The Colorado racing season…she is DONE! I can not believe that this past Sunday was the last time this season I’ll here my name across loudspeakers by voices like Larry LG Grossman. It was the last shot I had to use some late season form here in our state and racing series. A final chance to trade paint with some of my best bros. A last attempt to make them feel vomitus as they do me weekend in and out.
The last few weeks I could feel my fitness rising. Growing. Piston’s finally going: ‘braaaaaaaaap!’ instead of blick-um blick-um blick-um. Decent results and more importantly ‘feelings’ on the bike that gave me such confidence that the work was in and my drought was over. It was pure bliss in bad conditions. Our Ridley bikes, PDX tires and my love for crazy-hard technical driving courses sort of getting a chance to do what they do best with me on top of them. Colorado States in Castle Rock would most certainly be challenging. Tons of elevation gain and mud on a course laid out to provide zero (quite literally zero) recovery. I had my work cut out for me.
When we arrived and surveyed, we all knew that this would be a leg burner. Mud everywhere given the snow earlier in the week and escalating temps come race weekend. Even on the climbs would guarantee you’d feel a little slow death every lap…
The Alpha Bicycle and Frites en Mayo crew got super busy doing their best to make this a hard and memorable event. They applied tons of time and passion to creating and promoting no less than an extremely challenging course
Can’t. Stop. Searching. For. Van Halen. Songs. On. Spoitify. After. Seeing. This.
I waited and it came. Like the Christmas present you dreamed of Santa bringing you and it actually happens. Maybe I am easy to please but I only asked for the perfect weather conditions, technical challenges and good legs and Santa brought me a gift. Boulder Racing’s season finale in Lyons CO was simply awesome with all the ingredients I lust in a proper ‘cross…
This was the last race before our State Championships so everyone wants to be firing well. The pre-ride proved to me that it was going to be a highly technical affair. The complete opposite
Yes, it finally came but my patience was admittedly tested these last few weeks as the moisture just refused to come and make a proper cross for us. Mud and rain are one thing but ice, snow PLUS mud and deep freezing temperatures are an entirely different affair. And it came with a vengeance for this past Saturday’s Cyclo-X race at Louisville’s “Bowl of Death” (a.k.a. the Louisville Rec Center)
To start the day, I performed my duties as chief ‘marshal’ for the juniors.
I am a coach for the Boulder Junior Cycling team here in town. Many of my mini-athletes are about to experience their first ‘hard core’ snow race tomorrow here in Colorado. So this week I prepared an email to the team on things to consider before showing up to race unprepared…and experiencing misery where it really should be super fun! To maximize the fun, I advised the parents on these considerations…which really is all about preparation. It rides on the theme of my ‘race day rituals’ presentation but falls into the details of cold/snow day racing. Hope it helps any first timers out there! It should be obvious to the more experienced folks but maybe a good mental checklist for you…
It. Is. HERE! Real cross weather! The kind of weather that turns our Colorado race courses from grass crit drag races to highly technical obstacle courses challenging the riders bodies and bikes. I wanted to send out a note which will likely be a re-cap for the more experienced Tier 1 riders but essential knowledge for first timers/Tier 2 riders. It's a list of things that you should take into account for challenging weather days (particularly snow/cold in this case). Last weekend in Westminster was cold. But that was completely dry and sunny with a chill in the air. Tomorrow will be completely different in that we're dealing with arctic temps, another storm coming, snow cover on the ground and a very challenging course at the Louisville Rec Center. Cyclocross is ALL about preparation and thus tomorrow exacerbates the need to be prepared. Moreover, cross is never cancelled. It's why we do it. And days like tomorrow can be so rewarding and fun if you are prepared. So listen up!
- Hat: I use a skull cap under my helmet. If it's entirely nasty, try a 'balaclava.'
- Neck coverage: If you do not have a balaclava, then I suggest a neck gaiter. Keep that throat/neck WARM!
- Eye cover: Eyes tend to water with cold temps so glasses with light lenses (orange, yellow, clear or very thin tint) will be good to protect the eyes and provide good visual fidelity over the course when it has snow on it. You want every advantage to see obstacles in treacherous weather.
- Gloves: This is a religious war and I am still in search of the best glove after 15+ years of cross racing. I am currently in love with a new Giro 25-30deg product that has an inner liner which is removable from a ski-like style outer glove. Come see me tomorrow if you are interested in seeing this product. Typically I will warm up with one set of gloves (typically bulky/warm) and then race with another, smaller-profile set. For the young kids, comfort is key all around. They should use whatever will keep their hands extremely warm. Ski gloves will work but the MOST critical thing is control over the gears and brake levers. Fingers go numb and reaction times may slow....as well as the inherent dexterity loss of using thicker gloves. See 'Preparation' below and TRY THIS OUT tonight.
- Upper body Base layer(s) - Tomorrow I will have a complete set of kit ready for me for the race. I will warm up in an entirely different kit (which is what I do even if it is warm out incidentally....ALWAYS 2 of everything!). My cold weather base layer will consist of: thin longsleeve base + thick longsleeve base. I purchased an XL skinsuit for this exact purpose so I could fit the thicker stuff underneath. My base layers are by Craft. If you have a BJC jacket, rock that. Else, consider all the normal ski-style base layers you have, then jersey, then thin profile jacket. Do not worry about the BJC team kit being seen. WARMTH IS KEY.
- Leg warmers- tomorrow I will wear one pair of thick weight leg warmers. Some folks double up with knee and full length leg warmers. For the little folks, I would recommend wearing your kit, leg warmers and then if you have any sort of leg cover that allows on/off bike movement easily....wear that OVER your thin profile stuff. My son will be wearing as an example (in this order): leg warmers (which are my adult arm warmers), a base layer designed for wearing under ski pants THEN his bib-chamois over that ski-base layer.
- Feet needs: EXTREMELY critical. Tomorrow I will be wearing a combination of wool socks PLUS a wind proof sock liner. You MUST ensure your shoes can accommodate the thicker layers so as to not pinch the feet and restrict (warm) blood flow. Outer shoe covers are most typically a waste of time. You loose most of your traction and 99% of the time they come flapping off as they are meant for road cycling...not cross where you are on and off the bike often. My son will be wearing wool socks on the skin + plastic bags + additional sock. The bags are hidden but provide a sealed layer more or less.
- Embrocation - This is a 'master course' subject. Embrocation for the uninitiated is 'hot sauce for the legs'. It is applied to literally heat the legs up and massaged into the skin. This is applied after the skinsuit/shorts are on and ALWAYS after sunscreen/contact lenses are applied as it can really sting. Skinsuit/shorts should already be on too as it can, uh, 'sting the nether regions.' Many of the best embros have cayenne pepper and/or artificial substitutes for cayenne that are literally HOT. It stays on for a long time and can even feel like its heating up in the shower many hours after your race. But that's it's magic. Your legs feel toasty. BCS carries various 'temp' embros from Mad Alchemy. I even apply it to my lower back but that's because I have a case of the O - L - D going on and need all the help I can get.
Bike needs -
- Tire pressure will be key. Smaller tires such as the Redline Conquest's 24" tire tread have disadvantages in this kind of snowy element because the tread on the tire is sort of meant to be 'all conditions'. Lowering the tire pressure a bit will help...but is a risk/reward scenario. The risk is that too low and there is a chance to pinch flat on a curb or unseen obstacle under the snow. The reward however is that the tread will spread itself out and make it safer for the rider due to more contact patch on the ground (and thus better control). I will help feel out pressures at the start line tomorrow for the little folks.
- Larger wheels (700c) should have an aggressive tread such as a Clement PDX or Michelin mud. Tire pressure rules per above apply. I have found success by buying tubes from Boulder Cycle Sport with removable valve stems. I then fill the tubes with 3/4 cup of Stans Sealant to help with pinch flats when I run low.
- If you're already running tubulars, you know the drill. Loooow pressure. But Grifo treads (like the Typhoon) will still be at a disadvantage in the bad snow. I'd still swap out tubular Typhoons to run clincher PDX's if you have the means. The tread pattern will be infinitely better for control.
- De-icer - on treacherous days like tomorrow, I will bring a can of spray on de-icer. The same that you can buy to de-ice your car. I will typically spray my pedals, my cleats on my shoes and my cassette before the race. This cuts down on ice build up which could make it hard to re-engage in a pedal or shift gears. There is environmentally conscious de-icer too you can buy at McGuckins.
- Try on your kits and new clothing TONIGHT! Do not wait until race day to do so. Example: A warm hat that doesn't fit under a helmet. Know this in advance! Feel what your kit and new additional layers will feel like before you show up and pin a number on. Make sure you are still agile and not like the kid from "A Christmas Story": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HW4IZ0Flh3M
- Like above, if possible, have your child kit up with what may be worn at the race and rip around in the snow on their bike tonight. Let them feel what the snow and lower tire pressures will be like. Ensure it is dry and ready for tomorrow.
- Have everything assembled TONIGHT. Do not wait until the AM to get this stuff assembled. It is simply too cold and we want to MAXIMIZE fun here for them tomorrow, now have them in so much unknown discomfort that they don't want to come back! Ha!
Race Day Needs:
- Fuel up with a KILLER breakfast. I am talking like eggs, waffles AND sausage! More calories will be required to handle the race load PLUS the body temp regulation. Get up earlier and FEAST LIKE A KING/QUEEN!
- Keep your kids MOVING at the race course when you arrive. No loitering around. A parent should go and register while your child is warming up (typically with Ann or myself). If we can not be seen, send them out on course to warm up if allowed or have them warm up in a safe place near the course. Do power sprints....anything to get the blood pumping hard. If you see your kid standing there, tell them to RUN! Go sprint on feet for 100feet or so, Then JUMP on the bike. MOVE MOVE MOVE MOVE!
- Have EXTRA TUBE available should a lower-pressurized tube flat before the race.
- Have hot cocoa ready in a thermos for your athlete for when they finish.
- Have a complete set of warm clothes waiting for them in the car. Get them OUT of their kit and into this clothing ASAP. Warm extra gloves especially.
- Have a blanket should they be extremely chilled.
- HAVE FUN! You're riding your bike in the snow with your friends!
HUP HUP, BUTTERCUPS! Real cross is here.
Ah the mid-season doldrums. We…or at least I…am in the middle of them. Some dudes can just keep drilling it weekend in and out (ahem…my boy Michael). Amazing stuff. Me? No way. This is a 5 month racing season, intensely packed with racing on every single weekend from September to January. It’s incredibly different than, say, a road or MTB season where athletes have specific targeted events spaced weeks if not months apart. The cross season demands you stay sharp every single weekend and given my whacked mental state, that is decidedly problematic. It takes its toll on the body, mind and family. And right now is that exact point in the calendar where it’s either throw up my arms and cascade downhill or be smart and focus ahead, restore what the body needs and re-pack the powder. I could feel the floor start to drop out the last month while racing and so, put my tail between my legs and pedaled through…trained through as it were…so I can feel fresh later in the season, do my best to rip it and have smile with my buds.
I toed the line at Westminster stoked for many reason. The course was radically fun, there was tons of grass to drive on, the weather was insanely beautiful and our dear friends, the Ball family, were in tow for the Holidays from CA and they came to watch. Joe was my old teammate back in the day and he and I used to have a boat load of fun ripping the Surf City and CCCC series back when we had fewer gray hairs.
Joe (front) and me taking a feed from our bud Bob.
My focus on the day was to gain some confidence back. Put in good efforts and ride clean.
Almost a year ago exactly, I wrote a post. And re-reading it this week it made me smile. Oh, and I rolled my own eyes a bit as well at my own idiocy. I had the the type of moment reading it where I saw my own pattern of tail chasing and I questioned lots.
Bike racing for me as of late was becoming a chore. A fairly large void where I was heaving tons of my own energy, emotion, money and of course free time into. Bike racing is hard and it is a
sport lifestyle where what you put in you get out. And yet the system doesn’t operate like an ATM. Card in/cash out. It’s much more discerning over its participants than that.
It all seemed to spin sideways as of late culminating in questions of what am I up to.
My own zeal for balance the last month is flying in the breeze like a tattered old flag. A once proud standard whose colors are fading and nearly unrecognizable for what they were intended to represent. I read a post recently from my friend Jonny in New England who is even more deeply questioning his motives as of late. Or posts about fit Masters losing their lives in pursuit of what they love. But pushing these extreme examples aside, why move forward? I am Type A (++++ …there I said it out loud) and want to crush it in most everything I do in this life and is likely the inner burning core having kept me pinning numbers on weekend in and out for more than a decade in this game of ours. Wanting to raise my own hands again like I’d done in the past. Assure my own fragile ego that I can still go and go well. Be one of the ‘fast guys’.
But is that it?
I wear my heart on my sleeve as everyone knows. My moping around and 1/2 training these last few weeks were obvious to my friends and family. Blah blah blah…not going well. Blah blah blah…such and such an injury. Blah blah blah…too much stress with building a business and not knowing if you’re gonna make it.
“So, are you going to hang it up this season?” I was asked. I would have asked me the same thing…mainly so I could shut me up hearing my blah bah blahs.
And then it popped into my mind so suddenly. So clearly and obviously.
“Dude, fuck no man!” My response was undeniable. Clear. Instinctive. Refreshing for my own ears to hear. “What would my kids think?” I continued.
My racing has sucked this past month. So what. My friends are the best on earth, and honestly, they have their own life stuff to deal with and somehow they continue to push on and come back every weekend. Some winning. Some smiling coming in mid pack. I am not racing for me any more. I am slaving in the cold, compartmentalizing my work and other aspects of my life so I can be positive. So I can stay true to the
sport community which my sons are falling in love with it and remain positive for the boys and girls I help coach at Boulder Junior Cycling. So I can stay true to an ideal of sticking with it. Not yielding when the only thing that is getting damaged is ego.
In the end, you train through. You continue to push if you love something and you fundamentally think it is worth your efforts. And I do. How I do. I do not know if I will ever win a bike race again. And I don’t care. I need to satisfy my own deep desire to ride perfect for myself. To finish as best I can and let my boys see that. My parenting is not perfect. My patience often paper thin which is my own known focal point I need to work on when raising my boys. But if I can do anything now, I can show them that giving up due to virtually no good reason is just not an option. You commit, you bite the bullet. You carry on and try to do your best and improve.
I have put Castle Rock and my other bad performances behind. It’s time to just ride. To go hard. To feel where I am in the grand scheme and push. To come across the finish line and not immediately determine my place…but where my sons eyes are.