As mentioned here a few times, the Chico Hooligans had planned an offensive to the south, and showed up in force minus one for the Last CX Race of Last Season, put on last Saturday (2/14/09) in Santa Rosa by the enterprising folks at BikeMonkey.net. I hadn’t toed the line or thought about time and place based racing since BASP #4 back in November. (Scheduling conflicts had prevented a full-season attendance, causing me to miss the race at Coyote Point.) But, as any cross-junkie will tell you, once you start thinking about barriers, run ups and lap cards, the twitch sets in and you’ve gotta get your fix.
The good stuff, y’know - the uncut, pure cyclocross fix - always has some weather mixed in.
Oh sure, we had a little residual mud down at the Candlestick Park race. But, for the most part, the most pressing question about the weather was where to toss your arm warmers before your race, so you could find them again afterwards.
It started raining mid-week or so. Big, heavy drops with serious intent. Our sump pump kicked on for the first time in months, it seemed. Then, it just kind of kept raining. And (for us) it was a relatively cold rain - snow levels were said to be below 2,000 feet. Though we probably wouldn’t see flurries, it would certainly be damp.
Chico Gino had come across a Vanilla Singlespeed CX bike through an incredibly serendipitous chain of events. So, he had entered in the B Singlespeed division. I decided that would be a fun way to spend the day, so on Friday night, I swapped, flipped and stripped the Quickbeam, and made it ready to race. The Hilsen was still in C. Xavier Hilsen mode, and since the second race was free, I brought it along just in case I was stupid enough to do the Geared, Old-Guys race.
On race day, my wife was feeling a little less-than-perfect, not buoyed by the possibility of either (A) standing in the rain watching us race or (B) sitting in the car trying to stay warm. Against her strong protestations, I made her sit this one out and headed north with a loaded car. Which should explain the dearth of photos for this event.
It rained most of the way to the Sonoma county border, then cleared to a low cloud cover, with some heavy dark clouds still threatening to the west. I got to turn off my wipers, but the steady hiss of tires on wet pavement continued to the race venue - Doyle Park in Santa Rosa. I’d never been to that particular park before, arrived at the wrong parking lot, corrected and pulled off a ridiculously fine bit of parking karma to snag a place facing the course. Exiting the vehicle, an orange and metal-fendered bicycle eased along at the edge of my vision. This turned out to be Claire, Gino’s wife, who had ridden over from the hotel and was tracking down the rest of the gang. They appeared quickly, and I met Paul P., Roy and Renée, who had previously existed only in photos by reputation. Gino was there, and kindly allowed me to fondle and parking lot ride the Vanilla, which was even lighter than I’d imagined and ridiculously nimble-feeling.
Back on the Quickbeam, I plodded around the course to find and deconstruct the tricky bits, figured conditions would degrade quickly once tires began removing the sod, and opted for trying to get my heart rate up on the paved roads around the park.
Before too long, we all lined up on the squishy wet grass and awaited the start. As B Singlespeeders, we were looking at a 30 minute race, and had to wait for the Men’s C wave to start before they released us. Someone had observed that the lawn had no idea what was about to happen to it.
Then we were racin’!
Gino hit the gas, his BMX-roots still vibrant and fertile. I slip-slopped a bit on the grass before beginning to thread my way through all manner of Junior B’s and C’s that started with us. They routed us on a “follow-the-concrete” parade lap to begin, and within a minute or two, we came upon a herd of brake-squealing, momentum-killing, oh-we-have-to-ride-this? folks in the C’s.
Now, I bear no animosity towards the C’s. And it wasn’t like a title or a jersey was on the line. And, to be blunt, it wasn’t like I was going to win or anything. And it isn’t like I haven’t hit the brakes at an inopportune moment and heard the gasp of exasperation from a faster rider who had been behind me. But, there were obviously four relatively tricky bits on the course, and I had at least made a plan on what I wanted to do.
Just to break with the race narrative briefly, here is some unsolicited advice to any new or novice cross (or mtb) riders -
Y’know that “perfect” line you rode during your practice lap? (You did ride a practice lap or two, right?) It will not exist for you. Sure, it’s nice to have a sense of where you’d like to be, but for the first lap or so, you need to realize that every other person in your group wants to ride the exact same slice of topography in pretty much the same way. This will lead to everyone in front of you hitting their brakes, and, in the most egregious circumstances, standing stock still astride their bikes until they get their chance to ride “their” line. Now, remember, the course exists from tape to tape, not just the smoothed line that you rode earlier. So, when you come across a tricky bit during the early parts of the race, assume two things: (A) someone will be stopped and standing right in the middle of where you planned on riding, and (B) someone will have fallen and will be lying directly in your exit line. In fact, it’s probably best to assume that you will need to get through the section by following The Worst Line Imaginable. Therefore, when you engage in your practice lap, see what alternatives you can find.
Oh, and during the race, it’s ok to pick your bike up and run past people who are just standing there. As long as you don’t hit them, hook bars with them or yell at them.
Dropped in, scrambled up, brought a tree with me, detached it and remounted. Then we were into the “intestine” section - multiple right/left switchbacks among trees with incredibly short straights between - a course feature which I really hate to encounter on a singlespeed, when you are among geared riders, as they are twiddling in too low of a gear and you end doing a fair amount of half-stroke, half-stroke, half-stroke then trackstand work. This was exacerbated by the quickly degrading surface of the grass, which began to turn into a chili-type mud beneath our tires.
We worked our way out of the intestines (?!), found the only serious straightaway which led across a couple of curbs and into a broader set of switchbacks in front of the announcer and the tents. To keep interest up, the announcer was openly heckling us, and seemed to be mining the “keep-both-hands-on-that-Vanilla!” vein at Gino to humorous effect. Another switchback in front of the crowd, two barriers (a little higher than most and built to what appeared to be Mil-Spec) and another switchback, and we were heading towards the creek.
Gino shot by the other way, a vision of momentum and grace. I fell in with another group picking its way to the creek area. Luckily this batch had a little better sense of purpose, and we brought some speed into the drop in, which curved left and immediately climbed back up.
Well, theoretically. I found myself on a slide-for-life on a tangent to my preferred route. Slid for a while on shoulder and hip toward the water, came to a stop, got untangled and scrambled up the muddy bank. Dropped in on the next dip, came upon a bottleneck as the narrow trail constricted to a narrower set of concrete stairs. This was thoughtfully covered in sand, and had a 3″ steel pipe as a handrail at hip height, so you bang against it to constrain any course deviation. The sand, as it turned out, was a feature for the next ten or fifteen yards or so, bringing one of the endearing features of Dutch cyclocross to our fair lands.
We arched around the playground, found the sand once more and then bumped up a curb and down off some concrete edge to the creek again, looped around and came up. At this point, I realized my bars had been tweaked by the unscheduled landing, so I hopped off and twisted them back. The Quickbeam began to wonder just what it had done to deserve this kind of treatment. Back on again, we hit brief pavement, then headed to the fourth creek dip, which had been the first tricky bit on the first lap.
From here on, it was back to the maddeningly-slow-intestine-bit, followed by the why-don’t-I-have-any-power straight section, then the yeah-just-keep-heckling-monkey-boy bit, the sloppy running-the-barriers-is-supremely-uncomfortable
-but-for-some-reason-it-feels-better-than-pushing-pedals part, before repeating the creek dips. After the first lap or two, I was feeling pretty crappy. The mud was thickening and momentum was fleeting.
Then it started raining. Which you might think was a bad thing. But, you’d be wrong.
First, I’m one of those people that actually enjoys riding in the rain. Second, it made things wet rather than just gloopy, and the mud stopped sticking. In fact, it was downright refreshing.
As further support for the Kent Peterson mantra “Keep pedaling, it will get better”, I did. It did. And I commenced to start catching people. There was a Legolas guy out there, and I nicked by Paul (though I had to resort to making clanky derailleur sounds to fake him out), and some other folks. I did have to wonder how much some of those full suspension mountain bikes were starting to weigh by the last couple laps.
The singlespeed force is strong in this one…
I spent a little time trying to knock the big chunks of muck off the Quickbeam, then sat for a spell. I don’t know if it was the new-to-me Clif electrolyte drink that I quaffed, or just the exuberance of escaping from a shorter race with fingers, toes and teeth attached, but, while the more sensible folks were donning warmer clothing and enjoying the ambience…
… an altogether much less clever idea was forming in my brain.
This story continues here…..