When I made plans for my Thanksgiving-Cross family vacation, I had two goals in mind:
1. Race in Cat 4 races and place highly enough to accrue sufficient points to upgrade to Cat 3.
2. Race my Twin Six Dark Horse singlespeed a couple of times.
Let me discuss how each race went from a very high-level point of view. I do this for a couple of reasons. First of all, the first of these races happened almost two weeks ago, so the details are fuzzy. Second, the wins all ended up being the same race: Ride around with the group for the first lap, take the lead and then ride away from everybody.
One benefit of the week came from watching the Jeremy Powers Cross Camp video. I had brought one of everything in my cycling wardrobe. To wit:
- 2 short sleeved jerseys
- 2 pairs of bib shorts
- 2 pairs of arm warmers
- 2 base layers (different thicknesses)
- leg warmers
- thermal skinsuit
- 3 pairs of gloves (regular, medium weight and heavy weight)
- 3 hats (windblocking, wicking and knit)
- 4 pairs of socks (2 lightweight, 2 wool)
- 3 jackets (lightweight wind breaker, awesome Pactimo Breckenridge jacket, even more awesome Twin Six thermal jacket)
And I needed all of it at some point during the week.
Race 1: Swamp Thing CX, Men 19-34 Cat 4. Lansing, MI.
I raced this event last year and enjoyed it. It’s very flat, as ‘cross courses go, but not easy. It’s an old par-3 municipal golf course that the organizers convinced the city into letting them use as a ‘cross park. I heard rumblings that the city might sell and develop the property, which would be a shame.
The weather was very pleasant, though just a bit cool when I was dressing, so on went the METAL skinsuit, albeit without a base layer. By the time the race was done, I definitely didn’t need it anymore. I had my normal slow start but by the end of the first few turns, was riding second wheel. I followed the leader around the rest of the course (largely because I had done exactly zero pre-riding of the course) and attacked on the second lap. My gap just grew and grew back to my group. I did get passed by the 35+ leader, who started 30 seconds behind me. I still won my category, exciting my family and earning me a set of Cross Propz. Points toward Cat 3 upgrade: 3.
Race 2: Swamp Thing CX, SS Mixed 1/2/3/4. Lansing, MI.
After riding away with the Cat 4 race, this was a real humbling experience. The weather had gotten quite nice, so I wore my 2012 METAL kit, the all white one. It’s the only time I actually raced in that kit. I lined up with a bunch of guys who had just finished the Elite Mens race (woo!) and one lady who had won her Elite race. They all claimed to be tired, but shot off the line at a pace I couldn’t even begin to match. I was excited when one guy stopped for a mechanical problem and thought I wouldn’t finish last, at least. He ended up catching and passing me about 2 laps later. After catching up to the lady, we started trading the lead every so often. She was always quicker up the hills, but when it was flat and pedaly, I would gain on her or pass her. When she took the lead into the last lap, I stopped trying to pass her, pinning my hope on the sprint. It worked! I snuck past her for 9/10 in that race.
Race 3: Waterford Hills, Men 19-29 Cat 4. Waterford, MI.
I grew up on a little lake on the boundary between Clarkston and Waterford called Townsend Lake. Across the lake was the Oakland County Sportsmen’s Club, a place I knew only for the occasional sound of gunfire and occasional race car noises. It was while living at that house that I first learned how to ride a bike — first a Huffy BMX bike and then a Schwinn Frontier (from before Schwinn was sold in Wal-Mart). It was with tangible pleasure that I toed the start line for this race, so close to my first home. While the weather had gotten nice enough during the week that I was riding in short sleeves and shorts, I was considerably bundled up that day. At the whistle, I went off the line as fast as I wanted to go into the first turn and nearly got the holeshot. A few other people rocketed past and then slammed on their brakes to prep for the turn, which seems like a waste to me. I ended up 5th wheel for half of the first lap. Where the CX course crossed the paved track, someone attacked out of 3rd place and I latched on. I followed him for about a quarter of the lap before taking an opportunity to pass. There was one small hill that had some small landscape timbers set across to ostensibly force us to dismount. I found them trivial to ride — but not a lot of the other Cat 4 guys did. Every lap, I picked up a few seconds riding that hill. 3 laps later, I rode across the line nearly a minute in front of second place. My kids were frozen and sat in the car for the podium presentation. Points toward Cat 3 upgrade: 4.
Race 4: Waterford Hills, SS Mixed 1/2/3/4. Waterford, MI.
I lined up to this race with a lot of trepidation. After getting solidly schooled in the art of singlespeeding the week before, I was expecting more of the same this day. The field was a bit smaller, due to the frigid temps, but turned out to have a much wider range of talent. I was still hanging barely on the back for the first quarter lap before the field really self-selected. There was one really fast guy, two more pretty fast guys, me and another guy who were pretty evenly matched and then two slower guys. I was pretty happy to keep the front of the race in sight, though I was struggling to bring back the guy riding in 4th. I got a big break when he bobbled on the hill with the landscape timbers and got back 10 seconds. Going into the final lap, I really turned it on to try to catch him, flying through the barriers at a reckless speed and spinning like the proverbial hamster to catch him at the line. I was 0.944 seconds too slow. Since Tailwind Racing does chip timing, I have lap times from both races. What interests me is the difference between the Cat 4 race (that I won) and the SS race (that I barely placed well in). Here are the laps times:
Cat 4: 7:40.375, 7:48.247, 7:51.295, 7:51.994 Total Time: 31:11.911
SS: 7:18.716, 7:28.784, 7:27.442, 7:14.224 Total Time: 29:35.153
I was 36 seconds faster on my SS with tubes and clinchers than on my geared bike. The one with the nice tubeless tires and everything. I was only 1:10 back from the winner. The first two positions were taken by guys who hadn’t really raced all day. That’s just fascinating to me. Am I faster on the SS or am I capable of rising to a challenge when necessary?
I took an opportunity after this race to ride to my old house and just reminisce a little. Somehow it’s changed a lot and not at all.
Race 5: Waterford Hills, Men 19-39 Cat 4. Waterford, MI.
It is hard to describe the emotions you have when you wake up the morning of a bike race and see a bunch of snow on the ground. It was even colder than it had been the day before and we had to ride in the snow. Part of me relished the idea of suffering for ‘cross in a proper style and part of me really just wanted to hang out in front of the fireplace. I bundled up, took a couple PSI out of the tires and set to work. I had a selfish little goal in mind for this race: lead from start to finish. I took the holeshot and tried not to look back. We were running the course in reverse and there was one rutted hill we had to climb that I tried to prep for ahead of time. I was still overgeared by one cog, spun out near the top and the one guy who had held my wheel passed me. For the rest of that lap I hung on his wheel and let him tire out. Going into the Start/Finish straight, I passed him again and then just settled into my groove. I turned in four solid, if unspectacular, laps and rolled across in first place again, 38 seconds ahead of 2nd. Points toward Cat 3 upgrade: 4.
I had really wanted to do the singlespeed race this day as well — at least when I had signed up. I wasn’t so excited about it that day. It was good that I didn’t do it, because it took a really long time to get home on nasty, snowy roads.
Th-th-th-th-th-th-that’s all folks!
And so ends my 2012 cyclocross season. While the UPCROSS finals are this weekend, there’s 8 inches of snow on the ground and I just don’t care. CX Nationals are close, but a family vacation will prevent me from attending. But I met both criteria for my Cat 3 upgrade: 10 races and 11 points. I’ve been compulsively checking USAC’s website and CrossResults.com to see the points get added and they haven’t yet. I’m getting antsy! Stay tuned for a CX Season Wrap-up and the official announcement of an upgrade. The biggest question in my mind now is how much I should look into racing SS next year and if I should stop abusing the Dark Horse by riding it in the salt and snow of a Houghton winter as a commuter bike!