Monday, November 5, 2007

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.

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