Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Cyclocross Nationals

So here are my impressions, experiences, etcetera, etcetera...

First off, the weather and course conditions were great. They were perfect all weekend, a far cry from last year's blizzard. Organization was noticeably better this year. OTOH, I'm pretty sure there were far less spectators despite the much improved weather. All the belly-aching about instituting a qualifying or seeding procedure seems really unnecessary. The course was wide enough and long enough that if you had the legs it was easy to move up, including on the first lap. I wouldn't worry too much anyway, I'm sure having nationals in Kansis City the next couple of years will go a good bit towards limiting the field sizes. It was great to see all of the mid-atlantic folks and the compound set up by the DCCofD was sweet.

So on to my races, which were a study in contrast in most every way. Pre-rode the course on Thursday and felt good. The course was pretty much the same as last year. They put a few more turns and kinks in it to slow it down a bit and took out the hard dip that was barely rideable or forced a dismount last year. Four dismounts per lap just like last year. So I felt good all day Friday, no nerves, no stomach issues, made sure I ate enough. Lined up in the 4th row on the far left in the 35-39 race. Figured like road racing if you're going to move up you've got to do it along the outside of the pack. Had a good start, moved up on the road and then just kept pedaling on the down hill section (this was the only section where I was consistently faster than those around me all weekend) and made up more ground. At the 180 in front of the pits I pulled the classic auto racing move of diving inside and keeping on the power a bit longer than those in front of me and then out-braking them into the corner to gain a few more spots. At the barriers things got hairy as the guy immediately in front of me almost came to a stop to dismount, I kinda ran into him and had to drag my bike across the barriers, once I hit the long road section it was time to settle in. I felt OK until about half-way thru the race, probably going backwards more than forwards but OK still, then my quads and calves started cramping on the hills and it went pair-shaped as the Brits would say. I've had no issues like this all year despite the fact that pretty much the only time I go uphill or downhill are in races. By the last lap I was pedaling squares and I'm pretty sure I was bonking. Tripped and fell on the first run up, couldn't hold my position or move up on the power sections, and then to add insult to injury I stacked it on a wet root at the top of the descent going to the finish pavement. Lost several more spots on the road to the finish. I ended up 86th, which was top half of the field so I met my modest goal and I didn't get lapped.

On to the 35+ B race on Sunday. So other than spinning on the trainer for 20 minutes Saturday morning I didn't do anything else right. I was on my feet all day Saturday, drank too much Saturday night, and didn't sleep very well. So with a slight hangover and getting more acquainted with the portajohns (both of which I'm blaming on Wes' Bourbon) then one should on race day I wasn't expecting much. Same plan as Friday for the start to stay wide on the left, but it didn't work out so well. I was pinned to the barriers almost immediately and the guys in front of me weren't moving up so I ended up in more of a melee for the first half-lap and shuffled back more than I should have been by the time things sorted themselves out. But the legs were good, so I was giving as good as I was getting. The advantage of having 200 riders in a field is that you race shoulder to shoulder all race. There were a couple of guys around me that would gap me on the technical sections but I had better power so I'd come back to them on the road sections. It was a blast. Only downer was that I started hearing my front wheel bottoming out about halfway thru the last lap. Took awhile for it to sink in that my front tire was going flat. I rode it all the way to the last run up but by then it had given up the ghost. Had to run the descent to the pavement and take it relatively easy on the hill to the finish line. Maybe cost me 5 or 6 spots. I end up 62nd and felt good all race.

Highlights of the weekend were Ryan's great ride to take the 30-34 national title. He battled all race with another rider just behind the leader. It wasn't until the latter part of the last lap that all 3 of them got together, one guy was dropped, and then Ryan outsprinted the other one right at the line. Iron Mike Connair had a stellar ride, almost cracking the top-10 in his age group. Fred Wittwer won his age group. Both of the elite national championship races didn't hold much excitment as both Trebon and Katy were away and headed to victory by the end of the first lap.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Criterium Cross

The final race of the NC cross series was over near Winston-Salem in Clemmons. Like I've heard the Flemish commentators decribe some of the Euro courses, this was pure "Criterium" Cross. Very fast and relatively easy if you sat in the wheels. But it was still a good course, not just riding around a grass field. The fast sections were split by turns that required you to scrub speed and just enough of interest not to ever get boring. There was one section that went up and down a bit with a steep short climb and super fast flat out descent.

I didn't have a good race. Although again working on my sprint and anaerobic capacity seems to have paid off as I had another good start and was well placed in the top few riders when the course narrowed for the first couple of times. Really fast set of barriers hurt me, and just too many little bobbles, etc. saw me fall back throughout the first lap. Eventually ended up off the back of the front group and couldn't get back to it. Then 4 of use got together and just rode around for the last 3 or 4 laps. I felt trapped in the group. It was easy to ride in the wheels but didn't seem to make any sense to just go to the front and pound it to try to catch the next riders who were well up the road. I think one of the guys was near me in the standings, so I tried to attack the group several times but couldn't get away. Then I totally botched the finish, not trusting in my sprint I tried an attack about half-way thru the final lap. It didn't drop anybody and left me spent for the finish. I should have saved the big effort to make it into the final section that went back and forth thru a couple of trees and then led out the sprint, the finish was only about 50-75 meters once you came thru this section. Oh well, on to Nationals. I think I finished somewhere just outside of the top-10. Weather should be good and it will be a great time to see the mid-Atlantic folks.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Burlington Cross

The penultimate race in the NC cross series was on Sunday in Burlington, NC in a city park on rolling terrain. It was a pretty twisty course with some short little climbs, a mix of paved paths, grass, hard-packed sandy gravel, and a section thru some woods. Little bit rooty and rocky in the woods but I didn't pinch flat so I'm not going to complain.

For the first time since I had a bad head cold a couple of weeks ago I was finally feeling good in the days before the race. I've been doing some anaerobic capacity work the last couple of weeks because my first laps have been sucking. It seemed to have paid off as I had a good start and went into the first turn in 4th and stayed in touch with the front of the race for the first lap. It wasn't a good course for catching a draft and I certainly don't have the power of the front guys so not surprisingly I didn't stay with them much past the end of lap 1. Once things shook out after a couple of laps I was riding with around a few other guys at the bottom end of the top 10 when my chain started skipping. I figured something was stuck in my rear cassette and had to stop. Sure enough a pine needle had strategically wrapped itself into the sprocket. Probably only lost about 10-15 seconds but couldn't catch back on for nothing. Started running into alot of lapped traffic so I'm not certain but I don't think I caught the guys I was with.

I ended up 10th, which isn't great but I felt really good. I was able to give it 100% the whole race, getting out of the saddle for each little hill, etc. Nice to be pushing it in the closing laps rather than just waiting for the suffering to end. This is uncharted territory, usually I'm completely burned out by this time of year. Last year I had pretty much stopped riding in the weeks before nationals thanks to promoting a race and a bum knee. Not sure what to expect at nationals. I'll probably be happy if I can finish in the top half of the field, really happy if I end up in the top third or so. Next week is the NC series finale, double points, but I don't think it will matter much to the series standings for me. Maybe a guy or two I could catch and only a few that could overtake me, should end up top-10 overall.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Sunweb-Projob Team

As of January 1 there will be a third powerhouse Cyclocross team in Belgium aiming to give Rabobank and Fidea a run for their money. The new Sunweb-Projob team will have Vanthourenhout, Verstraeten, Willemsens and Vannoppen if he can get his head straight.

Nice looking uniforms and if those are real, they're spectacular.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Thanksgiving Break

I thought about going to the VA State Champs race on Sunday over in Virginia Beach but let it go. I think it was probably the right decision. Needed to recharge the batteries some. I took it easy most of last week, all the way thru Thanksgiving day. Then did some good training over the weekend, couple of hours each day with some intervals. Now it's all taper thru nationals. Hopefully, I can find my way back into the top 10 at the two remaining NC cross series races. Nationals should be a blast, it can't be any worse than last year.

Running is over for me. I made it pretty late into the season. Running disgusts me, so I find it a chore just to go out and do 15 or 20 minutes during the week. I had intentions to put in a run over the weekend but it didn't happen.

I guess this is the time of year when living in the south comes into it's own. We're still having temps in the high 60s during the day. I've got to admit, I've become a real pussy about riding in the cold. My lower limit now is about 35 - 40 degrees. Shouldn't be too many days down here all winter where it doesn't get above 40 degrees during the day.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Hendersonville UCI Races

We made the long trek out to the western part of the state for a double race weekend. I'd heard nothing but good things about these races and they didn't disappoint. Two of the best courses I've ever ridden, they had just about everything you look for in a cross course. They're a haul to get to but well worth it. But first...

Work related stuff in Durham provided a good excuse to make the trip out on Friday. So we're heading thru the Durham area on the highway at about 10am, not in the city but just outside it, when I see what at first looks like a dog up ahead on a grassy embankment. I slow in case it decides to come out into the road. As we get closer I realize it's not a dog, and certainly looks like a wolf! It may have been a coyote but if it was, it was one well-fed coyote. I have no idea how this guy got there in what is one of the more heavily populated areas of the state. I'm thinking someone's pet got out.

Anyway we finally got to Hendersonville about 5:30 and settled in. Hendersonville is about a half hour south of Asheville. I was still feeling the lingering affects of the cold that ruined me for the better part of a week so I was curious how Saturday would go. Too hard to describe the course as it constantly twisted and turned, lots of off camber stuff, a couple of long pavement sections, two run-ups, a descent on single track in the woods, and some wet areas with a touch of mud. It had it all. Good mix of hard sections (but none long enough that they became burdensome) and recovery sections. I had a good start but I was either rusty from the cold or just cool-downed too much on the line and couldn't get going. I just kept losing places the whole first lap before I got motoring on the second. I recovered OK and started looking for the wheels of overtaking riders to go forward. Ended up getting a good tow when the 45+ leader came by, and then a lap or two later Fred Wittwer came by and I got another good tow on the pavement section. Didn't feel great but I think ended up around 15th.

I liked Sunday's course even better. Some parts of the course were the same, some were reversed, and a few new sections added. Better for me as the single track descent was now a climb and in general fewer places to touch the brakes. And for the first time I felt like the cold was completely gone, I think Saturday blew the last of it out of my system. Again I had a decent start and was probably in the top 10 off the pavement, went backwards some on the first lap but nothing like the day before. Ended up racing my nemesis. This is the 3rd race that I've ended up going shoulder to shoulder with this guy for the last several laps of the race and like everytime before he beat me again. This time it was the "wall" that did me in. The wall came right at the end of the lap. It was iffy for me to make it up it riding, probably didn't make it a third of the time. I botched it coming to the end of the penultimate lap and he was gone. I chased hard for about the 1st half of the last lap but I wasn't catching him, so I shut it down and took it easy. Might just have squeaked into the top 10. Saw some other Mid-Atlantic folks. We ended up parked next to Melanie Swartz and Judd Milne both days. Judd did the Masters races also and had solid top-10s both days. I think Melanie podiumed on Saturday, not sure about Sunday.

Other than Olivia getting sick on Saturday it was good trip, got to see Jenny's dad and his wife who live out that way. They came to the race on Saturday. Sunday was Atticus' 4th birthday which we had celebrated last week when my parents were down visiting. I think with the gifts from Jenny's dad he took in quite a haul. We got him a bike which he is riding lots. I saw a picture of Nys' 4-year old kid riding a bike that had been fitted with regular road handlebars and shifters. I'm thinking that might be good project to put together for Atticus' b-day or Christmas next year.

Monday, November 13, 2006

NC State Champs

So much for the best laid plans. After two weeks of hard training, last week was the first week of reduced volume and intensity in the hopes of producing a peak for the state championship race on Sunday and this coming week's double header UCI races out in Hendersonville. Instead of a peak I ended up in a valley thanks to a cold. I started feeling it early last week and it just got worse and worse. Perhaps against better judgement I drove over to Pinehurst for the race on Sunday morning. I'm a mudder and driving thru rain on the way there got my hopes up. Unfortunately, the sky cleared as I got closer to Pinehurst and they appeared to only have received a little rain.

Very nice venue at Sandhills Community College with a good parcours that consisted of three distinct sections that each made up about a third of the course. A tarmac section with the start/finish area in it went thru a parking lot and onto a wide path. This made up the beginning and end of each lap. After coming off the tarmac and short stint in the grass the course went into the pine forest on dirt/sand double track. A lot like the Beacon race in NJ but with elevation changes. A descent thru some deep sand gave me fits all day before turning and ploughing into a sand hill that forced a dismount and loooong run-up, one more sandy descent and a short climb brought you out of the woods. The last section of the course was all grass field riding with a few turns to keep things interesting and the planks. The long tarmac section and grass fields were conducive to group riding especially as a strong wind was blowing.

Anyway, hopped-up on cold meds, red bull and a double expresso gu I had hopes that the cold wouldn't affect me too much. I had another pretty good start and survived the first time thru the sand in the woods and was at the back of the front group of about 15 at the end of lap 1. Although I already has my suspicions that things weren't going to go well. I just couldn't get on it out of the corners in the field resulting in me getting gapped. On top of that I sucked ass, bad on the sandy descents. I think I left my balls at home along with my legs. I was hesitant all day rather than just ploughing into the deep sand. By lap 2 I was going backwards. It was killing me as I kept seeing guys in front of me that I've been beating. Finally ended up riding with a guy the final 3 laps but he would school me thru the sand and get a gap that I'd have to close once we got into the field section. Last time thru the woods he crushed the descents and was gone. Truth be told by that point I didn't even care, I just wanted to get it over with. Luckily no one was too close behind so I could spin in the final part of the race. I think if I managed to get into the top 15 I was lucky. Now just gotta hope this mess clears up so I can at least enjoy next week's races.