Monday, 26 September 2011

New Brighton Cyclocross 2011: An epic (failure) day in the rain and wind.

CX is many things: joyful, a great workout, extremely fun, hard as all get out, and sometimes disappointing. To win, you have to prepare properly with training and equipment, make some moves at the right time, be a bit lucky, stay upright, and stay out of trouble.

This was the second race of the CX season in the lower mainland/ metro Vancouver area. New Brighton park in Vancouver is a beautiful little gem that seems to be set aside exactly for cyclocross racing. I imagine that this is what CX racing in Belgium would be like. The course this year was outstanding: many 180 degree turns, 2 sand pit, some steep run/ride ups, a bit of pavement, and plenty of wet, off camber grass. 3 laps of the course on my preride, and I thought that I could figure out how to be quick enough for the day.

Being the first to be called up today based on my last result, I wanted to grab the holeshot and stay safe on the first corner and remaining 300 meters until past the barriers. Then, I thought, I could manage to find a small group including Tyler Dumont to work with to do damage on the field of riders. The field today was huge--8 rows of 6 across--nearly 50 guys in the masters 3/4 catagory.

Grabbing the holeshot. Photo credit: Dustan Sept.

Yet for all my preparation, grabbing the holeshot, being passed by Tony Bachler and Alex Cojacaru, I rationalized that 3rd wheel was fine on the pavement. It clearly was not.

Alex went and decked it on the first ride up 400 meters into the race. With a washed out front end, he went down hard. I was forced  to ride over him. Tony took off like a shot, while I de-tangled my bike from Alex's, and everyone came to a grinding halt. A bit too aggressive of a start, a bit overzealous on the part of my fellow racers to take a chance before we could get out of the danger zone. As I remounted, I heard a "fwuumping" from my tires. I thought that it was my brakes rubbing on the wheel (which it was, but more on the blow sidewall bead side of things), so I thought I could ride it out. Until I hit the sand.

In second after the crash. Dustan Sept photo credit.

What happens next was deja vu from 2009--BANG!!--the exact place in the race that I had the exact same blowout. This forced me to run the remaining half lap to the pits for a change. When it blew, I thought to myself "the poor bastard whose tire just blew--that's gotta suck". Until I reached around and checked my own tire, only to realize the dreaded truth. '
               How not to win a cross race: blow out the folding bead.

Not even one lap in. Less than 3 minutes into the race, my chances for another win were over. I had a great week of training, my bike prep was sound, but my fatal flaw (besides not being able to afford clinchers), was dropping my tire psi down below 40 right before the race to get a bit more traction for the wet course. 35-37 psi just does not cut the mustard for a guy my size at 6'3 and 180 lbs, and from now on, regardless of conditions, I will push 40 plus. You would think that I would learn? This is the 3rd race that this has happened, 2nd with the exact same bead blowout at New Brighton. Going from 1st to DFL again sucks. I managed to pick off a number of guys and end up 22nd. Not a bad number I must say, as it is my favourite. But just not a great placing in a cross race. Not really in any race.

It is uncanny to me how history repeats itself. I have seen this episode before, and it ends badly. Not to say that New Brighton was not epic--today was a mutha of a CX day--howling wind, blowing, pelting rain,  yet lovely warm temperatures in the mid teens. I dig the wet, mud, and wet, but please mother nature, keep the temperature at a balmy 16 degrees for the rest of the season. In 2009, I had the fortune to get around a crash and have a 2011 Tony Bachler-esque style of day, riding off the front alone for a lap and a half, until I flatted, went to DFL, watched Nic Hamilton ride off to victory, while I fought back for 16th. Today the disappointment was only 2 minutes into the race.

On a side note, I decided to run the sand every time. This was slower, but watching other riders painfully make their way across it gave me hope that I was doing the right thing. I was approaching a female rider, Alison Beamish,  as she struggled through the sand until I saw her come to a dead stall, and fall over into me and my bike as I passed her. She did not dismount when she could have, and ended up smacking my elbow pretty good, and catching my pedal in her back. I yelled out a loud word of pain and frustration (you can figure that one out). She approached me at the end of the race and told me about the mishap, and offered up "no hard feelings". She was pleasant, perhaps nervous talking to me, thinking that I would lash out for the lack of power in the sand. I told her it was cross racing, and that in the grand scheme of things, it is just for fun. No need to get all broken up about it. Which is true. All is fair in cross and war, I guess. It is a bike race, not child-rearing, or anything else with any major consequence to life. We are racing in BC, and not Europe. BC cross scene is still in its infancy. Perhaps even in it's conception. I hope her back is alright from my pedal. I will see about my elbow tomorrow.

After my blowout and the lead way out of reach, I thought of pulling the pin on the race, but decided to finish the race simply because of the level of exertion and stress that CX racing put on a racer. I cannot simulate what today was like in any type of training ride. I am happy to have finished, clawing my way back nearly 30 spaces.

Next week is Vanier. I had a great race at Vanier in 2009 on a double weekend, racing with Dave Broemling for the first 3 laps off the front, then being passed by Tim Abercrombie, eventually settling for 6 in losing  a sprint finish to Brian Postlethwaite. I hope that next week with be a better result, as I remember having "a stomach full of anger" after New Brighton. Perhaps I will have my revenge for this week's race at Vanier....then again, it is only a bike race. As much as I make this a big part of my life, it really is just fun.

Full Results:

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Refletions on a cyclocross clinic: Skills to work on

Start/Finish flats at Aldor Acres. I have my angry face on.

The School of Cross has come and gone, and I have a need to jot down some of the finer points that Mr. Schooler schooled us on. Cross is all about compartmentalizing each individual technique, obstacle, or challenge, completing it with the most efficient means possible using the least amount of energy. Essentially, cross racers are lazy. Or hasty, but highly skilled.... Hopefully. Be smooth, as Schooler definitely was, on all of his examples before we practiced.

On the race report via CX Magazine, Aaron writes

"The first clinic of the School of Cross series went off without a hitch on Saturday with over 20 degree Celsius weather kicking off the clinic, and it only got hotter. The morning started off with the basics: mounting, dismounting and shouldering, with more of the practice skills coming in the afternoon like bunny-hopping, cornering, stairs, barriers, and much more!"

So here are my two cents from the clinic. 

Dismounts: At the clinic, AS taught a different way to dismount by swinging the leg over, then grabbing the TT while approaching the obstacle (e.g. Barriers), saddle firmly attached to the hip for (always) three points of contact. The rider then dismounts and suitcases the bike over said obstacle. This sounds simple enough, but I managed to crash on my second go of this technique. Very different from keeping my hands on the hoods and approaching the barriers one leg over already. On bumpy terrain, this is difficult to keep the bike headed in a straight line. I experienced this at the race where I had to keep both hands firmly on the hoods heading into the very bumper terrain before the Aldor Acres barriers. Funny how old habits come back in times of stress.With 35 practice dismounts this evening, I think I have it now. 

Remounts: This one still needs a tonne of practice. Tonight I attempted 35 remounts. I think I hit 3 or 4 clean ones without a double left foot hop. A work in progress. It feels good to nail a proper remount. It does not feel good to nail your junk. As a bigger guy, I feel like I am going to break my frame or something else. Need more remounts to be more comfortable, so that it is second nature.

Shouldering: Piece of cake. I have the running down, no problems there. Except for the knocking of the saddle on the back of my head.  Keep the bike level with your shoulder so the saddle doesn't bump you in the back of the head when going up. Remember, small, quick steps, high cadence, and no sprinting. That is how you pull a muscle or exert too much energy. 

Putting all of these together (I know I have missed others) is key to being smooth, efficient, and quick. If you do all of them right every time, you might be Sven Nys. I am still figuring how to put a clean race together for everything that I have to deal with in a cross race. Fitness is big, knowing how to read a race is huge, lying in wait then pouncing is crucial. And technique.

Fitness/form, awareness, bike preparations, and technique are the few things you control in a CX race. Get good those four, then you can concentrate on your redlining. Practicing each compartmentalized skill makes things easier. When they are second nature, old habits will die.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Cyclocross BC Cup #1: Aldor Acres Race Report

Having missed all of last season with my shoulder/ribs/lung injuries/accident, I was pretty stoked to try my legs at the 2011 cyclocross season. I have been waiting two years now to compete again at my favorite cycling discipline, and the anticipation of September 4th, the first cross race of the season,  has been building.

My goal last year was to head into the first event and win the Cat.3/4 race, plain and simple. I thought my form was excellent and my confidence high last year, but a nasty right hander on a rural road descent had other ideas, and I was forced to miss the whole season laid up in bed. Fast forward one year, two surgeries, and a bunch more time spent on my CX bike, throw in a cross specific clinic with Aaron Schooler on Saturday, the day before at Queen Elizabeth Park, and you have a good build up for Sunday.

After spending all day with Aaron and 6 other guys doing 6 hours of drills, everything from dismounts, remounts, barriers, starts, bunny hopping, shouldering, off camber cornering, and 180 turns, the 7 of us were sunburned, hot, dry, and I was looking forward to using these skills on the race course the next day.

My typical pre-race meal of oatmeal, a glass of water, and a banana seemed to set me up as usual, but the night before at Slackjawjake's house had me eating two smokies and a scotch. Not ideal for a dinner the night before, but that was what he was serving.

I arrived at the farm just after 10, grabbed my bike for a preride and managed about 3 laps before the start of the Cat.3/4 race. With the changes to the catagories, this year my race time is changed to 12:00, and I race in the Master's 3/4. 15 points brings an upgrade to Master's 1/2. The course was just as I had remembered it: A fast start finish area for about 800 meters, bumpy turny double track, leading into the barriers, some dipsy-do turns, a steep run up for 40 meters into singletrack switchbacks with climb until the descent over rooty technical trail, a tight 180 into fast, bumpy, doubletrack with a left into the maze section, popping us out onto a hill leading us back to the start finish. The course was just over 2.7 kms. No real changes from 2009, save for the maze that had been created in the grove of trees. It was here that I attempted to run the maze, but after talking to Schooler, he suggested that running might take up too much energy for the amount of time one might gain. I told him I would try it anyway.

With preregistering, I thought I would get a front row call up. Because I signed in late, I managed 2nd row. Not bad, but first row would have been nice.

With Cyclocross, a good start is important for getting out to the front and of the way of traffic, and staying safe. Also, it is key to go as hard as you can, and then harder on the next lap, each lap piling on the hurt and being a sufferfest for the duration. If you lose contact with the front off of the gun, the race can be lost on the first lap as the exertion level is supremely high, and seems to just go up.

The first lap was fast--very fast as I tried to get to the front as quickly as possible to avoid a pile-up or eating dust for the rest of the race. Literally, eating dust kicked up from all the guys in front on a hot, dry day. Things went well with me in third behind Alex Cojacaru and Jeff Haninnen, as I yelled at Jeff to keep up the pace. The run up was long, but short steps and even steady pacing kept my legs and heart in check. By lap three, it was all but Alex, a steed cycles rider whom I do not know, and myself. Steed was tailing up for third, and Alex and I would battle the 45 minutes for first. Alex was running the maze, I stayed behind him on all of my laps but for lap for, when I tried to run it once.

On lap five, I managed to take the lead, and saw the 3 to go sign on the lap counter. With 2 to go, Steed was still there but fading, and Tyler Dumont had managed to pick his way through the pack from 6 row start to make it up to fight for 3 place.

This worried me. I did not want the very fast Tyler Dumont riding with Alex and I due to the fact that 1: I wanted to keep this party a two person show, 2: Adding another bike to the mix could "help"me finish as high as third, and 3: I was worried about losing a sprint to either two guys.

When the 1 to go sign showed up, Alex and I threw it down, not drafting off of each other on the doubletrack road after the start finish, but chosing our own lines, Alex on the bumpier right, and me on the left.  I yelled at him to keep the pace high as we had daylight from Tyler. I pushed as hard as I could, and he pulled ahead of me before the barriers.I tried to rationalize this as "Second wheel is the best place to be coming into the finish", and attempted to pass him on the run up, running even with him, and then backing off. as we hit the top of the run-up. We singletracked it along for a while and he cooked the 180 degree corner before the descent wide, giving me plenty of room to pass him, but I did not take it. On the doubletrack into the maze, I managed to big ring it and pass him, getting to the corner first, and riding the maze. On the second to last switchback in the maze, I heard trouble coming from his bike, and then nothing. He had dropped his chain!

Hearing nothing behind me, I flew as hard as I could to the finish line. With 200 to go, I turned and looked behind to see nobody coming. I sat up, fists in the air, let out a yell of "Yes" or something like it, and felt good. Tyler Dumont rolled in a bit after me. He managed to take 2nd. Alex dropped to 4th in the last 400 meters. Unlucky.

First race, first win of the season. A very good feeling to come across the line first. It only took me a year to achieve my goal of winning Aldor Acres. I now have 8 points now, and am 7 away from moving to the dreaded Masters 1/2 catagory, where I might get shelled. Perhaps it is where I should be? I will find out with a couple of results from New Brighton on the 25th.

Funny how in some races when things are going badly, you hope for an opportunity, a mechanical for sometimes yourself, or for your competition. Today when it came for Alex, I felt bad for him to race as well as he did, and then to have it lost in the last 400 meters. I felt elation to fly to the finish alone. I have been that guy in a race, flatting, dropping chains, or whatever. That is bike racing, and preparation of your bike and body are key. It seems that my bike was tip top. Next time I think I will not have Slackjaw Jake give me a prerace meal. Or maybe he knows the secret?

CX Magazine's Race Report.

Full results:

No pictures were taken of my win. Boooooo! But I will include a picture of my first win, one that happened 2 years before this one, in 2009, on a cold, wet, dark day.

That Goofy XC Run Quarter Marathon

Sunday the 27th 2011 saw my second running of the Goofy XC run in Kamloops. I had run this race before, except only on a different course. After 2009, Sherry Maligaspe changed it to be a bit less up and down, but still challenging nonetheless. Arriving at the start I one to be there. The start had been changed to a new location.

After racing down to the new start/finish area, I was able to get my bib organized and a brief 12 minute warmup in before the 9AM start. Remembering 2009 when I went out way to fast and faded to 7th after leading the charge up the mountain, I decided to hang back and run my own race. This was my undoing, as two guys off the top charged off the trail and opened up a tremendous pace. I decided to let them go and I would try to maintain and win 3rd, if not catch them down the course.

The course was tough, and I just did not seem to be in the mood to chase the two down the trails, so I tried for a steady, consistent effort that would allow me to push on the flats, try not to crash on the downhills, and chug uphills. For 10.5kms, the race seemed to tick by quickly, even if my watch was not showing that. I managed to cross the line in a time of 51:30, one minute slower than two years ago, on a less difficult course.

I managed to cross the line holding onto third, 3 minutes ahead of the next competitor. Not a tonne of competition at this race like in years past, as I suspect many were either involve or doing the Ironman Canada in Pentiction on the same day. Granted, the Rick Brewster who won is a star on the trails of Kenna, and Hans Aabye, who placed second even after rolling his ankle, is a pretty accomplished marathoner himself. A fun day in the trails of Kenna Cartwright. I think I will make this part of my regular run on my way back to Kamloops!