Okay, so I really only have one date with States, but the plural sounded better. Regardless, that date is this Saturday. It's on a course I've enjoyed before but from what I understand there will be some fun, new twists to make it interesting.
Thinking about States got me realizing I never did a post from last year's race. Last year's race was what I call the 99% factor. In cross I think it's impossible to have a 100% perfect race. I don't care who you are. So the best you can hope for is 99%. From there it comes down to when and where that 1% decides to rear its ugly head that can decide your race.
I knew I had a fair chance to win based on how I was riding leading up to the race. I had a good warm-up and had a plan going into the race. You could tell everyone was anxious based on warm-ups and pre-race chatter alone. Once we hit the starting line I planned on taking the hole shot and setting the pace for a lap before giving it up. Instead, I was about 7th into the hole shot but was riding 3rd or 4th wheel halfway through the first lap. That's when Erik came through, which I expected. When he went, I hit the gas and went with him, and Dan hit the gas and went with me. From there it was the three of us off the front. I was riding smart and was comfortable the whole time.
With two to go the strategic race was coming down to tactics. I was in the lead and heard Adam yell that Travis was charging hard, which was the understatement of the day. He was killing himself working his way up to us and it wasn't too long before he was right there, and just as quickly he was gone. I found myself thinking my race for first just went to a race for second. And then his 1% hit and he had to pull over with less than one to do a little dry-heaving. Without that, the race was his.
Once again, Dan, Erik and I were together and I knew I needed to hit the gas and take control at some point. That point came on a back straight away. Erik later told me he was planning a similar attack but fortunately for me I hit it first. Dan followed and we were able to gap Erik.
I wanted to lead all the way in, but Dan came back around me on a grass section, but I was right on his wheel and was thinking ahead to a final sprint. With 200 meters to go we had to ride on an off camber section before doing a 180 or sorts, and firing back on pavement to the finish line. With Dan riding a little lower on the off camber section, I saw an opening. Having passed him here a couple times previously, I made a split second decision and went for it so I could lead into the final turn and hit the pavement first. As I was going I was feeling good and then...........well, I don't really know what happened. We were both riding aggressively and the bikes were bouncing a little bit. What happened was my 1% hit me at a terrible time. Our bikes bumped enough that his back wheel hit my front wheel and in that battle the front wheel always loses. I went from thinking about sprinting for first place to finding myself on the ground debating if I should put my bike over my shoulder and run or put the chain back on and ride. As I was putting the chain back on, Erik rode through. Travis started coming up too but I was able to hold him off to get 3rd place.
I was definitely happy with 3rd place since I never thought I'd be able to get that in a Colorado cycling race of any kind. But I was equally pissed that I didn't get first. I wanted it and had a fair shot with 200 meters to go. In retrospect, maybe I shouldn't have gone for the pass and let him lead me out instead. I replayed that last 200 meters in my mind about a thousand times after the race, but have taken solace in knowing I was racing aggressively and going for the win. I'd rather race for a chance to win and get third than just play it safe and be content with third.
It took all season to arrive but finally, in the last few weeks I've been able to find some fitness. Some other small changes have helped me race better too, like getting the tire pressure right for starters. And I also changed my pre-race music from Kanye to Nirvana. I'm sure that was a big one. Regardless, it's been nice to be in the race again, fight for wheels, hold position, make strong passes, and ride with the groups and guys I feel like I should be with. That doesn't mean perfect races and podiums, and it'll be a long time before I see a podium, so being competitive in the race within the race is what makes it fun.
The irony is that the race I re-discovered my fitness is one I almost didn't race. It's a tough course with a power section of uphill grass and a ton of steps. I remembered feeling awful on the same course last year and had a bad attitude going in. But when I was going, I caught myself catching people and riding strong which was only fuel to keep going. To be fair, I lost a sprint against a guy I'd been battling with and I had some good dry heaves afterwards because of the effort, but it was a big confidence boost that got me looking forward to the next day.
The next day brought 75 degrees and a fun course that suited me pretty well. Like the day before, I was able to keep moving up in the field and ride strong. I think I finished 8th that day. To be fair there were 16 people that started but that's a minor detail.
In true CO fashion, the weather changed from gorgeous one weekend to snow the next. When we lined up in Louisville it was 23 degrees and still snowing from the night before. The start was chaos and there was limited room to pass on the whole course. Areas we normally ride had to be run, the sidewalks were ice and just for some added fun, all the lines we were riding started to change as the race went on. I went down hard a couple times but I knew everyone else would too, and the key was staying within yourself, knowing where you can hit the gas, and where to just stay upright. In the end it was a lot of fun and I didn't feel the cold at all once the race was on. Apparently my toes and fingers didn't feel the same way since the second we stopped, they were pretty much frozen solid.
This last weekend was another slippery snowfest. With the lessons learned from the last one, I kept reminding myself at the start to stay calm and capitalize on other people's mistakes. Well, once the race began, it was like the entire right side never went. Fortunately I was on the left and was able to sneak up into one of my best positions off the line all year. The run ups on this course were crazy hard with limited traction, and the descents were basically ice luges where you aimed your bike in the right direction and slid down until you caught traction. Looking through the race pics and hearing stores, there were a lot of crashes. I was one of them, but it didn't cost me big. Instead, I was racing with a lot of confidence and feeling good. I had a mid-pack finish, which is a great improvement from where I started the year. Now it's rest up and get ready for the State Championships on Saturday. It's too bad that the season will end once my fitness finally showed up, but my body is barely hanging on at this point and will definitely welcome some rest.
You can't fake fitness. We're at the point in the cross season with one month (8 races) to go where people are starting to go in opposite directions. Guys that started the season strong are starting to fall off their fitness, and others that had a more managed build are coming into form at just the right time. I wish I could say I fit into either one of those categories, but the fact is I didn't do the right things in the off season. I have enough base to ride a strong tempo, but not enough top end power to push through the explosive efforts, recover, and go again. At the same time, I thought I could make up my fitness by racing into shape. That works to an extent, but it results in a very narrow window to peak and you can miss it without knowing you hit it.
With a week off the bike I was hoping to find out which way my fitness was going on Sunday. When I got up and let the dogs out it was cold and windy. I was already tired and the thought of racing didn't sound too appealing. Of course, doing anything didn't sound appealing so I figured I'd snap out of it. It took until I was in the registration line and one of my racing friends reminded me that it's a perfect course for me with a lot of wind and hills. That was when I started thinking I could do well and started to get pumped up to race.
A good warm-up with JJ and it was go time. I lined up behind Travis who's been crushing it all year. Watching him race this year, I have no idea how I was in the same conversation with him last year, much less getting an occasional win. Anyway, he missed his pedal at first but it was such a loooonnnnggg uphill drag that it didn't matter. The bigger issue was the first section of tight turns. Lots of people coming in hot only to grab a fistful of brakes and have to get off their bike. It was annoying at first but I also knew the hills would eat people up later in the race so it wasn't a big deal. After the first set of hills I found myself mid-pack, which was where I expected to ride most of the race and find small opportunities to move up where/if I could. Since I have a cross-clash with my friend JJ (he was up 3-2), I locked on to his wheel and let him pull me around a bit. Knowing he'd do the same when I went by, I waited, maybe a little longer than I should have. There's a tricky, off camber corner that I debated being first (of our group) into but decided against it, sticking with my original plan. I don't know if the result would've been different, but I rode it too aggressively, trying not to let a small gap form. Good news is a small gap didn't form. Bad news was a huge gap formed because I crashed. I was up quickly but my brake got jammed into my wheel and I had to reset the wheel which was made more difficult because the skewer got jammed during the crash. Once I was going again I found myself on the back and after gaining back a few positions, I rode the rest of the race solo.
Part of crashing is being stupid, but I think there's also a part that's related to fitness. Everyone is going all out in a cross race, but the better you can manage that, the better you can make the right decisions when you have a split second to do so and can barely see, much less think. If you have the right fitness you'll make the right choices more often. Even though I'd like a mulligan on that course and the signs are pointing to having passed a peak I didn't realize I hit, there are still a couple good races left to be had if I do the right things.
I'm not back at it quite yet, but will be again this weekend. On Sunday only. It's the course where I got my first podium last year but unfortunately, I'm pretty certain there won't be a repeat. Racing this year has been different in a lot of ways, but the most noticeable has been the weather. The grass/dirt crits we usually get have been replaced by sloppy mudfests. Everyone used to complain because the races were too fast and dusty. Now it's because it's too muddy. To be fair, they're both fun but they both also suck in their own, special way. And neither benefits me more than the other so as long as there are races, I'll just be happy to be on the line.
I raced a couple weeks ago on two pretty different courses. The first was in Brighton. I've never raced in Belgium, but I had a picture in my head that this is what it would look like. Basically a pasture that's bumpy as hell and thick with mud. I had a good start and then, after running over the first set of barriers in mid-pack, some guy ran into me. I'm still confused as to how he hit me, but he did and we both went down. Back on the bike I struggled to get going and after it didn't get better after half a lap, I realized it was because my brakes were rubbing since they got jacked up when I went down. Now securely bringing up the back of the pack, I pushed my way through the race while riding in no man's land and chalked it up to gaining some fitness. When I woke up the next morning I realized that I needed to also chalk it up to getting beat up by the course with all the bumps. My entire body was tired and fatigued, and when Whiskey and Tacoma wanted to go out at 7 in the morning, I debated going back to bed for the rest of the day. Instead, I went and raced.
Race day 2 was much better for me. It was a boring course on the pre-ride, but one that I liked at race pace. Good, long straight sections where you could recover and get some speed, but were broken up by good technical sections that were loosened up with some mud. My race was solid where I went out a bit too fast and paid for it on the second lap before pulling back some ground later on. It was another bumpy course and I knew afterwards that I needed a little break. Perfect timing since I was going to get it in the way of New Orleans the following week!
Warming up on the trainer.
On the start line. Still clean.
Carrying a muddy, heavy bike.
Believe it or not, I actually do some things other than race my bike. Trips tend to interfere with my budding career as an amateur, mid to back of the pack bike racer, but I take them anyway. And knowing that the trip to New Orleans was for a friend's bachelor party, I knew it would be a long but fun weekend. The weirdness started early when the guy next to me on the plane pulled out his tarot cards. Of course,he did a reading and I'll say that it was surprisingly accurate. Once landed I began my personal assault on chocolate filled beignets. Unlike my bike racing, I won this battle with no competition. Once some other friends arrived we began the assault on Bourbon St and well, there are no winners there. I'm not sure how to explain the place but it's like a New Year's Eve party all day long. I get the 20 and 30-somethings partying, but the surprising parts were the 40, 50, 60, etc year olds that were partying full throttle. And it wasn't just at the later hours of the day. It was All. Day. Long. At 10:00 in the morning people were stumbling around like they'd been boozin for the last 6 hours. Maybe they were. At any rate, we were able to find some good bars and have some fun falling back into the same routine even though it's been a while since we've all been together. The weekend went by quickly but to be honest, one weekend is about all you really need to spend there. While I managed to make it out of town without downing a hurricane or a hand grenade, I was able to find my way to plenty of oysters (raw and grilled) and a catfish po' boy. Healthy? Uh, no. Tastey? Definitely. I went with tastey and so did the three guys that went through something like $60 worth of sliders for a little late night snack. Glad I wasn't sleeping in that room!
It wasn't all debauchery though. We had a really good dinner at August, which is one of John Best's restaurant, John Best being a James Beard award winning chef. Despite the inverse relationship between portion size and price, the food was delicious and we still left completely full and satisfied.
I suppose I could start with something new....like cyclocross. It's officially a few weeks into the season and finally, my legs are starting to come around. You'd never know it by looking at the results but my legs feel a little better each week, and just as important, so do my lungs. Unfortunately my bike handling skills could still use a little tweaking. Every time I put myself in contention to move up a little more, I'll do something stupid and go down. Although it's only once a race, it usually happens in the late laps when I'm exhausted and can barely see straight so as the fitness keeps on comin, the mistakes should disappear. Good timing too since moving up to Cat 3 requires as fast and clean of racing as I can manage. And that's just for middle of the pack for me on a good day. Still, the lines are getting easier to ride, the pedals are getting easier to turn, and it's getting easier to fight to catch packs.
One of the things that always helps the most is just racing. This year Routine Leg Works hosted a Wednesday night series for the first 5 weeks. The races were a little shorter on time which was great for a mid-week race. Great chance to see a lot of guys I only see in the Fall, go head to head, and work on fitness and skills without blowing out your legs for the weekend races.
Not sure if the link will work for me, but on Saturday I was starting to move up in the race (to mid-pack) and went down just before a barrier. I re-bloodied up my knee and dropped back to end up battling it out with Neal who's a strong rider that also happened to have a bad lap in there somewhere. Here's a shot of the two of us right after I passed him on the last lap.
Unfortunately, my lead was short-lived since Neal got me back and held on. At that point we were literally battlling it out for something like 3rd and 4th from last place but still racing like it was for first and that's what makes it fun.
The answer is no. But it has been about 9 months or so since this blog has been updated. And the reason it's being re-visited is none other than cyclocross season started again today. It was hot, dusty, painful, and my first race as a Cat 3. Not surprisingly, I got my butt kicked. I went from the front of the pack as a Cat 4 to the back of the pack as a 3. Literally, the back of the pack. I wasn't last but I wasn't far from it. While it will probably be that way for most of the season, I'm hoping to find some form, re-learn how to ride some of the lines, and move my way into the middle of the pack. Either way, it should be another fun season.
I realize I should still provide some kind of race report about States, so maybe I'll do that in the next day or two. After that race I hung up my 'cross bike and my blog with it. Who knows, maybe I'll actually have an occasional post about things other than racing......like going to Hawaii in October and watching Rick rip it up at Kona!
Living in CO with my two dogs, Whiskey and Tacoma. Staying active through triathlon, cycling, skiing, fly-fishing and whatever else might be out there. Unfortunately it seems none of these are cheap! Maybe I'll just become a gamer. It's probably easier.