Monday, November 23, 2015

Bellevue GP of Cyclocross a.k.a. The End of My Season

Well that's it. My bike racing season is, as the Aussies say, done and dusted. The Bellevue GP of Cyclocross finished out my season as well as the 2015 season of Nebraska 'cross races. There are a few more races in Iowa and whatnot, but I won't be able to race any of those.

Mark Savery designed another killer course this year. It used pretty much all of the features of last year's course, but with plenty of tweaks to keep it fresh. The course was as fun as it was hard! We had gotten a good amount of rain earlier in the week and then we had alight dusting of snow the night before the race. Despite the moisture, the ground didn't quite turn into the muddy soup we were expecting of it. I was relieved to see that because I have no experience racing in those conditions and wasn't quite sure how to prepare for a mudfest.

Even though the weather didn't throw us the curve ball we were expecting, we still managed to get a surprise on the morning of the race when Rachel's mom, who had been planning on watching our kids for the day, called her to tell her that she was sick and couldn't take the kids after all. After some thought, we decided that we'd just go ahead and bring them to the race in spite of the fact that it would mean that they would miss their naps. It was kind of a crazy idea, but I don't think Rachel relished the idea of staying home with the kids while I went and played bikes by myself.

So, all five of us loaded up in the minivan and headed down to Swanson Park in Bellevue. That van is seriously great for days like that. I had my bike, a couple extra wheels, a trainer, a cooler with food and beverages, and a bag full of race clothes. Rachel also had her own various items as well as the kids' diaper bag and a bunch of extra clothes for them. When we got there, I pulled the car seats out of the back and put the back seats down, making an ideal place to change clothes and to put a couple kid-sized chairs for the older two to sit in while Rachel played some DVDs for them on the van's DVD player. No joke, minivans rock!

I got a few laps in for a quick pre-ride, chatted with a few people, watched some racing, and then set up the trainer and got down to warming up. My warm-up was the beginning of a few mistakes I made that day. A golden rule of racing is that you never try anything new on race day. For some reason that never crossed my mind insofar as warming up goes. I had decided to try a different warm-up routine that I found on Adam Myerson's website. It looked good and I have been looking for different ways to warm up since I definitely need a good warm-up for races like crits and 'cross races.

My second mistake followed soon after when I forgot to take into account how my heart rate reacts to cold weather. My warm up routine called for certain times in different heart rate zones and because I forgot about the fact that my heart rate tends to be lower in cold weather, I ended up doing more work on the trainer than I expected. Looking back at my Garmin file, I can see that my wheel speed on the trainer was a couple mph higher than it normally is for the given heart rate. I'm not sure how much of an effect that had on my race, but I'm sure spending 5 minutes over threshold instead of at threshold probably wasn't ideal! Yet another great reason that a power meter would be a wise investment.

Front row, baby!
I got the fourth call up so I was on the front row, which is always good! The cat 4/5 field was yet again the largest field of the day at over 25 guys, and trying to fight through that kind of traffic always has the potential to kill your race. I didn't get my best start and Patrick Abendroth and Dave Cleasby shot off the line ahead of me, but Patrick ended up slipping off his pedal and veering a bit to the left when he did, so it was probably good that my start wasn't as good as I wanted since it meant I wasn't right next to him when that happened.

By the time we made the sweeping left u-turn at the end of the start/finish stretch, I had slotted into second wheel behind Cleasby and Patrick was right behind me with Adam Little behind him. Within the first lap, it was down to pretty much Cleasby, Adam, and I as far as I could tell. We were going pretty much flat out and it hurt. It hurt real bad, in that good 'crossy kind of way. At some point (in the second lap, I think) Adam got a bit of a gap on us and as I closed it down, he started to slow up a bit. I was so winded from our fast and furious start that I decided to just sit on his wheel rather than ride past him. I figured I could recover and let him take the pace making. Not too long after that, Cleasby rode past us both. I didn't follow. I figured Adam would stick his wheel and I could just stay with them both.

Turns out Adam was probably hurting as badly as I was and Dave had something extra in the tank so he started riding away from us. This was despite the fact that we were certainly not holding anything back now. It was slowly becoming a race for second even though I don't think either one of us were ready to believe that quite yet. Still, it turned out to be the case. Dave just had more gas in the tank, I guess. He's got quite the engine, that's for sure!

My most significant mistakes came during this portion of the race. During my pre-ride laps I had always remounted my bike right after running up the stairs even though there was a bit of a hill yet to come. It had never been a problem. But during the race, I had more gear heading into the stairs so I was over-geared most of the time when I tried to remount. Plus, since my heart rate was pegged, my remounts were not nearly as smooth. These things combined meant that I would lose my momentum there and Adam would put a gap on me by simply running all the way to the top of the hill before getting back on his bike. He is way too strong to chase back over and over again and finally, in the last lap, I botched the remount so badly I had to get back off and run again. That was pretty much lights out for the rest of my race. I rode as hard as I could, and I think I may have even pulled him back a little bit, but it was too much to do yet again, and Adam rode across the line about 7 seconds ahead of me.

I don't know why I never changed what I was doing on that run-up. I guess when you're sitting at redline, it's hard to make rational decisions. I know that if I hadn't kept making the same mistake over and over the race could have had a different outcome. Oh well. That's racing. I was really hoping to take a win this season, but it just wasn't to be. I was, and still am, disappointed in my performance. I think the hardest part is knowing I won't have a chance to try again for another whole year. Regardless of my disappointment, I still had a hoot. 'Cross is just the best, no matter where you end up!

 These pictures are such a good example of how your form can go to pot over the course of a race! Haha
Photo credit: Leman Northway

After finishing, I found Rachel, and she had that look of, "the kids are melting down, and we need to go... soon!" Unfortunately, I still had to stick around for podiums. I was at least able to take our youngest from Rachel to give her back a break and the other two quickly found some great entertainment in the form of Ryan Feagan and his microphone. The bike scene is really full of great people here in Omaha. It was so good to know that if we arein this kind of position again, we know that people like Eric O'Brien and Ryan Feagan and the like are there to help out.I don't think they even knew they were helping.They were just having fun with the kids, which is help aplenty!

Jensie really likes his naps. The podium was a good of a place as any, he figured!
Anyway, my second place netted me two more upgrade points, giving me a grand total of 9 points for the year. One short of the 10 that USAC requires for a 4 to 3 upgrade. I went ahead and requested my upgrade anyway and it was approved super quickly! So, next year I will be racing as a cat 3. I'm looking forward to the challenge and it will be nice to not feel like I have to podium to have done a good race. I also look forward to an extra 15 minutes of racing, as odd as that may sound. When your race is only 30 minutes, there is no resting at all. No strategy either. Just go as hard as you can and hope it's hard enough. Maybe it's the same in a 45 minute race, I don't know. But I look forward to finding out!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Almost Had Him

The fun just never ends with cyclocross. Well, I guess it ends in a couple weeks for me, but you get what I'm saying, no? Star City CX hosted their annual race at Pioneer's Park this last weekend. It was my first visit to the course which includes the locally famous Hooligan Hill. It did not disappoint. The course was super fun and had a god mix of power sections and twisty stuff for me. Plus, there was a good long section of pavement that made the roadie in me sit up and take notice.
Front row start = ideal. Photo credit: Matt Pearson
My podium finishes at the Flatwater CX weekend earned me a front row start. Unfortunately for me, Andrew Casburn's finishes at the same races had also earned him a front row start and from the whistle he set about putting his stamp on our race. Andrew took the holeshot and I slotted in behind him. My cornering was sloppy even for me in the first lap and Andrew slowly rode away from me. Meanwhile, I could sense Adam Little working at trying to get around me, so I worked at defending my line and continuing to shut the door on him in each corner. Maybe if we were team mates, Adam... hint hint.

Prior to the race, I had decided that I would not attempt to ride Hooligan Hill. In two previous attempt during my practice laps, I had both ridden it successfully and I had lost traction and stalled out. I figured I'd be better off playing it safe and running it. I still think that was the right decision for me, however, Adam was riding the hill each time and he was riding it faster than I could run it and so he made his pass on the hill and went onto the pavement in a small group.

It's funny how quickly your memory fades after a race, but I'm pretty sure it was Adam, Patrick Abendroth, and me in that group. I had planned on sitting in if we ever hit the pavement in a group since I figured others would be sufficiently motivated to pull us through the section, but when the situation presented itself, I found it too difficult to sit in patiently. I was afraid, as I coasted and used my brakes to keep from moving ahead of Adam and Patrick, that our group would grow from behind. So, I attacked. I got a pretty good gap too if I recall it right. But we all came back together in the twisty stuff.
Like I said, memories fade. I remember chasing Adam, but this photo shows that it was Hunter Peterson at one point instead. Focusing on holding a wheel will do that, I guess! Photo credit: Matt Pearson
We'd continue this pattern for a few laps and eventually, I was able to shake Adam and Patrick. I think it was the continued attacks on the road, but I'm not entirely sure. Still, by the beginning of the last lap, I had enough of a gap to believe that as long as I didn't totally pile it up, I had a solid 2nd place pretty well wrapped up.

Of course this whole time Andrew had been working his way up to what was something like a 50 second lead, I believe. I couldn't see him and didn't figure I was going to. I was getting a bit tired and my cornering was getting lazier and lazier. But then some where nearing Hooligan Hill, I thought I could see Andrew and he was a lot closer than he should have been considering his lead! As I got to Hooligan Hill, people were literally screaming in my ear, "HE DROPPED HIS CHAIN!! HE DROPPED HIS CHAIN!!"

This was it. This was my shot at winning this race. Andrew had been clearly stronger but a mechanical had brought him back into reach. I ran to the top of the hill and jumped onto my saddle and hit my pedals in just the right way to make them spin backwards. DAMNIT!! At this point the spectators are screaming and I'm screaming words that would make Darrell Webb DQ me if he had heard them.

I got clipped back in and rode out of my skin to get to the road section and put the hammer down as hard as I could. And it was working. I was reeling Andrew in, and quickly. He must have been pretty tired after dropping his chain. The pavement section was broken up with a little out and back on a mini-peninsula of sorts. I was just rounding the turn in that section when Andrew was getting back on the road. When I hit the pavement, I sprinted for the line with all I had, but there just wasn't enough road left to get back up to speed and catch him.

So, I ended up in second place and I was not at all unhappy with it. Andrew went on to upgrade and place 4th in the cat 3 race the next day, so I don't feel bad at all about losing to him on Saturday.

Racing is even better when your better half can come enjoy it with you! Photo credit: Matt Pearson
Next up are the State Championships on November 21st. With both Cole Limpach and Andrew Casburn in the 3s now, the win is looking even more possible for me. It will be far from easy though. I'll still have Adam to contend with, who has beaten me pretty handily a couple times already this year, and I have a feeling David Cleasby will be gunning for it too. Here's hoping I can bring a gold medal home!!
Racing, friends, and beer. It doesn't get much better! Photo credit: Emily Hoesly