Saturday, December 12, 2009

Day 4 and 5 at Natz

Its been 'cross all day everyday. What an awesome week so far. On Friday, Connie and i got up early to get out to the the frozen tundra of a course to see Emma White (CBRC) and her brother Curtis (Clif Bar Cyclocross Development Team) race. Emma's race was early.... 8 AM, and it was like zero degrees out. Emma got a great start and the race quckly turned into a two person race between Emma and a girl from Albequerque New Mexico. Emma came out of the wooded section in first place and then crashed on an easy left hander just prior to crossing the road to the 'lower' part of the course. The two girls battled back and forth. Each taking turns sliding out on corners and taking over the lead position. On the last lap, Emma was in front but crashed hard approaching the barriers and the other girl took over first place. On a snowy uphill approach to the road that linked the course to the steep icy uphill, the girl from NM slid and was on the ground, Emma was just about to go around, when Emma got caught up in a tape post at the same troublesome spot. Now all that was left in the race was the tricky uphill 'horse shoe' climb, a bumpy icy downhill and then a pavement blast to the finish line. NM girl had maybe a 20 meter lead on the pavement, but Emma was charging. At the right hand turn onto the finish stretch, Emma had closed the gap to about 5 bike lengths and she was smoking. Emma finished about a bike length back for a well deserved Silver medal. This race turned out to be one of the most exciting races of the day.

Next up was Curtis. Curtis was lined up in the 4th row due to some inexplicable computer glitch. No matter, because after the gun went off, Curtis had blown through rows 3 and then row 2. He was top ten after the first corner. He and team mate Nate Morse rode cleanly through much of the first part of the race, taking some chances, pushing hard, but limiting encounters with the icy ground. After a couple of laps, Curtis had moved up to fourth place, but still had a large gap to close, which he did, eventually catching the wheel of the 3rd place racer. In the last 500 meters of the course, Curtis marked his target. In the same location where Emma and her competitor had bobbled, Curtis made a move and attacked the 3rd place guy, getting around him before that tricky uphill horse shoe hill. Curtis knew that he needed to be ahead of this guy on the hill and he made that happen, and that sealed 3rd place for Curtis. Another great race.

At 11 AM the single speed dudes raced and that brought the biggest and loudest crowds so far. I am still trying to understand the whole single speed thing. I think next year i'll try it. It may stick, and it may not. What a gorgeous day though.... brilliant blue skies, frigid cold, loud boisterous crowds, and cross, cross, cross.

New Yorkers Ruth Sherman ( Corning Race Team) and Margaret Thompson (Hammer Nutrition) each earned bronze medals later in the day. New Englander Jonny Bold took the Championship jersey in the Men's 45-49 race.

Later in the evening we dined with the White family at a very cool place in town called McMenamins.

The schedule for day 5 allowed Connie and i to sleep late and have a nice leisurely breakfast at the hotel, and the rest of the morning was a good time for me to pack up the bikes. My race on Thurs was in such frigid weather that my bike was free of any real mud or grime and the pit bike was spotless. The bikes went into the box a whole lot easier this time and soon we were off to the afternoon races. Today (Saturday) was quite a bit warmer. The temps had climbed up to 40 degrees. The course was now getting greasy. No real mud as the ground was still frozen hard from the previous week's extreme low temps. We watched Danny Summerhill win the U23 mens race. In the Men's 35-34 race, Nathaniel Ward ( / Joes Garage) had a front row slot on the start line and took advantage of it by taking the hole shot. Nathaniel was in first place after the first few turns of the race. About midway, N Ward slid on the grozen grass and his right hand shifter snapped in half when it enccountered a pole. Tough luck for N Ward. New Englander Matt Kraus (Richard Sachs RGM Watches) had a great ride taking 9th place in a race of almost 150 racers.

Night time events: closed out of the World Premier of The Cyclocross Meeting, a film to be shown at the Tower theatre in downtown.... sold out! ... bummer. Dinner was take out from the Typhoon, a Thai resturant! So unlike me, but it was good.

Tomorrow, its Women and Men Elite.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Day 3 Bend, Oregon

Day 3 at the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships dawned bright and sunny with morning temps again in the single digits. My race was at 1:00 PM which is a good start for me as i am not a morning person. This start time allowed me to sleep in and have a nice breakfast at the hotel. The plan was to get out to the course around ten, check out the bikes again, and witness one of the race starts. The race start in a 'cross race is critical. Folks that make it to the first turn have a decided advantage, as a cyclocross course will tend to stretch riders out and if you are way back in the bunch, its difficult to make up ground on the leaders. Tough, but not impossible. I once witnessed a last row guy in Providence R.I. race make it all the way to the podium. None the less, starts can make or break your race. Adam Myserson says that the sprint is at the front end of the race in 'cross, referring to the explosive sprint effort that takes place when the whistle blows to start the race. So i wanted to see a real race start so i could judge where a good line might be, or where a choke point might occur. After watching (and learning) from the Men's 30 - 39 age group race, i planned to line up on the right side of the starting grid and take a wide line in the approach to the first gentle left hand turn that went up a small icy hill and then took another left at the top. This pre-race reconnoiter paid off.

Another small detail related to quick starts is something that we practice at our training rides and that involves clipping into the pedals as soon as possible to be able to turn a huge gear to get up to max speed as soon as possible. In order to do that, clipping into the pedals is crucial to avoid lost pedal strokes looking for that spot to clip in. So just as the race is about to begin, my left cleat was completely clogged with ice and would not clip into the pedal at all. I quickly ducked into the Clif Bar tent area and got Rob Weubker and one of the pro mechanics to chop the ice out with a screw driver.... whew, another detail covered.

Now it was time to stage up.... The staging of riders was orderly and well controlled. Officials called up each and every racer by name. I was lined up in the fourth row, which is quite a change for me as the races i had been doing in the Northeast had fewer riders or points that i had accumulated allowed me a front row spot. I lined up way to the right as planned and waited for the whistle. It blew and we were off. My start was a good one, clipped in early, blew past some guys, went wide right as planned, avoided a small bottleneck, and went from 35th to maybe tenth. Yikes my heart rate was pegged. Guys were all over the course, weaving, crashing, crashing into the tape, crashing to the ground, crashing into me, it was cool. I settled into race pace and vowed to stay upright and not make mistakes. It paid off. I lost positions on some parts of the course but i was able to pull back guys in other parts of the course. I had a couple scary moments, one where i was suddenly sideways in the lane and then sideways in an opposing direction. That ticked off the guy behind me but, you know what? Go around me if you can. Another near crash involved a pass i made to get by a guy that caused me to approach this uphill shelf with a left turn at the top with way too much speed. I hit the lip of the shelf and the force knocked my left hand off the bars. I made the turn and kept it upright, but i was right on the edge.
I battled with four or five guys and we all traded positions often.

It was great racing. I ended strong and held off the one guy who had passed me at least three times earlier and i ended up 14th. Not bad. I was pleased. It was a great day of racing.

Paul Curley of Tauton Mass., a fellow Northeast guy, took the win in my race to add to his closet full of National Championship jerseys.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships

Day 1 and 2 on the way to the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Chanmpionships were long days indeed. The trip actually started on Monday, when i stuffed two Redlines into a double bike box that i borrowed from my good buddy Tim Leonard. I spent 2 to 3 hours taking apart two bikes and fitting pieces into the box like a jigsaw puzzle before i was able to completely close the lid on the box. It was a tight fit. And i worried about how everything would fare under the hands of the Southwest baggage handlers.

Tuesday Connie and I headed to Albany airport, checked luggage, checked the bikes, and boarded flight 141 to Las Vegas. The connector in Las Vegas was late.... like what else is new, but no matter because that allowed us to have a long and delightful dinner with the White family, also enroute to Natz. Curtis and Emma were excited about the trip but were taking it all in like its just another race. The second leg of the air trip arrived, and we landed in Portland around 11:30 PM local time, 2:30 AM Albany time. We were pooped. We got a behemoth rental vehicle and crashed at a Marriot in Portland, finally settling in at around 12:30 AM local time.

Day2 started crisp, sunny and cold... like 6 degrees farenheit in Portland. The trip to Bend took us over the pass in the shadow of Mount Hood. What a sight.

Bend was a three hour trip from Portland.

We arrived about Noon, another check-in at another Marriott and then i went to work putting together two bikes. I was a bit stressed over the whole bike box trip, baggage handlers at various airports, and whether i packed up the bikes correctly. Low and behold, everything made it perfectly fine. The bikes went together nicely and i was off to the race venue and packet pick-up.

Bend, Oregon is a very cool town, an eclectic downtown area, lots of shops and restaurants, and lots of bikes on roofs. Packet check-in was orderly and rather quiet. I expected bigger crowds. Numbers on the left.

Off to the the race venue which was just across the river from the Old Mill area in Bend and within eye-sight of the check-in. I parked in one of the Event lots and unloaded the bikes to shake them out, make sure everything worked correctly, and maybe even ride the course. I ran into David Goodwin, antother 55+ guy from Northampton Cycling Club. We chatted and compared stories about the trip out. He had already done a couple of laps. After straightening the bars on the pit bike and adjusting the seat height a bit, i rode out onto the course. It was all taped and had maybe several dozen racers pre-riding. It was 90% snow and ice covered. There was a 6 inch wide icy rut as the 'preferred' line and about 3 - 4 inches of powdery snow covering the rest of the lanes. A small section of the course in the grass was free of any snow, but it was a very small stretch. There was a man-made stair case and the standard set of barriers, but other than that, little else to get you off the bike. There were a couple of small, short 'hills' that were very icy and could perhaps cause a dis-mount. I saw Paul Curley and Tom Stevens of Gear Works and also Utah Rob, who called out to me, but i was unable to connect up with Rob as he was heading one way and i the other.

I rode the pit bike first and i did two laps. I took it very easy, just trying to get aquainted with the course. I returned the pit bike and then rode the primary bike a bit to make sure that i had connected all the dots, and i had.... it was working quite nicely with no further adjustments. I was feeling a lot better now that the bikes were all in good working order. I was also liking the ice and snow. I am thinking (today) that the ice maybe a good surface for me, and perhaps it will even out the field a bit... i don't know... we'll see. Check in tomorrow. My race goes off at 1:00 PM.