Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Midwest Regional Championship–Day 2 BadgerCross…..

With the first day of racing not having gone down as I would have liked.  It was with a lot of mixed feelings I had about racing the second day. 

My motivation for ‘cross racing later in the season just never hit high gear -- be it because of results, mechanicals or frustration with the entire points/call up system.  However I don’t give up on anything easily, even to my own detriment.   The appeal of racing the 2nd day was definitely the conditions….


  … living as far North as I do I’d been riding & training in snow cover for two weeks already.  It’s a different kind of handling that dry land, power racers will be challenged with.  It makes for a very interesting race.

What I didn’t count on, was the need for mud tires vs. all around tires and the fiasco Shimano SPD cleats & pedals are in mud.  Rumor has it Jonathan Page swears by them, but if so he’s definitely knows something a lot of the rest of us don’t.

Got to the start had a good warmup, ready & excited to have a good race.  A fun race.  I wasn’t so sure how well I’d do against the best guys today, but I liked my odds against most everyone else.   The call ups for the start were supposed to go by the previous days results, which would have put me in the 2nd row, however for some reason that wasn’t happening. Ugh.  (Sometimes you just have to roll your eyes).

The start was nothing short of going thru 100+ yards of a sprinkler system with water spray coming off everyone’s tires.  The slip & slide started once we hit the above pictures snow field.  I’m comfortably cruising along with others around me fighting the conditions when in an instant it changes, my wheel slips & I go down sliding into tape knocking down several poles.  Once again DFL.  Ugh.

Though that would do me no favors it wouldn’t be the first or last time of the day.  I had fun riding in the conditions and pushed it harder than the combination of tires I had for the day (Michelin Mud 2 & Challenge Grifo) allowed.

A race like this keeps things interesting & constantly back & forth, as one rider pulls ahead over certain sections, he’s pulled back over another.  Again a similar sized field I managed to get back after a couple laps close to the top ten and was riding stronger than other riders….however, I brought the proverbial knife to a gun fight.  Two hills in the race required me to get off & run because my tires would slip out while the others road the climbs.  Secondly, the aforementioned SPD style cleat/pedal setup got absolutely clogged with mud, requiring a person to bang the soles of the shoes against the pedals several times before the would clip in and one could get pedalling again.  So for every advantage I would take before the hills fell back after them.  All a guy could do is shrug & try harder the succeeding laps, but with that came the increasing frequency of wiping out.  I think I managed four pretty stellar wipeouts in the 6 or 7 laps. 

I finished losing out two spots in a spill near the end to get 15th for the second consecutive day. 

The guys at the front I’d see at the mid point in the race…a half lap away had some good back & forth racing though, congrats out to Neff & Stelljes, trading 1st & 2nd both days.  And a nod goes to Trevor Koss who  I’ve had some good battles with in the past for finishing  7th & 4th on the weekend.

Despite the excitement of slipping and sliding in the race it palled in comparison to my attempted drive home after the race.  A normal 5hr drive, soon turned into what would have been a 10 or 11hr drive if after fishtailing my car & doing a 180 degree spin in the road just barely ending up deep in a ditch.  By the time I’d gotten near Marshfield 4+hrs later I was ready to call it quits grab a hotel room & sit in a hot tub.  Which is exactly what I did & waited til the next morning to get home.

With National Championships about a month away,a frustrating season to date & an excitement for experimentation with my MTB training for next season.   It was looking more & more like this might be the end of the season for me.  Sometimes things pan out that way.  It’s said it’s better to take a break, enjoy your sport, hobby, passion or interest than to keep pushing on.  As it turns out the following week I’d end up with influenza & even if I wanted to race Nationals that put a end to it completely.  Getting sick from that can really knock the crap out of ya. 

So it’s been starting from square one since Xmas & looking forward to a fun & promising MTB season.  With 2013 now here, hopefully some time with free up to write up some recaps for the bests/worsts of 2012… stay tuned.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Wisconsin & Midwest Championship ‘Cross races…Day one…

With the US National Cyclocross Championships, now only a weekend a way.  No better time than now to give the low down on last months BadgerCross weekend. 

The two day event sporting the titles of WI State Championship & Midwest Regional Cyclocross Championship.  Despite some inclement weather in the forecast & waning motivation, on went the pursuit of USA Cycling points for January’s US National Championships. 

If  a repeated theme comes through it’s no secret I’m not a huge fan of traveling longer distances for races & the 5hr drive there wasn’t the most appealing (the drive back home was another story…)  Fortunately, the race course at the Badger Cross events is very much a power course over a skills course.  There’s hills, descents, & some twists & hairpin turns but but not so much it gets borderline annoying like some courses I’ve raced.  

With a late afternoon start I was able to drive down the day of the Sat race & prep in adequate time (which for me is anything more than 15minutes).  After some failed communications back from the race director earlier in the week on race scoring,  it would cost me a better position in the starting line up.  Unlike last year they raced the Open Pro, Cat 1, Cat 2 race with the Masters (35+) of the same categories.  It was a person’s option of which to register under.  After getting 3rd overall in the master’s race last year I wasn’t there for placement awards.  I simply wanted to do whatever race afforded the best points possible, looking at the starting line ups & results of those racers it would be close but I opted for the Open race thinking my odds would be better.

The race went off in it’s normal super fast “track” start on the pavement that rolls out into an open field.  Last row start wasn’t affording any immediate passing opportunities without being very aggressive and again forgetting what I learned the previous week in the MN championships I failed  to bring that aspect to the start of the race.  In the first qtr mile things had strung out I was riding 4th from last & trying to be patient. 

Here’s where in only a few races every year you'll run into that moron the tends to annoy you at every step of the race, until you finally drop them.  I’ll pass on naming the kid, but there’s aggressive racing & then there’s stupid racing, he fit the later.   What transpired after the first hairpin turn with him left me off the back of the entire field in D.F.L.   It’s funny when being in last place early in a race isn’t something that normally happens -- what a crazy feeling it is.  You look behind & see no one.  For me it’s a mixture of laughing & saying “oh crap!”  

Even so, the course was hard & very fast, as temps stayed below freezing for the day.  And I was able to work up & pass riders on the successive laps.   There was some 25 riders in the open race & by the end I’d moved up to 15th.  Actually racing the final laps with 4 or 5 guys from lead group of the Master 35+ race (which had started some 30 seconds behind our race.)

The last two laps were pretty fun, as Chris Smith was railing it with a group including Jeff Melcher, William Pankonin, & Andy Hoenisch.  When they came by I knew they weren’t in my race & would have no bearing on the points, but it seemed like as good as opportunity to get some competitive riding it.  I was surprised that Chris wasn’t taking any breaks at the front the entire 2nd to last lap, thinking he’s in trouble for the last lap.  Though he was pushing it hard enough that eventually it would drop Andy. 

On last lap, I thought I had no reason to hold back & perhaps I could pay Smithers back, so I went hard the front & as I passed Chris I told him to get on.

It had been one of those seasons thus far where expectations, capabilities & outcomes hadn’t coincided.  So you look for small wins against or assistance with your competition as motivations.  For me, having lost out to Andy in a uncharacteristically poor race in Eau Claire to start the season, & seeking some redemption for not finishing off Jeff in an attack I put on him at BadgerCross last season was what I had.  Plus for Smithers with the work he was doing pushing the pace I only felt right he deserved a good lead out to finish off his race. 

So I just drilled it from that point, wanting the pace to be high enough guys dropped or couldn’t hold on.  Once or twice Jeff would try to go to the front.  I would counter.  Jeff charged hard to get past me leading into the final turns before the pavement finish.  It was enough to gap Chris & William initially or…. so I thought. 

We hit the pavement with Jeff at the front giving me pretty much all the position I would need to pass him.  I looked back & swore I didn’t see anyone within many bike lengths.  The finish being probably 150-200 yards away.  Instead of pushing it really hard I slowly worked the outside way around Jeff coming into the home stretch passing him just before the finish, only to have Chris catch back & swing by me in the final feet before the finish line.  Very nice job on Chris part to come out of nowhere.  Note to self, you can always learn something in a race or be reminded of it.…. do a better job of checking where guys are behind you.

The weather forecast for the next day wasn’t looking both good & bad.  Good in a sense that snowfall would make the course nice & technical, bad in that it meant a not so fun attempted drive home.

A preview…..


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

MN State Cross Championship recap….

Had for the longest time heard a lot of positives on how fun the MN State CylcoCross Championships were.  Figured a nice little drive down to Crystal MN & spend a few days racing some of the best ‘cross racers in the Midwest.   Alternatively, it required me to miss some of the best ‘cross racing to my East.  UPCross in Upper Michigan, as they had their State Championship races.

They had “category” racing day one, age group racing on day two. (Thank to Chris “Smithers” Smith for putting it together that way, Nice job Chris!)

The first day, I didn’t come mentally prepared & aggressively minded to race around & through people in some cases & was stuck in the mid teen’s til what had become a seasonal mechanical theme… a rolled tire. I went on to finish 26th.

Day two—if you’ve ever had a bad day of racing, you can go in the next day saying “gee, I suck” & have a repeat performance or go in with a balls to the wall attitude and nothing to lose.

I had a nice chat with Barry Tungseth before hand, a guy on any given day can ride with the best of them, on how the different racers excel at the different disciplines.  Someone like Brendan Moore, who dominates the MTB races in MN, no one really challenged him for a win this past year.  But in a ‘cross race, there’s gonna be guys that he’ll dust in a MTB race who’s wheel he won’t hold in the cross race.  Jesse R., CJ, Chris Fischer will all outlast him.  On the other side, take someone like Pat Lemieux, ‘cross races great, road races maybe even better.  MTB racing with single track?  Just different enough to make him struggle and the above named guys will probably outgun him.  The last top end guy to excel at all 3 disciplines, MTB, Road, Cross?  Very easily Doug Swanson, and sure there are others probably not to Doug’s extent to be able to win all three kinds of races in the same season.  Another extremely well rounded racer back in the day I’d even give a nod to is Hollywood Henderson.

So back to the race I chose the later approach. Despite a third row start, I got into the mid teens by the first sent of U turns & once it opened up it I wound up with another drive to get to the front group of 7.

Half a lap later, I was playing caboose of this fine company…



Hollywood Henderson, Chris Fischer, Josh Roeser, CJ Faulkner,Jessie Reints, and Belgium's very own Oliver Vrambout & finally Owen Thoele.

Here’s where I took a hard lesson in cycling strategy— most races have periods of hard effort followed by lessor effort. The key is to not get doubled up on doing two straight hard efforts. Having to catch up during the “lessor effort” I put in a hard effort, catching them just in time to, only to get put on the ropes by a second hard effort. Being out of sync like that it’s hard to recover & then stay with that group.

Hollywood was the first to drop, but considering how well that guy can still ride given the little time he has to train running his own bike shop it’s always admirable to see him out there pounding nails.

I followed MN ‘cross rider of the year Champ Josh Roeser, who looked like he was dogging it until he shot out of a cannon & took a flyer to the front of the group.

It wasn’t much later on lap 2 (of 7) through a monster long sand pit that being out of sync with the surging efforts to stay with the group I decided to back it off a notch to preserve a 7th place position & not risk blowing up letting a charging duo of Paul Krumrich & EZ Taylor run on past.

The next 3 laps were pretty uneventful, but the LONG Stair climb RUN UP was getting to be more than annoyingly difficult. Normally, I like running & it’s one of my strengths in ‘cross racing, but this run up was double in length & distance of any race I’d ever done. It one of the few times I’ve felt like a course was overwhelming me.

But backing off the lead group on those 3 laps offered just enough recover to put in a surge the final two laps to distance the chasers &  catch a fading Josh Roeser to grab 6th on the day. Finally a result closer to where I felt I was capable of racing.  But in the back of one’s mind comes the question of starting position, not having to fight out of the back row, how different does that race play out?

My contention throughout this all isn’t that ‘cross racing is inherently screwed up. Rather it’s a system with challenges due to the nature of the sport that make it difficult if not impossible for capable racers in large fields to get a fair go of things.

I don’t mean this just in a situation I’ve found myself in, but on a bigger scale there’s an example of it that will occur at the World Championships in Kentucky in the Elite Women’s field, an Olympic medalist, Georgia Gould, at this past summers games -- will end up starting behind racers she’s been way faster than all season – simply because she chose to stay state-side racing cyclo-cross rather than racing in Europe where other Americans raced. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Unfortunately, there’s no easy solution.

As Sunday’s race ended, CJ & Chris had a die hard sprint to the end with Chris edging it out for the win. Just like he’d said the day before after finishing 6th . “It’s always better the 2nd day!” Congrats to Chris, CJ & Jessie for rounding out the podium.

With at least one good race in the bag, the ‘cross season wasn’t feeling lost or a waste.  Traveling to Madison for the WI championships the following weekend would determine in large part how much longer I wanted to push on… more to come…