2011 Cyclocross Nationals

When I sat down to plan out my goals and races for 2011, the list basically started at the end: January 4-8, 2012: CX Nationals. I had such a good 2010 ‘cross season, I was just on fire to do it.  I bought my USAC license, I bought tubular rims and tires, I bought a Twin Six thermal CX skinsuit. I raced the Madison USGP races to get an idea of where I was against the kind of riders I would see at Nats.  I raced the Stomach of Anger CX and Bloomer Park CX races in a desperate bid to hold onto fitness and grab points.

But after those races, I was in a bit of a bad place.  My rear tubular was trashed and I didn’t really want to spend the money on another one.  I was finally over my month-long illness when I slid into the boards playing hockey and really hurt my ribs.  The semester was coming to a close at work, which means marathon grading sessions.  I was dragging my feet getting a trainer tire on the rear wheel of the bike.  I didn’t know if I even wanted to go ride in the snow I was sure was going to be there.

As December ticked away, it became clear that snow wasn’t going to be an issue.  I was putting on weight from not exercising and eating too many Christmas cookies.  Our holiday travel plans settled down into something that was going to make the trip to Nats possible.  So I renewed my USAC license, sent in my registration fee and dug out some Trainright videos to try to find some fitness before the race.  I ordered some Vittoria Cross XG tubulars on the cheap from Competitive Cyclist.  (I really dig the XGs, but they are a massive pain to mount.  I’ll review them sometime later.)

December 23, 8:30 PM.  I go down to the basement to get in a hard ride before the craziness of Christmas.  I get ready for a hard interval, but the chain doesn’t want to go up onto the big ring.  I push the shifter one last time.  It clicks kind of funny and the chain moves.  I pedal through the interval and try to drop the chain back down to recover, but it won’t go.  In fact, the paddle on the shifter won’t even return.  Dang.  

I like my local shop, but they’re not much of a road shop, so they didn’t have any replacements.  I took my bike with me downstate to Kinetic Systems and they told me it was most likely a warranty replacement.  (Yay!)  But Shimano was closed for the week.  (Boo!)  They has a Tiagra shifter they could put on (yay!) but they wouldn’t suggest it, since $100 for an inferior replacement for a part that should be warrantied seems pretty stupid.  Upon their recommendation, I had a 42-tooth Salsa single chainring mounted to try to be ready for the race.  I only rode it a few times before the race, but figured it would be good.  (I’m pretty heavy-handed at this “foreshadowing” thing.)

Cut to the race.  There wasn’t any snow anywhere, but there was ice in the track and the beginning of some mud.  I did a few delicate laps to get to know the course, and realized that when I was completely fresh, I was still in my smallest available gear going up the big climb.  Uh-oh.  I did some warming-up in the CycleOps tent, feeling all pro.  Then I headed over to line up.  I got a front-row call-up, which was nice.  It meant that for about 3 seconds, I got to be at the front of the race.  Better some than none, I guess.

I was sticking with the group pretty reasonably until the climb, when people were slowing down too much for my rear tire to keep traction when I stood up to pedal.  I jumped off to run the bike, slipped and fell.  I started chasing hard and caught back on and even passed a couple guys.  I thought I could just sit there and be pretty happy with my race, but things just kept getting worse.

There was a big 90-degree turn before the barriers that I slid out and crashed on twice (curse you, Challenge Grifo).  I struggled to make it through the sand pit.  I was running out of gears and gas on the big climb.  My back ached from turning over bigger gears than I am used to.  My rear derailleur was packed with mud and wasn’t shifting well.  My cleats and SPD pedals were so crammed with mud I couldn’t clip in for the last two laps.  I watched pretty much everybody ride away from me.

I got lapped by the leader about 2/3 of the way through the last lap, which saved me the trouble of going around again.  I was pretty happy to be done, but proud to have finished.  If you look at my USAC results, that race did all sorts of good things for my rankings due to its difficulty.

I probably sound bitter or discouraged, but I’m not.  It was a hard course against hard competition and I was underprepared.  I know what I need to do next year:

  • Use the Time-Crunched Cyclist plan to peak for Nationals regardless of what it does to my other races.  My results have always been better from CTS plans than anything else.
  • Get my other Vittoria XG tubular mounted and see if I hate it as badly as the Challenge Grifos (it’s looking good so far).  Then, make sure I feel comfy riding in mud/snow.
  • If the XGs don’t work out, find some tubulars I actually like to ride (or sell the dang rims and be the cool kid riding ‘cross tubeless).
  • Get my Raleigh/Twin Six Dark Horse built up and do some singlespeed races.
  • If necessary, do a Cat 4-only “C” race somewhere to get some upgrade points.
  • Lose the extra weight.

I had a great start to my year at the Cable Classic and the Chain Drive.  I’ve got two big goals for 2012/13: crush the Stoney Creek Marathon and do CX Nats right.

Time to get to work.


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