Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Finally, Caught Up: Barton and USGP

In order to meet my goal of catching up on race reports before Nationals, I bring you my run-downs of the Cross Crusade Finale at Barton Park and USGP Day #2.

Barton: My first A race. There were two major things to fret about (because I always have to fret about something). First, sixty minutes of cross racing. Second, not crashing in front of, or otherwise interfering with, any of the A men.

This is the closest I'd be to the rest of the field for the entire race. See those ladies in the front? They win National Championships. See me? There I am, in the back:

My position would not improve over the course of the race.

I ride fast first laps. For better or worse, its sort of my thing. I rode the hardest first lap of my season and was still spit off the back, as in waaaaaay off the back, within a half of a lap. Those ladies are on such a different level that it may as well be another galaxy.

Barton is a course that you either love or loathe. Personally, even though I sustained a concussion and dislocated thumb here three years ago, I am fond of this course. Two years ago, Barton was the first B race where I didn't get pulled a lap early and it was my best race last season.

The course, in my mind, was divided into three parts. The gravel pits (80% of the course), the paved parking lot (18%) and the crazy whoop-dee lunatic mud single track and run-up that connect the two.

There were a couple of tricky sections. The aforementioned single track and a slick, off-camber downhill that had racked up a huge body count during the earlier races. I had spooked badly, three times, on this section of the course in the morning and hadn't ridden it. But this was the A race...I'd have to at least try and ride it during the race. Or risk being ejected to the beginner men. Even though they had changed the course after the pre-rides to make it less dangerous, I was not looking forward to the prospect of tumbling tits-over-ass in front of at least five dozen onlookers.

Turns out, I rode it cleanly six times (we'll get back to the "six" thing in a minute). In fact, I rode the whole race cleanly. Not gracefully, or quickly, but cleanly.

What eventually killed me were the run-ups. I was right with Margi for most of the first three laps, until the effort of trying to keep up with her on the run-ups finally wore me down. Margi is tiny and someone who has placed top five in the Portland Marathon or something equally impressive. In a run-up battle between mountain goats and monster trucks, the mountain goats will always win.

When we hit the places where I would normally be stronger (the straightaways and pavement) I was out of gas from the running. So, as much as I hated to do so, I let her go and concentrated on keeping a steady pace for the next 35 minutes.

If I haven't gotten this point across already, sixty minutes of cyclocross is a lot of goddamned cyclocross. The second time up the finish line run-up, the lap card read six laps to go.

My first thought: You have to be fucking kidding me.

My second thought: I just may throw my bike at someone.

Granted, six laps for the A men probably meant only four more for me, but still, we're talking about a race where I would usually only race four laps to begin with.

The last two laps were equally hard and hilarious. Hard in that I had little gumption left, but had to keep racing. Hilarious in that I was constantly berating my legs to keeping working. And they were constantly laughing in my face.

(Probably the only time I stood for the last half of the race.)

(Unable to hide how I really feel about racing an extra 20 minutes.)

In the end, I wasn't last and it felt good to ride a technically sound race. I didn't get lapped by my own field and didn't crash in front of anyone. And, for the little things that make me happy, I picked the right tire pressure and wore the right glasses:

(Green Rudy Project glasses: Esthetically atrocious, but perfect for the overcast conditions).

Barton was followed by two race-less weekends. It was glorious. I slept in, ingested a lot of junk calories, rode as much (or as little) as I wanted and helped R paint the interior of his new house.

USGP: Having recently become of bit of a cheapskate, I had decided in October to only race one of the USGP races and skip the Elite race in favor of the Singlespeed race. Not too much to say about this one other than (1) It was cold (2) I was severely under-geared and (3) some of the out of town B racers were total assholes.

(1) It was cold. Like 32 degrees with a wind chill of 32 degrees minus a bunch of other degrees. Because my body overheats so easily, this was the first time I had raced in my cross skinsuit, which is fleece lined and had previously only been used to commute in the rain when I hadn't done laundry for a few days.

For gear, I went with a wool sleeveless baselayer, thick wool socks, fleece lined knee warmers, windstopper gloves over embrocated hands and the skinsuit. Used a cotton cap, but kept my ears uncovered and used a heavy layer of Born #2 emobrocation on my legs, back and shoulders. This combination worked, pretty well but I should have also embrocated my feet right before the race. My toes were hovering on the border of "extremely uncomfortable" and "painful" by the end of the race. Going to have to adjust the strategy for the arctic conditions in Bend.

(2) I did a horrible job of picking the right gear on the Specialized. Mostly because I was lazy and cold. I think I just settled on 46 x 19 or 46 x 21. Whatever it was, it sucked. I was spinning at about 150 RPM on the pavement and packed dirt. And this course had a lot of pavement and packed dirt.

(3) Don't be an asshole. We're all out there to have fun...yelling at people to get out of your way is lame. I doubt that you will miss out on your opportunity for pro sponsorship following this extremely prestigious B race if you display a little courtesy.

There were at least five women in the race. Lindsay Jones was long gone after the pavement, the Signal rider crashed, but caught me again at some point and finished right in front of me. I spent the entire race chasing Anna and a Cucina Fresca rider. I'd catch them in the technical sections and they would ride away from me on the pavement. Lucky for me, the technical section was the second half of the course. My grandma touring gearing allowed me to climb the hills that they were forced to run and I was able to spin fast enough on the pavement to hold a small lead at the end.

Photos here, here and here from Cascade Event Photography.

Awesome Skinsuit Shot Courtesy of Oregon Velo:

There were seven HV riders in the SS race...I don't think we had an entry in any other race. Here is a good shot of some of the boys:

And Chris remounting in style:

And Bryan doing what he does best:

Although I could have easily been convinced to skip this race and stay in bed for an extra hour, I'm glad I did it. It was fun to line up with the menfolk. My legs needed the wake-up call before Nationals and my body needed to experience the shock of racing in freezing conditions. I fell twice, but am calling the race a clean race as both spills were caused to avoid a crash in front of me, not by a handling error.

It's been a lazy week. Unseasonably cold temperatures have driven most of us inside to get those last few workouts in before "the big race."

I have two goals: (1) Enjoy the experience and (2) Don't finish last. We will see how that plan works out.

See you in Bend. BRRRRRRRRR!

Tardy Race Reports: Part II. State Champtionships and PIR

After packing up and heading back inland after Halloween weekend, I was sick, tired, emotionally overwhelmed and physically under-motivated. Decided to take a drastic measure....a real week off. Didn't work out for five days. No commuting, no training. Lots of sleeping and movie watching, followed by more sleeping.

The worst of it all had passed by Friday, and when El Luchador decided that he wanted to do the State Championship race in Salem, I decided to drag my mom down I-5 south to the Oregon State Fairgrounds and give it a whirl.

State Championships:

First and foremost, this was my favorite course of the year. So a huge thank you to the bicycleattorney.com folks for setting it up. Course was flat, fast and had at least 6 different surfaces to ride or run through: pavement, mud, sand, gravel, loose dirt and a motocross course. No run-ups and lots of room to stand and sprint. A vicious headwind. My kind of course.

R raced early, in the C race, stayed upright and picked a good day to win his first cross race. It was a tight race from start to finish and I got a good warm-up in while frenetically riding back and forth through the course and hollering bloody murder while he raced.

As ecstatic as I was for him, I couldn't be upstaged by my boyfriend in front of my mother.

A monsoon welcomed our start. This kind of weather beats some people down, but I love it. It might be because I get warm and stay warm pretty easily. But it also might be because Mother Nature is just another ass to try and kick.

The fields were small, so they called each field out of the barn individually, lined us up and blew the whistle before we could get too cold.

The start of our race is about thirty seconds into this video. One hundred meters of pavement, a sweeping left turn and another 100 meters of pavement, then into the dirt and mud for the first half of the course. I got a great start and by the time we hit the mud, had a fifteen/twenty meter lead on the field.

This half of the course was a series of straightaways into and out of the headwind, with several surface changes. I buried my head and stood up out of all of the corners, knowing that any gap would have to be created before we headed into the second half of the course, which weaved in and out of the show barns and covered motocross course.

I had a sizeable lead after the first lap, which grew during the second and third laps. I felt great and willed myself not to look back, but to just keep pushing forward. At the end of the third lap, I could sense that Margi and Steph had made up a little ground. On the last time down the starting straightaway I stood up and sprinted as if I was finishing a crit, figuring if they couldn't see me when they rounded the corner onto the same straightaway, I would have the psychological advantage going through the last lap. As long as I stayed upright, that is.

Turns out that I didn't need the psychological advantage. Because I had Burns. For the only time this season, the masters riders started behind the B riders. Burns had worked her way through my field and caught me a third of the way through the last lap. As she was at least three minutes ahead of the next masters rider, she slowed up a bit so I could just hug her wheel for the rest of the race.

Which is what I did, all of the way to the finish line.

(Post Race Smiles for the Hammer Velo State Champions.)

Whether I had won this race or not, I was really happy with my ride. It was technically clean and mentally consistent. And my mom was there at the finish line. Even at 32 years of age, having parents there for big moments doesn't get old.

R prepared a huge celebratory meal for me and my family that night and the two of us capped it off by tossing back a bottle of bubbly that I had been holding onto for five years for a "special occasion." That Saturday was such an occasion, unexpected and joyful.

And Sunday, we both woke up with a bit of a headache. Obviously.


Sunday began with extra strength Excedrin for both of us and, for me, a dilemma: Which race? With the third win on Saturday, I was well within automatic upgrade territory. I hadn't gotten the email from OBRA, but I also was well aware of the rules. And of the heckling that would occur from my friends if I lined up for the B race.

One option down. Two remaining: A race or Singlespeed? In reality, there was only one option left because I had no desire to race for an hour after racing, then consuming most of a bottle of champagne, the day before. It was settled. I would make my debut as an A (minus) at Barton.

Racing in the Singlespeed race was a wise decision on my part. It allowed me to race without any pressure and get in a phenomenal workout.

I had to do things differently at PIR because of the nature of the race. Usually, I get a fast first lap in, then settle in, regroup and try to maintain for the last 25 minutes.

However, because I was racing with men, started mid-pack and was pack fodder within two minutes, I had to ride a slow first lap and pick up speed as the race progressed. It was a good exercise in frustration management. I ended up in a pod of about ten guys, most of whom were faster than I, but I was more technically proficient through the barriers, in the mud and through the tricky off-camber sections . Lots of passing and getting caught, passing and getting caught.

(I'm not passing these guys. I'm getting lapped.)

PIR was a sonofabitch of a course as a Singlespeed. 80% the course was covered in varying consistencies of mud and there was no way to get the gearing just right. It also forced me to be a better technical rider, because I couldn't "cheat" my way through parts of the course by gearing down.

I rode the race mostly clean. I say "mostly" because there were several sections of the course where I knew that if I attempted to ride them, I would end up sliding out. So my strategy became to ride those sections as fast as I could and hope that I'd be closer to solid footing when I wiped out and had to hoof it. Stupid, yet fun and, I imagine, entertaining for the spectators.

(Getting lapped again. But still running!)

I worked harder in this race than I think I had all year in a B race. I suppose it was a combination of not having to race strategically and being under no pressure to place well. No one was paying attention to me, so my only job to ride my ass off.

I think I finished 110th out of 140. Ryan Trebon may or may not have lapped me twice. I honestly don't remember.

Only twice this year have I willed myself not to barf after a race: Barlow and PIR. If you can't tell from my face, I was spent.

But was also, again, very happy with cross racing. Which was the biggest victory of the weekend, as I was ready to hang up my shoes after Halloween weekend, content to spectate for the rest of the year.

Up Next: Barton (Or "Why I Missed the Finish of the Best Men's Race of the Year") and USGP Day #2 (Or "You Mean It's Going to be Twenty Degrees COLDER in Bend?!).