Cross State Championships are already a fading memory, and today is Elite Nationals, so it seemed like a good chance to take a moment to review the 2016-17 season.
If ‘cross is new to you, imagine if mountain biking and road racing had a baby, that would be Cyclocross. A horrible, wonderful, dirty, painful baby. You get the adrenaline rush of crit racing, minus the weeks of growing skin after sliding on asphalt for a block. You get the great camaraderie and welcoming atmosphere of the mountain biking scene without having to wear tube socks with your Birkenstocks. Your family and friends can come support you and get to cheer you on and not wait an hour for each lap. And of course they can heckle you, too- which is a special sport in itself at ‘cross races.
This season was my last as a category three racer, and had high hopes of placing better that last year at the State Championships. Which, frankly, was a fairly low bar to hurdle considering i got stuck in course tape, had a hissy fit, threw my bike and then left in a cloud of embarrassment. Hey, nowhere to go but up, right?
And things got off on a promising start; here is a photo of my first race, at Ryan Woodall’s wonderful course at Santos:
That is heckler extraordinaire Tim Hayes, trying to hand me a bag of sand. I don’t know why.
Anyway, I raced the Men’s 35+ race first, where i placed second to a Cat. 1 racer. Then my normal category 3 race i won fairly handily, which was a great boost to my confidence for the season. Then in the Singlespeed race an unnamed gentleman put me into the course tape, which was very rude. He knows who he is. And now you do too- his name is Patrick O’Shea. Shame him. SHAME.
That race was going to go poorly anyway, but I was able to leave feeling optimistic about my chances this season.
I missed the next race, put on by Josh Thornton. His courses are always top-notch courses that are not to be missed. . . . So i was bummed to do so.
Next up was Edinburgh Cyclocross, put on by Zach Fout of Cycology coaching solutions. Mr. Fout had just broken his back a week prior and was there all day, running his race in a back brace. He is one bad dude! I generally enjoy this course. Well, except for the double-pass through the sand pit. And the retention pond mud pit. And the mini-barriers, where i once wrecked and fell on a very sensitive area. Ah, memories.
So when the race started I was pleased to see that my practicing aggressive starts seemed to have paid off. Unfortunately some other racers had trained ALL the parts of racing and i found myself slowly slipping into third place behind Mark Chandler, who had a very convincing win.
I was unpleasantly surprised to find myself very outclassed and vowed revenge or death in the single speed race. I chugged some Red Bull, listened to “The Number of the Beast” by Iron Maiden and prepared to lay down some watts. Lining up with Ryan Woodall (just, you know, the national champion in my age group) I vowed to hold his wheel as long as i could still see.
And for two and a half laps, I did. I recall Christian Heinrich, the race announcer, ‘cheer’ me on by expressing bewilderment that i was off the front with Mr. Woodall. Frankly, being off the front with him probably was the highlight of my season, even if he was soft-pedaling. Eventually my legs reminded me that I had no business being up there and I began to drift back into the pack.
One positive from this race was that i didn’t end up in the course tape.
I was finally able to make it to one of Josh’s races in Dade City, where I immediately got stuck in course tape.
I managed to get it around both disc rotors and wound around the cassette and into the derailleur. I thought maybe if i just power through it the tape might break and go away. This was a poor decision. As racers rode by, I finally unwound the tape, but the leaders were long gone. I managed to work back to third place. When single speed started I was about a half-lap in when i realized I should have eaten something. I managed to limp across the line and devoured clif bars in the parking lot.
The next race I made it to was a yearly favorite: Spooky Cross. This course always delivers, and turnout is always great for the costume contest/singlespeed race. And i had a great idea for my costume. More on that later though. My friend Keith Legg and his magic 29r laid down the law in the 3’s race, but i felt good about my second place. I saw Mr. Chandler, but he wasn’t racing for some reason and I was disappointed as i didn’t get to see if the last races were just a fluke. [hint: they weren’t]
So again for the single speed race I was using my category-race loss as motivation to destroy the course. And I had thought dressing up as a marathoner in some of itty-bitty running shorts would be hilarious and not be overly hot on a typically scorching day. Since the shorts were a *little* bit revealing, I figured maybe a warm-up lap in them would be a good idea, which it was since i really missed the padding of my cycling shorts. I quickly put the cycling shorts back on under the running shorts and made it to the start line. (side note: please go to the florida cross Facebook page and find the pics of Jen Kraatz in the dino-suit. Amazing.)
When the race started I found myself locked in a head-to head battle with Scott Adkins, who must have also listened to some Iron Maiden and was not interested in realizing I was younger and therefore he should just let me win. We had a couple good laps until the exit of a turn, where i stood up to accelerate and the rear of the bike came up with my rear end. My running shorts had somehow become inextricably interwound with my seatpost clamp. I was literally glued to the seat. I don’t recall who it was, but whoever was behind me for a lap enjoyed a laugh as I tried to free myself from the bike.
The offending shorts are obscured from view. Thankfully (hopefully) there are no photos without the cycling shorts on underneath.
So eventually I managed to tear the shorts enough to get off the bike. By then, though, Scott had a sizable lead, and I had to be happy with two second places for the day. I enjoyed some celebratory tacos.
Josh Thornton’s course in Ocala was not friendly to me. There was a really cool mountain bike single track section, which was very fun, but if your mountain bike skills are best described as “meandering” and “embarrassing” then you may not do well here.
And i didn’t. But I was able to confirm Mark Chandler was on a one way mission to champion-town.
[warning: shameless self promotion] Even though the day went (really) poorly, By now I was really beginning to appreciate my Moots Psychlo-X RSL. Having had it made to exactly my needs made for a bike that really feels like an extension of myself; and the titanium does a great job of absorbing the rougher sections while still reacting instantly to accelerations. I’m really looking forward to another season, and trying to really find the limits of what the bike can do.
The next few races I wasn’t able to get to, which was unfortunate as I really like the races up in Tallahassee/Pensacola. I also would have to miss Swamp Cross, put on by Todd Leedy. Swamp CX is usually one of my favorites unless I have a run-in with course tape, which seems to be every time.
Next, I think, was another of Josh’s races, at his Stanley Park Venue. This an amazing course he sets up here- horrible run-ups, mud, off camber bowls, it is just great. By now I was beginning to learn that winning Cat 3 was not likely, but thought maybe I could get lucky and eventually Mark would have a devastating mechanical issue I could take advantage of. Also on the line was Keith Legg, and as he was riding his 29r again I thought maybe this course would suit a CX bike better. Off the line I was feeling hopeful, but Keith and Mark were off on their own fairly quickly. Keith was apparently riding up the unsurmountable runup (They were so far ahead I only found out about this later). A lap or two later, Mark actually flatted out and now i felt bad. I passed him and he had literally a half-lap run before he would make it to pits; I thought second place should be a lock and maybe Keith could be brought back if he had started too hard keeping up with Mark. Two laps later, though, a resurgent and apparently possessed Mark came past me. I was seriously impressed how he could have made such a comeback.
So by now I knew I was outclassed by these two. Another single speed race motivated by disappointment allowed me a very strong first lap, but i had a rare mechanical that sent me back a number of places. So resolved to just have fun and began trying get some air on some of the hills and just enjoy the course.
I knew going into the race that with Mark, Keith, and Blake Norman (another consistent winner) I was probably racing for fourth, but was going to try to get on the podium if I could. This was another event run by Josh and his Wicked Hardah team, and the course is an amazing place that apparently was a mine that was converted to a very hilly golf course.
I managed to convince my family to come along and we set up the Bikery tent next to Zach Fout and Sarah Zaki, also of the Cycology / Tampa Bay cyclocross team.
Bikery race team studying tactics
I resolved to start the race more conservatively in the hopes of not burning out later in the race, and taking advantage of the others that may start too aggressively. As the race began, I was concerned that my plan may have been a poor one as there were a lot of guys in front of me. The course is so fun it’s easy to forget how the last section before the finish just drains you- it’s and off-camber u-turn into a bumpy descent that drops you off at a very tall, soft runup and then a dropoff into a climb that seems to get taller and longer each lap. Near the end of the race my plan seemed to have actually paid off, and was sitting in fourth place with Keith not too far ahead. Unfortunately he noticed me back there, turned on the afterburners and that was that. Mark earned his state champion’s jersey, and i finished where i thought i might. I was pleased not to have torn down any course tape.
Florida might not be the ideal cyclocross environment, but we have a dedicated and friendly community and every year it grows a little bigger and a little better. With the exception of Jonathan Perez. He’s kind of a jerk. But he’ll be happy to know his season-long goading led me to upgrade to to category 2.
I hope you’ll think about giving CX a try. Come out with your mountain bike, or borrow a bike, or steal Jonathan’s bike.
Florida CX Facebook: Florida Cyclocross Series
Wicked Hardah CX: Wicked Hardah Cyclocross
Cycology Coaching: Cycology Cycling Solutions