Doing it all the hard way...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Woodland Park MFG Race Report

Note the muddy legs, face and bike...THIS is Cyclocross

This weekend the race was the final in the MFG series. Almost down the street at Woodland Park it took less then thirty minutes from driveway to parking lot.

Joining Hottie once more was my dear mum who has been there each week and must surely be dreading the looming conclusion of Cyclocross for 2011. Joining us was my son Tim who came to cheer and observe the spectacle.

I didn’t sign up until late in the week as the MFG series is not my primary objective this year. It may well be my focus in 2012, but I’m all about SCX in 2011. I wondered if I should even bring my pit bike, the red single speed Fetish (brand) that I made from eBay deals and scrounged parts.

It bombed rain in the days leading up to the race and I was expecting a muddy mess. I put the Limus’ on the orange crusher and opted to go ahead and bring the pit bike. I knew Spinner John would get a call up and I would have to wade through riders to catch him. I was pretty confident I could beat him again and once I dropped my $20 I was all in.

I pre-rode the course and did the things you are supposed to do. I had trouble with a section and I got off my bike and walked back and did it again and again until I got it right. I also pulled off the Limus’ and went back to my Grifo-Fango combination that has worked for me so often.

The course was a perfect Cyclocross course with grassy sections, slippery muddy sections, a long power climb, twisty technical sections and off cambers. “Tires and brakes,” I told my teammate Dave, when he asked about the course.

The start was on an off camber that sloped down to the right. I was on the extreme left, so I was on the uphill side. This was by chance, but proved to be a godsend. After call-ups (which did not include Evo), they called us up by last digit in our race numbers. I was in the middle batch and slithered up an extra row. At the whistle, I took advantage of the high ground and moved up well. I was sitting just outside of the top ten and had Spinner John in my sights. I decided to just sit on him a while.

The first turn was in a greasy pile of fallen leaves. The yellows, orange and gold would have been beautiful if it weren’t for the riders with misbehaving rear wheels. I was in a group and if someone passed me, I generally passed them back to try and hold my spot.

A slippery off camber that had been a death trap in years past had some grass on it, so it was much more readable than in years past. On later laps riders, including Evo, would have rear wheels slide downhill. I kept it upright, but others did not.

I took the lap to follow the advice I had read in CX magazine, and watched where John struggled and where he did well. He was fine on the power sections, though not as strong as I expected. He fought the corners and technical sections and I knew that was where I would make my move.

Near the end of the first lap we were catching riders from the 35+ group. At a particularly slippery corner a fallen rider got up and swung his bike into my path and I found myself cartwheeling with my bike. I completed the roll like a stunt skier and was up and on in no time and in less than a minute was back on Spinner John’s wheel.

I chased him through the power sections and moved past slower 35+ riders with ease. I was on his wheel as we hit the barriers. The steep down hill that followed led to a slick left hand corner that he had slipped on during the first lap. He cut to the apex and I came in wide and took the inside as his line took him wide.

“I didn’t know you were here,” he blurted out with a tone of panic that I must confess pleased me. I moved past some women riders as the road narrowed and we approached a single file section. “Coming through,” I heard him shout behind me, followed milliseconds later by “Oh Shit…….Sorry.” His apologies continued and I worked to build a gap. At the stairs I had an Old Town rider start at the far right and end up at the far left (the course went right so I’m not sure if he was trying to chop me or was just hypoxic). I heard John grunting a fair distance behind me and I kept the gas on.

Another run up and then a long climb where, if John was going to catch me, that was the place. Going up the long climb it is a gravel road with two lines. On the left side a rider was on a mountain bike and was swerving side-to-side so much that when I passed him he hit me from the side. “Hey,” was his response. “Hold your line,” was mine. I wouldn't have gone if I had thought I couldn't fit. Unscathed I pushed on and blasted the down hill. Grabbing my brakes at the bottom I powered up the ensuing wet, leafy off camber. I could tell I was nailing the technical sections.

Being able to ride fast and brake late was a key on this course. The muddy sections between the downhill and the finish line was where riders were dropping like bricks. I kept my eyes looking ahead and rode around carnage every lap (except when I was taken down on the first lap.)

Past the finish line I started the third lap feeling strong and riding smart. I had distanced John and was ahead of the Old Town rider who would end up ninth. I rode the technical sections fast. I wasn’t following any rider in my category, but was passing riders from other groups. Blitz the road, slow for the turn.

I could hear my mom cheering. “Tear the legs off those pussys,” someone screamed. I’m not sure if that was my mom or not, but I thought that a bit vicious for a Masters race. Alas, speculation is not my gift.

I hit the stairs well and passed riders on them and the run up that followed. On the downhill that followed I tapped my brakes and my rear brake felt soft. On the pavement I looked back and my straddle cable was flying free. It must have come unhooked I thought to myself.

I considered my options and realized that I needed both brakes on the course and the best time to fix it was before the climb that was about ten seconds away. I pulled to the outside (don’t you wish everybody did?) and dismounted, grabbed the cable and and realized the cable was free because the slot it hooked into on the brake arm was missing. My brake was broke.

Riders I had passed zinged by as I stared at my bike. I was frozen. Then I got on and soft-pedaled trying to decide what to do. It was a full thirty seconds before I remembered I had a pit bike. During that time my mind had considered stopping, riding to the finish, and all manner of panicked thoughts. Why had I forgotten the pit bike?

The downhill was a different story with only a front brake. The slippery muddy turns were likewise a different adventure rear-brakeless. I hit the pit and as I approached a guy grabbed a set of wheels that weren’t mine and said, “what do you need?” “Prop my bike,” I said as I dropped the orange crusher and grabbed my single speed.

The higher pressure of the tires on the single speed was apparent as soon as I swung my leg over and pedaled. Around the corner was the finish line and I heard one to go. I had to throttle back on the corners and the rough stuff was, well, rough.

Grinding it out on the one gear wonder...

Switching from a geared bike to a single speed mid race was a shock to my quads. I tried to brake on straights and accelerating was harder when you only have one gear. I was still racing, so as Jens says, “shut up legs.”

Nobody else passed me and I clawed my way through 35+ and women riders who were getting lapped. I spotted a rider with a number from my category and I chased him and squeezed past. On a loose downhill he blitzed by and I chased him through the muddy turns and he went down just before the pits and I went around him.

Knowing he would be doing all he could to catch me I took the last corner conservatively and then raced a 35+ on the final climb as my single speed spun like crazy on the gradual uphill sprint to the line.

I figured I would have ended up eighth, and expected to be somewhere in the mid twenties as I figure I lost a good two minutes with my mechanical. To my surprise I was 16th and Spinner John ended up 11th. Dave F had crashed and rode a conservative race and finished a couple places behind me.

I didn’t see Spinner John after the race, but he did talk to Hottie. She he reported he was surprised I caught and passed him as he figured that without a call up I was doomed. He also confessed he was frustrated he couldn’t keep up with me on the technical sections.

I put my single speed on the roof rack and went back and collected my fallen orange warrior. I stopped by the SRAM tent and the SRAM rep told me the part that broke off (or just disappeared..) wasn’t one that was supposed to come off and therefore they didn’t sell replacements. He suggested I go to my local SRAM dealer and that they would warranty it. I stopped by Gregg’s Greenlake Bike shop and a few minutes later I walked out with a new rear brake and a smile as my bike would be fixed and my wallet was unscathed. Good job SRAM and great job Gregg’s.

I had two muddy bikes and six muddy wheels to clean when I got home. Tim was impressed by the whole event and we reminisced about mountain biking down Mt. Pillar in Kodiak Alaska this summer.

Ride down this when it's wet..

After cleaning my bike and eating dinner I was so tired I did something I almost never do. I went to be early. Way early. I went to bed at seven and got up nearly twelve hours later.


bikelovejones said...

Not sure I'd ever be ready to invest in the commitment of a pit bike. Impressive race, and impressive cool-headedness. Congrats! You look like such a MONSTAH in those photos.

..::applause as thousands cheer::..


Davo said...

Thanks for the encouraging words. I have lugged the SS pit bike to races for the last season and a half. I was struck that in the heat of battle I forgot it was there.