Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Starcrossed In Stripes

It official: Cross Season 2009 has begun. Like last year, my season opener was Starcrossed in Seattle, WA. For me, its a perfect season opener. Only 30 minutes and held on a flat fast course that favors riders that can power up repeatedly and recover quickly.

Let me digress for a moment. I love this course and the venue. But honestly, the administration of this race (at least for us lowly category amateurs) needs a lot of improvement. Registration did not open until an hour before the womens' race began. The lines are long and there was some confusion on the paperwork that needed to be completed by out-of-state riders. Preprinted waivers had made up EXCEPT for the first race of the day. There weren't enough pens or safety pins. There were probably several ladies that didn't get a proper warm-up in because they were stuck standing in line for 30 minutes. That is sort of bullshit.

What is also bullshit is that race numbers (which, in theory, determine your place at the starting line) were assigned randomly, not by time of pre-registration. I was the first or second person to register for the 3/4 race, but was assigned race number 154. What the hell?! This also happened to Jeff and my teammate Dave. It completely negated any reason to register early.

And it completely changed my race strategy. I had anticipated lining up at the very front and hammering from the whistle. Now, I would probably have to spend at least a half lap working my way through people before I could get up to speed.

I get nervous enough before races, and this development did not improve my mood in the slightest. Because Heidi and I had been in line early, I was able to get in a decent 35 minute warmup. Not the hour I would have liked, what was lost in quantity was made up in quality. 20 minutes at high tempo, followed by six one-minute sprints. Ears ringing with The Knife and sweating like a pig, my mood improved and, by the time we staged, I was sort of resigned to starting in the back and making the most of it.

(Anna and I getting ready to do some damage to the 3/4 field. What I can't understand is how I managed to roll around for twenty minutes with a crooked helmet without anyone telling me. Thanks friends.)

Turns out most of my agitation was unwarranted. The call-ups were almost as random as the number assignment. Anna ended up getting called up to the front row and I was in the second. I could totally handle that.

I had a great start, once I got around the two women that were lined up in front of me. Both of them were (by their own admission) novice racers and both had a hard time getting clipped in. Anna made it to the first corner first, but we both pushed hard on the second straightaway and were 1-2 by the time we took the second corner into the velodrome.

That is pretty much how it stayed for the next 29 minutes. A Haggens Berman ride made up the gap twice, but fell back again almost immediately both times.

Sorella Anne's husband Tim was taking picture and video at the race. Here is a video of the first time over the barriers. This is when Anna and I started overtaking the masters' field during the first lap. I go through at about 1:10, Anna at about 1:14.

Anna set the pace most of the race. She pushes a huge gear and I was content to suck her wheel. I often paced us through the more technical portions, but she always made it back around me on the straights.

(The run-up...one of the few places I was in front of the Annamal.)

Looking back on the race, I should have spent some time in my big ring while we were riding the flat, fast sections. I was staying out of it due to the stress that pushing those gears put on my injured back (that is a whole other story), but it let Anna to ride the same pace with less work.

Notice the proper facial form for cross racing: suffering. And boy, I was suffering. But its a different sort of suffering when I'm at the front of a race. Its about pride just as much as it is about the taste of blood in my mouth. I got myself up to the front and there was no way I was going to start moving backward.

I was able to hold Anna's wheel until the last 1/2 of the last lap. My legs were about to pop and I couldn't match her last big acceleration. She got a ten meter gap that I knew I wasn't going to be able to close. The goal at that point was to hold my position for three more looooooong minutes.

Notice that BOTH my helmet and hat are crooked at this point. As is Anne's tongue.

I almost did it. A Gentle Lover's rider passed me with about 75-50 meters before the finish and, again, I couldn't match her passing acceleration.

Rolled through in third place. Here is the video Tim took at the finish. Anna and I finish at about the 1:50 mark.

The post-race inner monologue went like this: Yah! Podium! Schwag! Throwing up in my mouth! I have to do this for HOW many more minutes next week?!

I am really happy with this race. Stayed upright, had good form through the technical sections and rode at a really high pace for about 25 minutes. I love racing the TriCross and was pleased with the tire and tire pressure choices (IRD Crossfires at about 38-40 psi). I do need to talk to the shop about the chain length...I almost dropped my chain three times and I think it may be too big for racing in the small chainring.

Room for Improvement One: fitness. The extra 10-15 minutes in Crusade races is seeming like an eternity right now, but that should develop in small chunks over the course of the season.

Room for Improvement Two: remount. I can remount properly about half of the time in practice, but was nowhere close to doing it right in the race. I watch my friend Heather remount in races and she's so smooth. It is not only faster, but it has to be easier on the bike and the body.

Finally, courtesy of Dave Roth, the Women's 3/4 Podium:

(The rest of Dave's pictures can be found here.)

All pinstripes and all smiles.

But seriously, I could have done without the podium girls. Now, if they could have gotten a few of those pro racers to stand up there with us, in lycra, that would have been a different story.

I'll be out at Barlow this weekend, at least to volunteer. Racing is a game time decision that will depend on how my back heals and stretches out over the next 72 hours.

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