I’m not sure I will ever master high altitude racing. Each year I travel up the hill I have a game plan on how to manage the efforts required for cross at 9,200ft above sea level. Don’t go too hard off the gun/monitor efforts/Know that everyone is suffering/Ensure a killer warm up before the gun…
It all cycles through my head when heading to Frisco or Breckenridge Nordic Centers (when we used to race there). This past weekend was the Frisco cross…a double header weekend with Day 1 being a ‘Colorado Cross Cup’ points–chasing race. Tim and Scott do a great job with this event, busting their carcasses to get it right…always asking the racers for feedback, likes/dislikes etc. It’s a good thing to go and support those guys for what they do to give us a fun time.
My body is firing pretty good these days. Sleeping well, getting on the bike in the cool air of the fall mornings here in CO. Besides a small head cold, I was amped to race and stay clean. Robson and Faia are absolutely on a stratospheric level…racing just superbly and putting us on the ropes. The ‘second group’ is where the racing has been with each of us in this (frankly) freakishly similar level of fitness which has made the racing super tactical and forcing you to stay super smooth…saving every single shred of energy you can for when you inevitably have to attack and maintain or overtake positions. Simply put: it’s rad.
I chose to just race Day 1…the Cup points race. So much double-weekending forthcoming and to be completely frank, I wasn’t quite sure how long it would take me to recover from two ass kicking efforts at that altitude. Lots of racing and training to do…and I want to finally measure it out right for the duration this season.
The opening day for the Cross Cup brought out the fast guys. It was a very complete and large field and I was stoked to get in groups and race. We would have a new category, 35+3’s, behind us staring at :30. The crew took their places at the start grid…ready to point the arrows directly up a long paved climb before bombing back down the hill side. The course is a dichotomy between what I am great at…and what I completely suffer at.
The good: It offers a massive amount of high speed, highly technical, highly flowing ‘steering’ course. Simply put: You need to know how to drive your bike and not use brakes. Trust your tire pressure and tread selection (it’s why we pre-ride, right?) and gain every red ounce of momentum when you need it.
The bad: To get to the flowy goodness, you have to climb a 1/4 mile, at altitude, up a god-forsaken paved hill. My carcass does not go up hills to fast.
The gun sent us off and I got into the groove in 8th from the top of the hill and into the descent chute. I played my cards almost exactly as I’d envisioned it. I stayed smooth, I made no mistakes (save one small dab on the last lap) and pushed my limits. The guys who were stronger…were stronger and I’d be over taken by three throughout the race…including a new welcome surprise in Velo-One’s Steve Stefko. A Cat 3 guy who’s finally got enough gray hair to race with us and he did exceptionally well to take 2nd from a fairly shitty start position. The top guys suffered well on that climb and made gaps that could stick. I stayed with guys I respect like Jon C and simply just rolled as smooth as I could to remain clear of a very hard charging group of 7 or so who were relentless…
I took 11th, my boy Robson taking yet another “W” for his quiver…after an unfortunate DSQ of my team mate Tim Faia who came across the line first (more on this below). Yet again seconds or ‘same times’ separating us all in the tope 15 or so. Awesome racing and again, the fields are so deep, nothing is free or easy these days. The way it should be I guess. It keeps me very very motivated.
On the subject of Tim’s DSQ, my initial impulse on Saturday after the race was to throw my hands up, and talk about the need for the 80% rule being brought in to the local scene (as it is primarily a UCI-enforced rule). Frankly, a few days later, I am just not sure of the solution. Kris has a good thread going on at his site so chime in there to perhaps stimulate some debate. What I do know is this: we are getting bigger every season and I am not quite sure adding more categories is the ultimate solution. Does that change the lapped issue? No, not necessarily. It just shifts the problem. New/novice racers need to feel at home somewhere and have platforms where they can grow and excel, I can understand that. The conundrum as I see it is sort of like the “Time, Quality or Features – Pick two” problem in the software development world. Our dimensions are growing field sizes, strain on promoters to fit in all categories in a single day and somehow make it a safe and profitable event. There’s probably other variables I am missing here but roughly this is the model. Do we make courses a bit longer than the 40 or so year old UCI ‘specs’ to stretch out and potentially slow-up the racing with more feature-ization of the courses? Do we increase education at the start line and pre-season about passing etiquette? We ran into some of this last year with pre-riding and we evolved that I think fairly successfully with (from my ears) the announcers consistently calling out when riders can go and pre-ride. So ultimately, we’re getting to a tipping point and and some solution(s) are needed. We’ll get it done somehow.
USGP’s this weekend. Will there be weather? – commence rain dance.