The more I race cyclocross, the more I want to race ‘cross. It’s insanely hard, but I love it. Our local series, UPCROSS, spreads its races over most of the western Upper Peninsula, with most of the races taking place in or around Marquette. That’s fine, but it does make it really hard to race a lot of those events. Not so with the Keweenaw Cup. Both races are in Copper Harbor, which is only about a hour from my house. The events are technically sponsored by my team too, so there’s extra incentive to be there. When I was planning out the ‘cross season this year, there was never any doubt that I would be at these races (the same holds true for Baycross, which I’ll report on next). So, how did they go?
Day 1: The Downtown Hoe-Down
Day 1 of the Cup is always held right in “downtown” Copper Harbor. It’s hard to think of it as being a true “downtown”, since there’s barely a dozen businesses in the town. In any case, the course winds its way from the Copper Harbor Community Center along a short section of singletrack that has been built-up with packed gravel and then empties into the famous “Clyde’s Field”. During the Copper Harbor Fat Tire Festival mountain bike race, Clyde’s Field is the sign you’re almost done. The course wound through the field with some corners, chicanes and off-camber bits before crossing a bridge, looping around a pond and heading back out to the Community Center. Of course, no Hoe-Down course would be complete without a trip through the volleyball court. Just like last year, the bridge was a pinch-flat waiting to happen, so I was tremendously pleased to be riding tubulars.
This was my first race in the normal UPCROSS “A” field, so I was especially interested to see how the competition stacked up. I hung with the leaders for about the first lap before gaps started growing faster than I could close them. There ended up being three of us who were riding together pretty well, though we were pretty far towards the back. I followed these two guys around for about two laps before I decided I was riding better than they were and attacked just before the bridge. I was really putting it down going into the volleyball sand when I dropped my chain. Both guys passed me back while I was rethreading the chain. The attack had sapped me and the dropped chain really took the wind out of my sails. I spent the next 30 minutes trying not to lose too much time. I certainly wasn’t in a place to catch up, either mentally or physically. My kids were a little grumpy and we had a lot of things to do at home the rest of the day, so we drove back to Houghton. I struggled with a bit of a headache and a sense of exhaustion all night.
At the end of this race, what is there to learn? I belong in the A’s. That’s pretty clear. I did get lapped and finished three from the back of the race, but I’m pretty sure I would have ridden away from the B’s. I don’t know how I can get stronger to place higher. Maybe that just comes with experience. Maybe I need to commit more to the “Time Crunched Cyclist” plan instead of my cobbled-together CX training. Maybe I just need to enjoy the ride.
Day 2 always takes place at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. In previous years, the course at the Lodge had been really unfriendly to cyclocross bikes. The terrain was incredibly rough, there were long sections of singletrack and most of the fast guys were riding mountain bikes anyways. (This has changed considerably. Most of the A racers are on proper ‘cross bikes now.) Last year, the course was changed to be much more friendly to the skinny tire set, while still taking advantage of the terrain that defines the Mountain Lodge property. We started a ways back on one of the cart paths next to a fairway and shot as fast as we could towards the eponymous Lodge, before swinging around one putting green and heading back down the other side of that same fairway. A little diddle through some trees and along a mean off-camber spit you out crossing another fairway. Cart path back towards the Lodge building, swing around a green towards the Starter’s Shack and back out. At this point, you head into the one of the defining features of the Lodge CX course: a naturally “W” shaped section. At the bottom of the first downstroke, there is a hard pipe or something. In the middle pointy section, there is a barrier. The final upstroke is ridiculously steep and unrideable, so you run it. Then it back onto the starting cart path again.
I have noticed in the past that my second day of racing is always better than my first. This would be no exception. The two guys I dueled with all day on Saturday dropped behind me on the very first lap and I never saw them again. I spent the whole race trading laps with my teammate and LBS owner, both of us trying to bridge the gap to the next group up and/or shed each other. During the race there were times when the sun was insanely bright, times when it was cloudy and drab, times when 40+ MPH gusts of wind blinded you with walls of leaves, times when it rained and two times when we were hailed on. It was a little ridiculous. My teammate kept getting his gap on that long cart path, because I was using that time for 30 or so seconds of recovery, whereas he hammered through it each time. (Interestingly, this same pattern occurred a week later at Baycross.) I would catch up in the more technical sections. Each lap I was a little thankful for my Challenge Grifo tubulars, because I have no idea how anybody running tubes didn’t pinch flat in the “W”. And then each lap I was grumpy at the tires for their useless cornering knobs.
In the end, I finished 14/21, 2 laps down on the leader. It confirmed that whole “better second day” thing. I need to figure out how to leverage that. I also need to get ride of the useless Grifos.
It was a good weekend though and a set of races I’ll do for quite a while yet. Now I just need to figure out how to be a little faster…