Monday, October 27, 2014

Orchard Cross 2014

orchards make great CX venues

As my cyclocross experiment continues I think I have found my favorite course/event so far.  Orchard CX at Applecrest Farm has some serious production value.  Farm equipment on hand to build interesting course features, a full blown farm stand/market complete with cider donuts and hot cider, a petting zoo, pick your own apples...oh and a cross race.

tower of power

The 4/5 race was loaded.  Full combined field with the juniors of 100 and 91 starters in my race.  Luckily my current points got me staged third row.  First part of the start went smoothly.  Everything was fine until we reached the second corner with a short rise up to another straightaway.  Corner was gravel so of course a guy crashes right in front of me.  Luckily he popped right back up and it only held me up for a moment but it was enough to kill momentum and lose a few spots.

Luckily most of the rest of my 1st and 2nd lap went great.  I was feeling good and the course was great for me.  Many of the corners could be taken at pretty high speed if you knew what you were doing and that is an area where I know a bit more than others.  Carnage was minimal early on although there was plenty of dudes catching tape and/or apple tree branches.  There were some really cool man made features on the course the best of which was probably Cowbell Corner.

Basically a huge bermed turn with a whoop and then a miny table top right after.  The high line was top fun.

I got into a good group and was racing for top 20 for a bit on my second lap.  Heading into the 3rd lap things started going a bit less ideal for me.  The super fast juniors started working their way through and caught us about 1/3 of the way through the 3rd lap.  One of them crept up on me and tried to come around wide on a high speed slick sweeping corner.  I didn't know he was there and as I was using the course to drift out and scrub my speed without taking too sharp of a turn we bumped and because he probably saw me coming he prepared and held his line and I ended up sliding out and going down.

Wasn't a bad crash but enough to tweak my shifter a bit and drop my chain and lose the group I was in.  I can sit here and try to blame him but that's cross.  I probably would have just given him the pass if he said something because I wasn't technically racing him but ultimately its on me.  If I had known he was there I would have also prepared and just put him in the tape.  Oh well, I can always take out the juniors in my next race.

Took me a bit to get back into the groove after that.  I was probably still top 25(ish) at this point but it looked unlikely I was going to get back up to that bigger group.  Luckily a few other guys dropped off that group as well and I swept them up about half way through the last lap.  Passed one heading up a false flat drag into a high speed corner that I was able to take much faster and got the next at the main run up where he bobbled.

I was able to put a bit of real estate on them but I was getting tired and pushing hard for the finish and starting to make some mistakes and poor line choices.  I think keeping a level head last lap might be something I need to work on.  Less frenetic more business.  It looked like one of the guys had cracked but the other was surging.  I had maybe 5 secs heading into the final barriers which I thought was going to be enough.  Until I completely missed my remount after the barriers.  Like completely missed my pedal on both feet and came to a dead stop heading into the false flat sprint to the finish.  Not ideal.

My 5 sec gap decreased rapidly and I was looking at a 100yd sprint against a dude that was built quite a bit better for sprinting than me.  I put in a valiant effort but he nipped me by maybe half a wheel at the line.  Ended up with 23rd of 91.  My best result to date so far.  I had been in the group that ultimately contested 17th-21st. I seem to be figuring this cross thing out, points continue to lower and I'm having a good ole time doing it.

Next race will probably be at the Harpoon Brewery in VT.  Can't beat that!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Gordon Barker No Brakes Race 2014

I finally figured out why my cross results aren't quite as good as I thought they might be...I'm not actually fit! Like really at all!  Well I mean I am decently in shape, I haven't been doing nothing all summer but I certainly don't have the "normal" amount of race efforts etc. that I have in my legs this time of year.

I sort of had it in my head that despite that fact I had ridden enough to be in similar shape to years past.  I had this in my head because I hadn't had a good familiar race MTB effort to inform me otherwise.  Until yesterday when I got dusted at the No Brakes race.  Apparently the sharp end of my fitness is about as sharp as silly putty.

I suppose in my defense the Expert field was a bit stacked.  These late season races have a tendency to only bring out the folks who trend a bit more serious and fit.  Who probably all have a full season of racing in their legs.  And also in my defense I was in the back of the front group for maybe the first mile or so until putting my transmission in reverse.

It happened slowly but just about every time there was an extended climb or there was a prolonged straightaway power section or just about anything that required that punch, it just wasn't there and guys would pass me here and there for just about the whole first lap.  I didn't feel bad on the bike and I was riding cleanly it was just like being at 3/4 speed and trying to hit the gas and getting nothing.

I got over it pretty fast though.  I adjusted my expectations and just got to enjoying the fact that I was riding "hard" on my mountain bike and my wrists weren't really hurting.  The trails at Stratham Hill Park aren't super technical by any means but they are certainly more than Franklin Falls which is really just about all I've been riding off road this year.

Even though I was hanging back in the tail end of the field there were still guys back there with me and it felt like racing.  I got to battle with a guy second lap a bit.  We were together for much of the lap.  I was a bit smoother in the turny stuff, gaps would open and close.  Ultimately I tried to 'attack' him right before the last climb of the day but really all I did was eliminate myself from contention once and for all.  All my last little effort did was suck the last remaining glycogen stores out and initiate a nice little mini-bonk.

I was a bit lazy with race prep and probably didn't have enough calories before / during the race.  We were only about 1mi out from the finish and if I had really cared I probably could have kept the pace up and battled and just collapsed after the finish but I definitely didn't care that much.  Struggled up the last climb and soft pedaled in to the finish.  Even got nipped about 20ft from the line by a guy finishing strong haha.

I really enjoy the course at No Brakes and I've said it before and I'll say it again I hope the promoter thinks about making the leap into one of the summer series.  The facilities are great, the course is well balanced and the proceeds go to building and maintaining the trails at the park.  Can't ask for much more than that.

My wrists are somewhat holding up this morning albeit a bit sore.  I think this race was a good indication that I'll be able to get back into things next year at least on courses that aren't too crazy.  It felt great to be out in the woods hurting real bad on some sweet trails.  I didn't really realize how much I missed it.  I think I can eventually get over not being as fit as I was in 2012 and just focus on being pain free and having fun.  Here's to hoping I'll be back at it in 2015.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Hanover CX 2014

Oh the humanity!

I'm coming to realize that sometimes you just miss the giant race changing pile up and sometimes you don't.  That's life and that's racing.  And sometimes the entire race is a massive mess of pileup after pileup where your only hope is trying to minimize the damage.

I exaggerate a bit.  Today wasn't quite that bad but it was probably the closest I've seen to that in my short CX career.  Hanover is probably the most technical course I have seen to date and it was apparent that many guys in the 4/5 field don't spend a lot of time on singletrack that has roots and leaves and short/sharp hills.

The course had several singletrack sections most of which had a steep incline into the trail and then a very steep but short descent dumping back out onto a path or road.  So gearing was key, picking the right line was extra key and the knowledge of when and where to apply pressure so as to not spin out and fall over was at a premium.  There was also a huge beach section next to the pond in the park that was really interesting.  This weeks heavy rain had created these little drainage fissures running through the sand as well as these pretty deep depressions where water had pooled.  It was three sand straightaways with corresponding 180 hairpins.  The straightaways were pretty easy but the corners were chewed up soft/deep sand.  Pretty easy to ride early but got harder and harder and ultimately probably got faster to just run.

The first lap crazy was a bit extra crazy.  There wasn't quite enough of a run out before we hit the first chokepoint which included a steep run up straight into singletrack.  I got to the top and was greeted by a parking lot.  Standing room only, guys just milling around waiting for their turn to move.  Luckily I'm pretty good and making passes in singletrack parking lots so I started hauling up the side running past people as they tried to clip in in traffic.

Got up to about where I wanted to be at that point somewhere in the 15-20th range and got into a small group heading into the sand.  Had to run a lot of the ups and downs into singletrack because of the traffic.  Made a few more passes but also got passed here and there.  I REALLY need to work on my power at threshold.  Far too many of my hard earned passes in technical stuff come right back when it flattens and widens out.  GOTTA MAKE THOSE STICK.

Second lap was my fastest.  Things had spread out and the group I was in was working pretty well.  I was able to ride most singletrack sections that lap due to clean paths to make a solid attempt.  At that point I was fairly certain I was in for a good day.  I was racing for top 15 and legs felt pretty good.  Then we lapped through and got up and around the first little chicane and were heading down to the sharp 180 into the first run up aaaaaaaaand our group exploded.  Quite literally.

I was taking a wide line in the middle of the group and getting ready to dismount heading into the turn.  Just as I clicked out some sort of something happened back and to the left (BACK AND TO THE LEFT).  I'm guessing some guys got tangled trying to turn and ended up going straight.  Right into me.  Basically got sideswiped and went down pretty hard on my left side.  Picked up even more rash on my left leg to add to my shin gash but the biggest casualty was my left brifter.  The next time I tried to get into my big ring it was no dice.  Almost seemed like the two paddles were stuck together somehow.  I was stuck spinning to win and was having a hard time holding the tail end of the group.

Then I finally got into the big ring and things were fine...for a bit.  Until the next time I had to get off the big ring.  Rinse and repeat as necessary in order to loose almost ten places over the next 2-3 laps.  Lost all rhythm and got bogged down or spun out repeatedly for the rest of the race.  By the last lap I think the paddles finally freed themselves and it seems fine now that I've cleaned the bike up.  I made two or three passes on the last lap and was about to make one more but ran out of race.  Came in 23rd  of 60ish? (exactly where race predictor said I would).  I was staged 30th so even with all the strife I'm ok with the outcome.

It was a really fun course.  Although I would have loved to race it with maybe half the people. Now its back to racing for NEMBA tomorrow and Orchard CX next weekend! #braap

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Night Weasels Cometh


After all these years of following the fun on the internet I finally got to experience Night Weasels in the flesh.  It's a certified HOOT.  Especially when its wet, which from what I've heard is always the case.

Eric and I showed up early.  We walked the course trying to find the inevitable choke points and to watch the Cat 5 Carnage Extravaganza. There were a few good crashes, some stair failures but overall not too bad.

I was excited for the course.  Seemed like it was going to cater to some of my strengths compared to most other racers, at least from my experience so far.  This course is a bit more climby than most which helps neutralize the bigger/heavier power guys and those climbs mean descents which neutralize the guys who can't steer a bike.  Add in some greasy mud and slick grass and I'm a happy camper.

Our start was the combined 4/5 under 40 and 40+ fields which meant 102 guys toe'ing the line. #YEEHAA.  I was staged 52nd or so, although they were calling up rows of 8 and I noticed several guys drifting a bit forward as we rolled up.  All things considered the start was pretty civil and issue free.  No massive pile-ups (that I saw or was involved in anyway) or bad stop and go traffic.  I was able to move up a bit in the early goings on the first climb but I would say most of my passing was done on the descents.

best thing about our Chainline kits? easy to spot in a sea of #meatpylons

hammering along in the group that formed early

(photos courtesy of Russ Campbell Photography - he's got some great work check it out!)

Lots of weaving in and out of dudes.  My Clemente PDX's were hooking up great.  Plenty of times I can remember coming into corners way hotter than those around me while they washed out and I railed past.  Most guys don't round their lines out nearly enough (particularly when its wet) and their abrupt attempts to turn usually end in sadness.  Luckily I'm getting pretty good at quickly identifying guys who have it wrong and I'm even getting good at anticipating when/where they are going to lose it so that I can avoid them.

Ultimately I ended up in a small group yo-yo'ing a bit for the middle laps.  A few guys would stay close enough on the downs to catch me on the finishing straight but they wouldn't have enough to drop me on the climbs and I would pass and gap them on the descents.  Eventually that group dwindled as some of the guys ran out of juice with 2 laps to go.  One guy packed it in mentally pretty spectacularly as the announcer called '2 laps to go!' as we were pulling through and he yells 'Wait...2?!'  Never saw him again.

When I attempt to upgrade to Cat 4 early I'm just going to send this photo subject "c'mon"
(photo courtesy of Nick Czerula another great cycling photog)

this looks like I'm about to implode against that barrier but I can assure you I cleared it with impeccable form.
(obstacle photos courtesy of Katie Busick. So many good photogs at cross races!)

I had a pretty good battle with a Minuteman Road Club guy last lap.  He put in a good dig on the first longer climb.  I was at my limit and made the, probably incorrect, decision to let him go a bit knowing that I had the better of him on the downs.  He got a bigger gap than I would have liked and he was taking bigger risks on the descents than he did on previous laps and the gap was not coming down as fast as I thought it would.  Heading into the final climb and descent I could tell he was starting to fade and I was getting closer.  I pushed as hard as I could and he was bleeding seconds.  Rounding the bottom of the lift heading into the last little chicane he had maybe 15-20ft.  We were passing some lapped traffic coming into that turn and I got a bit jammed up.

He got into the finishing straight first as I was taking a wide line around the traffic.  Gap opened back up a bit but I got back up to speed pretty fast and I was closing immediately.  I definitely had a bit more left than he did and I was coming up on him fast. Buuuuuuut I ran out of road.  Got me by half a bike length.  5 more feet and I would have had it.

Ended up 34th in the full 102 rider field and I think 15th in under 40.  I'm happy with that.  Moved up about 20 places or so from my start position and lowered my crossresults points.  Thats a win.  Great course, great event.  It was a blast watching the pro men and women under the lights.  They go real fast.  If I stick with this whole cross thing I will certainly come back.

(another great shot for Chainline Cycles from Katie Busick)