Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Nationals Race Report (or "Why Skinsuit Photos are the Best Motivation to Start Winter Training")

Yawn. This is what I get for waiting to write my Nationals race report a month after the fact. Just thinking about cyclocross is making me tired. Or maybe its the fact that the onset of road training means frog-hopping and lunging to China at 5:45 AM, twice a week. Either way, I'm exhausted.

Nationals. What can I say....Bend sure knows how to throw a bike race/party. I felt like my weekend was two parts ice, four parts skinsuit and ten parts beer.

I had a serious sit-down with myself on the drive to Bend about goals and expectations for the race. Up to that point the goal was "don't be last" and the expectation was "get ass kicked." Health issues had waylayed some of my November training. General burnout took care of the rest. In short, I wasn't fit and definitely was not motivated.

The Mexican rightly pointed out that this wasn't exactly best attitude when approaching "the most prestigious event on the cyclocross calendar." I agreed, looked at the preliminary start list for my race, and, accordingly, changed my goals to "race strong through to the finish" and "finish in the top half" and expectations to "freeze ass off in skinsuit" and "start drinking immediately after the race."

The Course.

My evaluation of the course is this: it would have been fun without the ice. Not to say it would have been a good course for me, but it would have been fun. Because I am a bit of a beast, I like courses with longer climbs and straight sections where I can get up to speed. This course had very few of those and, because of the course conditions, involved a lot of slowing down to corner safely, then trying to power back up as quickly as possible. I'm not bad at this (when in shape), but as I had done more beer drinking than training in the previous three weeks...well, it was tough.

There was also a lot of ice. I suffered two spectacular crashes during my pre-ride Once on my own on a grassy, iced-over off-camber section and once after getting tangled up with some hotshot that thought it would be a good idea to race a hot lap while there were at least 150 other riders on the course. By the time I had finished two test laps, I had dented my brand new helmet, torn a hole in my knee warmers and was so crabby that the only thing that motivated me to get on the trainer was the $120 dollars I had paid to put myself through this.

The Warm-Up.

My warm-up literally involved trying to warm up. It was about 33 degrees in the sun and there was no escape from the wind. I sat on my trainer for 20-30 minutes, wearing four layers and visualizing palm trees. After 15 minutes, I actually began to sweat and made one good faith effort to get my heart rate above 150. Then I sat in the car with Anna and drank a warm can of Coke.

The Gear.

This is the one thing I got totally right at Nationals. I was really comfortable during the race.
  • 1 Fleece-lined cyclocross skinsuit. Functional, yet not designed to be flattering in a size Large.
  • 1 Descente sleeveless baselayer. Purchased at a discount store in Seattle for $5.99. I think the the tag was supposed to read $25.99, but my job is not to make sure your inventory is priced correctly.
  • 2 pairs latex gloves. One pair under socks and one pair under gloves. This was the smartest addition to my wardrobe. My skin was clammy and disgusting underneath the latex after the race, but I had no problems with my feet or hands getting cold.
  • 1 pair castelli windproof gloves. I had never raced in these, but was glad that I had packed them after I realized that the Gore winter gloves I wanted to use were both for the left hand. I promptly texted Mindy to tell her I had solved her Gore right glove problem from last April.
  • 1 pair Smartwool socks.
  • Hincapie fleece-lined knee warmers.
  • 1 fleece headband.
  • 1 dented helmet.
  • The Franco Pellozoti Glasses.
  • Specialized Tri-Cross with 34" tires borrowed from a teammate.

(Photo Credit: Dad.)


The Race.

Pre-race and the first 30 seconds of the race were a series of debacles that, in the end, had no effect on the outcome of the race. First, I realized as we were staging that my back tire was flat. Big thanks to Benno for loaning me the back wheel of his pit bike (because it was tubular and awesome, I borrowed it for the entire race) and perfecting the shifting before letting me ride off.

Second, because USA Cycling required me to race as a Cat 4, I was lined up in the boondocks and was right behind a three-rider pile-up that occurred within ten feet of the start line. I was able to get around it and, because the course bottle-necked at 100 meters, I caught back on quickly.

(Photo Credit: Dave Roth)

And proceeded to have a great race, despite one major crash in the second lap and a fall in the fourth lap that put me out of contact with the group that finished 16th-20th. I worked hard for the entire five laps, including a sprint to the finish that, had I stood up just a second sooner, would have scored me one more place.

(Photo Credit: Dad. Starting the third lap of five.)

(Photo Credit: Dad)

The second lap mishap occurred on a slick corner coming out of the pit. I took a bad line, the bike slid out from underneath me and the right brake hood smacked me right in the mouth. Sort of felt like the bike was back-handing me for expecting it to function properly in December. For the next two laps I kept checking for blood, but all I ended up with was a dirt smear above my lip that closely resembled Hitler's mustache.

(Photo Credit: Dad. Note Awesome Dirt Mustache and More Awesome "Shouldering" Technique.)

On the fourth lap I fell at the base of the stair-step run-up. There was a patch of ice on the left side. I knew this because I had already fallen there once. But I was in the process of trying to pass two riders that I had worked for ten minutes to catch and I wanted to try and get one of them on the stairs. She took the right, I went left. My right ankle turned and I ended up on my ass and facing the course backwards.

When I stood up, my right foot wasn't working because my ankle had popped out of joint. This isn't as painful as it sounds, as injuries sustained from high school basketball has left me with few ligaments to damage. The sprain hurt, but I was able to knock the joint back into place by whacking my foot on the bottom stair.

(Photo Credit: Dad. Wincing in pain a bit after the ankle incident.)

I was up and running again, but lost contact with the two riders that I had worked so hard to catch.

(Photo Credit: Dad. Trying to make up some ground in the last lap.)

Then there was another lap, some sprinting, then the 2009 racing season was OVER.

Jeff had a flask of Bailey's and whiskey waiting for me.

Mission accomplished.

(Photo Credit: Dad)

I finished 22nd out of 44 or 45 riders. I'm really happy to have met my goal, but more excited that I was comfortably in the top 20 for most of the race. Crashing happens (to some of us more than others), but knowing that a top 20 finish is a legitimate goal for next year will be motivating when September 2010 rolls around.

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