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.