Saturday, September 26, 2009

Victory is Mine!

Grappling with the elements and a field of 100+ riders, today, I was finally able to claim that elusive top podium spot. As this is my first win ever, I'd like to give a more detailed account then I typically provide of the circumstances that led to this amazing victory.

The weather was damp and in the mid 50's as I gathered up my clothing and gear for today's ensuing ride. I had to choose wisely, since the temp was supposed to get into the low 70s and I didn't want to overheat. I decided to go with a short sleeved base and jersey, bib shorts, arm and leg warmers, a cycling cap under my helmet and "Belgian Booties". With weather more befitting a Spring Classic in April than a late September ride, I mounted my trusty road bike and headed out. Little did I know what I was in for.

My plan was to ride to the start for a warm up and just see where my legs took me from there. As I arrived at the start, I noticed two things immediately. First was the overwhelming size of the field. There must have been at least 100+ riders. Second, that I must have missed the start since some riders were already well on their way.

With no time to dilly-dally, I picked my way through the main pack and set my sights on the two break-away groups up the path. There was one group of five, and then, further up, another duo of riders. As I slowly reeled in the first group I was amazed at how great my legs felt. I was turning over my 39x20 like it was nothing! The speed was high as I looked down and saw the "30" flash on the screen of my cyclo-computer. Then I remembered it was set to kph not mph... Nevertheless, I was nearly on top of the group of five and, with the speed I was carrying, I knew I would just blow right by them. As I neared the last rider in the group, I thought about jumping in the rotation to recover from my effort, and just as I was almost on his wheel, he pulled off the side of the path!! Then the craziest thing happened, the remaining 4 riders did the same. I just chalked it up to them "answering the call of nature" but there was a woman in the group too...

Oh well, no time to dwell, I still had the 2 lone leaders to chase down. I would catch glimpses of them as the path twisted and wound among the foliage, and I could tell I was definitely gaining. I upshifted to my 39x14 and really put the hammer down. I'm not sure what got into me but I was gaining on them like they were standing still! As I approached, I slid the bike over to the left, seeking out the portion of the trail where the opposing traffic had worn a path and flew by them. The man in front looked at me with an inquisitive glance. As I looked back, I noticed he was about 70 years old, I must have caught up to the Masters group...

As I turned my gaze up the trail, I noticed the finish line. There was no one in front of me! I had a good 30-40 seconds on the group of two behind me so I adjusted my jersey and held my arms aloft in a victory salute as I coasted across the line. The promoters had a refreshment table set up at the finish but I by-passed that and instead opted for a cooled down. Victory has never tasted so sweet. I almost need to repeat it to believe it's real: I finished first in the Clinton River Trail Fall Classic 10 Mile Fun Ride. And it was all by accident that I happened upon these cyclists admiring the fall colors, but as a wise man once told me, every ride is a race. Victory is mine!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Welcome to the Killer B's...

Day 1 - in the belly of the beast...

So this is a bit late in coming but I really needed to let my first races of the season percolate before giving them their due. Also, I was hoping to include some pics courtesy of the local photogs.

To recap, last weekend was the Michigan Double Cross, a two day cyclocross extravaganza put on by Tailwind, Kinetic Systems and the Flying Rhinos Cycling Club. The course was set up at Waterford Hills Raceway and came complete with the usual suspects; undulations, two sets of barriers, 180 degree turns, sand, and bumpy terra firma. Oh, and let's not forget the "Orange Crush" - a flyover of monstrous proportions - huge, steep steps going up, a very short bridge section and a steep ramp going back down. The Orange Crush was my nemesis both days...

Day 1 - Here I am going down the ramp - looking like a pro. Good thing it's not a video, otherwise you would see how slow I really was...

First impression of the weekend: it was really refreshing to do some 'cross racing after a summer of road racing. It's such a different world. Fun seems to be a bigger priority in cyclocross. Don't get me wrong, cyclocross racing is an absolute bitch while you're out there, but in an odd way, it's fun at the same time. Maybe because the folks who race cyclocross don't take themselves as seriously... All I know is, I heard lots of folks throwing around the word "fun" at the weekend races. You rarely ever (never?) hear the term "fun" used in any context at a road race. Weird.

After chewing and digesting my races over the weekend, here's my thoughts and observations:
  • Racing in B is definitely tougher. 45+ minutes takes its toll.
  • I felt much better on Sunday than I did on Saturday, although my results didn't really show it (19th on Saturday, 17th on Sunday)
  • It was much easier for me to ride the sand on Sunday
  • Barrier work was decent - still jumping a bit high but at least it seemed smooth.
  • Need to work on my starts - getting good placement in that first turn is crucial.
  • My wife and little girl came out both days - it was great to have my own cheering section! Thanks to all the other Rhinos who offered encouragements, I heard 'em!
  • One other funny thing - every time my daughter hears a cowbell, she yells "Go Daddy!" - she's awesome!
Next up for me is a night race in Monroe, Michigan. Last year, I didn't do too shabby there so we'll see how it goes!

Thanks to Andrea Tucker, Hans Nyberg and Bruce LeBlanc for the photos!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Reality Check

My first cyclocross race of the season, the Michigan Double Cross Race 1, is officially in the record books.

Now I know where I stand, a stake has been struck into the hard, dry, Michigan ground. Now I have a point of reference from which to measure my progress.

Leading up to that first race, it's funny because there are all these expectations, preconceived notions and questions of how I would perform. How would I measure up now that I've moved up to the "B" group? Well, now all that has been answered. No more hiding behind a facade of 60 mile road rides, it's laid bare for all to see.

Maybe that's what cyclocross is about. Whether your state, national or world champion, there's no hiding. There's no team to tow you around the course, and, come the last lap, cut you loose to crush your competition There's no 100-man peloton to provide shelter.

Cyclocross is solitary, it's painful, and it's beautiful. There's a camaraderie despite the solitude, that exists in knowing that each and every racer out there is hurting too (some just go a hell of a lot faster amidst their suffering).

I consider racing "play by plays" a little stale. Is anyone really interested in hearing the minutia of every grueling minute of my race?? I've done them in the past and I kinda regret it. I'll keep that commentary to myself. Suffice to say, I was a bit underwhelmed with my performance, however, my expectations may have been too high. I felt smooth on the barriers, had big issues with the flyover, did ok cornering and felt ok power wise. I finished around 18th place (actually it was 19th place). I say "around" because I'm not positive since I didn't stick around to find out. I kept post-race lolly-gagging to a minimum since I had my family with me and I promised them a nice lunch afterward for serving as my cheering section.

FYI -My daughter (she's two) rang her first cowbell today. Yup, I'm a proud papa!

Got another race tomorrow and I can't wait. Oh yeah - congrats to fellow Rhino Mark for a strong showing in the B race - 5th place! I'll give a shout out to Jan and Steve too, you guys finished strong. Way to go!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Back From the Clinic

Nope, I'm not talking about where you go when you have The Clap, I'm talking about a cyclocross clinic. And what a doosy it was...

First off, there was this thing:

This is "The Orange Crush" and it's a bitch. If there was ever something that made you realize that you take too long to clip in, this is it. You've got roughly 6 feet up there before plummeting down the ramp...

Here are some of my thoughts, recollections and observations from the clinic:
  • Water is good, drink lots of it.
  • the sun is hot.
  • When you are being lapped by a really fast, elite level rider, they make very little noise.
  • I'm damn glad my bike has an aluminum steerer. There were a couple of my transitions coming off the ramp of "The Orange Crush" where, if my steerer had been carbon, I think it would have snapped and my face would have gotten intimate with the grassy substrate.
  • I love to hit myself in the head with my saddle when shouldering the bike. In fact, it's my favorite thing to do.
  • For those of us who are less than stellar bike-handlers, some sections are just easier to run
  • I hate running.
  • Barriers are fun.
  • I jump WAAYY too high on my remount - if not remedied, this may, one day, give me what I like to refer to as "the poor-man's vasectomy".
  • When I'm truly suffering (as I was during the last 3-4 laps of the 40 minute practice race), well wishes and words of encouragement only serve to further demoralize me.
  • Tuberculosis originated at a cyclocross race during the 1600's.
  • I love Challenge Fango tires.
  • I want a new bike.
  • I have what's know as "Monkey Arms".
  • PB&J is not a good pre-race food.
  • Fig Newtons are amazing.
  • After a long day of riding, I crave sweets and baked goods like a son-of-a-bitch (such as chocolate chip cookies and carrot cake).
  • I hate cyclocross.
  • I like things that make me suffer.
  • I love cyclocross.
Thanks to Kinetic Systems Bicycles, Tailwind Enterprises and The Flying Rhinos Cycling Club for a great time!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Kick Off Those 'Cross Webs - It's Here

It's officially cyclocross season! Actually, I've been focused on cross for the last month or so, but that was more due to a less-than-stellar road racing season (I was eager to put it behind me).

Did my first group ride with the club this past Tuesday. It was great! Perfect, stereotypical cyclocross weather (rainy and cool) and hanging out with some friends from the club, can't think of a better way to spend a Tuesday night. Although, I felt like I had gone through a thousand mini-doping controls with all the mosquitoes sampling some of my blood.

Looking forward to a great cyclocross clinic this Saturday and experiencing my first flyover... THE ORANGE CRUSH (duhn, dah, duhn...)

The Monster in the making...

Monday, September 7, 2009

New Pedals and Kicks for the 'Cross Bike

Hailing more from the financially destitute camp than the "I have 3 pit bikes and 8 sets of carbon wheels" camp, one of my friends has taken pity on me and given me a great deal on a slightly used set of Challenge Fango clinchers and a brand spanking new set of XTR mtb pedals.

Here's my impressions:

XTR Pedals
Oh my, my... Let me just start by saying, my old pedals were these old, gold Ritchey SPDs from 1996. If I dismounted in anything but dry sand and/or dry grass, I could pretty much guarantee that I would be riding unclipped the remainder of the race. These pedals just wouldn't engage unless it was a squeaky clean cleat/pedal interface. Not so with the XTR's. These have plenty of room to spare for things like mud or snow. And with those big, menacing clamps (the left one took a pretty nice "bite" of my calf on a botched dismount) when the cleat is pressed on them, they just open up and latch on. Done.

Challenge Fango Clinchers
I was running a set of Michelin Mud tires prior. The Muds are nothing to scoff at and they are an excellent tire, but I was really interested in trying something a bit more supple. Now, I don't have much to base my comparison on, nut these are the best cornering tire I have ever ridden. I'm not the best bike handler out there, but these things made me feel like I could corner twice as fast as on my Michelins. I was running them about 30 psi and they felt plenty supple and absorbed the bumps well enough to allow for steady powering. I guess the truth is in the races...

On other thing I "upgraded" - my seatpost. The bike came with some cheapo carbon post and the clamp broke. So I took my Thompson off my old road bike. The Thompson has no set back so my position is a bit different, but I'll live with it since it was free.