Senin, 23 November 2009

Woolley Cross Race Report

Davo earning his spots !

In stark contrast to last week’s race that was so close we didn’t even need to get on the freeway, this week we headed out before dawn. Seven AM saw the war wagon on the road with Hottie and I armed for our respective battles. The grey sky looked foreboding and the cold rain was relentless. This was primo Cyclocross weather.

In every other season, my business travel has taken me away and I always missed a series race or two, this year I have been in every race. Consequently I have earned enough points to be in a good position on the call up list. In the past I was always glad just to get a call up, now I am in a prime position on the second row and that is about as good as I could hope. This pathetic shot at middle aged glory has kept me pushing hard and my patient Hottie has been fully supportive of my quest.

This past week I was again flirting with the fine line between training hard and killing myself. Friday I left work early because, despite my finely honed denial skills, I suspected I was getting the flu. A ton of sleep and a lazy Saturday later, I was feeling almost okay.

Spring in rural Washington is a festival of greens. The greens can be so bright they border on florescent. Conversely, the winters in the low lands are full of fields of matted green grass and stalks of brown weeds and the skeletal remains of blackberry bushes alive under dark skies. Fallen leaves form a layer of brown decaying slimy ooze that never ever dries.

We arrived at the venue to find abandoned drafty farm buildings and the green and brown foliage described above. Everything was wet and the rain just kept coming. I opted to walk some of the course under my trusty umbrella to prolong my dry state. I saw riders out on the course warming up wearing parkas with mud stripes up their backs. This was going to be a slop fest.

I dressed and added an extra layer to peel off before the start and rode my extra wheels way, way, way out to the pit at the far end of the course. I rode the course from the pits back to the starting area. For the first time all year, I didn’t even ride a full loop of the course. I wasn’t quite a hundred percent and the cold cut me to the bone.

At the start line I checked my front tire and it felt hard so I let out a few psi. Then I felt it again and it was softer than a sponge. Big problem and maybe two minutes till the whistle. Panic time. When I had first checked it I had been leaning on my handlebars so my weight on my front tire had made it seem harder than it was. A quick dash to the Kona tent and a friendly pump from a stranger had me race ready. I returned to the starting line and took my spot. I was chatting it up with a guy from Old Town Bikes and I took off my jacket, pants and beanie and tossed them aside. The rain had slowed and I was hoping it hold off. I was wrong.

At the whistle I got a good start and was happy with my position when a few heroes shot past. Forty five year olds dreaming of glory I suppose. On the sweeping right hand downhill we were still flying from the start and a pile up on the right side made my line on the left the only place to be. Three lanes of riders merging into one lane caused me to grab my brakes.

“Holy crap,” I thought as I squeezed my brakes and felt almost nothing. I had switched out my front brakes and put on some new pads. I had meant to ride the CX bike on Friday to break in the pads, but as I said earlier, I felt poorly Friday, so I didn’t ride. I had essentially no warm up today, so my brakes were getting broken in right now! Stoooopid, I thought to myself.

The double track road had some puddles and that just led to splashes. Then the road turned muddy with large car-sized puddles. Most riders were riding single file on some grass to the right of the road but a brave soul in front of me tore through the mud and I elected to do the same. This proved smart as I passed about five riders who had been forced to slow as they took the single line to the right of the bog.

I hit the barrier/run-up combo and moved up again. Some bumpy grass took us past the pits and then another speed draining bog had to be navigated before a slippery, but straight, downhill. Then we were churning up a slippery uphill that required you to sit to keep your back wheel from spinning out and then Batman, more barriers. Then we were on a long boggy mud fest that took herculean strength to keep your bike moving even in your lowest gear. Some elected to run this but running in mud takes a ton of energy and seemed to be slightly, if at all, faster. The end of the bog brought you to a gravel road.

Before you think we were riding on a gravel road I need to clarify that while it was kind of a road, and the surface was indeed gravel, it was deep, soft, easily displaced gravel that was akin to riding in soft sand. So while the gravel did serve to clean the mud from your tires like a rock tumbler, you were still working super hard and going super slow. After what seemed like an eternity, the road firmed up and soon you were in your highest gear flying toward the pits.

Some tricky turns on slippery grass brought you to a slip and slide descent on an S-curve trail with hill on your left and a cliff with blackberry bushes below it on the right. The climb out of this ravine was slimy and required lots of power to stay upright.

Sam at the bottom of the S-Curve downhill

A couple of grassy loops and then finally onto firm double track to head back to deep speed sucking grass just before the finishing straight.

This was a power course that had a few technical sections. The steep descents were generally handled at a cautious speed and the turns, with few exceptions, were sweepers that asked for power rather than bike handling skills.

I was in between my two teammates. Mike was a few places ahead of me and Dave a few seconds behind with an Old Town rider in between. About half way through the last lap the Old Town rider who I was talking to before the start passed me. I hung on his wheel and would not let go. I passed him on the long bog and he passed me back where the gravel road firmed up. I trailed him through the pits and down the slip and slide S curve. When the grassy turns dumped onto the double track I took the left lane after he took the right. I stood on the pedals and muscled past him. I could sense him giving up and kept the power on through the grassy bog and onto the finishing straight. I finished and rolled up to my teammate Mike who had finished eleventh.

I was fifteenth on the day and the final effort had taken whatever I had left right out of me. I slumped over my bars and fought to catch my breath. The fellow I beat congratulated me and we shook hands. Dave rolled up and was as spent as the rest of us. This was his first really muddy race and he had a look of astonishment. It is hard to believe grown men and women do this for fun. This was a good race and everyone was glad the suffering was over.

The cold rain had increased during the ride and most riders, including myself were sitting second in a race with hypothermia. I left my bike at the team tent and let my pit wheels enjoy the rain as I raced back to the wagon and stripped off the muddy layers. Shoes, gloves, jersey (with number – I’d unpin that at home) and finally knees and bibs all into the wet bag. Standing on a rubber mat with a small towel on top I wrestled dry socks onto my wet feet. I put on layer upon layer as well as my thick beanie and warm gloves. I looked around to see other riders performing their post race rituals. A woman had a blue tarp covering the entire back of the inside of her Subaru and she tossed her muddy bike, soiled clothes and everything else in a heap, apparently without care, no doubt intending to sort it out when she could feel her fingers. At the back of a pick up truck a woman handed her man a coffee thermos which he opened and poured the black contents over his feet to wash and warm them. The steam rising told me it was warm, the lack of screaming told me it wasn’t too hot.

I returned to help Hottie with her shooting by sheltering her with an umbrella as she did her magic. I am sitting eleventh in the series and will have a good position for the series finale next week.

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