Sunday, 13 November 2011

South Surrey Cyclocross Race Report: CX at it's most difficult

Side hill Mudslide. Photo: Doug Brons.
As the cyclocross season wears on, the races get more and more draining and difficult, week in week out. Fast races in September and October change like the autumn leaves into ugly, cold, slower races in November and December. November 12th was no exception.

Raceday Saturday felt like the longest day ever without any sunlight. It started dark and early for me at 5:00 am, when the CBC announcer blared into my bedroom. I put my contacts in, grabbed my gear and headed downstairs. This was just the beginning of a day that made me feel happy to be alive, grateful for warmth, good food, and beer.

Arriving at the bike park in South Surrey at 6:10 am, Brian Gunn, Ken Leggatt, and myself quickly picked up our wheelbarrow full of goodies, and headed out to mark our part of the course. This years course was easily the best cyclocross course we have had in the lower mainland, and it had everything: stairs, a FLY OVER (awesome) taking riders over a cedar fence, side hill /off camber grass, false flats, a little bit of a pump track, a run up, pavement, a huge mud puddle, and grass. We were in charge of the barriers/ stairs/ dirt jumps area.

One awesome flyover. 

4 hours worth of taping the course, and the DE crew had brought Jeff Hanninen's vision to reality. This was a huge effort by our team to make this course happen, a course similar to previous iterations. By 10 am, everything was in place. I took 60 minutes to get dressed and get warm at my in-law's house close by. Getting back to the park at 11 am, I started my warm-up only to have the rain begin to tease us. Warm-up is a misnomer, as there was nothing warm about riding around the course before the race.  The weatherman got it right today. Nailed it down exactly. The forecast called for rain beginning at noon. The day started 3 degrees and dry. You can imagine what 3 degrees and soaked to the bone felt like...

In the Masters 3/4 race, there were upwards of 31 starters, a really good sized group. I had a cherry call up position, again called first due to my 42 points. Taking the line, I talked to Simon Pulfrey, who was off of his full suspension from Vanier CX, and riding a borrowed CX bike from Kim Steed.

If I were new to cyclocross racing, the race today would have been my first and last race ever. Mud, water, muddy water, rain, cold, and cold. Did I mention it was wet? So wet that my hands stopped working. I could not feel the shifters or brakes, and had to look to see what I was doing. Water logged shoes, water heavy clothes, mud everywhere-- this race was a proverbial war of attrition. Just staying upright on the bike was effort enough. Going fast was difficult due to the bitter, brittle cold wind and rain pelting the riders and course.

Cold, cold, cold. My shoulders tell the story.

I had planned to follow John Irvine and Simon, then Tyler. I did not see or hear the super fast James Cameron called to the line, but he was there. Settling into fifth wheel as the gun went off, I was happy with the position I was in. But after lap one, it was clear just how big the gap was forming at the head of the race.

All tactics went out the window once I managed to crash on the off camber-mud-side hill, get up, and crash immediately after that. On the second crash I injured my left calf, hobbling my run along the muddy side hill. The most spectacular crash I witnessed was at the north end of the course. Coming off of the curb into the 180 turn around/road section, Alex Cojacaru went over the bars, slid along the ground face and chest first while still clipped in, and had the bike come over his head and land on his back. It looked horribly painful, but as I passed him, he told me he was okay. He finished a lap down--I bet it was due to some serious pain he suffered in that spill.

James Cameron, director of Avatar and Titanic and eventual winner of the race, had no problems with the sidehill. He, Irvine, and Pulfrey laid down a a serious tear on the first 3 laps to make everyone chase. After my crash, it was all about staving off the racers behind, and trying to chase wheels in front. My fall pushed me out of the top 5, and into the top 15. Over the next 4 laps, I listened to my good friend Nick Gill on the sidelines give me little challenges to pull me back up in the race.

On the straights, uphills, and descents, I managed to gap riders behind, and pull up to those in front. But I was slow in the corners--something I need to work on in wet conditions. Pushing hard on the straights allowed me to get back some positions, eventually catching Ryan Newsome (who was having brake problems), and finally the clean-leg-shaven Ian Hoffman right before the finish line. He must have been using an embrocation on his legs. That is the only explanation there is to be able to wear shorts on this day. I ended up in 7th place, well back from winner Cameron by about 2 minutes. I am happy with this hard fought result, especially because I had no mechanicals, and I fought back from 15th to 7th. Satisfied to finish this one safely, without too much hypothermia.

Not my hardest effort this season, but the conditions dictated the day.

To say that this race was hard is an understatement. Punishing, torturous, painful, character building, debilitating, crappy, awful, bone-chilling, and horrible are just a few words I would use to describe what we all shared as racers on the 12th. My hands were so wet and cold that 10 minutes in, I could hardly feel the shifters to downshift and brake. One of the hardest races I have ever done.

On a tire note, my Maxxis front Raze and rear Mud Wrestler gave me no troubles this time at 42 psi. A bit high for the mucky conditions in part, but I had no problems. I swapped out my Vitorria's CX Pros for Mud Wrestler's all around on my pit wheelset that I didn't have to use this week, thank goodness. I really can't wait for hydraulic disc brakes to come stock on CX bikes. This race took some major life out of my rims.

Special thanks to Jeff Hanninen for all his work on getting this thing up and running. the Daryl Evans Racing Crew, Matt Hornland and the Mighty Crew for taking over the running of the race, Nick Berry for the food--chili and smokies--these were very much welcomed, and Nick Gill for cheering and helping me out of my shoes after the race. And to anyone else who braved the conditions. This was a day that we will all remember--hardcore european cyclocross at its best.

Sorry to the old bitty in the parking lot who caught me in my knickers, post race, as she drove past.

Official Race Report at South Surrey CX
Report at Cyclocross Magazine

Photos are at:

Doug Brons' Flickr site
Daryl Evans Racing Flickr site