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Cross Racing Week 7 | Chasing windmills


“It takes a big man to cry. It takes an even bigger man to laugh at that man.”

~ Jack Handy

Nah, this isn’t what you were expecting. Some emotive diatribe to get you all misty-eyed and weepy for a graying master’s racer who had a shit series of races. Oh, no. It’s more a tale of lunacy…of chasing windmills to some extent but the realization that after all these years of racing this sport I love…you never stop learning. And of all this self-inflicted ‘education’, the thing which continually boils up to the top of the soup is the sweet froth – the stuff which shows what you are made of to keep coming back. Quixotic, maybe. Passion for the sport, for certain. So sit back, relax and be the bigger man to laugh at this big man.

Day 1 – Colorado Cross Classic

One word: BOUPS! Aaron Bouplon is an institution of Colorado cyclocross. Our good friend came charging into the sport a few years back…immediately getting the bug after his first 'cross and smashing through the ranks from Cat 4 to 1 in about a season. Boups ‘shows up’. In other words, he’s there with boots on the ground and with this style, he rallies teams year after year for this now well-attended UCI-weekend of racing. The ‘Colorado Cross Classic’ is now…well, a classic and traditionally opens up the ‘Boulder Cup’ weekend. For many of us it’s also a weekend where we can entertain our friends from around the country who’ll be flying in to get their race on.

The CCC course at the Boulder Reservoir is infamous – sand, exposed, invariably windy and of course the goat heads. Nasty plants designed by God himself to take out cyclists with their barbed 'fruit' that lie low on the ground, virtually unseen until you ride over them and flat. Boups had the entire course swept, and Bobcat’d (is that a verb?) to maximize the success and fun of racers finishing without suffering flats. It seemed to work. Regardless I had Stans packed in my tires for safe keeping. Those attributes above and a dumping of snow in Boulder earlier in the week which melted by race day would make the weekend very technical.

co cross classic 2011 (1)

The Master A field was going to be fast as usual. Saturday morning I was ranked 4th in the Colorado Cup standings as I‘ve some consistent placings thus far. No one is catching Mr. Robson even though we are trying to put the screws to him so it’ll be a gun fight for the top 10 this season which makes it all super fun. We’d have my teammates in the mix today… two multi-time National Master’s Cross Champions Pete Webber and Brandon Dwight. They revel in these crappy conditions so all of us knew they’d make the race faster and better.

The pre-ride proved the elements would make the race a technical one, rather than, say, an overwhelmingly ‘hard’ course (that would be Sunday…). Were it dry, it'd be another completely flat crit. If you could maintain your flow and steering in the soupy-muddy sections and save matches for the straight-up-the-hill mud slogs, you could gain tons of time on those that drive less well. The beach section was a non-factor as the wind was at your back and the sand was hard packed enough that it became a highway. So that muddy chicane section would be it the factor for our race earlier in the day.

We lined up, legs twitching. The Juniors had gone right before us and frankly I hadn’t seen my son finish and was starting to get distracted and concerned. He ended up having a nasty crash at the start (and it was BOUPS who came running to get him back up on his way) and sure enough he'd retaken spots for a great top 10 placing! The kid gets a gold star for that effort...

co cross classic 2011 juniors (8)With the juniors done, the officials then counted us down and BANG! we were off. We were sent up a start chute that we’d in fact be coming back through the opposite way every lap after the start. Pretty unique. It was a grass drag strip and I was amped to go. From the gun, I ended up pushing hard and nailing my start perfectly and winning the hole-shot....

WINDMILL-CHASING LESSON NUMBER 1 – Don’t light the whole pack of matches in one shot.

I’ve got to get past this one-lap chump thing. I can win virtually any hole shot against the best in the biz. No embellishment. It means shit however. Even with a great warm up, the leg-load which occurs when I go that hard off the line combined with my muscle mass and it takes nearly 3-4 laps to recover and settle in. What this translates to is a race that has me lose spots, rather than being smart and overtake spots. This has been said time and time again to me and yet I am not learning after all these years. And so, this is lesson one. Burn conservatively into the race rather than implode early on. Or: Do as I say, not as I do. 

With the hole shot and a hard first lap accelleration, I pulled Michael with me early and I think his zeal to chase me may have effected his outcome as he’d suffer for the effort.

CCC 20lbskull 4

Before Michael and I knew it, Chris Case, Brandon and Pete had bridged up to us from 3rd row starts and settled in for a brief moment before they were ready to go on their attacks (read: smart racing). So these 3 ‘newcomers’ to the Master A’s would go on and have their gun fight up front while the usual suspects would battle out the remaining places.

co cross classic 2011 (7)

My laps 3 and 4 were suffer-fests due to the first lap output. I’d stay with certain groups but find myself never able to recover. Never easily able to re-throttle my heart back up so I settled down, recovered and...breathed. 

CCC 20lbskull 1

Eventually…finally…I started coming around felling better and better (too late). The sand sections were becoming ‘recovery’ sections…

CCC 20lbskull 3

….and any chance I got to have the wind at my back which was kicking up like a squall would play to my benefit to keep the chasers at bay…

CCC 20lbskull 2

By the later laps the positions were settled save for my group…Kervin Quinones, Ryan McFarling and myself. We’d let too many folks bridge and drop our group while we probably should have stayed together to not go solo in the wind driving hard from the west. Getting caught out in the field alone was paramount to burning even more watts than one needed to to race tactically.

The closing laps were a dog fight of the ‘scrap’ places. In my mind by 2 to go I’d already made the call: you ain’t catching the top 10 so you best no be gobbled up from the rear. So I gauged to hold my position and naively thought I could save some matches for the next day. Bad tactics and weak-minded racing put me in 14th for the day. Chris Case smashed it for the win with Brandon and Pete rounding out the podium. Then an entire minute gap to what would normally be the usual suspects in the ACA Master A field. Funny that. But my result is all my own doing. Next up would come my super-pro recovery to ensure I could redeem myself at the Boulder Cup on Sunday. Or not.


Cleaning up myself and my boy after the races is a major chore. You finish, chill, start packing the car and then, of course, you want to say hello to all the out of towners who fly in on these epic weekends. After my race I jammed a Mix1 but finishing at 2PM-ish, then packing for an hour, no lunch to speak of and then having dinner later (and at a friends party where the food was unfamiliar and simply not enough) and I obviously set myself up for disaster. This lesson is about calories. You need ‘em after those types of outputs. I know this to a ‘T’ and still didn’t take care of myself as the time flew by washing filthy bikes and trying to get the family to a Halloween party on time. YOU. NEED. TO. EAT…and eat well on these major back to back weekends. Don’t make this rookie-ass mistake like I did on your next set of ‘A’ races.

So party over and finally getting to sleep before I know it, it's 1:30AM and my eyes open wide in bed. BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! No, not a burglar…my heart is racing and pounding so hard. Not as if “I’m dying from a coronary’…more like I’m dehydrated and my body is working overtime to give itself what it needs. So, I climb out of bed at 1:30AM. My day began then. Never to get back to sleep. 

Day 2 – Boulder Cup

There would be no hiding today. None. Valmont Bike Park is, simply put, hard. As Chris Grealish puts it, “it was designed to be a “…modern day coliseum of cyclocross racing.” Everywhere you look, riders are challenged. It’s a devious course with elevation changes and absolutely, positively, zero place to recover. You’re either climbing or drilling it out of corners into sand pits, monster run ups and other technical features. Combine that with added sections of temporary course for the race day such as the eastern-side’s tractor pull mud bog and you are set for a day of hell if not prepared.

Yann Ropers 1

I’d kept a front row start and settled in. The good Coach Frank was the most festive (it was Halloween after all!) with is cheetah-patterned skin suit. Brandon and Pete would race the UCI race, Chris Case was back with the old men. Game plan: push for top 10 and make no mistakes. Just ride. Simple enough, huh?

Upon the starting gun I’d just flow into the group pushing hard on the front. Burn no additional matches. Hide a bit. While the warm ups were OK, the first drive up the hill I knew that I’d be going bad. Immediately felt it. I paced with the lead group for the first lap to try and hopefully ramp up into some level of performance.

Yann Ropars 2

And the same Lap 1 view from Dale's camera...

Boulder Cup CX - SM35+ Open Lap 1 from Dale Riley on Vimeo.

So the no sleep thing, a deficit in calories and a monster case of Woosies Syndrome and I’d began…to…shut…down. Our friend from Mass Chandler Delinks was in town to check out the racing action and by lap 2 when he came-a-callin’ on me, I simply said: ‘Yeah Chan!’ and sent him on his way as he went to chase the race. Good having you there man. (Chan in red below):

Yann Ropars 4

So I began my own race. No mental depth to go and attack wheels. My bike driving felt pretty darn good most of the day in the chicanes. All systems go in this regard. Maybe I should go back to racing dual slalom like the old days…

boulder cup (1)

And while the turning felt dialed, each lap I’d also ironically look forward to the run up. Irony in that most people suffer with these obstacles. I relish anything off the bike. I’m a good runner and was hyper-motivated to fly up the stairs.

Yann Ropars 3 

Again, Dale had an AWESOME view of the run up with his GoPro...

Boulder Cup - 5280 Runup Staircam from Dale Riley on Vimeo.

The sand pits too were dialing in nicely lap after lap. Huge lines forming that you really could not miss. We were ‘graced’ with a high speed run in to the main sand trap that, after talking with Pete about it, we probably should make a harder entrance to slow down the speed and make the section more difficult.

DSC_4264 -Kutcipal

The muddy eastern section I described earlier was decisive…and was what killed me in the end. It also took its toll on my bike. The other guys weren’t changing bikes and Ward Baker and Chuck Coyle were there in the pits ready to swap me at any time. But mentally I’m thinking: these guys aren’t changing…it ‘must’ be faster to stay on. So when my bike finally got so slogged that it wouldn’t shift, I pitted and you know what? It was faster. Double HA!

So, back to the muddy slog…the first few laps I rode it and in doing so pushed out too many watts. I had nothing to dig deep into in my physical reserves and thus began my undoing.

Competitors in the 2011 Boulder Cup Cyclocross race against the clock at the Valmont Bike Park in Boulder, CO.

In the later laps I tried to run it. And to be honest, I would fly! I don't know why I didn’t trust myself earlier in the race to run. Maybe I got it into my head that riding would be faster or would ensure I would keep my cleats clean if I stayed seated, but it just wasn’t the case for me…

Boulder Cup Terri 1

By the bell lap it was all about getting to the finish. I’d been shot in the head and just needed to get across the line. I probably had my best lap time of the day on the final lap motvated by getting back to the tent, chill, and start looking forward to the second half of the season. 21st on the day. Meh. One of these days I’ll get myself out of my own way. I am certain of this. 

WINDMILL-CHASING LESSON NUMBER 3 – It’s a hobby. Remember that.

This cyclocross thing – yeah, it’s my hobby. My passion. My DNA is all about trying to perfect the slippery slope of perfection. It’s what makes me 'me' I guess. Thus the Chasing Windmills motif. There’s a bit of pride, determination and grit wrapped up in my brain to keep pushing for what I think is success…and yet success is all around me. My wife and kids cheering me on. My best friends all around…some like Ward Baker who dedicate their time to come and help slog in the muddy pits just to help me be successful. The incredible support of my team and our sponsors to provide me every bit of material I need to go faster. It’s a 360degree view of things that is the key to success. Your level of success is yours. For me it’s about absolutely doing my best…and yes, I want to be on the top step, do not mistake that. But the combination of things to keep learning, keep improving and keep getting smarter will be that elixir to help me get there. Some day. Again.

So, when you see me chasing windmills again, making those same idiotic mistakes, remember if I’m crying in my soup to laugh at this big man. You’ll be a bigger man for it. 

Double hup.

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