Thursday, October 15, 2009

Two Days, 5 Races and Every Step of the Podium

Besides having great riding weather year round, Southern California offers amateur bicycle racers lots of opportunities to compete. The cyclo-cross scene is no exception with two competing race series that allow for racing on Saturday and Sunday’s through out the fall. Saturday’s line-up was the SocalCross Prestige series and Sunday offered the Urban Cyclo-cross series. While I do my best to stay out of the local cycling club and race organizer politics, I have observed that there is a rivalry between the two local race series. Without knowing the details, this animosity was enough to bring Saturday’s race organizer to tears.

For those of you with a proclivity for instant gratification and prefer video over prose, we'll start this race report with a visual account of Sunday's racing action from the Urban Cyclo-cros series.

First Place for the Second Time. from Litterbox on Vimeo.

With two 1st place results in the Urban Cyclo-cross series cat 4, I'm now the points leader and am close to locking up the actual leaders jersey which they award at the end. Looks like another pair of yellow socks for this coming weekend.

It's also worth pointing out that I got 3rd in the in the mixed 3/4 field. That result has me in second place overall in the series for that more difficult category. Here are the full series results.

Back to Saturday here's the full prose account of my day in the Socal Cross Prestige series:

The first race of the day was the Category 4. The field of 30 or so guys sized each other up at the start line. Guy with hairy legs - not a threat. Dude carrying that inner tube of body fat stuffed under his jersey – not a contender, just don’t get stuck behind him on the first narrow stretch. Muscular looking 23 year old in the skin suit – hmm, he looks fast.

On the whistle we were off, sprinting from the gun to get good position on the pavement before the race turned into the park and on to the grass. I was about 5 wheels back from the front and began the work of picking off the guys ahead one by one. The #4 man lost control on a loose patch of dirt and got tangled up in the barrier tape. One down. Number 3 was starting to breath so heavily I could hear him puffing from behind. His head started to hang down a bit and he was starting to crack. I went around him and never saw him again. The next two guys were just a formality and I found myself at the front again. Familiar territory these days. I dialed back my effort from extra hard to regular hard and settled in to do this for another 30 minutes.

Three quarters through the first lap and I took a look back over my shoulder, hoping to assess the size of my lead. It wasn’t much. On my wheel was the super fit 23 year old and he didn’t look like he was in any pain at all. On the next open stretch I poured on the coals hoping to crack the kid. I took another look back. Still on my wheel, he said, “I’m not going anywhere.” It looked like we had a real race on.

Into the section of 180 degree hairpins on deep, loose dirt, I blew the corner nearly loosing the front wheel. To keep from toppling over I had to pill a foot out and tripod it through the turn. The fit kid handled the turn perfectly and came around me. Pissed at myself I passed him on the next straight patch and drilled it again. I had to shake this guy. Checking back again, and he was still there, “You’re not going to drop me,” he reminded me. We were coming to the completion of the first lap and bunny hopped off the grass back onto the pavement to the start finish line. If I couldn’t drop him, I was going to make him do some of the work. I sat up and took my foot off of the gas. This annoyed him, “So that’s how it’s going to be?” he said, then started a sprint for the grass. It took a 100% of what I had to stay with him, but he wasn’t going to drop me either.

With a stalemate established we had locked up 1st and 2nd place. We could see a guy behind us holding down 3rd, but that’s where he was going to stay. The fit kid let off a bit and we both settled into the “regular hard” pace. The third and fourth place guys were somewhere behind us, but we sensed that they weren’t going to be a factor. Fit kid and I weren’t going to get rid of each other so took turns pacing for the next few laps.

Each time we got to the 180 hairpins on the loose ground Fit kid seemed to get through faster than I did. On the penultimate lap he asked if I was a road rider. “I could tell,” observed. On the bell lap the pace picked up again. That tricky hairpin was coming up again and I knew I had to stay with him through it.

Into the 180 for the final time and he played his card. Coming by me on the inside and peddling through the difficult section he opened a gap. I blew the turn again, and was chasing. Evenly matched, he wasn’t getting any further away, but I wasn’t getting any closer. The gap stayed the same even as we opened up our sprints to the line. Fit kid took first and I happily settled for second. We’ll played, Fit kid.

Race #2

The Next two races on Saturday ended with mechanicals. In the 35+ ¾ I was holding down the third place position and gaining on the second place guy. He had gone out hard, opening up a sizable lead on the first lap of the race. I thought for sure that him and the first place guy were gone. But before the lap was over he was showing signs of fatigue. The line across the back of his shoulders had begun to bow down toward his handlebars, and his once big gap was shrinking. I was beginning to think that I had second place locked up for a second time, when disaster struck.

My back tire developed a fast leak. I tried to ride through it for an other lap but was beginning to loose control in the turns. To keep the bike upright I had to back way off the gas. Guys were starting to come around me. Second place gave way to third, then fourth and so on. Like the escaping air in my Tufo tubular tire, so went my chances at a result. Finally the bike became unmanageable and I pulled off into the pit and threw a tantrum. In the tradition of Danish Tour champ Bjarn Reese, I picked up my bike and threw it onto the ground. Thankfully no one was running a camera on me. It was without doubt an embarrassing performance.

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