Monday, December 16, 2013

MO State Champs and Cruising

Last race of my '13 season was the Missouri State Championships held at St. Vincent Park in STL.  Had never been there, but heard it was an 'awesome' place (no description ever given just 'awesome'?!?!?).  Seriously, would ask around and all I heard was AWESOME.   

Light snow and freezing temps held right up to race day so it was going to be interesting as this was truly my first race of the year at cold temps.  So far in '13 I had good results on sloppy/slick courses and likewise historically so a little challenge from mother nature was fine by me.  The week leading to the race I had done several training sessions outside dialing in my kit and accessories for sub-20* conditions and felt confident I was prepared. 

Dale and loaded up the 'secret weapon' Saturday morning and headed to STL to get in a little pre-ride.  Found our way to the course and took in a handful of laps at 22*.  Did quite a bit of surveying the sand pits and after numerous passes dialed in my lines for the following day.  Rode the 'stair climb' several times along with the 'single track' decent immediately after until I was comfortable with all.  Always interested to see how many people simply ride thru these sections during warmup/pre-rides and don't really explore 'lines' and various options; what is a pre-ride for???? 

Course was pretty cool with several 'crossy elements and none leaning toward one type of rider over another; great mix (I'll be back next year).  Slick on and off-road corners, some from snow/ice but a lot from leaves and some walnuts, frozen fast ground, couple decent climbs (one paved and one not); it was all good except not a single place requiring dismount from the bike (I was bummed, as that's a strong suit for me).  A ton of the course was going to come down to handling your bike consistently, not over riding (too fast) the corners, and drilling it on the couple of open sections; figured those who made the fewest mistakes would do well.  All in all I was looking forward to the next day.

Race morning comes and our Masters 45+ had a small field, but a quality one. Was really disappointed numerous KC guys did not attend the race, but deep down I know only a couple guys from each 'coast' actually drive outside their city limits to event so was not surprised.  In essence it was an STL race and that was ok as I hardly race against these guys and didn't really know who was the one's to watch outside of STL mtb guru Tim Kakouris.  Leading into the race the great debate was flat bar vs. cross bikes on a local forum and Tim's name was definitely being thrown out there as the favorite for the course and conditions.  I was looking forward to the challenge.  The way I see it is this:  USA Cycling doesn't prevent mtb's from non-UCI races so let them ride and stop griping.  Now that said, it's a 'cross race and not a mtb race so bring a 'cross bike and race.  Either way didn't matter as I liked my fitness, my driving abilities, and one type of bike over another was not going to be the difference (in the Open race however... HA!)

It was cold out for our 10am start, but had the kit dialed in pretty well.  Spun a couple laps in one set of clothes and swapped out to dry warm ones right before my start.  The 'secret weapon' earlier referenced was awesome - Dale's enclosed box trailer (12' x 6') with a propane heater (left door open a bit not to overheat and choke on inhalation) was a perfect spot to sit on the trainer for 30+ minutes warming up the legs and body out of the elements.  Dialed to perfection and honestly think this was a huge advantage to doing it outside in the frigid conditions!!!!  Clothing of choice was Castelli thermal skinsuit with a thermal long sleeve base layer and a windproof vest (under the skinsuit) for the core.  Castelli Nanoflex leg warmers, Giro winter wool socks (not too thick) and Specialized insulated Defroster boots (they are sweet) took care of the pistons.  Specialized lightweight base thermal gloves with a no-name thin shell kept the fingers working and lightweight skull cap under a full head cover and Giro Air Attack kept my brain cool and operational.  OuterEdge full-zip thermal tights and Showers Pass Jacket peeled off with 2 minutes to start.  Cold on the line, but cool (never cold nor warm) during the 45 minute race - perfection. 

Off to the line for the start.  35+ took off, wait 1 minute, 40+ go, wait 1 minute, then off we go.  First half of the lap pretty much went as I expected:  Tim took the quick lead with a mtb guy (think it was Sam Moore) and myself slotted in behind.  Pace was not too fast as it seemed we were getting a feel for things before the hammer drop.  Through the first sand pit I took my line (from the day before) and quickly moved to the front where I kept a moderate tempo until the bottom of the paved climb.  Tim jumped up the pace and I slotted in behind liking that it seemed the racing was about to get started.  At the top of the incline the transition from pavement to grass had a curb; the day prior I pre-rode this a handful of time and got my line figured out, wasn't hard just had to either take it straight on or 'hop' your wheels as it was icy and slick.  Not sure if Tim hadn't pre-rode this or simply made a bad choice as he went at it at a shallow angle and immediately slid his back tire (actually his whole bike) around harshly and landed on the ground right in front of me (I took the lip wide and hopped it head on) leaving me no place to go but on top of him.  As I was un-tangling us I saw on his face he was hurting.  Got back on my bike after a bit and by then Sam had passed me and as began my pursuit I looked back a couple times and Tim was not following (he was screaming though, but at the time I figured he was just mad).  Turns out he broke his ankle.  Wishing him a quick recovery! 

Quickly caught up with Sam and set on him for quite a while until the 3rd placed guy (Cleeland) bridged to us.  The pace during this time was quite a bit slower so once the three of us were together I upped it and one by one gaps opened.  We ended up riding five laps and I only really made a big effort on number four to ensure my gap was big.  The last lap was making sure I stayed upright and under control.  Mission accomplished and finished comfortably for the win. 

Course was super fun and like I figured less mistakes would trump power/over riding.  Disappointed not being able to battle with Tim for the win as I think it would have been a fun go for both of us the entire way.  Heal up Tim!!!

Did a bit of tripod'ing just in case...
Snow and ice added to the fun of this course
Clement PDX at 24 and 25lbs were my
choice of tread for the day and they performed
as expected - great

***Above photos from Mike Dawson*** 
3rd place (Sam Moore) must have been warming up somewhere as he was
AWOL on the podium
Swag for the day with a State Champ jersey coming later
So with the season a wrap it was time to shift focus to warmer temps.  Deb was heading to STL to pick me up and head to the airport as we were heading to Miami, FL to catch a cruise to Mexico the next morning. 
Five day cruise hitting Key West and Cozumel in mid 80 degree temps with my best friend was awesome; did a ton of nothing the entire time.  Deb and a book, me and a deck lounger (never too far from the ice cream machine) was just what old man winter ordered. 

The scale showed I did way too much of this during the week
That week vacation went entirely too fast!  Landed back in STL, stepped outside, and was immediately reminded where we were and wondered where the heck was my coat!?!?!?!

So it started Sept 14th and 21 races later 'cross for 2013 is done.  Maybe in a day or two I'll do a quick recap, but for now I have a couple things that stand out: 1) after missing all of last year its hard to describe how happy (and I mean it) to simply line up each time and compete in a discipline I love so much no matter the outcome, 2) very happy with my season to include not only my results, but only having one mechanical, the selection of events and schedule, only getting sick once... and lastly 3) already itching and can not wait until 2014 as I have a couple serious tweaks that no doubt will have me riding faster and sharper then this year. 

The question probably asked then if I am 'itching' is why not keep it going into Nationals?  Simple answer: Deb is incredibly generous and supportive from Sept thru mid-December and to train focused into and at Christmas and New Years is asking too much of my family and I see no reason for it (plus I have no desire to race at Boulder altitude and who knows what kind of conditions in January).  There you go: simple.

Parted ways with the MWI crew as it's tough being so far separated from the main group in Wisco and now am looking for maybe something more regional (who knows might race solo for a bit).  MWI was a great time with super folks and good support and I hope they can keep things going.

Laying low off the bike until January 1 and then it's mtb racing and gravel events all spring and early summer (skipping crits from here on out as it's never a question of if, but when...).

Lastly, thanks to all who in some way supported, trained with, heckled, or simply waved or said hello sometime this season; you guys (the 'cross community in general) are great and enjoy each and every one of you. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Penn Valley Cross

After taking last weekend off from racing I was already itching to toe a line and get it going again and KC was having a full weekend with races on Saturday and Sunday.  While I was planning to stay overnight in KC Dale was interested in Saturday only so I opted to drive up and back with him on Saturday and then drive back up on Sunday (after all, it's local racing for us and only a 2hr drive one way).
Got to the venue at Penn Valley Park, located in what I call mid-town, with plenty of time to register and warm up.  Surveyed the course and it is a hilly son of a gun.  Super short loop that has you either climbing or descending and both are at the end of a ton of 180*s and two creek crossing (one potentially rideable) were the only dismounts.
So warm ups turned out to be non-existent as registration was running behind and the course was being finished off pretty much as the Masters (my first race) were lining up.  I get pre-ride one lap prior to the start, but for whatever reason I was not prepared/warmed up leading into the start.
Start was pretty sluggish as maybe folks were not willing to burn candles early on the 'hill repeat' course and this was fine with me as it took a couple laps to actually 'warm up' and have the legs open in a pretty light Masters field.  By that time I increased the tempo on the climbs and opened a significant gap and held it comfortably for the win.  Tough loop as it was a constant sprint up a climb, shoot back straight down into sharp turns to do it again.  Truly a 45 minute hill repeat workout.  Rode the 2nd creek crossing three or four times, but stopped that (opting to run them) after bottoming out each time hard on rocks under the water (little slower, but the risk/reward was worth it).
 ***All below pictures from Roger Harrison; click here to check out his handy work***
First race in the Air Attack and I liked it plenty.
 Good 'winter' helmet
Cool overlook of downtown from the venue. 
Kuat NV as usual!

Course had a couple dicey off-camber 180s; drive that bike son!

Cooled down a bit, kicked back for a couple hours, and jump in the Open race.  Not hearing the greatest things about the following day's course I opted for the 'daily double' and decided to not make the Sunday drive to KC. 

Small (have no idea where folks were) group lined up for the Open and although I actually got in a warm up for this race I knew I would need to meter my efforts early to make the hour race since I was still feeling the Masters efforts from earlier.  First lap I was floating along in 7th and little by little started increasing the efforts and before you know it I was in 3rd with 1st long gone (nice work Travis) and 2nd not too far ahead, but enough contact was not obtainable.  Ended with a healthy gap on 4th place.  Felt really good the longer the race went, but by the end the ol' legs were pretty cooked.  Like how it all went, but always leave the 'double up' wishing I would have made a better effort earlier in the 2nd race to get closer to the front group, but it is what it is...

Temps for both races were great
Closing in...
Mid-race Britton and I working a handful of laps together

Course was pretty dry overall and the Clement MXP's were spot on digging out of what felt like a million high speed 180s.  Can't say enough how I love the fit and feel of my Blue Norcross SL.

Skipping Sunday's race turned out great on the training and homefront as many positive things were accomplished on and off the bike.  Really happy with my fitness right now.

So it's one to go (one to go, one to go) for my 'cross season with the Missouri State race this Sunday in STL.  Never been to or raced the St. Vincent venue, but from how folks are describing it I think it will be a blast.  Weather forecast has the temps for STL in the 20's with snow and rain for a couple days leading up to Sunday and 30* is the high (18* overnight low) and with the Masters going to 10am it will be chilly).  I will take whatever comes our way, but deep down inside I would love a slop/mud fest with as many opportunities of forced dismounts as possible.  Have no idea what the Masters field will look like (how many from KC will make the trip), but always fun to visit and race with STL folks as I don't run across them too often during my season.  No Nationals for me this year as Boulder's elevation and training thru Christmas and New Years is simply not appealing to me.  Next year in Austin, TX is golden!

Sunday's race will be fun I am sure, but what I am really stoked about is right after the race Deb and I are hopping a flight to Miami, FL and from there a week cruise to some sunny (and warm) beaches in the Caribbean (similar to what we did in 2011).  Love our winter get-a-ways!