Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cyclocross So Far

Once my road season came to a close with Cherry Roubaix, there seemed to be an empty spot in my life. No more races to look forward to, no extensive planning to do every week or so to do just so I can go away and race my bike. School started and time became something I felt like I had to ask for, though we all know you can't create time. Matt planted a seed long ago of racing cyclocross, and although I was glad to have my season wound down, I missed racing. After deciding to race 'cross for Matt I was determined to have fun first and if results came with it then it's a bonus. That seed that Matt planted grew and I finally am finding a groove out on the CX bike.

I had a rough start to the season, my first race being a Wednesday night race in Houghton in between studying and sleeping. I fueled myself up with coffee that afternoon and pumped out a solid second place. I'd say that got me excited and thinking, "hey, maybe I can do this and be successful too." Not to mention I did this on my single-speed commuter bike (Specialized Tricross)which is nothing extravagant. I knew when I came home for races I would have a beautiful Titanium Sisu ride that was decked out for cyclocross specifically and would hopefully be the ticket to even more success.

My first experience in a REAL DEAL 'cross race was at Al Quaal. This used to be one of my favorite places to ride bikes when I was younger and was my favorite cross country course in High School when I ran. Those combined had me pretty excited to go back and put the two skills in a blender and see what kind of crazy concoction came out. The course was brutal, including everything that a good cross course should. There was sand, mud, singletrack, more sand, fast decents, pavement, crazy taped off sections you have to weave through, and of course the barriers. I had crappy pedals on my bike that were hard to get out of and eventually the pedals and the barriers caused one heck of a crash that has already been posted and highlighted in the video from Al Quaal. It is definitely in the books as one of my most impressive crashes for the season. Not proud, but it made for a good laugh.

My 'cross season hasn't been the smoothest. I like to joke that it's not a good day unless I go home bleeding. Up until today that was the case. I won't go on describing every crash I've had, but I now have just as many scars from the 'cross bike as I did from the road bike this year, actually I think it's more after this weekend. Anyways, as I said, it's been a rough ride.

Today was my breakthrough though. The Tylers were present to dish out their dose of punishment and for the first time in my UPCROSS history I was able to hang with the main group for more than just one lap. I maintained contact for about 3-4 laps before finally succumbing to my own frustrations after almost biffing, but making a good weight readjustment and somehow saving myself from my usual demise on an unsuspectingly easy corner. After I calmed myself down from this scare, I found a rhythm using my criterium skills on the pavement golf cart paths and pounding out the gravel and dirt paths. With six laps to go I was in a groove, everything was flying by, I was focused and I felt great, finally. This only fueled that groove even more because I was so happy to finally feel good on the 'cross bike. Even though I knew it was too late I pushed hard and passed those that I could and used it as practice and encouragement to do better next time.

I have to admit that I'm getting a bit tired as road season is definitely over and as 'cross season winds down I'm looking forward to a little time off before the snow starts flying and the skis need waxing and good use. After UPCROSS championships I will be taking 3-4 weeks off from any heavy training and will begin to start my winter lifting regimen slowly before getting on the skis and the indoor trainer. I'll hopefully have even better news by the end of the season, but until then I've got an exam to study for and a bed to sleep in. Stay posted!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Peak to Peak Report

This is me savoring the pre-race routines (and, coincidentally, tightening a shoe-more to come on that). Peak to Peak, a premium fall race held at Crystal Mountain Resort, was a surprise treat. After three weeks of well, very, trying times, Anna and I packed up for a weekend getaway to Manistee. She was kind enough to encourage me to do the race, sensing that if I didn't blow off some steam, I was bound to punch through drywall or something equally foolish.

With a 12:35 start, we slept late, had a gallon of nail floater coffee, the first of our own eggs scrambled, and some leftover sandwich. We pulled into the lot an hour and a half early (!) to pick up the packet. Farmers were setting up for market while other set up a petting zoo, pumpkin carving exhibit, and more wholesome things! Really, what an amazing venue for families! The resort also ran the lifts for free, so spectators lined the brutal climb up the back of these hills.

Most of the course was fast, swooping curves through the forest with occasional windy, windy double-track. Group tactics were a factor as gaps opened and closed while riders pulled through to keep the pace high. Then, near the end of the 11.5 mile lap, a few hills appear from nowhere, a painful finish to each lap. First, you hit some smaller gradual undulations, then a steep, sandy step up, then some more bench-cut singletrack before a dropped to the base of the ski hill behind the above picture. The first steep, sandy step and this ski hill beast really decide the race.

With so much time, I had a seven mile warmer on 115. I was going to debut my skinsuit, but was clad with arm and knee warmers for the ride. The wind whipped oak leaves everywhere, and my mind was clearing in the cold air. I didn't know what my body would do after six days off the bike, but the atmosphere of the day had me feeling really positive.
The start was a confusing mess, with the Expert 40-49s all over the start line in front of the young experts and my 25 deep 30-39 class. Whatever the case, it was quickly sorted out on the uphill start. I let ten or so guys sprint away and settled in, working hard, but not too painful. I wasn't feeling smooth on the sweeping corners, but as gaps opened up, I knew I needed to bridge. At a couple points, I called to guys to let me take a pull. A few stayed and some dropped as I caught and passed groups and felt better by the minute.

My legs were definitely shocked by the finish climbs on lap one. I knew before the race that hills, and the missing torque right now, were going to be a weakness. It hurt, but I just tried to spin smooth circles and keep breathing. I knew this hill was going to break me, or maybe it was mental weakness.

Lap two was quiet and there seemed to be much less traffic in front of me. The really fast single-speeders were gone and it was just a few expert guys, and most of the pro men's field, in front of me. It was quiet as riders leaned and swooped and battled the wind. Finally, at the end of lap two, I caught the group I would end with. There was a Fisher 29er Elite rider, surprisingly, and Rochester Bike Shop endurance ace Adam Naish. After we realized we were in the same class and out front, we agreed to work together on the third lap, as we knew the final hills would decide, not the singletrack or double track, combined with the group tactics.

Disaster struck on the laser-fast singletrack after the ski hill climb. My drive-side foot unclipped and I somehow tore the buckle strap base with my big ring. The large flap of shoe began to catch the crank on every turn and I had to turn my right heel out to avoid the annoyance.

Still, the hills were much smoother on the second lap and I got a great bottle feed from Anna at the start/finish. I began to think about winning the race. It was unlikely that I would be able to outclimb Naish, who has a season of NUE 100 milers under his belt. He and I could trade pulls to on the third lap, but at some point, I hoped to put him under pressure enough to get away. I tried, but twinging quads limited me severely. Nope, he was smooth enough to stay with me and I flat didn't have the guns.

We stayed together and were joined by a Hagerty rider just before passing a Bissell one. Then came the steep up. My shoe was catching and I got only a few feet up before both hamstrings seized. Hitting the ground quickly and moving, I was passed by all three in the groups; however, the ski hill was yet to come. As black spots formed, I got by the Bissell rider, but the other two rode away, leaving me third.
It was my third third-place of the season and one of the highlights of my year.

Iceman is next. I'm going back to the White Brother's carbon for it. It's been a great season for riding the Hogsback (all over the place).

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

UPCROSS - Pics from River Park

I have to thank Justin Bruursema (a professional photographer from Grand Rapids) for all the help and advice on shooting the race. He also took shots and some are included above and below. More to come in the near future. Also, please note that my comments are meant to be fun so, as Van Wilder says, "don't take life too seriously. You'll never get out alive."

This mystery man is the balla himself, Chris Lynch. I think he was trying to see how far he could throw his bike.
Kyle gets my vote for best tan.
Jesse is sporting the sleeveless. . . .and I'm still pissed that he forgot the helmet cam mount. . .arg!

Arron won the race in pretty convincing style.
Sweet 80's polo. . .but last week's Robinson jersey took the cake!
The dynamic duo.
Chris rockin the locks.
Chris actually fell on this corner. He is probably thinking "oh #$%@ I better get my inside foot unclipped like RIGHT NOW!!!"
Looks like Joey caught the red eye early this morning.

Andrea is sporting the tie-die with Nicole on her tail.

Nicole's perfect technique over the barrier
Photo taken by Justin Bruursema. His shots are insane. I've gotta get that 24mm wide angle lense he is using.

Big dave.

MJ is out of retirement and racing UPCROSS!
God, I wish I was 6'4"

Doesn't he look mean?

Kyle and Mike B were back and forth all day.
That thing is torture for CX.

Push, push, push, all day long. . . push, push, push while I sing that song. (Adam Sandler)

An anxious fan:)

Photo taken by Justin Bruursema

Holly man. . .does Matt look fast!!!
Tom and Boonen took their weekly cross lap after the race.
Love the socks!!
Tony, looking as agile as a gazelle.