Whoa. You ever get to that point in a season where you are like: “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, get me done already!!” And when the season finishes you suddenly start longing for ‘do-overs’. I equate my cross seasons to be somewhat like finding yourself in a mosh pit at a hard core speed metal show for 5 months straight, getting the absolute snot kicked out of you by some dude’s black leather jack boots, then leaving the theater after the encore with a bloody nose, ears ringing, ribs bruised….but then suddenly longing for one more song. Just one more….
We’re nearing that point in the season where the smart ones are peaking and the passionate ones are flailing (me). Races are raced hard, yet the smart ones are resting infinitely harder. (Make mental note: must practice this…). So as we’re growing close to season’s end, there is still racing to do. This past weekend saw some great racing action in Colorado Springs and Golden. You could literally see the exhaustion on, in and around most racers yet the courses were delectably fun.
Colorado Springs- Pike’s Peak Cyclocross No. 2
Driving 2 hours to a ‘cross to do a 45 minute race is…well I guess you can consider it an obsession. Co Springs is quite a hike but the folks that put the race on are great and the course I like…even though it is the antithesis of a course I know I can excel on. Needless to say, it appeared that ALL of us from the Boulder/Denver area are obsessive as it was a good sized field that showed up to play. All the usual suspects were there for the call up and would make for another hard day of racing.
The course in the ‘Springs is classic Colorado. Lots of bumpy rhythm-less paths, a death climb….and now Colorado’s new feature for ’09: mud! Many of the corners were super greasy making the tempo a bit slower and the need for bike handling a must. I took a total gamble before the season started and opted for Tyhpoons as the last few years have been super dry and fast. This year, however, the moisture gods have opened up with 2X the amount of snow we get on average here in the Front Range. Couple that with radically swinging temps and you get mud fairly quickly.
I decided to chill out and save a few matches for Sunday so with the whistle to send us up the paved straight, I just sat in the front 5 or so. I felt OK the first few laps but by the end of lap one, it was clear that Jon C was on a tear and he was gone. The only one realistically who could (and did) cover that obscene display of kick-ass-ness was JJ who left us all behind to play cat and mouse with Jon. The rest of us would scramble for the scraps of top 10 positions.
As the laps wore on I could see the exhaustion settle in. Mistakes made, lines blown, power lost. I bridged to my good friend Michael R who has been on a tear this season and even he with his MTB skills found barriers to be ‘just that too much high’. All of us were losing that slight bit of concentration and the flow became choppy and for some, true squares were being pedaled. Nonetheless it was super fun to be railing (or sliding!) with your buds in and through these muddy S turns. The bike and the Typhoons (32 today) railed well. The tire pressure was dialed in perfectly and I found myself only un-hooking once unintentionally. Everything else seemed to grab well even in intentional controlled slides to get through some dicey corners. I came across the line conservatively in (drum roll….) 8th with me gauging how hard to go to keep a late charging Robson and a resurgent Shawn Lortie at bay. No complaints, I rode well and kept to my plan to not blow my wad on day one as I wanted to go well at the Golden course the next day.
Golden-Green Mountain Sports ‘Cross
(All photos below by Dan Rieber unless otherwise noted. Buy some of his pics here!)
When the eyes opened on Sunday morning, I could feel the boogers in the nose, scratchiness in the throat and some swollen lymphs in the neck. It was a bit more pronounced than Saturday but not enough of a cold to keep me from ‘crossing. I dosed up on the secret cold serum and packed up the grocery getter with my equipment to make it down to Golden for the last race in the Green Mountain Sports series.
Golden is Boulder’s neighbor to the south and only takes 30 minutes or so to get there. When I pulled into the driveway of the venue, the car got immediately gunked with mud. It was incredible. Having raced this course before, I knew that it would be an absolute classic Belgian farm-field style race with essentially every square meter of course covered in mud…and so it would be!
When I left my house it was 30 degrees. By the time I hit the course for warm up it was 46 and rising fast. What were once trails frozen with snow were rapidly decelerating into a muddy mess. I love this course as it actually reminds me of the terrain in Belgium. If you added more trees it could be Baal. Not a lot of climbing and flowy undulations of the terra firma. Most similar however are the fields we ride on which are just like a prototypical Belgian farm fields. My warm up had me smiling given the fun factor but quickly I realized a) ‘wow, Typhoons are a pretty tough call on this course…’ and b) ‘holy crap, my bike in warm up is completely gunked with mud….and there’s no water source!’.
By race time we’re nearing 50 degrees so I embro’d up with Sportsbalm Hot (finding this to be pretty good having used Freddy’ Choice Extra for 2 seasons), grabbed my clean bike and lined up. They had us use a start chute on this grassy infield that was still covered in snow. At the whistle, I failed to do what I usually remember to do….and that is to ensure the cleat you have on the ground is clear of mud or in this case snow to get in the pedals quickly. So upon the whistle, I proceed to slip my left foot once…then twice…the three times. IMMEDIATELY in the back 15 or so. I tried like hell to push through the mêlée and get to the top 5 but the bottle neck was incredible. Today was a day that should have suited my off the line style…and was an absolute need to get out front…and I failed! ARRGH!
The first lap was all a mad scramble to position. The chaos of people losing their shit in the lines was incredible. I was able to scoot up to about 10th controlling my speed and trying to just stay smooth. The lines were unbelievably greasy and those that could flow would maintain their position. If you could do it from the get go, even better as the pack behind was a fumbling mess. By the end of lap one it was true attrition. Bikes were already a mess. The mud was thankfully not Colorado clay, it was wetter and soupier, but it was also filled with grass. I went two laps before I needed to dump off that A bike and grabbed my muddy B bike from my teammate John who was carefully watching us racing.
My A bike was on 32 Typhoons and when I jumped on the B bike, I could feel the difference positively with my 34’s. The larger surface area hooked better. Unbelievably, the SRAM Red on that B bike was shifting like a champ. Even with a caked front mech, it still got up and down from the 46 to the 39 without problem. The rear was also perfect with a SRAM Force cassette on the back which ejected the mud well. I’d ride this bike for the rest of the race…even as it gained an additional 15 lbs in mud!
For the middle set of laps in the race, I was railing with my team mate Mark Wisner and David Overstreet. On specific sections, I was amazed at David’s traction with his Tufo Cubus. It was spectacular. I would be slipping and unhooking up these sextons where I’d literally watch his rear tire dig in. (I will be trying these next season…). With my heart rate pinned and my body not able to keep the wheels railing, I lost contact with that group. The rest of the race was pure attrition. I could feel yesterday’s ‘reserved’ effort tear me apart in closing laps. Robson was dangling in front of me as I worked to bridge to him while I gauged my intervals to keep a charging Clay Harris from catching me. I had zero idea where we were. Just that I knew I wanted this ‘fun ride’ to be over. We all came across the line and dudes…FIT dudes mind you…were sprawled out on the snowy grass absolutely positively spent. It looked like a MASH unit in a combat zone. It was…awesome. 13th place. An anonymous 13th place that was harder than any placing I think I’ve ever worked for…save maybe for my absolute-crap ass showing at Nats last year.
And we do this every weekend to ourselves?
3 hours to clean the bike…including taking all those cassettes off the bikes to clean every square inch of mud out. I am still in disbelief this shit shifts under those conditions!
We’re almost there. We’re almost at the close of the 2009 season. Colorado States is December 5th and I am considering hanging up the sew-ups after that. No Bend for me this year. Just too busy with life and work…and the fact that Nat’s has historically been the bane of my existence. Even as a Cat 2 I’ll end up in row 200 trying to swim upstream all day. But alas, I’ll find myself at a Nats sometime again in the future…only after I go feel the energy of the different scenes around the country and report on ‘em. Hmm, where should I go next year?