Monday, November 22, 2010

Coming back with a story… BayCross Day 2

Yesterday I should have been in Hales Corners, WI racing the Wisconsin State Cyclocross Championship. A 3am stomach flu Sunday morning changed those plans. One tends to forget how tortureous a flu can be – kinda like a ‘cross race. Leaves you heavin’ or at least wanting to.

Hence, let me share about one those races this year. Eight cross races in total this fall, this one may have been the nail bitting toughest. BayCross Day 2 – coming off what felt like one of my best races ever the day previously, I was cautious as how Day 2 was going to feel & how I would respond. Maybe for some guys, racing year round through a road &/or mtb season and into cyclocross ain’t too bad. I tend to put it all out there each week in training throughout the year and by historical measures at the time ‘cross season rolls around, the bullets for the revolver can take a while to reload. Would this year be different when it came to back to back ‘cross races?

A 3 minute win the prior day, should have provided the confidence but as the old saying goes it’s all on paper. And never saw piece of paper make a difference on race day. The plan wasn’t to jump out front like the previous day, sit in the first lap, and see how everyone else was riding.

Shawn Gort took to the lead & I road a few places back. Not an easy pace by any stretch of the imagination. However once I got in a rhythm back there I felt comfortable going to the front, for the most part the early couple laps things stayed together with Shawn, Bill Custer, Nikoli Anikin & myself. Everyone within a bike length or two of each other.

It was either a great day or terrible day for making breaks. You’ll know what I mean if I ever get the video of the race posted on Youtube. A sunny day but real strong wind blowing off Lake Superior. In your face going west, at your back going east – the primary two directions for the 1+mile course.

On lap 4 or 5 of what ended up being a 12 laps race – something must have gone right for me or wrong for Nikoli. And despite holding in strong Shawn & Bill had already dropped back & were doing battle between themselves. I don’t remember going any harder but when I finally turned around I’d broken away and established a healthy 17 second gap in a single lap.

Things are looking my way at this point. I’m happy, however there’s still more than half a race to go. How can things possibly go awry? Well, I must have gotten tired or backed off because lap by lap Nikoli picked off time on me. Within four more laps he was nearly back within striking distance. Then on a short uphill section that was bobbled by lapped rider Mason Basco caused an inadvertent crash with me, and put Nikoli was back on my wheel. Ugh…

Well, in the ensuing laps a lot was going on in my head – do I attack again? How’s Nikoli sounding? Could he react? I figured it wasn’t necessarily easy for him to have reeled me in, so at the very least I decided to keep up the pace and not provide any reasonable recovery time for him. I pushed it harder in the wind swept sections to make for an equal amount of work on both of us. Nikoli, let’s say, is an advantageous racer. Give him too many benefits and you’re going to regret it later.

So the crowd at BayCross is loving this – they’ve got awesome viewing of the race course. It’s subject to some debate but a spectator can probably see 75% of the race standing in just one spot! Nikoli & I are trading the proverbial punches lap after lap.

A bad cornering job by me on the switchbacks of the course as we were coming up on Mike Weispfenning -- and Nikoli was into the lead on the 3rd to last lap. Again more decision making time, when do I take the lead again? Do I take the lead again? I won yesterday, have nothing else to prove, probably have the overall on the weekend wrapped up – Nikoli has put in a great effort, he deserves it… All this self talk going on & on & on… A lot of riders are super competitive in racing, but I’ve got a soft spot. I almost feel guilty if I start doing too well. I’d prefer to share the spotlight on others too. Probably strange, but true. Doesn’t mean I back off or quit but the thoughts are there.

For a couple sections in that lap, I thought he might be able to drop me as he appeared to be riding well and making time where it was most advantageous. However with two laps to go, I managed to stay with him & went go back to the front. I figure Nikoli is going to sit on for the remainder of the race and perhaps try & jump me near the end. I kept the pace up, driving it hard into the wind and hoping it doesn’t cash me out entirely before the bell lap. The whole time Nikoli is with me – making it worse than trying to kick a bad habit.

In the start/finish area of the final lap, Nikoli comes around me and just starts to absolutely nail it – the crowd is pumped & yelling – it’s game on!! We’re flying through with this strong tail wind. He grabbed a bike length on me through the first set of barriers and made his biggest attack of the on a long tail wind assisted section that followed. Now, not normally a section one would consider a key place to attack but talking with Nik after the race, he said it was where all race long he’d gain 2 seconds or so on me. Naturally he was riding a cross bike, & I was on the Gary Fisher Superfly MTB. I gutted it out and hung onto him however --- so the best laid plans for him didn’t pan out there. And he didn’t exactly look excited at the prospect of me still close by as we turned the corner & headed west bound back into the wind.

The pace back off only slightly but neither of us was giving an inch. The excitement was rising with each section of the last lap being completed. When we finally got to the west side of the course with the multiple switch backs (hands off by the way to Paul Belknap & crew for designing an excellent course) this was where things were probably going to happen. Nikoli is swinging each corner carefully & with precision, I’m likewise doing the same….. then we come to the last switchback. It crests across a modest “mound” allowing a rider to go high or low into the corner. For the life of me I don’t know why but Nik, probably in an attempt to cut the corner close, went low. In a split second, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. When he went low, I knew he’d swing the corner wide. So I immediately went high into the corner and took the inside track with nothing but daylight in front of me.

I heard an audible “agh” from Nikoli as I threw down an attack of my own, getting a gap. Now I only had to hope I could hold him off the final 300 yards – and 300 yards never felt so long in my life! I shot up to the rock railroad grade & onto the paved straight away – it was long enough that if he had the energy left his bike was much more capable than mine to retake the lead into the final hairpin turn. Fortunately I hit that before Nik could catch me and was able to cruise in and enjoy the final yards for the win. A far cry from the runaway race of the day before.

Exciting race, hard windy conditions, and excellent competition. Could have easily gone either way. The rest of the results can be seen at As I spoke of it in my previous posts, BayCross is a niche set of races worth checking out with something for everyone. From the person who’s never so much as tried a ‘cross race to the diehard ‘crosser.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

UPCross - Thank you!

A big thanks goes out to everyone that was a part of UPCross 2010! You put on a great series this year and I'm grateful to have been able to participate. I got to know more & more of you as the series went on and thank you for making a guy not from the U.P. feel so welcome. From the sponsors like, SISU cycles - Matt (&Angie) great conversations with you. Your knowledge of bike design & function is absolutely fascinating I could talk to you forever about it. Very cool.

To the sponsoring bike shops - thanks for getting the participants on their rides for each week -- Caleb at The Bike Shop as well as Down Wind Sports, Quick Stop Bike Shop & Lakeshore Bike.

Chris Schmidt - running an awesome website, keeping the results up & a fun running dialogue each week with the blow by blow of the races & what was upcoming. More than a few races director/organizers could benefit from taking note about building interest & marketing their events like you've done with UPCross. Along with that I definitely should mention again Matt Palomaki who took some great pictures that got posted, and worked Jesse Bell & Michelle on race footage that was made into some awesome youtube music videos.

Race directors -- thank you, thank you -- organizing volunteers, designing & taping off courses. Work that you should never feel goes under appreciated. Myself & alot of others I think I speak for in saying I'm very very grateful for your efforts.

Racers -- Oh, boy -- where can I possibly start. Whether you did the C, B or A races and I got to meet you it was really my pleasure. People riding & racing bikes is a thing of passion and to see such a great community & culture you have leaves me with a positive sort of envy. You've got a great thing going on over there -- fun but competitive and just a great mix of talent. Of the new guys I met Tim K. mixing it up week after week, Dave G. coming on strong at the end of the season, Joey Graci excellent job of hanging in their so long in the Championship round, never thought we'd get rid of you. Ryan T. too a great 3rd place showing at the Championship, not dropping early & playing it tough to the end with T&I. Evan & Mik, Chris Schmidt & Chris Lynch, Tom (& Boonen), Wes when you weren't directing a race -- that's just to name a few of the great racers I met or got to know better this year, sorry if I missed some others you know who you are. That along with the old standbys you'd hear about week in & week out.

Hope give a story of my harrowing adventures of this past weekends UPCross Championship (& that's just the drive to get there) and at long last get up some of the video coverage of races #5 & #7. Stay tuned....