Monday, October 26, 2009

And There Will Be Blood: Hillsboro 2009

Sometimes cyclocross is brutal because of the course. The mud at Hillsboro. The long climbs at Hornings Hideout, Rainier and Sherwood. Rutted roads that take wear the skin off of our palms.

Other times cyclocross is brutal because, despite our big expectations and best preparations, the sport gets into our head and blows us apart.

On mission on those days, if we choose to accept it, is to laugh in the face of what 'cross throws at us and just enjoy the ride.

That, for me, was Hillsboro 2009.


The Race Report:
Lap 1: Not my best start, as I had some problems getting clipped in, but I made my way to the front by the end of the gravel road and was feeling loose, confident and and comfortable. This feeling would not last long.

I get to the mud bog first and need to get into the small front chainring. Click. Nothing. Click, click. Nothing. Then we're in the mud. Mud with the texture of rubber cement and the odor of Deliverance. And I am totally in the wrong gear. I grind my way through the muck and just when I think I'm in the clear, my front tire jerks to the left and I am suddenly face down in the mud to the right. By the time I've untangled myself from the bike and am riding again, I'm sitting somewhere out of the top 5 or 6 riders.

Unfortunately, the adrenalin rush from the wreck is cruelly short-lived and chasing back to the front group has wiped me out. I'm wheezing and panting and have a panicky realization that I can't take a full deep breath. There is still too much garbage in my lungs.

No. No. No. This was supposed to done with, the sickness and the snot and the rattling.

The second set of barriers was wipe-out #2. The barriers themselves were clean, then, as I went to remount, my right foot slid out from under me and I was back in the mud, again. The three places I've made up, gone. I can no longer see the leaders.

I make it through the tricky, off-camber incline clean, but go down again twice more before I get back around for my second pass at it.

(Photo: Dave Roth)

Crashing is a mental killer for me. Typically I can go down once or twice in a race and still feel like I can remain focused and retain a killer mindset. However, after three of four spills, there is a snowball effect. I lose focus, get tentative. Which, in turn, means I make more mistakes and keep hitting the deck.

Lap 2 and 3: The second lap I am in a small pocket of three or four riders sitting at the back end of the top ten. I make up a place, lose it when I slide out. End up tits-over-ass at the off-camber incline.

(Photo: Tim Schallberger)

At this point, the whole thing has become comical. And I'm doing something I haven't done all year during a race. I'm smiling, interacting with the crowd. Having a really good time getting wet and muddy.

(Credit: Tim Schallberger.)

Chase catches me and makes a quick pass. I think, perfect, someone to chase and heckle for the rest of the race. But she's gone after I have to put my foot down twice in order to keep myself from ending up in the weeds. Neither derailleur is responding to stimuli and my front brake is gummed up enough as to be rendered useless.

My biggest moment of remedial cyclocross racing came on the third time up the incline. I am forced to take the top line and cut a short right corner in order to avoid a wavering and weaving line of slower riders. Cut the corner too short (anyone that has been reading this blog for any amount of time should be aware of my problems with right turns) and my front wheel, again, slides to the left. I go right.

Straight onto the top a wooden course marker.

Hot, red, searing pain spreads up my inner left thigh...all of the way up my inner left thigh. The fans are screaming for me to get up, but I am stunned and prone, fetal position in the mud. Someone drags me to my feet and hands me my bike. The crowd roars, but all I can think is that I may have just ended any hope I had of bearing children.

Lap 4: The ironically titled "Clean Lap." At this point I've basically given up trying to get back on Chase's wheel and have decided that all I want out of this race at this point is one clean lap. Just one. No trips, slips or faceplants. Even if it means getting passed by every single person on the course...I WILL STAY UPRIGHT.

The fourth time up the incline of death loomed large. My nemesis and my chance to take back my race. Started low, aimed for the straightest line to the high side. My back wheel skids once, and I wobble twice coming out of the turn, but I make it out clean and let out a war whoop.

(Photo: Tim Schallberger)

The HV and PV boys go nuts.

In the end, I did stay up right and managed to not get passed by any riders in my field. I rolled through the finish somewhere right outside the top ten (officially fourteenth), out of breath more from laughing than from the effort.

I found Mo right after the race. I can can barely see her through the mud on her face and the mud on my own.

"Holy shit, that was so much fun."


In the last year, I've turned my life upside down in order to train and bike race. It has given me brilliant moments of victory and, unfortunately, debilitating moments of self-doubt. At times, the pressure that I've put on myself to perform well has been almost paralyzing in its intensity. Lost in the intervals and training rides and warm-up routines and talk of series wins and upgrades, I had forgotten how much god-damned entertaining bike racing can be...when we let it be entertaining.

So, for that, thank you Hillsboro.

But no worries, reader, the game face will be back for next week. Costumes or no costumes, I will be back in leg-ripper mode. Just going to try an inject a little more fun into it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Today's Race Report Brought to You by Azytrhomicin, Tequila and a Sasquatch Pinata

[First, a brief note about my last race report. After spending 48 hours post-Rainier simultaneously hacking up lungs and feeling like a total lame ass excuse-machine, I was at the doctor for something else and had her take a listen to my lungs.

No wonder I couldn't breathe at Rainier: I had friggin' bronchitis. Although a combination of working from home, nuclear-grade antibiotics and cat-napping had me feeling much better by week's end, I was touch-and-go on racing until Sunday morning.

The ultimate deciding factor? Winning that team port-a-potty.]


When I saw that "2" on the lap counter, it was not without a sense of irony that I thought "This is total horseshit."

Cross Crusade race #3, Sherwood Equestrian Center. The only thing grosser than the gunk I was coughing up in ten minute intervals was the piles of horseshit all over the staging area.

(Overheard in the oatmeal line: Man #1 "Dude, I eat pieces of shit like him for breakfast. [Pause.] Man #2, looking down at his boots: "I'm not sure how funny that is right now.")

For those of you that don't already know, I grew up on a farm and am no stranger to horseshit. But I had assumed that moving to the city and taking up a genteel, white-collar sport like cycling would eliminate any future exposures to steaming piles of livestock feces. Cross racing continues to prove many of my life assumptions wrong.

(Tuning out and warming up. Credit: Jon Gornick)

This is a course that you either loved or hated. Lots of single track, rutted out downhill sections, two barriers before a long hop over a creek bed, and 300-meter, total a son-of-a-bitch of a climb at the end. I think that had my lungs been operating at greater than 75% capacity, I would have loved this course. But as things were, that climb kicked my ass to I-5 and back.

Even with the DNF at Rainier, the win at Alpenrose had secured my spot on the front line. I got to slide in next to Anna. She knows how to deal with me when I'm nervous. No questions and some well-timed hand squeezes. A few verbal jabs from the PV menfolk, then it was time to go.

I had another great start and won the first lap for the third time this season.

(Credit: Jon Gornick)(Credit: Bryan Carter)

(Credit: Tim Schallberger)

No appreciable gap on the lead pack, but I got the hole shot and only lost the lead briefly to a rider that passed me, then learned a valuable lesson about pre-shifting before remounting the bike on an uphill. I heard her derailleur protest, heave and pop. Its one of the more horrible noises that a cross racer can hear.

(Credit: Tim Schallberger)

I had three goals for this race: fast first lap, finish and to listen to my body. At the sign of the first coughing fit, I promised myself I would sit up and take it easy for the rest of the race. When Anna and Margi passed me on the second lap, I let them go. I had worked hard for the first lap and knew, unfortunately, that I didn't have the lungs or the legs to hold their pace.

(Credit: Tim Schallberger)

I'm not going to sugar coat this: bronchitis or no bronchitis, this course was fucking hard. Your lungs may have been able to recover on the downhills, but the ruts rattled your bones and destroyed the skin on your palms. The flats were false and by the time you reached the top of the climb, the riders had the look of men being led to the gallows: slack-jawed, eyes glazed over.

(Credit: Jon Gornick)

There was a lot of spittle and foam at the mouth.

(Credit: SoSoVelo)

I kept Margi in my sights until the second climb. By the third, I was in fifth place and starting to feel the itch in my lungs that signals a coughing attack was near. I rounded the top, positive that I would only have to do it one more time.


Two to go?! Fucking horseshit.

So I rode two more laps. Grinding it out between pockets of beginner riders. Gasping out how I was going to pass...those beginner ladies were champs, I couldn't have been emitting anything more powerful than a phlegmy, gurgling squawk.

(Credit: Tim Schallberger)

The fifth climb ended up being the easiest. I had caught a pack of about 15 slower riders with nowhere to pass. I picked the faster moving left lane, catching FT's wheel and letting her pull me to the top. I had fully intended to slap her on the ass at the finish, but she had the finishing gumption that I lacked and I rolled in right behind her.

Head down on the handlebars. The taste of blood and snot in my mouth. Eyes stinging from sweat. Holy fucking cyclocross, Batman.

(The FTs at the Finish. Credit:

Fourth place. It might not have been pretty, and it definitely wasn't fun, but it helped HV keep the lead in the Team Competition.

PS: To the spectators at the barriers. I do appreciate the sentiment, whether it be in jest or otherwise, but it takes more than heckling to convince me to throw an elbow or run someone over. My spectator entertainment services are available for hire for good red wine, Euros or the services necessary to fix my back derailleur on a weekly basis. See you in Hillsboro.

(Credit: Jon Gornick)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It's Not a Race Report If I Only Last One Lap.

Sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes, well, he eats you.
-The Stranger, The Big Lebowski (1998)

Man, oh man, did I get eaten by the bar on Sunday in Rainier.

It really boils down to one thing. One that everyone is tired of hearing out of me: I'm sick. Really sick. Sicker than I've been in a few years. The kind of sick that isn't remotely fazed by two straight days of hiding under the covers watching rhythmic gymnastics while overdosing on cold medicine and orange juice.

I shouldn't have even rolled out of bed on Sunday, but pride and stubbornness prevailed over common sense. Rainier may have been my one and only chance to get called up first, and I wasn't going to let a little deep chest cough and debilitating fatigue ruin that moment.

Being sick also prevented me from riding my cross bike during the week and testing the fixes made by the shop on Monday. So, predictably, I started having back derailleur problems at the beginning of the pre-ride, but I thought those had worked themselves out once I had shifted up and down through the full range of gears. Instead of taking it up to the repair tent to make sure, I decided to take a nap in the car.

Coughed and hacked my way through the warm-up and the call-ups. Just 45 minutes of HTFU, that was all I wanted from my body. I think it might have stepped up and pulled through if the first lap hadn't turned into a comedy of errors.

I had a great start....for about 50 meters. Then my bike shifted itself into the easiest gear and would not shift back out. Fifteen riders go flying past me. I curse the bike back into gear and manage to make it though the first 1/3 of the course before it happens again. Bike shifts into easiest gear, but this time no amount of cursing works.

I was lucky to be near the pits and lucky that Shimano is providing pit bikes and wheels for all of the races. I cruised into the pits and was on a pit bike within 45 seconds.

Having a pit bike: awesome. Having a pit bike with pedals that don't quite cooperate with my shoes and with a different shifting system: for me, a bit of a debacle. I ride Crank Brother's eggbeater pedals instead of Candy pedals because the platform on the Candy pedals makes it almost impossible for me to clip out and dismount with my Specialized shoes. I learned this the hard (i.e., faceplant) way at cross practice a month ago.

By the time I was on the pit bike and had some shifting issues sorted out (I ride SRAM, the bike was Shimano), I was smack dab in the middle of the beginner's field and approaching a huge bottleneck on the course....two consecutive short, steep risers as the course moves out of the woods and into a grass field.

Under normal circumstances, this would not have been a problematic section of the course. Build up some speed, weight the bike, climb and ride through. However, that scenario assumes that the riders in front of me are also riding this section.

This was an incorrect assumption.

As soon as I rounded the corner into the first riser, I could see a wall of women off of the bike and walking up the second hill. In order to get up and around safely I would need to slow up and shift into a smaller gear.

Except there was no smaller gear. I had neglected to check where I was and was stuck in the big chainring. And I couldn't get clipped out.

With no safe way to move forward, I laid the bike down into the brambles on the side of the course.

As I lay there on my back in the dirt, still connected to the pit bike, uncontrollably coughing and looking at the steady stream of beginners riding six inches from my head, one thought flashes into my head:

Fuck. This.

I get back up. Cough to the point of throwing up. Then fall back over again.

Maybe on a different day, I would have been up for the challenge of working my way through three fields to try and regain contact with my own. It would have been excellent handling practice. But Sunday was not a "climb every mountain" sort of day. It was a "I am so over this bike racing shit" sort of day.

After reclaiming my own bike from the pit, I finished the lap and rolled off of the course and back to the tent.

Rainier: Fail. DNF. Reboot. Start over.

This week: First priority: get healthy. Second: get bike fixed (again). The weekend brings a new course at Sherwood Equestrian Center. Hm...that means horse shit. Lovely.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Fat, Fast and Dangerous: Alpenrose 2009

I started racing cyclocross exactly three years ago. First race: Alpenrose 2006. I had been to four clinics, crashed my bike three times trying to dismount and was scared out of my ever-lovin' mind. My unofficial count is that 115 women raced that afternoon.

Yesterday, over 220 women lined up to race

(Photo: Dave Roth. This photo doesn't even include the A Women, who now race with the A men.)

There are very few places on earth where 220 TOTAL people show up for a cross race. Portland rules.

Cross Crusade races make for long days. I like to get there early to pre-ride the course, but we don't race until almost two o'clock. How do we kill the time in between? We harass our junior racers, of course.

(Photo: BikePortland. The FTs discussing race strategy with James Ralston, who shall now be referred to as McDreamy and be forced to wear his jersey half-unzipped at all times.)

And when we are done with that, we ring a lot of cowb
ell, eat oatmeal and come up with new and offensive ways to motivate our teammates. Most of this involves references to being fat, slow, fat and slow or your mom.

Around 1:45, after two hours of nervous stomach and 45 minutes of sweating to the oldies, its go time. Correction, its go time after several minutes of smack talk about sandbagging, vomiting and the strategic advantages of getting laid before the race. The Women's B line is the place to get all of the good gossip.

(Photo Credit: Dave Roth. Freaking out between two ladies that always make me calm, Lana and Traci. Lana is the one that looks like a sexy Creamsicle).

Having raced this race four years running, I knew how important it would be to get a good start and get to the dirt out in front. So when the whistle blew, I rode it like I stole it.

I had a fantastic first lap, despite what will now be known as the "
Alpenrose Run-Up Incident of 2009" (if you'd like more information on this, I'd be happy to direct you to the resulting nonsense on the Cross Crusade forums) and dropping my chain after the first set of barriers. Got the hole shot and built a 10-15 second lead by the end of the first lap, and 20 seconds by the end of the second. The gap fluctuated throughout the race, but I was able to maintain it throughout.

(Photo: Sallyanne Ellis. Hitting the pavement with no one in sight.)

Laps one and two were fairly uneventful, although I did start to notice that I was having a lot of difficulty with my back end shifting (cue ominous music here).
Tedder's classes and weekly cross practice have done wonders for my technique. I still can't remount properly, but felt really smooth over the barriers and on the run-up.

(Photo: Oregon Velo. Taking the barriers with the grace of a gazelle and breathing of a winded rhinoceros.)

(Photo: Mike Kender. I was pushing the bike instead of shouldering to protect my back, which went out again earlier that week.)

One of the strategic issues we have to deal with at Cross Crusade races is lapping other riders. For the first two laps, I was able to hammer along at my own pace and the riders I passed were Master A riders with years of experience and solid bike handling. For the final two laps, it gets a bit trickier as we start working our way into the beginner's field. First priority is to get by without startling the other rider. Second, do it without losing too much speed. Third, put as many slower riders between you and the person chasing you.

(Photo: Dave Roth. This wide smooth road was a really good place to pass because it was safe and I could build up a lot of speed to pass quickly.)

Passing became a lesser worry on the third and fourth laps when I realized that there was something very wrong with my back derailleur. A quick check on the pavement indicated that I only had three gears that my bike would get into, and stay in, under load. The rest of the race was a lot of standing to get up inclines and screaming at my bike..."GET IN THERE!"

(Photo: Oregon Velo. Standing somewhere where I normally wouldn't. Using words to describe my bike that I normally wouldn't.)
(Photo: Tim Schalberger. I have no idea when this photo was taken. I just like it because I look skinny and strong.)

I could see and sense that my teammate Anna had cleared the pack and was bearing down on me in the third lap, so in the fourth I sprinted as many of the flats and climbs as my three-speed would allow and exercised a bit more caution in the technical sections. I knew that if she got within 10 meters of me, I was done for.

One more lap, she may have caught me. But lucky for me, four was the number for the day.

(Photo: Tim Schalberger.)

First Cross Crusade Win. And on my favorite course.

The day had many team highlights, including wins by Mindy (Master B) and Kolben (Junior 17-18), top ten finishes by Anna (B), Bryan (Clydesdale), Angela (Master B) and Marc (Master C) and Top 20 finished by Tedder (Unclassified Old Farts), Jamie B. (B) and Jamie F. (Clydesdale). As a result, HV is currently winning the Feudal States Competition, the Crusade's team competition for rights to a private blue room for the 2010 season. That is a serious prize, people.

The damage to the Tri-Cross was minimal...bent derailleur hanger that the all-star crew at River City replaced within 15 minutes on Monday morning.

With another win comes the bittersweet acknowledgment that I have a limited number of B races left before I get my upgrade notice. So time to kick this head cold and get ready to go out with guns blazing.