Monday, September 19, 2011

xXx Jackson Park

Yesterday marked the beginning of the Chicago Cross Cup with the first race taking place at Jackson Park on the southside of Chicago. Same park as Relay Cross, but totally different course. I was excited to race and test out my fitness. I was also curious to see what it would be like racing with 99 other guys. Chicago Cross Cup upped the field limits this year, so my category now has a 100 rider limit. In a race where starting position has a major influence on the outcome, having 99 other people to line up with is an interesting proposition.

I got a ton of rest of Saturday night and felt ready to race on Sunday. We drove down early and got to watch a lot of the races. The temperature was mild and the big question on the day was the rain. It rained in the morning but slowed down to intermittent drizzle by noon. My race went off at 2:45pm so there was no telling what would happen. I had the chance to pre-ride the course twice. The first time, I let Evan adjust my tire pressure with his hands…so my first pre-ride lap was at about 27psi front and back. Being a bigger guy riding clinchers, that was a bit too low. I finished the first lap nervous about how little traction I was getting. After I got a pump, and put my tires back up around 37-38, my second lap felt much better. I was ready to rock…but first, staging.

100 nervous guys excited for the first race of the season, plus a 1/2/3 race that went off about 10 minutes late equaled people staging an hour before our race start. I ended up standing about 45 minutes in the staging area and starting in the fifth row when all was said and done. To add to the nervousness/excitement, it started raining in earnest while we were staging.

The start was fast and aggressive to say the least. The rain added a whole new dimension of slipperiness to the starting chute, but hey, this is cross right? There was a ton of bumping and ridiculous lines through the start, but after racing crits, it’s not all that intimidating doing it on grass. Mid-way down the starting chute, there was a huge pile-up. Probably the gnarliest cross crash I have seen. I leaned into the guy next to me and barely missed out on that pile of fun. The first lap was full of crashes…everywhere. It basically turned into reverse drafting, meaning if there was someone in front of you, you didn’t want to be directly behind them so you could get around them when they went down. I was feeling great on the first lap. I thought that I was holding position where I needed to and moving up where I could. Coming into the second lap I’m fairly sure I was sitting in the upper 30’s or lower 40’s.

The second lap was where things got a bit shaky. My body felt fine but was definitely ready to blow up. I pushed on though and tried to focus on staying upright. I couldn’t believe how many people were going down. Straight aways or turns, everyone was going down. Judging by the traction (or lack thereof) in my back wheel, I knew I would be joining them soon. I went down on the infamous off-camber turn by the pond (no worries, I was nowhere close to falling in). The crash was slow and I didn’t even lose any spots (see the awesome picture from Bill Draper below), but I had the crappy luck of hitting the buckle of my shoe on the ground, which released the main strap on my shoe. I jumped back on and was unable to adjust the buckle because it was caked in mud. I ended up having to stop to fix it and watched a lot of people fly by me. In retrospect, it’s good that was I still in a part of the race that was competitive, but frustrating that I had to watch them ride by me.

The rest of the race went by quickly, as I tried to put as much power as I had left in the pedals. The course became more slippery and my handling skills deteriorated quickly. I stayed up for the most part but was going through turns too slow and putting my foot down too often. I definitely want to try and get more skills practice in this fall. I think it will help me immensely in the end of races where my body is low on oxygen.

Overall, the day was really challenging, but I had a lot of fun. I am excited to keep training and working on my cross skills. Next race will not be for three weeks, so in that time I’ll try to find some other spicy content for you to consume or possibly post a boring updated about training. With that, I leave you with my best pain face of the day (thanks to Eric Goodwin for the pictures.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I like to watch other people on bikes too!

First race of the Chicago Cross Cup coming up this weekend at Jackson Park in Chicago! I race at 2:45pm if you want to stop by and heckle. Info here.

In the mean time, I highly recommend you watch this video of guys doing crazy awesome things on bikes:

Friday, September 2, 2011

xXx Relay Cross

This past Sunday marked the first official unofficial kick-off to the Cyclocross season in Chicago with the second running of xXx's Relay Cross race. Relay Cross has a unique race format where teams of two take turns racing laps. The race also has a "Le Mans" style start where the racers start off without their bikes and run a couple hundred meters to the transition area where their partners are standing waiting to give them their bikes. I raced in the Cat. 4 race with my teammate Dan and the Co-ed race with Melissa, a new Iowan friend that just started racing 'cross with Rhythm's sponsor, Iron Cycles. My training had been going well and I was excited to try out my legs on the grass.

I woke up Sunday hungover and not too excited to race. Since the race was at Jackson Park on the South side of Chicago, and the behemoth Chicago triathalon was taking up just about the entire city between my apartment and Jackson Park, I decided to ride down the race. I met up with Dan and we took a nice leisurely roll through the South side to the race. The ride to the race was a great easy warm up for the legs and got rid of the hangover.

We decided Dan would race the first leg since he could run faster. For those that aren't aware, Dan is a freaking gazelle, at least compared to the other Cat 4's. After a nearly flawless bike exchange, Dan left the transition area in the Top 10. After his lap, we were still Top 10, so there was a little pressure for me. With that, I embarked on my first race-pace cross riding of the season.

Right off the bat, my cornering skills were definitely a bit rusty but my legs felt awesome. I got passed by a couple people that were cornering better than I, but stayed close to them. As we came around to the three-barrier section, I noticed everyone taking the right side of the barriers, so I went left. Someone on the right had trouble and I ended up passing about five people through the barriers. I jumped back on my bike elated and quickly realized I was redlining. This is cross though and that's the point. Plus, my lap was going to be over soon. I kept the legs moving and held my position through the rest of the lap into the transition area. After tagging Dan, I looked down. Max heart-rate for the season. What a great start to cross!

The rest of the race went by without too much excitement. Both Dan and I faded a little bit and we ended up 18th. We were happy with the result though with it being Dan's first time on the cross bike this season and my first time riding my cross bike in earnest.

The coed race was quite the experience. Melissa insisted that I take the start, so I lined up a little nervous to see what my running skills were like, especially in cycling shoes. A lot of people had trouble with traction and I made it in and out of the transition area Top 20. Pretty good for a fat guy! After the race, someone told me "you have impressive running form. I didn't expect you to be so smooth!"

I was pretty tired after already having races once, but I still had a great time. The coed race format was interesting because there were so many people of different abilities out on the course that it felt like I was racing with different people every lap, getting a lot of chances to pass and be passed. In the end, Melissa and I got lapped by the leaders so I lucked out and didn't have to race the last lap. Even better, the officials scored us as if we hadn't been lapped, so we took home a "Top 10" finish in 8th place!

Overall, Relay Cross was a terrific start to what I hope will be an awesome cross season.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It's Been A Season

It's been exactly a year since I last posted. This fact is mere coincidence, but kind of neat in itself. The past year has been wonderful and at times wonderfully crazy. My life has seen lots of changes. Namely, starting a new cycling team, meeting a wonderful girlfriend, and changing jobs. Thank you to all that supported Amalgamattion through this year of silence. Whether or not you realized it, those random comments (albeit many of them in jest) about the absence of posts is what eventually drove me to re-do the layout and start posting again. Perfect transition into the two-wheeled side of things.

First, the new team. As many of you know, myself and a couple of my teammates chose to leave Spidermonkey at the end of last season and start a new team. For me personally, the decision was based on the fact that I wanted to be a part of team dedicated to racing and also get to be a bit more involved in how the team was run. Specifically, I was interested in working with sponsors. We ended up joining forces with another local team, Rhythm Racing and a few other important characters, to form the new Rhythm Racing. From the beginning I took on an "Executive Board" role as the Vice President of Sponsorship. It has been an interesting and challenging endeavor trying to find sponsors and help with the administrative duties of running an amateur cycling team. For me, the most challenging part has been keeping the "amateur" part in focus while sometime having to put in more than amateur amounts of work. Overall, the team has been a huge success both on and off the road. We are already getting started on putting together huge and awesome plans for next year. (oh and if anyone reading this wants to sponsor us, you know where to find me!)

For me personally, this road season was a bit of wash. I went through a tremendous off-season where I trained diligently, dropped 20 pounds, and was excited to crush the early season crits with my new teammates. However, in February, I decided I needed to focus a bit on real-life and chose to start studying for the GMAT in case I wanted to apply to business school this summer. I took the GMAT in June and got the score I wanted, but my training and racing suffered considerably. When I attempted to start racing in June, I realized that while my brain had been training, my legs had missed out on important training...and too much of it. I put in a couple of starts in June and July without much success even sitting in the pack. Riding off the back of Cat 4 crits on a frequent basis is not something I'm interested in.

I rolled up to the line in Elk Grove at the beginning of August feeling in pretty good shape. I knew the race would be fast as many people target it, but I felt ready to take on whatever. Unfortunately, my race didn't go so well. About half-way through the race, I was caught up behind a crash and ended up in a chase group that didn't want to chase. Feeling good enough to do the work myself I began dragging them back to the pack. This was going well until I hit the hallmark 180-degree turn of the course on the front of the group about 25 meters behind the main pack. Since every lap before I had been behind someone going into the turn, I hadn't been paying attention to the speed we were taking the (wet) corner at. When I hit the corner on the front of a group, I apparently didn't slow down enough as my front wheel washed out and I went sliding through (across?) the turn. Jesse Williams, who I presume was taking pictures of his teammate behind me caught the whole thing on camera. I jumped back in the race and ended up crashing again, this time on a wet crosswalk, but after the first crash, I was pretty much done anyways.

This was my first "real" crash. In cycling terms, I came out great. My helmet did it's job and since I was on wet pavement, I was saved a lot of road rash. Mentally, I was much worse. Even a month later, I will occasionally panic while taking a corner, even on a slow commute to work, and freak out that I am going to wash out. I had planned to race the Gateway Cup in St. Louis over labor day weekend, but after deciding to go, I spent the next few weeks dreading it. I decided that it wouldn't be a good idea to go and try to race three days when I didn't feel like racing three minutes. So I shut down the road racing for the season.

Since July I have been training with a new coach and am excited for the upcoming cross season. I used to think Cat 4's training with coaches was overkill, and it may be, but I have really enjoyed the experience and have enjoyed watching my quads grow. I will try to put together race reports during cross season assuming that my schedule allows me time. xXx's Relay Cross was this past Saturday and was a ton of fun. I will put up a quick report on it later this week or early next week. Thanks for reading!