Since I first saw the UCI cyclocross schedule in early 2012, I knew I wanted to go back to the Planet Bike Cup. I had ridden there in 2011 and had a blast. I got to see the pros, got to ride with some people who are way faster than me and get a chance to really challenge myself and my equipment. When a sponsorship crisis nearly cancelled the event, I was immensely glad to see Trek step in. Since my original post about Katie Compton riding for Trek this year, Trek has shown itself to be seriously devoted to cyclocross. They deserve an apology for my cynicism and a huge amount of my gratitude. So the Planet Bike Cup was back on, and I was going to be there.
I had really hoped to ride my new Dark Horse, but some of the parts I needed hadn’t arrived yet. I just focused on getting my Tricross ready and riding the best Cat 4 races I could. After Sherman Cross, I was a little worried that my new NoTubes Alpha 400 wheels were going to be a problem. My race that weekend had been all of 11 minutes before the tire burped, spewed sealant everywhere and came off the rim. The guys at the Bike Shop had talked to the NoTubes guys during Interbike and got some good tips on how to get the tire to seal up better. (The answer seemed to be: an extra layer of the NoTubes yellow tape and a layer of Gorilla Tape.) I had also barely managed to dial in my new TRP CX9 brakes before I left and was still getting used to them. All told, the bike I was riding in the race this year looked a lot the same, but had new bar tape, new brakes, some new cabling, new wheels, new tire and new front derailleur. How did all that new stuff do?
It was great to get down to Sun Prairie on Friday night in time to pick up my numbers for the weekend. It was also kind of cool to use the USA Cycling app instead of my printed license (though I did have the printed one with me). That meant Saturday morning was a much easier affair. I followed all the tips from the Jeremy Powers Cross Camp video: I was wearing all of my heaviest gear for my three warmup laps. One lap to just scope things out, one lap to start playing with lines and speed, one hot lap. Then I went back to the car, took off the heavy gloves and beanie in favor of the mid-temperature stuff. I left the jacket and knee warmers on until the start. I grabbed a Honey Stinger gel and rooted around for a bit to find some water, as I had cleverly left my water bottle back in the hotel room.
Lining up was done the same way as last year, simply by registration number. (Mental note: If I go down there again, I have to register earlier.) I handed my jacket off to my wife at the 3 minute to go mark, but kept the knee warmers on. This proved to be a mistake, as they started falling down after the first lap and kept falling down for the next 24 minutes. The start wasn’t bad, and soon we were into a groove. I wasn’t sure how much I could push the corners — both in terms of how much the Clement PDX tread could handle and how much the NoTubes wheels would handle. I was keeping up with the pack for the most part and feeling okay.
The rest of the race is mostly a blur of passing, being passed, pulling up knee warmers and riding myself cross-eyed. I ended up finishing 29/73, even with irritating knee warmers. I had 32 psi in the front tire and 33 in the rear. I felt a little bounced around, but not too bad. I was mostly happy with my effort that day.
Later, we went back and I got to wander around watching the Pro Men and Pro Women race. I found some great places to watch and take pictures, including one spot where the riders passed so close to me at the tape that I could feel the wind as they went by. There was a dominating performance by Katie Compton in the women’s race and Lukas Fluckiger nearly stole the show from Jeremy Powers in the men’s race.
Sunday was supposed to be colder than Saturday and while we had to scrape frost from the car, it warmed up a lot quicker once I got riding. The course changes were pretty minimal, but there was one section that had us beating down new lines though some thick grass and then riding sections from Saturday’s course backwards. I didn’t really like this part in the pre-ride and it proved my undoing in the race itself. I went through the same pre-race logistics: 3 laps at increasing speeds, removing some clothes and heading to the start. It was already warming up, so I ditched the jacket and the knee warmers before we even went into the starting grid. By the time the race was done, I think I could have been comfortable in a standard jersey, arm warmers and bib shorts. Same kind of start and going into the second lap, things started getting out of hand. Going around one of the big, sweeping corners at the beginning of the course, someone starting leaning pretty heavily into me and I had to lean back pretty hard not to go down. After working our way back to the part of the course I wasn’t thrilled with, someone moved up next to me and I was ready to let him pass for good going through the trees. He hit some loose dirt, went down and took me out too. He claimed responsibility quickly and I just tried to get up and carefully extricate my pedal from his spokes. I noticed it looked like his tire had been wrenched off the rim and mentioned as much to him as I ran to remount my bike. Unfortunately, I started hearing a dragging sound.
I wondered what it was. The brakes? The tire? What was out of whack? I just kept pedaling and as I got onto the straightaway lining the pit area, I heard PING! and the rubbing sound went away. All that care that had been lavished on my rims paid off as the tire reseated itself and kept me in the race. That was the good news. The bad news was that I had lost the group I was riding with and went off in search of them. I never did catch them.
I picked off a few racers here and there and was feeling relatively good. Then, on a slippery off-camber section, the bike went down again. More rubbing, another PING! and I thought I was set. However, during one of those crashes, my brakes got all messed up. I’d like to think it was the first one, but the GPS trace shows a marked slowdown after the 3rd lap, which is more consistent with the second crash. I found myself running out of gears on the “big ring” portion of the course and coming to a near stop through some of the chicanes. A couple guys I had passed came around me again like they weren’t trying. I was running out of gas and couldn’t figure out why. They even sent us out on one more lap than I had expected, but I managed not to lose any more places. 44/76 on the day. It wasn’t until I stopped and started walking the bike that I realized just how screwed up the brakes were. My kids couldn’t spin the wheel at all and my wife had to use both hands. I suppose that says something for how hard I was working.
The WD40 BIKE guys were great, cleaning stuff up afterwards. My chain is shinier than I’ve seen it in a long while. I had a good conversation where I got to dispense all the knowledge I had on the NoTubes rims and brag on my shop. We packed up and headed home via my sister-in-law’s house. It was a good weekend, even with a crummy second race.
As mentioned earlier, if I’m going down there again, I need to register on the first day, as early as I can. I can hang with the guys at the front if I’m not held up by slower riders. Alternatively, I need to just gun it harder at the starts. I definitely learned that I have been overdressing. The mornings were in the 40’s and I was comfortable with my base layer, Twin Six thermal skinsuit and a standard cycling cap. I love having a pre-race routine. My detailed and (occasionally excruciating) pre-shot routine for golf is a mentally stabilizing exercise that has paid off in spades over the years. Having a solid pre-race routine for ‘cross performs much the same purpose. I need to play with even lower pressures on the tires. I think I can go down another 2-3 psi on both tires before things start getting iffy. The same irritating pattern from last year kept playing out: getting dropped a little on the straights only to be riding their wheel in the corners. I don’t know what the solution to this is, aside from taking less ideal lines through the corners in order to complete the pass. If the tire/wheel combo I have now continues to be a problem, I’ll start looking at a dedicated tubeless tire. Trek is serious into cyclocross (finally) and I’m excited to have them on board.
This is supposed to be an off-weekend, but I may try to go down to Marquette for the Saturday UPCROSS race. Then it’s definitely a couple weeks off before some more UPCROSS action in Marquette (maybe) and Copper Harbor (definitely). Somehow I think this season is going to go too quickly.