This is a chronicle or more a smattering of my USGP Cyclocross weekend. I haven't raced any Cross outside Chicago and really wanted to tackle some tough national caliber races this year, especially with Nationals and Master's Worlds being well within a drive this year. I loaded up the car last week and headed North to Madison for the USGP Cyclocross races. My goal was to race a tough course and figuratively get my butt kicked to become a better rider. Little did I know that figuratively would turn into literally in the first lap of my first race but I'll save that for later.
Friday started with a pre-ride of the course, which helped calm the nerves a bit, knowing what to expect on game day. The cool part about cross was that this pre-ride was everyone, so at the same time this middling cat 3 was battling his technical inabilities, the pros were also riding. I think that is one of the coolest things about bike racing, especially cross: you compete on the same course as the pros do and there are quite a few opportunities to interact with them. I have really struggled in the past with bike handling, one of the things that I try to do when pre-riding is try to follow folks that know what they are doing. On Friday, this took the form of Pro woman Kathy Sherwin from the Stan's No-Tubes team. I rode behind her for a few laps (I did let her know I was stalking her because I am a terrible bike handler), she laughed and welcomed me as her shadow. She was really helpful and gave this extreme amateur quite a few tips including some tire pressure tips that I would employ on Sunday.
Race 1 Saturday:
The conditions for Saturday's 2/3 race were dry and a little tacky from the morning dew. The course itself had some really long tempo sections on the flat upper section with a few technical pieces. The lower section had more off camber and a run up that was steep and unforgiving. I started about 6 rows back as I didn't register as early as I wanted to. As with most cross races, the start was a scrum and quite sketchy as it was on pavement in a pack of folks not necessarily in the right speed order. I wasn't aggressive enough from the gun and moved back a few places (my moving back in the pack would become a theme of the day). Once I found some clear air I was able to move up a little and I tried to break last in the corners to move past the slower folks. The race still was pretty packed together and as we entered a technical section, some Yahoo (read: D-Bag) plowed through apex of the corner knocking people everywhere. I took the worst of it and went down, really hard. At the time I didn't realize it but I was run over with the riding driving leaving a nice 7 inch tire mark on my tramp stamp area (no offense to those who have that tattoo, I'm sure it looks awesome). Mine however, hurts. I lost about 10 places and jumped right back on. The following lap was hard as I whacked my knee pretty good in the crash and it was starting to swell. I regained my rhythm at the start of lap 2 and was riding well, I was able to follow wheels and move up. Around one of the turns the guy I was following went down and I in turn, went down on top of him. The funny part was I couldn't liberate my Cronus (read: awesome new trek bike) from the carnage and each time I tried to pull it away I ended up further on top of the man. So after 2-3 humps of some very gentle kind middle aged man, I was finally back riding again. This didn't become humorous until later as the second crash really took the wind out of my sail for the day. The next lap was pain and annoyance but I did manage to ride it out cleanly. At that point, I just concentrated on riding technically sound, I wasn't going to win anything but needed something to focus on to get me through. It was like the feeling when the pack rides away from you and you just don't have the legs.
By the time I got back to the car, the sketch ball move by the other guy had been deemed as such by the peanut gallery of other riders and I discovered my new man stamp. Key Learnings: 1. you have to start harder and really get aggressive bc others are and if you don't match it, you're moving backwards. 2. Bandaging a man stamp alone is hard, taking a picture of it to text to family is harder.
Race 2 Sunday:
It rained all of Sunday morning. During warm-ups, I ended up under a tent courtesy of some guys from Iowa and then stood underneath a shelter as it rained really hard just before the start. I wasn't thrilled about the rain but I had had a full day contemplate Saturday's disappointment and really was hell bent on battling anything on Sunday. The course would be the main opponent. It was soaked and muddy. I utilized the tips from Kathy Sherwin on pressure and ran around 25-28 PSI for the soggy conditions. This really paid of as I was able to handle the bike better than every despite the ice rink I felt like I was riding on. I hadn't ever run anything that low but it worked for me. The start was a mess, as the guy in front of me didn't really want to pedal but I took a deep breath and chugged on. My goal was to have good clean laps and try to not rush, just stay up right and keep the bike in motion. I had an incident free first 2 laps and my spirits went up as I new I was having success riding that day. Randomly on lap 3 I did go down but I still have not idea how, all of the sudden I was sliding head first across the wet grass with the bike in the air. It was amusing, nothing hurt and I was back on my way only losing 2 positions. I went down a few other times, once on the sore knee, but it was only when I rushed did I have trouble, when I was patient and didn't try to do too much with the bike I was fine. I felt a lot better crossing the line on Sunday than Saturday as I rode the race more on my terms because I made better choices and was more resilient.
A few things I used that I hadn't in a while for the sloppy conditions that might help you in nasty conditions are: I got off the bike early and ran the technical sections that might knock folks down, it helped a ton to keep moving as other slowed down considerably with their indecisiveness. I also used the one leg out while cornering on some of the slippery sections, it helped a ton to stay on the back and not have to come to a complete stop. Last, I used not only my breaks (which didn't work that well) but the rougher less slick outside portions of the grass/course to help scrub speed before corners.
Keep in mind, I'm no expert, which is evidence by my mid pack results, but hopefully you were semi amused and if you're new to cross maybe some of the tips were helpful. The weekend was a blast on the whole and I can't wait for my next cross trip. I got to watch my first Pro cross race, with a world class field, and they put on a show. Those guys ride so hard, it's insane. The cleanup from Sunday is still going as it took 3 days to clear mud from every crevice, on my bike that is. I'm still pretty bandaged up and I can't wait for just the Powerbar logo to be the only thing adorning my man stamp area. I'm looking forward to getting back in the saddle in DeKalb on Sunday.
Big thanks to Rob at PPC for helping me get the rig in solid working order again. The support that PPC provides is awesome.
Tip your mechanic,