided it's time to move up to Masters, now that I'm the ancient age of 45. Now I used to think Master's racers would be slower as they are older, but as I've found out from the spring races, that is NOT the case. They are just racers who are a little older. In fact when I looked at the MoM races from last year, the master racers were just as fast as the sport racers.

Missed Mountwood last year, so course was new to me. The course works it's way around a park. It weaves back upon itself then heads out into a field. Only one real hill, and it's placed right after two barriers.

I tried to take off with the pack, but was about midpack. Got through the first third of the course pretty well, actually passing guys on their cyclocrosses that couldn't take the turns as tight as the mountain bikes. Really didn't do well on the barriers, will have to practice that a bit more.

I did all four laps!! I did not get lapped therefore I did the entire race. I felt like I rode a real consistent race, I think all four lap times would've been very close time-wise. I feel like if I could get off the start line faster, I might be able to hold my place. But as it stands I tend to drop midpack very quickly.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Tour de Strongland

Approx. 12 miles - 2nd place Master's class - 1:13

Arrived and registered. Warmed up for about 15 minutes; arrived at the starting line. It had rained a bit in the morning, but it hadn't rained for over a week. I wasn't worried about the trails, but thought the rocks might be slick.

And off we go. My thought was to stay in the front half of the pack off the start line. The first two miles is gravel road before it heads into the woods. I found myself all the way in the back of the pack. I realized quickly I don't have the sprinting ability of the other guys. I made a quick strategy revision. I decided to keep a steady pace, and try to pass once in the woods and rocks.

On the gravel road I passed two people, then saw the course veering hard to the left into the woods up a small but steep trail. Having ridden this trail a lot, I knew what gear to be in. I quickly pass two more riders that misjudged the hill. Quickly got to the creek crossing, and passed two more riders that took the wrong line.

I now headed up the rocky winding trail that led to the top of the ridge. There was not room to pass on this section, unless the rider in front of you misjudged the rocks. My new 29er rolled over the rocks rather easily, and I was able to pass a few more riders that didn't navigate the rocks well.

I played some head games with a few riders in front of me. I would tell them I was behind them, or make some braking noise to let them know I was close. They would then use a lot of energy to increase the pace. I kept my pace the same knowing I'd catch them on the next technical section. We popped out of the woods and headed down toward the first bridges of the day.

I knew from the past that after the narrow bridges, the trail would head up hill. In fact three hills with small plateaus separating each. As we start to head up the first hill, I quickly pass two more riders. To keep my back pain at bay, I have to get in an easier gear and spin, but since I can now lock my front shock and the fact that I'm pedaling a light bike, I am able to keep a good pace up the hills.

I approach the next hill, and can see that the riders in front of me are unaware it's around the next corner. Again I shifted in preparation, and got past another rider or two on the short hill.

I was now coming upon the hill that just killed me last year. It's a long double track that is steep, levels off, steep, levels off, and then steep again. Last year I didn't have the gas to make the hill, and walked most of it. This year, I kept slow and steady and passed three more riders. Though some young kid went blowing by me up the hill. But it was clear he was not in my class.

Started heading down hill and back in to the woods. I took a bad line and was headed for a big hole. I was preparing for an endo, but the new shock got me through it. The rider behind tried to pass, but I held him off.

Made my way through the twisting rocky section and saw the downhill section coming. I could see a rider ready to jump back on his bike to do the downhill section, so I yelled that I was coming through. I was really not close enough to yell it, but he let me pass anyway.

Wound through some fields and fire roads, and back into the woods, leaving the worst of the hills behind me. Kept two riders behind me for quite a while until I misjudged some rocks. They both went by, I caught one of them later.

Finally pop out on the gravel road that leads to the finish. I was passed at this point. At first disappointed but then I remembered I didn't have a big ring, had a bash guard instead. Only one person passed me because of it, so really not a problem.

Finished the race, knew I did well but I didn't know what place I came in until the results came in the mail. The fall race season looks promising. I'm racing better than ever, can't wait for the next one.