This weekend was my first attempt at a two race weekend. Saturday took me to Tumwater for the Deschutes River CX. Sunday saw me in Graham at Frontier Park. I had seen neither course nor ever raced with less than a week of recovery. It was a fine learning opportunity.
Both promoters supplied aerial approximations of their courses.
Compared to previous courses both seemed to offer more trees than fields. The weather was cold with frozen ground expected and experienced at both venues. Fortunately the sun came out both days to warm my skin when I could get away from the shade. But that is about where the similarities ended.
Saturday's preride in Tumwater showed a course that, at first, seemed to offer some technical challenge due to the partially frozen landscape and enough corners to keep the course interesting. But as the sun's shadows moved different sections of the course would thaw. On some freshly thawed sections of the course the traction might get better. Or it might get worse. And although there were some corners in the trees there were also plenty of straights in the trees.
Sunday was warmer and the dryer Graham soil was nearly unaffected by the cold temperatures. This translated to better and more consistent traction which lead to higher cornering speeds for those that were willing to let it hang out a bit. The park, although lacking any long climbs, contained many small undulations that upped the technical factor for the racers. And the CX Rev course designers threw in at least a couple off camber corners to keep us on our toes.
Saturday's course evolved quickly. My preride course recon info lost value over time as the ground thawed and the best lines changed.
Sunday's course was consistent. This favored me and others that had studied the quirks of the course.
Yet another layer of difference was the structure of the race organizations.
Saturday's race was WSBA/USAC sanctioned event that required USAC membership and required riders to race in their USAC category. This, of course, prevents riders from sandbagging or from entering races well above there talent level. A side effect is that it seemed to attract a smaller more serious group of racers. Only eight riders raced men's 35+ cat 3.
Sunday was organized by CX Revolution which has chosen to not to be USAC sanctioned. Riders self seeded into categories and no annual race license was required. Sixteen riders raced men's 35+ cat 3.
Saturday's start presented few issues. With only eight riders on the line it was not a challenge to round the first corner in fourth. At just twenty seconds into the race the rider in third washed the front end directly in front of me. I swerved to miss the fallen rider's body but struck his bike instead and was launched into the bushes. He apologized profusely. I checked that we were both OK and said 'Let's get going'.
Falling is not fast. But worse is that it can affect my concentration level afterwards. I worked hard the remainder of that first lap and found myself on the third place rider's wheel. He seemed to be riding at about my pace and I stayed on his wheel for a couple laps. During this time the course was changing rapidly. It was apparent to me that I was racing the course as much as the other riders. The racing line was precariously narrow in places and I spent most of my mental energy on keeping my wheels inside the narrow safety zone.
At the beginning of the fourth lap something changed. It felt like the rider ahead stepped up his pace. Later I also learned that I slowed a bit according to my Garmin. Either way third place quickly disappeared up the course. During this fourth lap I also realized that the thaw was softening some of the frozen grass and bark sections which then required more power to get through.
Somewhere during the fifth lap I noticed a rider behind me. I kept my pace as high as I dared without risking blowing up. Then I fell again. A particular corner was frozen and slick during course recon. By race time it started to thaw and the softening soil gave decent traction. But by the end of the fifth lap the soft soil must have been pushed aside to reveal another layer of frozen ground. Either way I pushed the front tire a good long time before finally finding terra firma with my left elbow. Unhurt I jumped up and remounted. The bike was fine save the twenty degree difference between where my bars and front wheel pointed. I checked over my shoulder and still had a little gap on the rider behind.
Despite having some challenge in steering smoothly I survived long enough to start the last lap where I relied on my six minutes of extra effort to keep me ahead of that chasing rider. Finishing fourth out of eight was just barely in the top half of my class. I felt thoroughly beaten by both the competition and the frozen soil.
I spent the next twenty-four hours feeding my body, elevating my tired legs, unmudding Blue Moon, and preparing to do it all over again. But do it much differently, it turns out.
Sunday saw me starting from the front of two rows and metering out my effort to keep me in the top five going into the first corner. I held my position until we entered some of the technical sections and then patiently snuck past when opportunities presented themselves. By the end of the second lap I found myself riding with Jose Ramirez, the winner of the previous day's race. We were riding in our (relative) comfort zones, leading the race, and slowly pulling away from the field.
Jose is an extremely powerful rider. He sprints from corner to corner. My style is to glide into each corner hoping to carry as much speed as possible. Yet we were quite well matched most of the way around the course. He was clearly superior on the straights and over the barriers. I could usually close the gap on the descents or through some of the twisties.
On the third lap he jumped going up the front straight and gained a sizeable gap. I did not respond but instead rode my own pace making sure to listen to my body and avoid overextending. It took a full lap but I eventually caught Jose and we rode together again.
With about two thirds of a lap to go I clicked up a virtual gear. Most observers would never have noticed but I allowed myself to unleash a few more watts at each acceleration. I went past Jose just before we entered the trails and continued to hold the lead until we caught a slower rider. I gave a couple verbal warnings that he was holding up the leaders. He gave me just enough room to squeeze by but then tangled with Jose. Jose must have given a huge effort as he was back to within five seconds of me less than a minute later. But we were entering the most technical section of the course with just a couple minutes to the finish line. I was out of the saddle for every acceleration and kept the pressure on the pedals on the straights. Jose did not catch me and I was able to take my first cat 3 victory.
I was elated to have worked and achieved this goal. There is no doubt that the Graham course favored my skillset. And that I'm not likely to win the next less technical event. So, in the moment, I reminded myself to enjoy the moment.
When I look back at the two events I cannot discount the affect that the courses had on my day and my feelings about the events. Saturday's course could not be trusted; the frozen ground felt like racing on pins and needles hoping to avoid the next frozen patch and the crash that would follow. Sunday felt more like the course was studied, learned, and then used as a tool in managing the race and ultimately orchestrating a win.
Cyclopath Mark was able to attend Sunday's event at Frontier Park. The layout was not spectator friendly yet Mark did find a spot that allowed him to cheer me on a few times each lap. Thanks Mark. And some advice to any other Cyclopath racers: Invite Mark to your race! I've only visited the podium on the days he has attended. (I'm just sayin...)
After writing my race review the results for Saturday's 'Deschutes River CX' were posted. These results show me finishing third instead of the fourth I expected. In retrospect I did see a rider who was on the side of the course making a bike adjustment. And maybe that rider was the 3rd place racer that disappeared up the road. A different finish position changes nothing. I still feel like the Tumwater course didn't care for me.
The CX Pro's are coming to my home course at Fort Steilacoom on December 7th! Amateurs, including myself, will race in the morning. Pros race in the afternoon. I'll be there. Hope you are too.