2010 Cyclocross Races 2 and 3: Sucker Brook , Auburn, NH

“I need to meet some strange men,” Elise informed me last week.

“Um, OK. Anything in particular going on?” I really couldn’t figure out where she was going with that, and I figured I had about a 67% chance of not liking it.

“It’s Oreo. He’s afraid of guys. We need to practice meeting men.”

Oh good, it’s just the dog. “Well, ya know, it doesn’t get much stranger than cross racers…”

Thus hatched the plan for the whole family to head up to Auburn for Sucker Brook Cross 2010. Andrew had been bugging me to do a kids race for a while, and Mags, well, Mags came along for the ride.

Sucker Brook was my first race last year, maybe my 4th race ever, and is one of the least technical courses on the local calendar. It’s flat and fast. This is generally a Good Thing for me, because I don’t do well in technical races. And by “technical,” I mean “anything with more than one 90-degree turn.” This year, feeling that I’d stepped up my training and skill a bit, I decided to double up and race both the Cat 4 and the 3/4 35+ groups. The 4s race was only 30 minutes, and I’d have 30 more minutes after that to recover before my second race, so what’s the problem?

Andrew did a warmup lap with me on the big boy course. He had to walk a lot, but he did fine. We came around and couldn’t find the girls, and I felt the itch to get a faster lap in, so he did a second lap on his own. When he came around again I dropped him off with E at the sand pit (conveniently located in a playground). E met a couple folks, worked on Oreo not barking his head off when a strange guy approached, and generally remained calm.
This year’s course added a log-barrier section after the fire road (which used to go through a forest, but now goes through a sad moonscape that used to be a forest) and raised the sand-pit difficulty by putting the U-turn in the pit, instead of on the grass beside the pit. Oh, and somebody sucked every last drop of moisture out of the soil. Rather than waste more words on course description, here’s the lazyweb version:

Sucker Brook ‘Cross cat 3 lap 1 from Threshold Cycling on Vimeo.

That’s exactly what I saw, except that video looks like it’s on fast-forward compared to what I experienced.

I started in the 4th or 5th row of the 4s, and felt like I got a good start until we got through the first corner and guys were still coming around me. I was still carrying a good bit of the cold I picked up last week, so maybe that slowed me down a bit, but…dang, racers, why can’t I hold position in the first 500 meters? I made it through the twisty bits, up the stairs to the up-down-hairpin-up combo before the loose camber section and promptly fell over when my front wheel washed out in the sand. GET BACK ON YOUR BIKE! Bomb down the fire road, through the loose corner, and up to the log. Am I even thinking about riding the log? No. Over the log, remount – dammit, where’d my pedal go? Too late. Dead stop.

I think I’m starting to see what my problem might be.

I made it up a few places, even did some actual RACING when passing a few guys in the twisty bits, but didn’t manage to claw my way back into the top half of the race. Snot streaming down my face, tongue hanging out and seemingly three times its normal size, I did have the presence of mind to look behind me and call off the sprint when I didn’t have anybody sneaking up on me at the finish.

Hey, I get to do this again in half an hour? Lovely. Oh, except this one is ten minutes longer. That didn’t go any better. After the first turn, I nearly yacked up the Clif blocks I ate between races, but managed to keep them down. While distracted by that, I didn’t really notice when I let the race ride away from me, but at that point I didn’t much care, either. On the third lap or so I managed to kick my rear brake into my spokes on a remount, which took me a minute or so to untangle. The sand pit, which I managed to ride partially in the first race, proved too much. There’s a video floating around of me mincing like a schoolgirl through the sand. Don’t watch it on a full stomach.

Fortunately, the kids fared much better. The kids race took place on the soccer field, a twisty little course marked out with tiny orange flags and a couple of railroad-tie barriers. Andrew grabbed the hole shot in a field of 10 kids or so, then lost his advantage when another kid on an MTB was able to ride the railroad ties. He managed to hang on for 2nd. Mags used her technical advantage – training wheels – to lay waste to two other kids on tricycles. I think she slept with her medal last night. They both got to practice their podium poses.

The second race probably destroyed any chance of improving my start position for Gloucester this weekend. On the other hand, making it to the start at all will be a refreshing change of pace. Last year I’d managed to injure myself badly enough that I couldn’t start. I still have a few days to screw it up, but it looks like I’ll get to show my face at the New England World Championships this year. Now all I have to do is stuff my fear way down and go harder than I’ve ever gone.

2010 Cyclocross race 1: Travis Cycle, Brockton

Yep, cross is here! After my planned trip to Quad on Sunday got pre-empted, I dithered a while between racing Brockton and attending the Wheelworks cyclocross clinic. Thursday afternoon I decided I just couldn’t stand myself if I didn’t get out and race, so I dropped my RSVP for Wheelworks and signed up for Travis. Then I went down to Duxbury and put up a personal-best time at the 20K time trial, good enough for 3rd place in M35+. Hey, it’s September, so my fitness hasn’t evaporated yet.
According to my records, I last raced in Brockton way back in 2006. It was my 3rd-ever cyclocross race. It came in November that year, and we had a cold, wet day. I had no confidence on the course, and rode accordingly. My name doesn’t appear in the bikereg.com results, and everybody’s favorite results site has no record of the race at all, but I swear I was there. Maybe I DNF’ed. Honestly, I don’t recall. I did remember that the course was a little on the jungle side, featuring stretches of rocky, narrow path decorated with the occasional log.
I left the house a little later than I wanted on Saturday, but with plenty of time to arrive and ride the course before the first race group. Except, well, guess what else I didn’t remember? I didn’t remember exactly where the park was. The flyer didn’t get more specific than “turn on Oak Street and look for the bike race signs,” and the park doesn’t have much frontage, so I blew right past it the first time. I pulled over at a McDonald’s and fiddled with maps on my phone for a while before reversing course and eventually spotting the hand-lettered poster board that marked the race entrance. I jumped out of the car, assembled the bike and hit the course before registering.
This year’s course ran the opposite direction of what I remember from 2006, but otherwise stuck with the jungle-cross theme. Pavement start with an immediate 120-degree turn around a tree, back across the road, through a left-right combo and into a barriered run-up, with a couple of logs for good measure. Then it got interesting – a long stretch of bumpy but paved path, followed with a downhill approach into a sharp left-hand turn at the base of another run-up, lots of rocky pond path, some grassy hairpins, and probably some other stuff that I’m blocking out right now. Here’s the obligatory GPS view of the course:
Travis Cycle Cyclocross 2010 course
I went slow for the first lap, just getting a feel for what was around each corner, then tried to pick up the pace on the 2nd. Going into the grassy hairpins I felt the front end get really darty, and nearly took myself out leaning over into a corner. Yup, I managed to pinch-flat somewhere along the way. Dangit. I cut the lap short and headed back to the car, where I had a spare tube. A road tube, as it turned out. Double dangit. I left my file tread tubies at home, since I noticed some base-tape separation on the rear wheel on Friday night. I bummed a tube off another racer (thanks, Phil, I owe you) but by the time I got the wheel back together, the women were on the course. So much for the pre-ride.
Hey, we’re six paragraphs into the race report and haven’t gotten to the actual race yet! I accidentally wound up with a front-row position, but pooched it when I missed the clip-in and the guys to either side got in front of me. I was halfway back going into that first turn, and wound up on a slow inside line. More places lost. I got off the bike early and passed a couple guys on the run-up, but was in traffic on the path and didn’t get around to try to close the gap I saw opening. So, there goes the race. I managed to pass a few guys on subsequent laps but didn’t really make ground on the main group, such as it was. I ended up 24th of 37 finishers. Brian McInnis was following me around on the last lap, heckling me, so I figured I was pretty far back.
Lessons learned, some not for the first time: pack spares. Leave earlier than I think I should, and know where the heck I’m going. Oh, and specifically for Brockton, practice hopping logs. On the bright side, flat tire notwithstanding, the Shinytouch worked well. Next up, Sucker Brook. My Wednesday mornings at Larz are most likely over, now that Elise is back to work, so I need to find a way to get some start practice in. That seems to be my weakest spot right now.

Men are from Larz

A fortuitous set of circumstances gave me a rare treat this week – Tuesday and Wednesday without the need to wrangle kids in the morning, as well as cyclocross practice sessions scheduled for both mornings. The catch? Getting up at 5:00 to leave the house by 6:30 so I could scoot up to Larz Anderson park in Brookline in time to meet the group.Oh, and then figuring out how to clean up enough for work without the benefit of a shower in the office.
No problem, I’ll trade sleep for the chance to ride with folks who are way faster than I am on the grass. I set off at 5am yesterday (in the car, unfortunately), baby wipes and deodorant tucked in my bag. I must admit, I was a bit intimidated by Larz. Last year, I had one opportunity to get up there, about two weeks before Gloucester. I got about three minutes into the warm-up lap, dismounted for the stairs, and my calf went “pop.” Major calf strain, no Gloucester for me. That injury dogged me through December, actually. I sure didn’t want that again.
Rosey and company have come up with a different course that crams about 10 km of bike driving into a 1.5 km lap. We just have a few cones to mark the course, but a simple rule helped me stay with it: if you see a tree, turn 180 clockwise around it. Go 180 counterclockwise around the next tree. Repeat until you come back to the barriers. The big set of stairs has been replaced with a grassy slope. The weather also ran about 30 degrees warmer and a million percent humidity higher than last year, too, all conspiring to keep my muscles nice and loose. No calf pops. I ran the slope on all the hot laps on Tuesday, but other guys were riding it (and passing me in the process).
I thought about heading down to Wrentham today for the evening training race, but I decided I needed to get back to Larz and ride that slope. I showed up a little early this morning so I could practice before practice. As I was setting up the bike, a woman rode up, introduced herself and said it was her first time there. She followed me over to the slope, and while I circled at the bottom, she cleaned it on the first try. Turns out that women are from Larz, too. I attacked it, found a patch of loose dirt and fell over. Then I had to ride back to the car to get my wrenches and straighten out my handlebars. But after that, I found the line. Hey, maybe I can do this after all…
As we did yesterday, we started with a set of 3 laps, rested for a bit and then did 2 more. 3 laps took me just under 20 minutes, and I was ready to puke by the end of lap 2. We had a much bigger crowd today, though, and I seemed to be in pretty good company with the pukitude. Riding the slope (which I managed to do on all the hot laps) rather than running helped me keep things under control, but there’s a lot of climbing on that lap no matter how you do it. And oh, the turns! A tight chicane, fast downhill corner, a short but tricky double set of stairs, and more tree turns than I can remember. I have lots of ideas for setting up my own practice now, but I don’t have access to terrain like Larz.
This may have been my last chance at Larz for the year – I want to hit the Wrentham race next week, because I’ve never done it, and after that I’m back to wrangling kids on Wednesday mornings. But even just these two sessions helped me out. I’m loving the feel of the new bike, and I can’t wait for the first race. Just 10 more days…