Monday, December 14, 2009

2009 Cyclocross Nationals -- Bend, OR

I flew into Bend, Oregon with cycling rival and team Chocolay Ace Hardware all-rounder, Dave Grant, for a cardiovascularly challenging week of cross country skiing and cyclocrossing. After 3 days of ski camp, I took a recovery day before the cyclocross nationals race. The weather was frigid all week; the below-zero snow temps made for extremely slow, challenging skiing. With daytime temps in the 20's and low 30's, we anticipated a very slippery cyclocross course.

On Friday afternoon I suited up for a pre-ride of the course. In warm weather, it would have been a fast track with many flat sections and limited climbing. However, the weather was ideal for creating ice and after 2 days of racing everything was packed down into a slick, rock-hard surface. Even the grassy sections that were not covered in snow were extremely treacherous. Bone crushing crashes through these off-camber ice rinks were clearly foreshadowed.

There were only two true dismounts on the course: a double set of barriers and a set of stairs with about 30 steps. Several tight turns, a few of them 180 degrees, would slow down the pace and require powerful accelerations to stay with a group. It seemed that such accelerations would not be possible due to the unusually low coefficient of static friction between rubber and ice. Felling lucky to have kept the bike upright for three laps, I terminated my pre-ride and rode for a short time on asphalt.

Dave and Tony Lackey (who joined us on day 2) raced at 9:30 am on Saturday. The conditions were almost exactly the same as what I had experienced during my pre-ride. The Ace boys got terrible call-ups behind more than 100 other Masters 40-44 racers. They both kept the rubber down as they avoided the start line pileup that broke at least one collarbone. I watched in awe as crash after crash after crash brought racers to the ground. The course was a veritable ice rink. Dave and Tony stayed mostly on their bikes and essentially held their starting positions. They finished about as well as you'd expect from a couple of Ace chumps, 110th and 136th place. The winner of their race completed 6 laps, Dave and Tony were pulled before they completed 5. Deprecation aside, they did well to escape the race without any major injuries (bruised ego excluded).

My race, Masters 30-34, was scheduled for 3:30 pm. By then the temps were in the low 40's and the sun had worked its magic on the ice rink, turning it into a wet, sloppy mess. I was called-up about 50th position behind all the Category 1 and 2 and many Category 3 racers. All of the 4's were behind me. The gun sounded and the fun began. I came to a complete stop at the first turn as the group slowed in front of me. At the next straight stretch, I accelerated as hard as I could and got off the beaten path to pass about 15 guys. From there I just dug in and tried to hold my position.

Photo by Lucian Jones

The course was very much unlike what I had ridden the previous day. My Michelin Mud tires hooked up perfectly and only rarely did I lose traction. The pace picked up as the riders stretched out over the course and traffic became less of an issue. Instead, braking was my biggest challenge. I did poor job of setting up my brakes after disassembling and reassembling the bike for the trip to Oregon. The slow-mo pre-ride didn't reveal the issue, so it wasn't until I was racing that I realized that I'd have to drag a toe Flinstones-style to make it through some fast downhill corners.

Photo by Lucian Jones

I occasionally heard people yelling out positions and could tell I was somewhere around 30th place. Finishing in the top 30 seemed like a reasonable goal, so I tried to pick off a few guys here and there and avoided getting passed. I was yo-yoing with a guy until the end of the last lap when he spun out in front of me while going up a mud hill. I was pretty sure that move guaranteed me a top 30, but wasn't sure until I saw the results that evening. 25th. Nice. I was muddy.

Photo by Tony Lackey

Photo by Lucian Jones

This marks the end of my 2009 cycling season. Its been quite an adventure and I'm looking forward to a minimum 30 day bike hiatus. Time to ski! Thanks to Matt Palomaki/SISU Cycles for all the support and to the team for a successful road season. Special thanks also to Lucian and Sarah Jones for providing an amazing room and board hook-up in Bend(and phenomenal photos, and a vehicle to drive, and anything else we could have needed). You guys were truly amazing! Thanks also to Henry for the exceptional cheering and motivation.

Henry, a cheering monster
Photo by Lucian Jones

Check back in January/February to hear about how badly DG gets whooped in the Noque. Also, if for some reason you want to see pictures of Dave and Tony, or a shot of me with Miss Alaska teen, check out the photo album for the trip here. All of the good shots were taken by Lucian -- Dave, Tony and I took the rest.