CRP: Tacchino Cross “C” Race
Saturday’s Tacchino Ciclicross race hosted by Squadra Coppi at Ida Lee Park in Leesburg, VA, was about as perfect an event as you could hope for. The weather was clear and cold, around 45 or 50 for much of the day, crisp, with a bit of a breeze. Judd and the crew put together a hell of a race.
The course was laid out over rolling hills in the park, with a couple longish false flat climbs (including Mount Ida, which sounds disturbingly like the title to a country & western themed um, adult flick), a couple short steep runup hills that you could possibly ride if you didn’t mind going really slow, a ditch, a fast off-camber sweeper, and an interesting tree hairpin by a rocky choke point.
I rode it single speed on my bean green Surly, with much better 2:1 (44:22) gearing than I had at Charm City. This time, there were probably 8 or 10 guys rolling on singles, including a couple 29’ers. That was a nice feeling – it’s cool to be unique, but completely not cool to be uniquely alone and off the back.
Around 52 riders started. I took it easy at the start, knowing that the fastest geared guys (aka the Sandbaggers) would be gone, and that I could pick people off at will, if I had the strength to do so later on in the race.
Going up Mt. Ida for the first time, a guy on a geared bike made it halfway around the little hard left onto Ida, stalled, downshifted, recovered, and rolled away. This brought me to a stop, forced a dismount, a runup the short slightly steep portion of Ida, and a quick remount. I cursed the guy out. This highlighted a weakness, and a strength of racing cross on a single speed. Momentum is incredibly important on a single. You don’t have the luxury of slowing down, dropping into a really low gear, recovering, and then taking off again. If you lose the Big Mo, it’s a slow, hard grind back up to speed, and several such efforts in short succession can pretty much take the wind out of your sails for two or three laps. As a result, you find yourself picking lines very carefully, and accelerating into turns where other guys are slowing then turning in. Several times I picked guys off in corners, coming in hot, skidding through the corner and accelerating out, keeping the pedals turning the whole time. This is a cool feeling when it works right. When it doesn’t… well, that’s the other thing you get to do a lot on a single.
Run. Run, Forest, Run! Singles force you to dismount in places other riders can ride through. The two short very steep hills on the course would have been pretty rideable, if I had about three more teeth on the rear cog. I didn’t, so they were only half rideable. A hill dismount is really tricky, however. I can never do a traditional cross dismount going uphill – swing the right leg over then pop the left foot out at the last second to hit the ground running. So what I’ve learned is sort of an explosive two legged dismount. Remember how Kevin Bacon slid off the back of his fixie in the execrable Quicksilver? That’s exactly what I look like when I dismount in the middle of a steep hill, except I’m fatter, clumsier, slower, usually doubled over in pain, and gasping. Anyhow, it works pretty well for me and I managed to pass a couple guys at runups.
The race went pretty uneventfully. After dropping well to the rear at the start, I got into my own pace. I saw the same three or four guys for most of the race, eventually putting an Army guy behind me, along with maybe an LSV guy and somebody else. I can’t remember really, I was pretty much zoned out for most of the race. I do remember dicing quite a bit with this guy in a blue jersey. He really screwed me up on the second runup hill, the muddy one. I had resolved to make it to the top one time, just to see if I could ride it. So I pegged the pedals through the rollers and down the long downhill, and cranked the bike hard right into the uphill. I slid around the corner, used the grass as a berm and pedaled hard. I was going to make it up the damn runup hill! Then right as I got halfway up, the guy in the blue jersey sort of fell off his bike, just tipped over. I had to stop and was so discombobulated, I fell over. When I got back on, blue jersey was gone, and I never saw him again. It was really demoralizing.
Some things were good though. I lapped a good handful of guys who were just toast out there, including a few of my fellow single speeders. Hang tough, bros! It doesn’t get better but you’ll get stronger abusing yourself like that. At least that’s what I tell myself. I also managed to pass Coppi newbie Alan Leung, who was working very hard but appeared, as Phil Liggett might put it, “in a spot of bother” near the bottom of Mount Ida. The last several laps I also found the groove, and in spite of massive calf cramps from all the climbing, it felt like I was floating around the course. It was a hard threshold effort, painful but maintainable. I’d found the right line in corners, was getting around hardly ever hitting the brakes or losing speed… it was good and I didn’t want to lose the groove by killing myself to pick off riders to my front. This was the right choice, smooth won the day for me and I picked off a few guys gradually, just easing on by them. The best thing, however, was coming past the start/finish line, where there were what sounded like 200 Coppis cheering. At the dismal points on every lap I kept telling myself to just keep going, if I could get to the crowd the shouts from Dana and Art and Jean, Ryan, Ken, new girl Lindsay, and the others would pick me up and give me some strength. It never failed. Thanks guys. What this world needs, is MORE COWBELL!
Towards the end, I found myself behind a guy in a red checked jersey for about two laps. I stayed a ways back off his wheel, trying to muster my strength to make a pass stick – we passed a few guys as we went around, he was on a single speed as well. Coming into Mount Ida, I caught him up and was on his wheel. We traded passes a couple times, and he nipped me at the barriers. Going into the finish line uphill, I was right on his wheel, but had absolutely nothing left in my legs to pass him. I settled for hounding him up the hill, and finishing right behind him, maybe in second or third among the single speed entries. I knew we’d gone hard because he barfed really good about 10 feet past the finish line.
The final verdict was 34th, and #2 or #3 among the single speeds, which wasn’t an official category but which was an informal ranking all the SS riders pay attention to. Special shoutouts go to Chris from Lanterne Rouge, who rode by me on the second or third lap and said, “hey Jim, I’m Chris. I always comment on your blog.” That’s a pretty cool thing to say, especially to somebody who is in severe oxygen debt and in need of a pick-me-up.
So I’m looking for a few more cross races to do before the end of the season. I think I’m getting this single speed cross thing figured out. The special rules for SS’ers, near as I can tell, are:
1) Ride your own race and be mentally comfortable with it – singles go fast where geared bikes go slow, and vice versa. What you lose at the start you may make up at the end.
2) Learn to dismount really well and quickly, and to run fast. You have to run more on a single.
3) Pick lines carefully and keep up momentum, even if it means you crash once in a while. Crashing hurts less than trying to restart on a hill.
4) Corner hard and upright – pick a line that lets you “flattrack” through corners and keep the pedals turning and the wheels moving. Keeping the rear wheel spinning and sliding actually makes it easier to square off a slippery turn.
5) Look to develop a rhythm – going a little easier but a lot smoother is much faster and much less tiring than putting in a slobberknocker-level effort but bouncing all over the course.
The postscript is that I hung around all day and watched the other races with the Coppis that were out there. The nice thing about our club is that there are so many folks who are fun to hang out with. Man, we’ve got some good people around… that really adds to the experience.