Picture by Gwadz.
Mud by God.
Mud by God.
Ed Sander Cross offered something we don't often get here in the D.C. area - a classic, European-style fast course / mudfest. Held at Lillypons - which, no shit, is a water lilly farm, with all the attendant ponds - the ground was sodden with nearly three straight days of rain. Additionally, I think NCVC held a 'cross clinic there yesterday. So there were some sloppy, muddy sections, and the bits that were a little technical were very slimy indeed. Stretches of slippery, ice-like wet clay especially on a little dipsy-section on the back nine, grinned upwards in a manner that suggested, "Roadie: It's What's For Breakfast."
I pre-rode the course a few times, figuring out a couple decent lines through the pond section and the back nine, which featured a grassy couple of chicanes with a couple semi-runups (semi, because you could ride them if the course were dry enough). The mountain biking has really helped, I have a lot more confidence in my bike handling, and it also helps to have that Redline Team Conquest, an honest-to-goodness cross bike. I ran Michelin muds with about 42 PSI in the front, 45 in the back, high but what works for me, sorta. High pressure works for this fatboy to cut through shallow mud and to grip on slimy stuff. It doesn't work so well in heavy, deep mud, of which there were two sections. But we race with the course we have, not the one we wish we had.
What is now becoming the usual warmup went fine. I got there two hours early, pre-rode and spun easy for an hour, got my number, pinned up, changed clothes, ate a Clif bar and an Espresso Love Gu (Now With 2X Caffeine!) and downed a bottle of Accellerade, and some water. Then I did some 30 second and 10 second efforts up to the start of the race. My legs were plenty open when the whistle blew. Not super powerful feeling, but not clogged up either.
After the whistle I got passed a bit, passed some guys back going through the prologue, and came out of the barriers and into the ponds. All went well until I hit the mud pit, where I got stalled behind somebody and had to run the rest of the way. I muddled through, as it were, and got up the little hill (it seems smaller this year) and out onto the gravel road, passing a few people who fussily rode around the huge puddles before the gravel road.
From there it was steady motoring up the long gravel road up into the technical section. I'd either pass people, or just kind of chill out, resting while they struggled up the road into the wind. I'd make up ground and pass right before we got back into the mud and grass, recovered enough to make attacks stick.
From there it was a little up and down action, until I was approaching Joe Jefferson, who was giving running commentary on the race. Up the hill I went, and then the wheel slipped. I stomped the pedal again, and it slipped again. And again. And down I went, still clipped in, bike and legs up in the air, like a 'cross racing dead cockroach. I took my time getting up, since I didn't have a choice. Unclipping is tough when you're upside down and the bike's aloft; each time you twist your leg the bike twists, because there's nothing to brace it against. Four or five guys passed me. Eventually I got rolling and worked it down the slimy little hill, up the slimy set of kickers and over the top, and down past the start-finish.
And so it went for the better part of an hour. I would utterly die through the mud strip in the ponds, pick up some spots on the gravel road and even on the runup, crash in an innovative manner - basically from pushing it really hard on the slippery bits to pass people - and then lose a few or four spots. I have no idea where I finished - (-1) to about 8 guys on the lead lap, but among a bunch of other people including Joe M., who seeming trains to race 'cross by just showing up and hammering.
Overall it wasn't a bad race for me. The mountain biking is definitely paying off, I was able to navigate around hitting the brakes only three times per lap, which was really efficient, and I could tell where I would have braked last year because I was zipping past people at those spots.
On the other hand I truly need to work on the runups and to lose some f***ing weight. Power to weight kills me in deep mud and in sand, and if you can clear the hills that are optional runups in 'cross, you get around the course *tons* faster. Still, I must be doing something right - a couple guys that I used to race around last year commented that I seem to have found another gear. Which is ironic, because there was so much mud and grass stuck into my jockeys and front derailer that I could only three gears by the end of the race. But still...
Maybe so. I don't know. In terms of what was in the cupboard, I emptied the bastard out today. I was pretty nauseous until dinner time, and that's a good sign that I gave until it hurt. I can do this stuff. Gotta suck some weight, but I've got the engine, got decent bike handling, got the poor judgment to be willing to pass damn near anywhere, got the ability to suffer. Oh lord, can I suffer. So we're going to start working harder on the push-a-ways this week. Gotta do it, I'd rather be clawing my way up in mid-pack, than fending off DFL. By far.
Other good stuff - hanging out with Gwadz after the race and chatting while we waited to wash bikes. Getting to meet Kalidurga in real life for the first time - she's good company and the cheering was very much appreciated. Finding out that Johnny Frites upchucked on the first lap - he says it was a virus but I think it was the result of the blazing fast pace I was setting and neither he nor his breakfast could hang on. Seeing Seph (Teh Beast What Rides) and Scott T. kick ass in their races - didn't see much of Scott, actually - and hanging with my other teammates Art, Andrew, John, Joaquin, Dave and briefly Lindsey. Watching Ryan suffering like a pig in the B race and cheering him on as if it made him anything but more miserable... Good times, good times. Then going to the Back Nine and cheering for Nystrom and Mike Birner, both of whom had very good races.
Yeah, it was a day packed with fun. That's the cool thing about 'cross. It's not just a kind of racing, it's a whole scene that goes along with the racing. Even if the racing wasn't the best damn thing since sliced bread, the races rock because you get to see so many of the people you'd just as soon be riding with or hanging out with anyhow. It's easy to see why it's the fastest growing cycling sport in the U.S. - there's so much to commend it. Maybe best of all, you don't have to be on the latest machinery or on a particular kind of bike to try it out. Throw some skinny knobbies (check out Bikeman) on an old roadbike, or bring a mountain bike or whatever, and you'll be ready to go. Doesn't matter if you're up front, or fighting to avoid DFL, you'll have a race on your hands. It's great stuff, and you should check it out if you haven't yet.