Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jingle Cross

Driving back and forth across the country for Thanksgiving wasn't a super exciting way to spend 4 days around the holiday, but one bonus was that I got to bring my bike with me. Dropping 4500 feet in altitude tends to make you feel like Mark Cavendish. It's great, even though the weather and roads are kind of crap.

Having a bike also meant that we could stop in Iowa City on the way back and race one day of Jingle Cross. When most people think of a bike race in Iowa they tend to think it would be boring because a lack of hills, but realistically it doesn't take much of a hill to add some flavor to a cyclocross race and we don't generally race on big hills here in Colorado anyway. The weather on race day was pretty legit cross racing weather: wet, muddy, and cold.

I took one warmup lap on the course, and then retreated to the car to put on some warmer clothing. It wasn't particularly cold (mid 40's), but that rain chilled you to the bone. I should have been out riding around to stay loose, but the car was so nice and cozy. Plus I needed plenty of time to pin on three numbers - one on the back, and one on each arm. Overkill?

Starting order was determined by the registration order, and since I didn't register until the day before, I was at the end of a nearly 100 person field. Ahh the back of the starting grid, home sweet home. Still, I wanted to see if I could race my way into the top 20. Hell, I had oxygen on my side.

The big feature on the course is "Mount Krumpet". What should have been a rideable dirt path up turned into a really long run-up. I could ride almost half of it, but the slick mud and traffic eventually caused me to dismount every time and run the rest. It's way longer than any run-up I've seen in a race and it took every ounce of perseverance to continue to run it instead of walking like I lot of people resorted to. This was a training opportunity for me and I want to squeeze every bit of training out of it. :)

If the tiring run-up wasn't enough, you almost immediately have to navigate the muddy zig-zags back down the mountain. During my warmup I was able to ride down slowly, but it was obvious that dismounting would be necessary as it got more muddy from the previous racers on the course. Even with big spikes in my shoes, it was pretty treacherous off camber greasy mud. Sometimes it seemed like the fastest way down was on your ass, and I saw plenty of people doing it.

Through all the mud, I just tried to stay on the gas. I had a good time battling back and forth with a few people late in the race. Each of us trading attacks and trying to drop the other. I ended up finishing 26th. A little outside my goal of top 20, but not too bad. It's a fun race and a fun atmosphere. Even with the cold rain, there were plenty of people perched on Mount Crumpet to watch the carnage and provide "encouragement". It's too bad Iowa City is such a long drive away.

Ryan After Jingle Cross

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Trying to find fitness amongst fast people

I haven't blogged much about my illustrious racing career as of late, mostly because it had been pretty frustrating. I had some bad luck in big races, like flat tires and rolled tubulars. Not to mention, there's a lot of stiff competition in Cat 3. I felt fast enough to race in the top 20, but with my new upgrade I was always starting at the rear of the group. But every weekend is a new race, and a new chance to change fortunes. And the past couple weekends, I've had better fortunes. Last weekend's opportunity: Schoolyard Cross. The weather forecase called for a cold and potentially wet morning race. If I hadn't already pre-registered I may have just stayed home, which is what a lot of people apparently did. We only had around 30 people in my race, which meant that even with my back row start I'd have less traffic to race through. There wasn't an inch of pavement anywhere on the course. It was all dirt, prairie grass, or some combination of both. It's a hard course that demands you stay on the gas and the mid-week snowstorm meant that it would also be muddy. The course was pretty wide everywhere, which created plenty of passing opportunities. A lot of success in this race was about picking a smart line and understanding that the person in front of you may not be taking the best line for you. This was especially true on some of the bumpy prairie grass. People were happy to follow the tire tracks in front of them, but it wasn't any faster than going off that line. Keeping that in mind allowed me to get around a bunch of people early. With a couple laps to go, I was sitting on someone's wheel. He was better than me in the technical sections, but was quickly tiring. I following him close, hoping he'd make a mistake, but he was pretty smooth. On the last lap, I put everything into an attack. It worked, and I was able to get a gap on him and pull away. I had the next rider in my sights, but I ran out of race course. I finished 4th. My best result since upgrading. One week later, the next opportunity: Sienna Lake. The name of the game today was wind. Wow, was it windy. Another small crowd of about 30 people, and another back row start. The first "element" after the start is a pretty basic ride up a curb. I was shocked when the person in front of me locked up their wheels (actually laying rubber) going into this. (In his defense, I'm sure the people in front of him unexpectedly slowed way the hell down.) I never felt great today. I didn't feel really bad, but my legs felt tired from some hard workouts. There were some fun technical elements on this course that kept me on my toes. I didn't feel like I rode particularly well; coasting more into corners, bobbling 180's, etc. Part of it was from too much air in my tires, but the majority of it gave me ideas of what to work on. I had a good time, and thankfully kept upright the whole time. I finished 8th today. It's another decent result. Maybe this season is getting back on track?