Wednesday, December 14, 2011

CCCX at Toro Park: Dec 4, 2011

I may as well finish getting caught up here...

Although I was only racing the 35+ B's and not eligible for a district championship I was still psyched for this race since it represented the peak of my 13 week late season block of training.  One thing I decided to work hard on halfway through this season is being less emotional in my racing.  From what I've read there's the concept of being a "tilt" player in poker.  Emotions get the best of a person -who knows better- leading to lapses in strategy and smart tactics.  Result?  Loserville.

When I found out about this concept it made me realize I end up racing on tilt all too often.  It can be a comment from a competitor, a perception that the race is not fair (external locus of control anyone???) or that your competitors "must be sandbagging" or are riding unsafely.  The result is stupid racing, lack of concentration, ridiculous behavior.

So I studied a little and it really helped to re-learn the definition of mental toughness.  But mostly I just resolved to be more of a rock during races and not let the emotions tilt me.  How have I done?  I can say I've improved but I still could be a little more calculating and race smarter.  San Ardo is a good example of needing to continue improving (though I still say riding for 60 miles just to sprint is LAME).  But the last two cyclocross races were really good examples of how I've developed some ability to brush off either bad luck (two bad crashes in the space of about 40 seconds) or loudmouthed competitors.  I think I still have to concentrate and remind myself but I like this taste of an improved mental game.

I didn't expect to have to apply it 100% at CCCX, however.

Sometimes CX means racing against guys who had to borrow their sister's skinsuit for the day...
On three warmup laps I really enjoyed the course.  There were many whoops in and around a dry creek bed, some light single track, a "barrier" that I easily hopped 100% of the time and another "barrier" that was very fast (it helps that I'm a dork who thinks it's funny to dismount and leap over 3 foot diameter trees regularly).  And there was a rather long runup.  My running legs are really good this year so that made me happy.

After an okay (not great, still need to be more aggressive) start I was running somewhere between 7th and 10th wheel.  I was following another rider who was faster than me in the open but slower in the technical stuff so we had a good race going and passed a few guys together.  On the long section before the runup he got away a bit and I was behind another rider when we hit the sand at the bottom of the hill on the second lap.  The guy ahead went down!  (note to that guy, shift your weight BACK)  I mostly avoided him but the sand grabbed my wheels.  I stepped over the handlebars just fine but my bike augured into the sand.

Top of the runup.
In a moment of polite raceriness we inquired about each others health, post crash all while getting up and getting moving.  I ran the hill, popped onto the bike (I haven't mentioned this yet but my remounts have been outstanding -for me- this year with very few stutter steps glitching things up) and hit the downhill.  "Hmm, I can't shift."  Kick, hop, tug on der. cable.  "Hmm, I can't shift."  I spun out the 42-29 I was stuck in but was quickly passed but 4 or 5 riders.  I hopped off and tried to see what was binding but couldn't find it.  So I hopped on again and continued the kicking and hopping and the tugging with no result other than managing to get a shift to a 42-27.

By the time I stopped for a third time with no real result I was passed by pretty much the entire field and was really cursing my bad luck.  I finished the lap and dug into the third.  I decided to just spin whatever random gear I had and just get the best race workout possible.  After half a lap or so I started passing guys from my race.  So then I decided to keep racing and just do the best I could and, lo and behold, I caught a few more guys.  By the last lap my chain had slipped into a 42-25 gear and that was good enough to feel kind of up to speed.  I kept digging in and enjoyed the same legs and focus as the Folsom race.  I caught three more guys from my race on that lap and, in a moment of poetic justice that I couldn't invent, caught the guy that crashed me out on the last turn before the straightaway.  I spun my cranks and held him off.

I felt a little lame sprinting for a backmarker place but I was in competitor mode (a victory by itself given the rotten luck).

I ended up 11th of 20.  It's rare to feel that satisfied finishing in the bottom half of a field but I did.  Yes, I was super-bummed to have great legs and have the bike be the deciding factor for my placing but on the other hand, I was able to stay off tilt and just find my focus and keep racing.  Maybe old dogs can learn new tricks afterall.

PS  The sand destroyed my brifter.  Now I don't have a working cyclocross bike.  I may call it good and end the CX season there.  But I seem to still have decent fitness so I may do one more race and just use my mountain bike (boo! hiss! uncool!).

All these pictures come courtesy of the great Stephen Woo
The end.  Hehe.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Folsom Cyclocross: Nov 13, 2011

Almost caught up!

Note:  This was already posted in the VSRT forum but I have a compulsive need to be thorough and put everything in the right place. 

With only two races so far this 'cross season under my belt (one mediocre mid-field result plus one dnf due to a flat) I headed up to Folsom early Sunday morning looking forward to the rare opportunity to get away for a Sunday race. I was also looking forward to letting the excellent training legs I've been enjoying lately rev out in a race. I even got that pre-race adreneline feeling that only really comes when I anticipate a good race. I also knew I was sandbagging a little bit. This was an actual USAC race so they had racing by categories. Though I've been racing at the "B" level (think Cat 3/4) this was a Cat 4 35+ race and we raced with the E4's all starting together.

I arrived plenty early enough to get five practice laps in. First off the course was a pure joy to ride. My nemesis in 'cross races are those annoying 180 degree turns that promoters use to stretch out small spaces. This course only had one! The course began on a flat-out rolling section with a cute little bridge in there that needed only the shortest bunny hop to get over without ruining a wheel. This led into a mix of sidewalk, lawn and gravel that had a u-turn in it. After that was a fun double-track section with a steep but fast climb then a descent into a sharp curve before another longer short but steep climb. Then there was another very fast rolling section leading into one barrier at the bottom of a hill that seemed to seperate the field between gettin'-it and not-gettin'-it. Luckily I found myself able to run fast enough to remount smoothly and ride the hill, placing me in the former category. Another very fast descent with a brake-free (slight pucker factor here) corner at the bottom lead into a medium length climb that really stung the legs. An annoyingly off camber but wide 180 degree turn was followed by the only set of double barriers. Then a bridge, another double track descent, a short climb into a climbing 180 degree turn then a short section and then a narrow sidewalk next to a fence came before the third and final dismount of the lap to get up a steep-but-short run up. I found this runup to really suit me and I cleared it in only about ten steps each lap and my cheap-o shoes dug in and worked great each lap. After that it was hop-back-on and wide open across the start/finish for another lap.

I was chatting with a guy setting up the course (turns out I was skipping an entire section of the course on my warmups!) and ended up showing up to the start a little late so I didn't have time to ditch my snazzy new Voler leg warmers that I won last Summer. That wasn't a big deal since the temps were still in the lower 60's. Off we went! I started pretty far back in the field but with the wide open section was able to dig in a bit and move up move up move up. I was a little concerned how hard I was pushing but I've vowed to stop these lazy starts that have become habitual. By the time we hit the first technical section I was seventh wheel and we had a nice train going. But, oops! A couple guys stacked it and there was some rearranging. When the smoke cleared, two guys were riding away, two more were behind them and I was with two guys chasing. During that rest of that first lap I really felt I was feeling good and when my partners took their turns at the front, I was cruising too easy.

So at the start of the second lap I decided to bridge across or die trying. I was doing really well until that first technical section. I hopped off the curb then over another curb turned across a sidewalk and entered a gravel section as soon as I cleared the apex I put the pedal to the floor and next thing I knew I was getting up off the ground and remounting as the two guys from earlier were passing. I latched back onto them but realized that, "Snap! That hurt!" We rolled up to the bottom of the turn before the steep climb and suddenly the side of my face was plowing through the dirt and I felt that sick feeling of the momentum of my body pushing against my neck trying to use my head as a tipping point. I bounced then grabbed the bike and was a bit slower remounting and getting going both due to the ringing in my ears and for being at the bottom of a hill. By the time I got my butt up the hill, fixed by brake lever and was rolling again I had lost three of four more positions. I used the next section to try to calm down, figure out if I was concussed and just find my rhythm again.

After remounting on the uphill after the barrier I knew I was going to be okay and just got back to business. Luckily that was the end of mishaps for the day. The course continued to agree with me and the good sensations in the legs ( ) continued so I was able to reel in, work with and pass riders over the next several laps.

Going into the last lap I saw one of the guys from the original triplet of chasers off in the distance. On the fast charging section I thought, "Hey, I've got matches to burn! This is awesome!" It seemed far-fetched to close the distance but I turned it up to eleven and, when he bobbled the uphill remount I suddenly was three inches off his rear wheel. I waited until the longest climb of the race and jumped as hard as I could. I never looked back and just rode the rest of the lap as hard as I could. In the final 30 seconds I started to feel like I was going to throw up and no finish line was ever so sweet to cross!

I finally assessed the damage during a cooldown lap and a BS session with Ray and Jenni Fortner where I found my left hip with a pancake-sized rash (shorts torn), my left elbow already swelling up, both knees bloodied (my brand new race-won Voler leg warmers were both torn!!! ) and my left ankle and right knee both not bending pain-free and feeling tweeked.

But you know what? I don't care! It was worth it!

I simply can't emphasize enough just how much damn fun cyclocross can be when you've got good fitness and the course agrees with you.

PS  Was 3rd of 20 and took home a nice pair of socks and some food.

Sacramento Cyclocross Series @ Lembi Park Nov. 5, 2011

I did this race last year and didn't have a very good time between my own lack of fitness, poor setup (overinflated tires) and a run in with an asshole roadie.  This year I toed the line with a large sense of confidence with really good fitness, tires at about 35 frnt and 45 rear and a good attitude to not let anyone else's mouth get into my head.

I had a mediocre start and immediately got caught behind a starting line crash (again!).  I really have to work harder on being more aggressive on both the starting grid and the actual start.

A couple minutes into it I was trying to move up through the 180 turns and half a wheel in front of a guy and, as is standard protocol for the guy ahead, took the optimal line without cutting him off.  He immediately whined something like, "you're just not gonna give me room are you?"  I just replied, "I'm just racing, buddy." and continued on.  He quickly burned out and disappeared and I mentally patted myself on the back for ignoring it and moving on with my race instead of getting wrapped up in stupidity.

I felt pretty good and had an okay first lap catching a couple guys and keeping tabs on the front runners and making room on the wide open sections and limiting my losses on the 180's and making room on some of the curb hops and the short runup.  But this course doesn't really have very technical challenges so you just gotta GO.

The second lap was going well and I was picking up steam when I felt the rear end squish out in a tight corner.  I did a quick rear wheel bounce and confirmed that I was flatting out the rear.  A few minutes later I was done since I had nothing in the pits.  As I rolled to the start/finish and let them know I was out I thought back and was pretty sure a hard hit on a tree root had caused a pinch flat.  So much for the proper tire pressure...

It was nice to have an actual spectator for a change!  Teammate Zaf was in town and had dropped in to see what the whole cyclocross thing looked like.  After dropping out and getting changed we hung out, watched cheered on our teammate Jim Lund to a 3rd place finish (on a headcold)  and spectated at the sandpit where the guys who know how to relax and shift their weight get separated from the guys who, um, go over their handlebars.

I was frustrated with the DNF but that's racing.  I kind of wish I'd brought my mountain bike and put it in the pits but it just seems so overly self-important to put a pit bike in for a B race...  I guess I should get over getting over myself...

Monday, December 5, 2011

CCCX: Manzanita Park Oct. 16, 2011

Catching up...  I did my fourth cx race of this season yesterday so I'm going to try to catch up here a bit in the coming days...

This was a pretty fun course except for the many many tight 180 degree hairpins.  I crashed on one in practice and then followed that up with pretty much having no rhythm on them for the rest of the race. 

There was a crash right at the start and I got backed up behind it and, as a result, was either the very last rider through the first corner or the guy in front of the last.  Besides tight 180 degree hairpins my biggest problem in cross races is being aggressive and pushy enough to get a good position on the starting grid. 

Attempting to give the English archer's salute to Steve Woo.  At least it made him laugh.

Half of the course was pretty wide open and I was happy to find myself pretty strong and able to pass and gap riders on these sections.  Then I pretty much just held my own on the turns and put the pedal to the metal whenever the course opened up again.  As a result I was happy to go from dead last at the start to 16th by the end.  I was using this race as a tune up so that was okay but I couldn't help thinking that a good start and my improved fitness over last year would have put me farther up than mid-pack.  The main take away from this race was that, though I had definitely revved my motor decently I generally need to dig harder and make myself hurt a bit more in cyclocross racing to get better results.  I was really just kind of cruising.

I think I can legitimately "steal" this photo since it was hilighted on the CCCX page...

 But I had a good time and saw alot of racing buddies that I've seen recently or not so recently and some people I hadn't seen in about nine years.  The bike racing community is such a good one and it's fun like family when you can catchup or just touch base. 

Oh and I didn't pop my stitches so that was a bonus.

They did this.

What did they do?