When we headed downstate for Thanksgiving week, I squeezed in two ‘cross races. Boatloads of fun. Here are the rundowns.
Stomach of Anger CX
I did this race with my wife as the only spectator, since the kids were hanging out with grandma and grandpa back at the Farm. We found the course largely by accident, since we decided spur of the moment to hit up the Lansing Chipotle. As we got off the highway, I saw the sign for Red Cedar Park and saw a bunch of folks out on the course. That was a lucky break. We got our burritos and went back to check in. I got my number (61 — sooo close to being twin sixes, as I raced in my Twin Six kit) and hung out in the car until it was time to get dressed and warm up.
The Red Cedar course strikes me as the ideal singlespeed course. It’s mostly flat with a few very short kickers (and by “short” I mean 3 or 4 pedal strokes). I spent the whole race in one of three gears. The course gently wanders around the park, down by the river and back. There’s nothing amazing or particularly memorable about the course — it’s just a solid pedaling effort. I was a little disappointed by that, since I tend to pick up a little time when running. In a perfect world, I think it would be a great big ring course too, but this would be the first time I turned the pedals in anger since Baycross and the intervening time had been spent recovering from crashes and a serious chest cold.
If you were to graph my effort (at least perceived effort) over time during a ‘cross race, it would be bell-shaped. I try not to go out too hard, ramp it up in the middle and then run out of gas near the end. That basically happened here too. I made some solid passes (including one of the “rubbin’ is racin'” variety), got passed by a couple folks and just generally enjoyed the day. There was a couple of 6×6 pieces of lumber that served as “barriers” of a sort that I really feel I should have been bunny hopping, but I got off the bike every time. I rode the last lap pretty much by myself, without anybody that I could catch or that could catch me. I don’t think I have ever rode so casually across a finish line. 13/20 in a mixed 2/3/4 field. Not too shabby for feeling as out-of-shape as I did.
The biggest disappointment was finding my rear tubular was trashed. The rubber on the sidewalls was just peeling away, revealing the polyester stitching and even the red latex tube. I felt lucky that after dragging my wheel bag to 7 races and at least that many practice races, I actually had a replacement rear wheel. This was critical since there was no way I could get another tubular glued in time for the race the next day. I have no idea what caused the tire to fail, because the Red Cedar course is pretty smooth and gentle.
What I will remember the most about this race was the friendliness, cheerfulness and helpfulness of the volunteers and organizers. They let us know that in a few places the course wasn’t quite wide enough for standards, but they would give us our money back if we wanted. They also told us there wouldn’t be any feeds and asked if that was going to be okay with everybody. Even the registration people were really pleasant and knowledgeable. I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to do another Stomach of Anger event, but I’d like to try. (And patronize their goods! The JPOW t-shirt and Flanders hoodie are on my wishlist.)
So it was home to get the bike and body prepped for the next day’s race:
Bloomer Park CX
I was coming into the Bloomer race with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. I had done one other Tailwind race this year: the unfortunate Stony Creek Marathon. I wanted redemption. The pre-ride of the course showed it was very different from the Stomach of Anger course. There were a lot more places that even I could put in my 50-tooth big ring, places that required some serious braking and short, but intense, climbs. There were still no places to run the bike. The course started on some pavement, wound around some grassy sections before heading down a gravel path. You got to a really, loose and sketchy downhill with a 90° right turn at the bottom and then climbed right back up the same hill. Bloomer Park has a velodrome that we rode behind and then up the grassy hill on the outside of one of the banked corners. A little more grass, a trip around a one-way parking lot loop and back to the start.
My biggest problem was tire pressure in my front tubular. The second problem was the dramatically unequal braking. I figured my front tire would have held its pressure overnight, but it was really low. Scary low. Every time I hit pavement or if I tried to stand up and pedal, it would squirm and roll over and threaten to throw me off the bike. Given that we were transitioning onto pavement 6 times per lap, this became quite a handicap. The braking was just an annoyance, comparatively. The Neuvation rims are considerably narrower than my Roval clincher rims, so my left hand was squeezing the lever practically to the bars while my right hand barely had to squeeze.
Again in a mixed 2/3/4 field, I quickly settled into a group of 4 that was swapping positions constantly during the race. After the barriers I would pull ahead and stay there through the S-turns. Once we hit the straightaway gravel path, one or two guys would pass me. One more might pull ahead in the parking lot, but I would pass them all again after the second set of barriers. Eventually it got down to just two of us, with me leading into the penultimate lap. He really laid it down through the parking lot and I didn’t really respond, figuring I would just catch up to him at the barriers again. I did. But after the S-turns he attacked again and I didn’t have the legs to respond. I rode the last half of the lap alone and nearly got pipped at the line by one of the guys we had dropped. He had been so far behind during that last lap I hadn’t been thinking about him much. As I approached the finish line, I looked back and saw him charging. I grabbed a couple extra gears, put in a good sprint and kept my position. 18/25 on that day on a tough course with a squirmy tire. Not what I was hoping for, but good enough.
My favorite part of this race was the guy who eventually beat me saw me after the race and declared my Twin Six METAL skinsuit to be the coolest kit he’d even seen. Oh yeah.
Now what? I have a tubular rim lacking a tire (yet still covered in a lot of glue). There’s about a month until CX Nationals. Travel plans and work schedules are not going to make a lot of December friendly for training. I don’t feel like I’m done yet though. I need to decide soon in any case.