Friday, October 30, 2009

Maybury Lungbuster CX

Last Sunday, if you weren't in Kentucky, the action around these parts was at Maybury State Park. There was a certain amount of menace and eerie anticipation for this race. For starters, it was called "Lungbuster". This was, I assumed, both a nod toward the park's past (It was a tuberculosis sanatorium back in the day) and a warning of the impending lung scorching that awaited the participants. The course proved that the name was true to its word.

Me on the run-up (I'm the guy in purple and yellow right behind the guy in black) Thanks Bruce for the photos!

The race definitely wasn't my cup of tea, too much single track and a technical descent, but that's partly what made it fun. The race started off well enough, I was probably in about 8th or 9thth place at the start. Then my lack of technical skills became apparent and, 8 laps and a couple crashes later, 14th place. Not a great result for me but it definitely put me out of my comfort zone, terrain-wise, so hopefully I picked up something there (other than the scrape along my left shin).

Props go out to the following:
  • Steve: your amazing technical skills and your Spicy Mango-powered cardiovascular system saw you to a top ten spot. Nice work!
  • Jan: thanks for sharing in my pre-race fear of the muddy, boulder strewn, off-camber descent - I felt your pain, brother.
  • Bruce and Andy: your kind sentiments on the run-up were nothing less than inspiring. I love you guys.
  • The dude holding the can of Zima (or some other alcoholic beverage): thank you for ensuring all the racers were properly hydrated - your selflessness is exemplary. If you are taking orders, I enjoy Bells Double Cream Stout - especially when I'm at the point of anaerobic exhaustion...
Here's a nice little video Bruce took of the run-up. Steve and I are in the purple and yellow.

Next weekend is a double in Ann Arbor. This race is one of my favorites. We'll see how she goes!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Mad Anthony and The Grinder

Considering it's almost the weekend, I feel kinda foolish finally posting something about last weekend's racing. Given the caliber of these events, I figured I should at least give them their due.

Better late than never.

Let's start with last Saturday's Race:

The race took place on the grounds of historic Fort Wayne, a fort constructed in the 1800's to defend against the British invading from Canada. Last Saturday saw an invasion of another kind, when scores of cyclocrossers stormed the steep run-ups of this twisted race course.

Twisted, it definitely was. The start consisted of a 100 meter straight followed by a sweeping left turn into what can best be described as a grass wall. This thing was steep, I had a bit of trouble riding up it during my practice laps. Once at the summit of the grass wall, it was a 180 degree turn right back down... What followed was a series of chicanes, 180 degree bends and straight-aways that offered absolutely no quarter whatsoever. Then there was a two-track "road" around the outside walls of the fort. This dirt was packed down really well so you could really get some speed, the only problem being the razor sharp pieces of brick and foundation sticking up from the ground. Hit one of these and your tire was toast. I think a lot of racers learned this the hard way. The course then took a turn and it was into a really dark tunnel through the actual fort walls. Really cool. A lot of the photogs were lurking in the shadows to get a unique shot or two of the action. Exit the tunnel and it was up a cobblestone street to the top of a steep embankment and then right down it. This descent was a bit steep, I'm a bit embarrassed to say, on my first practice lap, I went right through the tape trying to negotiate the drop off... Next, a turn into a set of barriers and right back up the same hill we just went down. A few twists and turns later and it was back to the start/finish.

The course was great fun and the venue was very unique. The start even featured a guy dressed in civil war garb that signaled the start by firing a musket. I also managed to get 7th place, which happened to be my first top ten of the year!

Saturday took a lot out of me but I had another race to do on Sunday.

Sunday's Race:
This was the Lower Huron course in Belleville, MI. This is a local favorite due to the variety of terrain and a nasty run-up affectionately referred to as "The Grinder". This was your more typical Michigan 'cross race, with a sand pit, 3 sets of barriers, and the aforementioned run-up, all taking place in a Metro Park. The race went ok, even though my legs didn't feel quite 100%, I ended up coming in 9th.

I'm not complaining. I'm making progress, and my goal this year was to finish the majority of my races in the top 10 in the "B" category. Well, that's 2 out of 5 so far. I had a bit of a bumpy start, but I think I'm finally back on track and riding where I want to be.

NOTE: To those of you keeping tabs, I rode the Challenge Latex tubes both days and have a few observations to report:
  1. They are light and seem to allow for much quicker spin-up
  2. Watch the tire pressure - they have a harder "feel" than what the actual pressure is. I recommend having a good pressure gauge to double check
  3. There was a few times during the races this weekend where it almost felt like I had a flat. I didn't, but it felt a little wishy-washy
  4. My friend Steve was running the same tubes, he pinched a bit of the tube between his rim and sidewall. The tube failed pretty catastrophically on his first lap. The latex is really flexible, it's very easy for it to get trapped between the tire and the rim when your mounting them.
  5. Make sure you use powder in your tires when you mount them, it keeps the latex from sticking to the inside of your tire.
  6. I'm a fan (at least until I flat during a race), they have some drawbacks but I think the light weight and the better acceleration make up for it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Few of My Favorite Things...

As I ease into my second season of cyclocross racing, I'm accumulating a mental list of some things that seem to work well for me, or, things that I just think are pretty damn cool. So from time to time, when creativity fails me, I'll post a few of them and the reasons I think they are top-shelf (this just so happens to be one of those times).

Challenge Fango Open Tubulars

Challenge Fango, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:
  1. They grip in the corners like a sonuvabitch
  2. Supple as all get out
  3. They look cool
  4. They corner like they are on rails
  5. They are as close as I'll get to tubulars this season
  6. Did I mention how well they corner?

Mad Alchemy Medium Embrocation

Ahhh... Just cracking the jar and getting a whiff of this potent elixir conjures up images of run-ups, barriers and cow bells. It is to cyclocross what Vicks is to chest congestion. In the middle of the summer, my wife has caught me huffing this stuff in my basement, hoping for some sort of 'cross hallucination.

  • 20-30 minutes pre-race: Rub on legs for 5 minutes or so, really massage it in - it's also good for feet, lower back, hands (just watch it when you go for the pre-lineup pee...)
  • Enjoy the blissful warmth!
  • Remove with a dry towel and baby wipes
  • Enjoy the after-burn...

Challenge Latex Cyclocross Tubes

Before you go thinking I'm sponsored by Challenge or something, I'm not. I bought and tried all this stuff on my own. Took a chance. And, in this case, it paid off. These tubes are really light and supple. The best part is, they are available in 'cross tire sizes. You can shave about 100g off each wheel over regular butyl tubes. The ride quality seems improved, but where I noticed it most was accelerations.
This is probably the next best thing to actually having tubulars.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Saturday, October 10, 2009

It's all starting to come back to me...

No racing for me this weekend. All the action is down in Ohio and we're having a birthday party for my daughter, Jane on Sunday so I wanted to stay local. Over the coarse of the last few days, I've done a couple 'cross workouts and things are starting to click. My strength is coming back and my bike handling skills are improving. More importantly, my confidence is improving. My shitty performance over the spring and summer road racing really did a number on me - especially the crash.

Not sure if it was over-training or what but, I'm starting to feel like my old self again.


On a side note: Current World Champ Niels Albert is really kicking some cyclocross ass over in Europe. He just nabbed his 5th consecutive victory, with a 40 second lead over Sven Nys, who came in second...


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Working on Our Night Moves...

Thought a borrowed line from a great Seger tune would be a fitting title to recap my first night cyclocross race.

The PRO sheen...

A night race involves a whole different preparatory mindset than the usual day races. Racing in B, races usually start around 11 AM. So race day morning is usually spent packing the car and driving to the race. Well, when you're start time isn't until 7 PM, that leaves a lot of time thinking about the race. It's kinda like a mosquito bite, you may forget about it for a bit, but that nagging itch is never totally out of mind.

That "itch" was there all day (and the nerves to go with it) so I was definitely relieved to car-pool with my buddy Steve to race. The drive was a little over an hour so the conversation provided a great distraction.

If I had to think of stereotypical cyclocross conditions, Saturday would have been it. Overcast and rainy with temps in the 50s. I love that kind of weather. I get overheated pretty easily and those conditions just suit me. Plus, any good excuse to pull out the Mad Alchemy and embrocate up is just fine by me... I love that stuff so much I could eat it.

Back to the race - The course was set up in a city park in Monroe. It's pretty damn flat, with a solitary mound on one end of the course. This hill featured the typical run up and a short climb. This course definitely favored the power rider with lots of straights and not a lot of technical stuff.

For a warm up, me, Steve and Brian Love (gotta say Brian's full name cuz I dig it) did a short ride around a neighborhood near the park. I headed back to the car and laid the embro on extra thick (my legs looked like George Hamilton with jaundice), then it was onto the course to check it out. I did about 1 1/2 laps when I noticed that the starting line was already full of riders. I hustled over there and had to line up in back.

The race went decently for me. I felt better than I have in a long time, like my strength is finally coming back. I crashed once in the last lap (a remount mishap) but held on to my position, which ended up being 12th place. Not bad. The form is coming around.

After cooling down, Steve and I grabbed the cowbells and set up camp on the mound to cheer on our fellow crossers doing the single speed, masters and elite races. Here's what I learned - it is an amazing amount of fun cheering on your com padres as they put themselves through hell. I'm so hoarse today I can barely speak. Amazingly fun - I gotta stick around more often.

A huge thanks to Tailwind and Jack's Bicycle for putting on the race and to Andrea Tucker and Hans Nyberg for capturing our suffering for posterity.