Monday, November 5, 2007

Estabrook Park

We arrived at Estabrook pretty early and registered. After some confusion about which side the numbers went on (“It said ‘right’ up at registration!” “Well, I just asked an official and he said ‘left’. They must have changed it.”) we got everything straightened out and went for warm up laps. I went out early with Matt/Teal to check out the course. The team usually practices on it, but for the race they had changed the course to be a little longer. There were a lot of switchbacks and some more barriers. It was a good lap to check out the changes, and I felt pretty loose and smooth over the barriers.
Shortly after returning to the car, it started raining in earnest. Everyone watched it, either with apprehension or hope, depending on the level of masochism in the individual. In the back of everyone’s minds was a steep dirt hill that, if wet, would become the proverbial ‘slippery slope.’ Luckily the rain let up after a while, and due to the trees covering the hill, the trail didn’t get muddy.
As we lined up for the start of the women’s race I looked around at the competition- four other women, some of them on slick bikes and fit looking. At the start, I got stuck in the pack- not quite where I wanted to be. I was behind a woman that I’ve raced against these past few races and knew that I had to get out in front of her. If I stuck behind her there was a good chance that the other women would catch up. I didn’t know their abilities, so I thought I would assume that they were all monsters of cross. I broke free of the other women in the first half of the lap.
There’s not much more to say in terms of strategy. During the switchbacks I kept noting when the woman in second place would appear so I could keep track of where she was and if I was gaining or losing ground. I stayed out front for the whole race, and my teammates cheered me on with incredible zest. The cheering was AWESOME. Of particular note was Josh, who at one point was ringing several cowbells in one hand and blowing a horn with the other. He also ran alongside to heckle/cheer me. It was awesome to come past the group of Pegasus and hear all the cheering, and I definitely picked it up when I knew I would be in view of those crazies. I tried not to slack off too badly when I wasn’t.
The cheering was what made this race. I watched the Cat 3 race with a bunch of people on top of the hill, and it was incredibly fun to yell at and cheer on all of the racers. Most people shouldered their bikes and ran up the hill, but there were a few who rode the hill, or attempted to. There was one guy in particular who kept trying and falling just before the top. He wasn’t getting quite enough speed at the bottom, due to a log there designed to force people to bunnyhop. He tried several times, and the fourth time he didn’t make it, he picked himself up and turned around to much cheering. He was going to go back down the trail for another run at it. This time he made it a little further, but was about to fall over again when hands from the crowd came out to support him and push him on to the top. Wild cheering the whole time. It was awesome. The other spectacular ride-up was a guy who consistently dominated the hill. The last time he rode up it, he did wheelie at the top for several yards. A wheelie. Damn. I don’t think anyone got a picture of it, but it’s forever engraved in my memory.
Overall a fun race with an interesting course. It was great to have so many team members around, and so many Pegasus racers, at that. And overall a very good weekend of racing.

Kletzsch Park Cyclocross

The Kletzsch Park course, set up by Team Polska, features a nice little hill that the sadistic members of Polska seem to be very proud of. During the Cat 3 race, while people were toiling up the hill and team members and spectators were encouraging them and cheering them on, I witnessed a Polska member gleefully yelling things like “Suffer! Eat shit!” (Meant only in the best of ways). Needless to say, it was a challenging and interesting course. There was some singletrack and a nice long downhill section that was a reward for climbing that damn hill twice.
At the start of the race, there seemed to be myself and four other women in the category. There was a fast looking (nice bike, toned body) woman who was at the start, but seemed to leave before the race started. The official called ‘go’, and we were off. I had trouble clipping in, and was off a little slower than I would have liked. A few minutes later, I had passed a few people and was eyeing up a junior that looked like she’d be good competition. Little did I know that it was no junior, it was the woman who had appeared to have left, and I needed to stick with her and beat her for the points I needed.
I basically followed her for the whole race. After a few laps I started noting our strengths and weaknesses. She was faster up the first climb of hill, and almost always gained a few feet on me in the scramble to the top. We were about even on the second climb of the hill. I was a little quicker at the singletrack section, probably because of the mountain biking I did over the summer. I believe we were about even on the barriers, but there’s a good chance she was a little smoother and quicker. As you can see, I was using my position behind her to analyze.
I believe she got sick of that. Four laps in, she slowed quite a bit in one section and I asked if she was ok. She said something back that I didn’t catch, but it didn’t sound like “Oh, the pain,” so I let it be. This conversation happened at a point in the course where there were a few switchbacks, and when we hit the straightaway, she took off. It was then that I realized she must have said something like “Golly, I wish you would stop riding my ass and get out front and do some of the work.” After that little moment of revelation, I kicked it in gear and took off after her, catching her at the bottom of the hill.
So it went on. I followed her, trying not to let her get away and open up a gap. I studied where I had to really watch her and where I might be able to get away from her on the final lap. Ideally I wanted to get away from her after the first climb of the hill, because she could catch me on it, but I was afraid there wasn’t enough time after that to break away. I decided that I should try to get away on the singletrack section. So on the last lap, I pulled in front of her on the pavement and got into the singletrack before her.
Unfortunately, the best laid plans… there was a junior that I came up on half way through, and he slowed my progress. I modified my plan to ‘Ride just about as fast as you can in hopes of staying in front.’ I picked it up and zipped through a grassy switchback section, and was expecting her to be right behind me at the bottom of the hill, but she was a few feet/yards back. I tackled the hill, teammates Cale and Kat yelling on the sidelines, and kept up the pace. I tore around the last part of the course and started to come up on one of the female juniors.
Now, don’t be fooled by the female or junior part- this kid is talented. I didn’t need to beat her, because she’s in a different category, but decided it would be fun to try to catch her. She also dogs me at the track, so I thought it would be extra sweet. I came up behind her on a grassy straightaway and cut to the inside of her to drop onto the pavement an instant after she dropped in. Once on the pavement, there were about 100 yards to the finish. I grabbed the drops and dug in. I was cruising toward top speed and spinning away, but luckily not spinning out. She downshifted on her Redline as I came up on her, downshifted again as I was pulling even and downshifted one more time as I pulled ahead of her, nosing her out at the finish line. And as I relaxed and came to a stop on my inferior single speed mountain bike frame, I tasted the air, and it was indeed extra sweet.

Washington Park Halloween Cyclocross

Last weekend I did a special Halloween themed cyclocross race. Cyclocross races remind me a lot of cross country running and steeplechases. They remind me of cross country because of the fall weather and the courses they take place on. They usually take place in a park, and the course winds around on grass, dirt paths and sometimes through some trees or woods. They remind me of steeplechase because there are barriers you need to get over, whether by hopping them on the bike, or getting off, shouldering the bike and running over them. It’s pretty interesting, and I would say it’s considered the craziest of all sanctioned racing because of the difficulty and inclement weather sometimes faced (and run right thought). The races go for 30 minutes, which, depending on the size of the lap, usually goes about 4 laps.
On Sunday, I woke up a little late and didn’t have time to eat any breakfast. On the drive to the course, Andy picked up some cookies (such a nice fellow) and I tried to eat them but only got through half of one before feeling sick. I think it was because I was so nervous that I couldn’t eat anything, and not having an appetite is rare for me! I felt sicker and sicker as race time drew nearer, and was hoping that it was just nerves.
As for what styles I was sporting: I was dressed in costume as Angus Young from AC/DC, which I picked partially for awesome points, but mostly because I could ride a bike in it. It turned out to be nearly perfect, because it was so nice out. The shoulders of the jacket were a little narrow, so that when I was reaching for the bars, the sleeves were tight on my upper arm. However, there were no malfunctions, so all was well. But speaking of lovely pink bars, I was riding the Motobecane, a white rigid mountain bike frame rigged up for cross, of which I am now the proud half-owner (I split it with my friend, Kat). It’s a single speed, and I believe the gearing was 38 and 16. (Image 1)
And speaking of gearing, when I went out for a warm-up lap (people yelling ‘Go Angus!’), I was a little worried about the hills. There were a few things I couldn’t get up and over, but I figured it was just because I wasn’t in the race mentality. There was one hill, right after the start, that I noted would be a problem. It was a decent sized hill, and at the bottom the course took a sharp right, right at the bottom. This meant there would be no getting a run at it, something that would have helped me out. There was also a ‘bunny hop or die’ that I opted out off during warm-up, because I’m not that slick with bunny hopping.
At the start of the race (still feeling pretty sick), the officials announced that there would be a preem of a pound of coffee right after the last set of barriers for the first person get back on their bike. I just wanted to ride my own race, so I put that out of my head. When they yelled go, I pushed off at a pretty good speed, to try and stay with the leaders. Soon we came to the turn and the hill. I took the corner at the bottom wide and charged it, hoping I could make it to the top but not knowing if I could do it. My pace got increasingly slower, but I pushed and pulled and made it over the crest, now in the front of the pack with two other women. My teammates watching said that I (unintentionally) overtook a lot of people on the hill, even though I was on a single speed.
I settled into a pace in third. I wasn’t sure of how hard I could push myself, and there was no need to go darting away in the first lap, and the three of us had a pretty good pace. It was a good lap where I could sit in, get warmed up and comfortable, because I’m still not quite used to cyclocross. I also am not graceful with remounting after barriers, which is something that worried me. The first race I did, I was dueling it out with a girl toward the end and, after each barrier, would have to catch back up to her all over again. Luckily, in this race, it seemed that I was doing better and keeping up with people over the barriers.
When we came up to the ‘bunny hop or die’ barrier, which was only the height of a 2x4, I knew that I couldn’t get off and run it over because I would lose the pack I was with. So I took a run at it, lifted the front wheel barely high enough to clear it and made it over. Not a pretty technique, but functional. (Image 2)
By the last set of barriers, there were two women barely ahead of me. The officials were yelling ‘coffee preem!’ and such, but I had given up on it. However, when the women in front of me got over the last barrier, they didn’t remount but kept running to the top of the hill to remount. Well, I saw my opportunity. I swung a leg over my bike, got on, tried to pedal up the hill, couldn’t make it, got back off again and ran to the top. And thus, with only a little shadiness, I got the coffee.
I caught back up to them and stuck a wheel, and in the beginning of the second lap, we dropped a girl. From then on, it was myself and one other woman leading the race. We went along at a pace that didn’t have my muscles screaming in pain, but definitely had me working. I stuck behind her for a few laps, and the only disadvantage to that was her approach to the bunny hop. Where I would come bearing down on it, she would slow and do a clean little maneuver over it. On one of the laps, I was right behind her and she slowed going over it, and I squeezed in right next to her, which was tricky given the approx. five foot width. It was hairy, to be sure.
On the third lap, I took the lead. I like following better, because I can size up the competition, and I always feel better being the hunter rather than the hunted, but I’m getting better at relaxing and riding better out front. At the start of the fourth lap, the other woman took the lead again, which I was grateful for. I was getting a little tired and had made a few sloppy moves, which I felt gave me away as weakening. So while she was ahead of me, I sat in behind and watched her for signs of fatigue. She looked really good, but there were a few corners where it seemed she was getting sloppy, too. Nonetheless, she seemed pretty fresh and I kept a close eye on her.
As we were running up the last set of barriers (Image 3), I ran ahead and got on my bike just before she did. I had noticed on previous laps that we both took it easy at the top of the hill. We would get on our bikes and kind of recover from charging up the hill and then get back up to our quick pace. I decided that this is where I had to make my move. Since there was a switchback, I figured she might not notice I had taken off until I had opened up a gap. I didn’t know how much energy she had left, so I really took off and didn’t look back.
And it worked! I opened up a gap and kept it over the flat last bit of the course. I came in first, a little ahead of second, and both of us were pretty far ahead of third. At the end of the race, the woman I had been racing with came over to talk. As it is in many cases, she was very nice. I’m afraid I don’t remember her name, but it was nice to meet her. Cyclocross is competitive but friendly and laid back, if that makes sense.