As I was racing in the mud at the New Belgium Cup, I was thinking about how it'd be nice to have a clean bike in the pit. I quickly came to the conclusion that I, as a Cat 4, I'd feel a little silly to having a spare bike. So after I cat'd up, Christine (always a believer of "turnabout is fair play") showed up with a new Ridley X-Fire frame. (It's okay to be jealous.)
One of my goals for the cyclocross season was to upgrade to Cat 3. I could have upgraded before the season even started based on previous experience, so I guess my real goal was to earn my upgrade with race results. After my two podiums at the New Belgium Cup, I figured it was a good time to pull the trigger.
Last weekend was my first in the new category. As a friend of mine told me when we were warming up, the biggest difference between the Cat 4's and Cat 3's is that nobody in the 3's is just there to have a good time. Everyone there is giving it their all, even from the back row, to get to the front of the race.
I lined up Saturday at Xilinx without expectations. I had no idea where I'd fit into the pecking order, I just knew that it was going to be an uphill battle against some strong competition. My start was pretty terrible and I was getting passed left and right. If I wasn't dead last going into the first corner, I was pretty damn close. Not a great way to start the day. Following a long singletrack section, I started picking people off in areas with more passing opportunities. Shortly into the second lap, I'd probably passed 10 people or so. I was going for pass through a grassy corner when I hit a bump in the grass that ripped my tire off the wheel. Game over. I was about as far away from the pit as I could be, so there was no hope of salvaging my race. Nothing gets me quite as frustrated as equipment failure, but I should blame myself for not checking the glue on these tires at the beginning of the season.
So I lived to fight the next day at Monarch High School CX. I was determined to have a better race, and this was a course that suited me better with long power sucking grass stretches. I took up my now familiar place at the starting grid near the back of the group, but I at least held my position when the whistle blew this time. There are a lot of 180's on this course that gave me a chance to catch my breath, and then I'd hammer it on the wide grass sections and pass people.
On the second lap, I took a gravely corner too fast and went down pretty hard. I got up quickly and remounted with a brief look at my arm to see the damage. It looked bloody, but all my body parts still worked and I continued to race with my battered bike.
One thing is for sure, people aren't exploding at the end of the race in the 3's like they typically do in the 4's. I could never let off the gas, or I'd get caught from behind. I gave it all I had (and then some) to hold my position, even as my legs were cramping on the last lap. I finished the day in 21st place. It's going to take me some time to work my way up through the cat 3 ranks, but I'm determined to do it.
Another good day at the New Belgium Cup. I didn't exactly focus on recovery after yesterday's race - lots of walking around the course and drinking beer into the night with our house guests. Consequently, I wasn't feeling too sharp this morning. I took a couple easy warmup laps, and tried pushing it hard on one of the climbs. My legs felt like garbage. Oh well, the course was really fun. The rain had stopped over night, and the mud was firming up. I really like riding in those conditions. Unlike snow where you can blow a line and immediately be on your ass, mud is more slow and forgiving.
I had another front row callup but my start was considerably slower today. I didn't take the hole shot and risked getting caught up in traffic. It took some good old fashioned elbowing and bumping, but I survived the opening lap mayhem and settled in somewhere in the top 10. I really wasn't paying too much attention to the people around me, I was just trying to ride a clean race. I took some chances on some lines. Some worked out, others didn't. I got passed by the eventual winner because I was trying to take an outside line through some dry grass in a corner. In my head I knew it was slower, but I wanted to try it anyway.
I was riding pretty close with another rider on the last lap. I had a pretty sloppy lap which allowed him to gap me. I pulled him back some on the climbs, but he was still on the gas. Nearing the final straight I had to slow down to get around a lapped rider and I never quite made up that time. I tried like hell though. I've probably never put so much into a finish, and I almost caught him at the line.
I finished 3rd again, just like yesterday.
I really surprised myself this time. During the race, I was surprised how much better I felt than in warmup. And it felt like that despite a bad start, my fitness carried me back to the front of the race. It's an amazing feeling to know the time and hard work I put into training is now showing up on the race course.
The USGP of Cyclocross made a stop in Fort Collins this weekend. It's an infrequent pleasure to be able to ride my bike to a race, but that was the pleasure I had this morning as I took the 10 minute spin to the course.
I started the race strong, taking the hole shot from the nice front row start my early registration netted me. I actually didn't want to be at the front setting the pace so early so I slowed down going into the first barriers and let someone come around. I stayed in 2nd position for the rest of that first lap.
On the second lap, a junior bridged up to us a pretty quickly passed us. He was riding smoother than us through the technical parts, and faster than us everywhere else. My goal from there was to maintain my position and not make any dumb mistakes.
I went from 3rd to 4th place on the third lap and stayed on the back of a group of 3 (2nd, 3rd, and 4th place) I wasn't riding well enough to pass the rider in front of me without being passed right back in a technical section, but I kept the pressure on. The 2nd place guy was pulling away from us and 3rd place crashed in front of me as he tried to take some more chances and catch up on the last lap. I went around him and made the most of it to try and secure a podium spot. I had noticed he wasn't climbing well, so I buried myself on every climb to distance myself from him and hopefully deal a mental blow. It worked and I got a good gap on him.
It was too late for me to catch 2nd place, but I held on 3rd! My first podium of the year. It's great to do it in a big race like this too.
The Frisco cyclocross race has dealt me some bad luck in the past. Last time I raced there, I burped the air out of my tubeless tires. Before that, I dropped my chain (behind a chain keeper) and got passed by the entire race as struggled to get it back on. Friday I felt like the Frisco bad luck was starting early as I went on an easy ride to blow the cobwebs off some wheels I hadn't used yet this year. My "easy" workout got derailed when I shifted my chain into the spokes and got it jammed behind the cassette. I ended up walking to the bike shop, carrying my bike. Not exactly the prerace workout I was looking for. The fun continued at the hotel in Frisco. Someone checked into the room next to us at 3AM. Every one of their many trips back from the car, our puppy got up and barked. It was his first night in a hotel, and every little noise was something new and startling.
You couldn't ask for better weather on race day. During warmups I had on some warmer clothes, but by race time I was comfortable in shorts. This was the first race in the Cross Cup series. All that really means for me is that the points I earned last week meant nothing and I'd still get no callup. I started in about the 5th row this time. The race starts with a long climb and right away my legs felt soft. I don't know if it was fatigue from training or lack of sleep, but I didn't fly up that thing like I had hoped to.
I tried to be aggressive on the first lap and make some passing attempts, but it seemed like most of them got shut down and I ended up having to grab a lot of brake at the last minute. Slowly but surely I picked my way through the crowd, trying to make smart passes and flow through course. Altitude was tiring, and I nearly blew up every time we hit the long climb on the course. Bike handling gets even more difficult when you're that far into the red, but I kept it upright the whole race. For the last half lap I had someone in my sights that I wanted to chase down. He had passed me earlier and I could see he was running out of gas (but so was I). Going into the last corner, he slipped a bit and had to pull his foot out of the pedal. That allowed me to get a bit close and we sprinted for the line. I'm not used to sprinting at the end of a cyclocross race, and it was pretty fun. I managed to take him by maybe a bike length for 10th place. Another step in the right direction.
Next up - The New Belgium Cup.