2014 Iron Cross Day 1: Al Quaal

2014 Iron Cross

Cyclocross is generally a discipline of mostly flat terrain, aside from those unrideable steep bits.  In a lot of ways, that’s what makes singlespeed ‘cross so viable.  There might be some places where you would spin out and a few places you would have to run when others can ride, but you can ride a singlespeed in a field of geared riders and not get embarrassed.

Most of the time.

Al Quaal Recreation Area is probably more well-known as a winter sports venue due to the XC ski trails and tube slide.  That also helps you understand the terrain — many, many hills.  And the course this year used ALL OF THEM.  My first pre-ride took over 10 minutes.  I didn’t think the singlespeed would be a good choice, but I took a quick pre-ride on it anyways.  Surprisingly, I actually rode it faster.  I decided to go for the Jake anyways.

So off we went and I was gapped before a quarter of a lap.  Sigh.  I was hoping I would be able to pull some folks back later in the race and just kept going as hard as I could.  This course was insane in that at times I was in the easiest possible gear and barely turning it over and at other times, I was bombing down ski trails at 30 mph.  I’ve never had a race with so much variation in speed.

Eventually, I passed one guy who was having mechanical difficulties so I wasn’t dead last.  However, I got lapped by the leader twice.  A hard effort, but not one that yielded a good result.

When I got back home and uploaded the GPS trace to Strava, I found somebody had already defined the course as a Segment.  I had the 5th fastest lap (which just means that not that many people in the UPCROSS series use Strava).  However, my singlespeed pre-ride (wherein I leisurely walked up one of the hills) was faster than all but one of my race laps.  I wish I understood why racing with one gear (even one that was so ill-matched to the hills of this course) made me so much faster than racing with 20 gears.

The big questions that come out of this race are:

  • How much should I race my singlespeed when it seems to be so much faster?
  • What do I need to do to get back in the game on my geared bike?
  • What gloves do I need to keep my hands from getting so raw during races?  (I almost had to quit early because my hands were starting to hurt, just like back in the MTU Ronde in July.)
  • Is it time to drop back to the B races?

The nice weather is probably over now, with just the cold and wet ‘cross races remaining.  And there’s still lots of time to figure things out.  For now, it’s a couple of weeks off, coming back for the Keweenaw Cup on October 18 and 19.


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