Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Baptism by Cross

I gave cyclocross a serious try back in 2009.  Coming of an awesome MTB season including an XC National Championship and Downieville All Mountain victory for Cat 1, I was feeling good and was figuring out I was fairly good at racing bikes.  So I immersed myself in cross... I bought a geared CX bike and entered the elite categories to promptly have my arse handed to me repeatedly.  I was taking it way too seriously, putting the same pressure on myself as I did during the previous MTB season and not having fun.  After that winter I sold that cross bike and decided that I wouldn't race cross anymore because I need an off season.  That was a good decision, leading to much needed recovery for my body, some fun vacations, completed house projects.

But this year I got the itch again.  Probably because I've had a better, more relaxed attitude towards racing in general that didn't leave me so wiped by October.  But I told myself that this still needed to be an off season, but possibly with some fun shenanigans on a technologically archaic bike.  My cyclocross savior would come in the form of a single speed, and my baptism would be at the first Sacramento Cyclocross Series race in Vacaville.  Fittingly... it was pouring rain...

That's me... D...F...L... and I was fine with it!  I hadn't raced a cross bike in just under four years and riding in serious muck was something I never really do either.  I was seriously feeling "reborn."  My first few laps were spent feeling like I was learning how to ride a bike again.  Slipping, sliding, and skating around turns.  It was cold and wet, which I normally hate, but I was having a blast.  Pedaling where I could... and accepting the fact that I could only go so fast because of the gearing and trying to lay off the brakes.  After a few laps I learned that those skinny tires can grip and you can lean the bike over more than you think.

I ended up getting the hang of it and picking off some of the field and finished 4th.  While surprised at the result, I didn't care much about it.  I was doing it for the fun and smiles... which were plenty!

After a nice vacation and a couple weeks off the bike (all bikes), it was time to take up my cross again.  This time at Lange Twins Winery for Sac CX #4.  With no expectations, I lined up with the Single Speed A's again under beautiful blue skies.  I'm about to race... and the typical anxieties that run through a racers brain just weren't there.  Did my bike have the right gearing for the course?  I don't know, and I don't care.  Did I eat the right food the two nights before??  Most likely not, but pumpkin ice cream is tasty and while egg nog ice cream isn't great on it's own, adding a little dark rum makes it better.  It's just for fun, and just to mix it up a little because riding and racing bikes is awesome.  I was also happy that after a couple weeks of vacation I fit into my new SacCX kit which I helped design.  I was lined up next to Ron Shevock who currently leads the series on a Felt carbon cx bike with disc brakes (he ended up winning this race too).  I have to say I'm a little jealous of the discs... old canti's hardly deserve to be called brakes by comparison.  Anyways... it was go time and we headed out into the course.  I tried to stay with Ron and the front guys, but I had no misconceptions about how out of shape I'd be or that the effort wasn't going to hurt.

I fell to the back, but not off the back at least.  The nice thing about single speed racing is that nobody you're racing with can pull away too quickly.  But that also means that if you drop back for whatever reason you can't really catch up.  Like when your front wheel skewer comes loose because you're screwing around jumping off stuff on an already bumpy course.
Makes me really appreciate the thru-axel's on my MTB's.  I heard and felt rattling for about a lap, and figured it was just aluminum frame noise or something.  Then I looked down and saw the skewer lever pointing forward... and I NEVER leave it that way.  Briefly the thought of just continuing on went through my head, but then I remembered the time the front wheel came off my POS commuter bike in college.  That eject did not feel good... so after climbing the stair section of the course I stopped to tighten that puppy up.  I pedaled hard, drifted some corners and passed a few guys back so I could stay on the lead lap.  I see-sawed with one other SS'er on the final lap but he had a bigger gear, the finish stretch was pavement, and there was nothing I could do.  Oh well, I finished 6th.  I had fun, rode as fast as my gearing would allow, opened up the legs which felt good (I hit some surprising heart rate numbers too!), and the gaggle of course hecklers on the hairpin turns gave my kit good reviews.  Only sucky part was a painful cross blister from the rough course.
I guess I will have to do a little more work to this bike than just lubing the chain.  Time for new bar tape!

Ride on!