Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lou Uh Vul Weekend

Janelle and I headed to Louisville this past weekend for round 2 of the USGP Cyclocross series. This race is at a new venue - Eva Bandman Park - a dedicated cyclocross park and future home of Master's World Championships in 2012 and Elite Worlds in 2013. Many racers had signed up in preparation for these upcoming events, and in my race there were over 140 riders signed up for each day.
Upon arrival at the park and getting to pre-ride the course on Friday afternoon, a couple of things were evident: it was going to be very dusty (apparently Louisville is going through a drought), and this was going to be a very hard course. The lap started on a very nice long paved section, sweeping off the pavement to the left. You then hit a gradual 180, rode over a steep 2 ft berm and went immediately into the barriers. Over the barriers, there was a short straight section into a steep loamy climb that had some grass over sand. This would sap all your speed if you screwed around. Down the backside, you hit another gradual (and a little loose & dusty) 180. Then into a long but rideable sand section, past the pits, under the "green monster" fly-over, and back into a dusty tree section. Out of the trees, you had a moment on pavement and then through a deep sand run, another 180, then the "green monster" fly-over and stairs, past the pits again, then into the woods. Up a little climb, down a steep pitch, 180, then run back up, then down again, around, then ride up again back to the start/finish pavement.

For me, this meant 4 running sections. Essentially, the course was a series of obstacles with short "recovery" straightaways in between. Very tough, but also fairly short, 1.38 miles, around 5:15-30 per lap at race pace.

Saturday came and before I knew it, I was waiting in the staging area. I have always been impressed by the organization of the USGP races in the past. (Portland and Madison get it done right) However, I was a little disappointed by Louisville. Though I had registered 14th, I was seeded 30th, because the top 16 spots were given out to the local cross series leaders. That meant I was starting from the 4th row both day.  It may be a bad sign when the riders on the front rows are sheepishly looking around and saying there is no way they deserve to be up there.

This may have been ok, but one of the favorites (Jordan Cullen) who was also supposed to be in the 4th row managed to talk his way up to the 2nd row by trading places with someone. Jordan had some bad luck in Madison, but managed a pair of 4th places. He also took the holeshot both days up there. Another rider I was marking was Mark Parmelee, who won on day 1 in Madison, and was third on day two.

Also, they were running behind, so the officials informed us they were going to cut our race short by one lap. 

I got through the start pretty cleanly, and by the time we were over the barriers I was in the top 10 behind Mark. Unfortunatly, Jordan had already gotten to the front of the race and was not looking back. After the sand, the group started looking around at each other instead of chasing. So Mark and I squeezed through on the inside and took up chasing Jordan.

By the end of the first lap, Mark had gotten a little gap on me, and Jordan was still up the road, but we had solidly gapped 4th place. I was having a really hard time recovering between the obstacles. (This is probably the way all cross courses should be?) They were both physically and mentally challenging. I was not able to bring either Jordan or Mark back, but we did open up a 1+ minute gap on the rest of the field.

Because of the short lap times and tough course, I began lapping riders on the 2nd lap. Fortunately (for us), the officials were doing a good job of pulling lapped traffic.

So in the end, Jordan won by about 15 seconds, with Mark 2nd, and me about 5 seconds further back. 4th finished a little over 1 minute behind me, and there were still almost 80 riders on the lead lap. The race was quite short though, only 32 minutes.

Sunday the course had been lengthened just slightly. After the pits and going under the green monster, there was an additional pair of out and backs before getting back into the trees. Then after the sand run, there was a big loop in the infield added. Finally, in the woods, they lengthened the 180 into the run up from Sat, so you were able to carry some speed into it and actually ride it instead of running. This made the laps a little longer and provided a little more recovery between obstacles, which was to my liking. Another minor change was the barriers were moved a little bit back from the berm, so you could carry more speed into this section and over.

Basically the same scenario played out at the start. Jordan traded up two rows and by the barriers he had taken the lead. I was sitting pretty good at about 8th when we hit the first dusty section. Then, a rider who had been to the far outside cut inside hard and took out my front wheel. Maybe he forgot there were 140 people behind him? I don't know. Anyway, I got run over by a few people, then got back up and started going again only to have someone crash in front of me again in the sand. I got up again, ran out of the sand. By this point I was somewhere way back. Now there was only one objective: pass as many people as possible.

I went by the pits, but I noticed my gears were skipping quite a bit. It was not enough to need immediate adjustment, but it made shifting very hard so I knew I needed a bike change. I found Janelle after going over the green monster and told her I needed my other bike. A the start/finish line I found a couple of guys to draft off of until I could get back to the pits. I finished out the lap, and came back around to find Brad Cole and Joe Schmalz had set up a bike change for me. It worked out super smoothly and I was able to switch and come out the other side still with the riders I had drafted off of. Thanks guys!
Not out of the woods yet - Credit: Alex Edwards

I think I was in about 10-12th at this point, so I guessed the win was out of the question barring some disaster for Jordan and Mark. But I knew that third was still possible. I was really starting to enjoy the course and I was having no trouble catching people, sitting on for a moment, then jumping in pursuit of the next group. I tried to just ride as smoothly as possible and not take too many risks, and by the time we hit 2 laps to go, I had moved into 3rd. Listening to the announcers, I could guess that Jordan and Mark (who were riding together I think) were over a minute ahead of me, but I kept the gas on.

At the finish, Jordan won, Mark was second, then I came in 1:45 back, 30 seconds ahead of 4th. Jordan had a great weekend and is a nice kid. I will not be surprised if he continues to have success in this sport.

I was also pretty fun to watch the other races throughout the Day. Teammate Cameron had some good rides in a very competitive 17-18 Jr catagory. Shadd had a great ride on Sat in the 35+ race. Mark Savery was riding like a man possessed on Sunday landing on the podium in the 35+ race after racing at the front all day with some stellar competition. Tom Price had a great ride despite a bum knee to get on the podium as well.

Louisville is a pretty neat area. The waterfront area between Eva Bandman Park and downtown seems to have recently been developed or redeveloped. They have a very nice looking baseball park downtown, and they also have some permanent Louisvillle Marathon signage. I thought it this section had a very nice vibe. We actually stayed just accross the river in Indiana, which was also nicely developed in parts with some cool restaurants.

The organizers had some issues getting results from the finish line area down to the registration tent on both days. On Sat, it wasn't until the end of the day that results made it down, and on Sunday they finally got them at almost 2. The people in the tent really didn't seem to interested in making sure the prizes went to the right people either. It was in stark contrast to the helpful, timely, and organized staff in Madison. Hopefully they (Louisville) can learn from this year to make next year a little better.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

New Cross on the Block

Another day of Cross in Tulsa. My lungs and sinuses were worked over from Ruts N Guts, and the weather was hot. I didn't feel great, but I figured that would be the case for everyone in the group. There were tons of thorns on the course. Each time I rode a warmup lap I'd come back to find a dozen or so goatheads in each tire. I had Tufos and they had some sealant in them, so I figured that would be the best bet against flatting. It was another race with a pretty good payout, so many of the fast guys from last night stuck around.

I got a fairly good start, but screwed up a turn and stalled out about halfway through the first lap, getting passed by a bunch of guys. After some chasing, I got into a large chase group who were sort of looking around and were just not going all that fast. Bryan Fawley was gone already and this was the race for second. I sat in for a while, but decided it wouldn't be to my advantage to try and cover attacks out of that group. I thought my legs were pretty good, so put in a soft attack on a gravel section, then really went at the runup on the back side. This worked and I shed everyone except Jonny Sundt. He sat on me for a lap then attacked on a switchback and was gone.

Another dusty day in Tulsa

I still was feeling pretty good at this point. Jeff Winkler was coming up behind me and was gapping the chasers behind him, so I thought it would be good to go with him when he caught up. It was right about then that my efforts from last night and my attack really caught up with me. Every time I tried to stand up to accelerate, both quads would start to lock up. I've had troubles like this at the end of hard road races, but never in cross before. So Wink caught me and I just couldn't go with him. I stayed alone for awhile, trying to stay smooth and under control, but I really was struggling. Steve Tilford caught up from some earlier flats and just as he was going by we hear over the mic that there are 4 laps to go (Fawley must have just gone through the S/F line) Anyway, this was at 47 minutes into the race! I was thinking there would probably be 2 or maybe even just 1 to go when we came through.

At this point, the legs were in full shutdown mode. Steve rode away and I got passed by Tom Price and Ray Hall, a Tulsa guy. I could also see that Will Gault and Bill Marshall were coming up to me also. I finally got to the last lap, and was able to barely hold on for 7th. I also had both tires bleeding air pretty badly. My front tire was folding over on every corner on the last lap. My race time ended up being 70 minutes for 12 laps. Pretty brutal. Despite completely blowing up, the course was super fast. I averaged 16mph again, even with the last laps being as slow as they were.

One lesson is to bring tough tires to Tulsa, and bring some Stan's sealant. You could probably sell it at a premium to other racers if you were really entrepreneurial.

I was going to head out to the Boulevard Cup for some more racing, but i'm opting to save the legs for Louisville this weekend.

 Update: Thanks to the promoters who promptly sent me the results, which are now up on crossresults.com


Ruts-N-Guts was a new cross event this year in Tulsa, OK. Upon arrival to our hotel across the street from the race, we could see sections of the course. From what we could see, it looked like several straightaways and 180s, back to back.

We went over to pre-ride and found a very unique setup. Very dry and dusty, some elevation change, stacked rocks instead of a wood barrier, and a flat (even more) dusty section that was likened to "riding on the surface of the moon" - a thick layer of super fine dust with hidden rocks underneath. Many people were getting flats from the rocks and thorns on the pre-ride too.

I was not sure what to think about the course. At first I really didn't like it. The other thing was the start finish area was quite narrow. Maybe good for 6 people across, but we crammed about 8-9 in each row for the start.

It turns out there were almost 50 guys in the 1/2/3 race. That is awesome. Plus there were a ton of fast guys. Even more awesome. I got staged on the front line thanks to pre-registering, and I figured a good start would be really important (and better for the lungs once we hit the dust bowl / moon section)

On the start Bryan Fawley and Jason Waddell took off very fast. I was third, probably my best start all year. I had guessed before the start that we would be turning sub-5 minute laps, and indeed we were going about 4:45 per lap early on.

I felt pretty good navigating the rock barriers. There were some right before a short incline that were ridable, but could stall you if you weren't careful. I hit those pretty well every lap except the second, where a few guys got past me, including Jeff Winkler and Shadd Smith. Coming back around to the other rock "barrier", Jeff clipped his rear wheel hopping it, which caused Shadd to have to bail. I was in the air going over the rocks as this is unfolding, so I had to rode over Shadd's bike (Sorry!).

The next few laps were a blur. I could see Steve Tilford was riding somewhere up ahead, but that he wasn't gaining ground on me. At some point, he and the 2nd place rider both got flats and I caught up to them as they were exiting the pits. Shadd came back up to us at that point too, but quickly rode away and got a gap. So I battled with Steve until the last lap. There were two descents on the course. Both were fast but you had to pay attention because you could easily screw them up. Watching Tilford descend them both on the last lap was pretty awesome, he was flying. He passed me on the first one, then I clawed my way back up and passed him back on a climb. But on the descent into the finish he blew by me again.

It turns out that Steve, a Tulsa guy, and I were reeling in Shadd and the 3rd place guy for the last several laps, so on the finish we came in almost in a bunch. At the end though, I ended up 6th. I needed to be just a little more aggressive at the finish, but I think that I pretty much left it all out there on the course, so there was probably not much more to be done. (unless I can learn to handle like Steve)

The podium - there was even a mini stair for 6th.

Overall, the course really started to make sense after a lap or two at race speed. I think the race promoters could have done a few things a little differently to make the race even better. It would be cool to bring in a good race announcer. And they could add a real set of barriers, perhaps right after one of the 180's on the moon section.

Next up - New Cross on the Block. We heard the course was going to be much different (very open and fast), but also full of thorns. Update coming soon.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Cross Out Cancer

Not too much to say about this one. Basically, it wasn't a great course for me. Lots of turns and not many places to open up and get a good rhythm.

I ended up getting an ok start, then started going backwards. This culminated with me hitting my head on a tree branch hard enough to dent my helmet, then getting super tangled in course tape and having to stop to get it unraveled.

The first of three barrier sections on the course

I was hoping this race would be a good tune-up for heading to Tulsa this weekend, but instead I just rode the second half pretty easy and will hopefully have fresh legs heading into the two Tulsa races this weekend plus possibly doing the Boulevard cup as well for a triple header in prep for the Jingle Cross UCI races in November.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Boss Cross #1 and #2

Boss Cross 1 & 2,
Riverside, MO -

I know the Parkville course got rave reviews, but last year I had bad luck at the Boss Cross races last season, so I was excited to hear about the change of venues for this years races.

Saturdays course looked awesome and fast. The course was mostly flat with some very fast transitions to keep things interesting. There was a short sand run, hill barriers, and then some awesome fast barriers just before the S/F line.

There was a very deep field that showed up for the race, the Tradewind crew was out in full force, KCCX was represented well (though without Joe, Adam or Shadd), plus the Columbia duo of Josh Johnson and Jon Schottler. On the start I got stuck behind a crash on the first corner of the race. I chased up with Bill Marshall to about 7th position over the rest of the lap, and then came in to the fast barriers really clean. I don't know exactly how I pulled it off, but on the remount I managed to hit myself in the nuts very hard, endo, and roll my front tubular all at once. (I morbidly hope that someone got a video of this, cause I bet it looked fantastic)

Anyway, the pits were just around the corner, so I crawled over there and contemplated dropping out. Since I had a spare bike (but no spare nuts), I continued on (very gingerly). I had lost about 15 spots and was now sitting around 25th. The next couple of laps were still pretty painful, and I wasn't riding with much urgency or desire.

Photo I "borrowed" from Jon Peck - Awesome shot!

Finally about 5 laps in I got a second wind, if you will, and made a hard charge to see who I could catch. This was actually quite fun, as I was catching people in groups, going to the front of the group and riding on. By the last 3 laps, I was going full speed again, and made my way up to 6th place for the finish. I was pleased by my recovery, but bummed I couldn't have contested the race a little closer to the front end.

Sunday the course was reversed, plus there was an addition of some more sand. This course was also pretty fast, though probably not as much as Saturday because the transitions were a little trickier. There were now two sand sections, while one was pseudo ride-able, the other was now a must to ride. Again, a strong field in the open race, though the Tradewind guys opted for some gravel riding instead of the race.

To replace my rolled tubular, I borrowed a set of carbon Reynolds wheels with Challenge tires from Bill Marshall.

I got a much better start and was sitting in 6th for most of the first lap behind the KCCX train of Jeff, Tom and Bill, and the Big Shark guys. Through the first sand section, Winkler rode it while everyone else got a bit bogged down. I made it through with Jon and Josh, while Tom and Bill came out just behind us.  Josh and I gapped Jon a bit, and we took off in pursuit of Jeff.

Josh was going really strongly for the next couple of laps, I would catch up to him, then he would just open up a bit of a gap through a technical section. It went like this for a couple of laps, with Jeff abount 15-25 seconds ahead of us. In lap 6, I passed Josh coming out of the first sand pit and opened up a little bit of a gap. I saw that Jeff was on cruise control up ahead, but I tried to put in a good effort to close the gap. Josh was back on my wheel quickly, but I tried to just go my pace and hope that somewhere I might lucky and get a gap. Unfortunately, on the second sand pit I had bad exits two laps in a row, and on the second time, Josh passed me for good and put in a huge surge to put me away.

Jeff went on to win comfortably, Josh got second comfortably, then I was third with Tom, Jon, and Bill coming in just a little ways back. Overall, it was the fastest 'cross race I've done yet (Just over 16 mph avg for me).

Hats off to the Boss Cross guys for putting on a great event. A big thanks to KCCX for hooking me up with a set of awesome wheels to race on.