Silver Lake Cyclocross 2014

The first event of the Cyclocross Revolution cyclocross race season took place at Silver Lake. This venue was good for me last year as the course had a number of fast descents and technical sections. I was looking forward to a course that played to my strengths and also looking forward to finding out how I faired against a full field of Category 3 riders.

Last year's race morning ritual did not apply. My Category 3 Master Men's 35+ start is at 11:45 a.m. so no need to wake too early. And for the Silver Lake event I left not my home but instead from the campground near Fall City where my family and I were camping.  This made the drive shorter and I arrived at the venue plenty early.

The day's forecast was for warm air and sunny skies. I carefully pinned my bib number to my Cyclopaths jersey and geared up.

Before pre-riding the course I discovered that my new Tufo Flexus Cubus 33SG tubular rear tire was nearly flat. Two blackberry thorns had found there mark during a previous test ride so I mounted my extra wheelset with the Michelin Mud 2 clinchers. This was a bit sad but I found solace in knowing I would be racing on tires I was familiar with.

Pre-riding the course offered few surprises. The course was nearly the same as 2013 although the soil was dryer. Both descents were slightly rerouted to lower speeds in the corners that followed. The run up locations changed. And a log was added. A log that allowed a few riders to show off their bunny hop skills to avoid the cost of dismounting/remounting. The sand sections were identical. But this year the sand was dryer and the sand sections became a real challenge. The course was still technical but did not favor me quite as much as it did last year.

During my last lap of course preview I noticed a youngish rider with obvious technical skills. He bunny hopped the log without incident. His lines through the corners allowed him to carry more speed. And then I saw him hop one of the barriers. Later I learned that this rider is the son of someone I know. And that he won his class by a full minute. Impressive.

There were no callups for this event so I arrived at the start area early enough to get a front line start position. My usual race strategy is to get to the front group and then just follow a wheel for a few laps. When the race started I worked hard enough on the start straight to funnel into the first corners in 4th or 5th position.

After a few corners I settled into fourth. The pace was kinda high and I expected it to settle down after half a lap. But every few minutes the rider in front of me would make a technical mistake and I would slide by. I cannot remember exactly when, but at around the end of the first lap I moved into the lead. This was not my plan.

During the second lap and halfway into the third I lead the race at a good pace. Every check over my shoulder showed that the lead group was still right with me. I did like having full visibility and the freedom to choose my own lines. I earned a few moments of soft pedal by gliding smoothly through the corners. But it wasn't perfect. I was starting to feel the effects of the pace and the warmth.

I relinquished the pacesetting to the rider directly behind me. I stayed with him until the end of the third lap but my condition was not improving. I fully realized at this point that I was blowing up. Respiration rate was near out of control. Body was turning to rubber. And lots of drooling.

Most of the fourth lap was damage control. It was necessary to slow enough to regain composure. My bunny hop over the log was comical but did not quite result in a crash. Riders streamed by. I was dying for a drink of water. Slow was OK as long as I kept the pedals turning.

But as the fourth lap slowly came to a close my vision started to clear. A sense of strength started to return. And so did my sense of urgency. Between the end of the fourth lap and the finish at the close of the fifth I was able to resume a more normal pace and gain back two positions. My finish position was 7th in a field of 28.  

Post race I was hurting. I walked into the lake up to my knees and waited for the water to cool my body and for my breathing to slow to normal. And waited. And waited. Recovery started slowly and took a good long time.

On my return trip to the campsite I took some time to think about what went wrong and what could be learned.

I didn't have a proper sense of pace. This was not the first time I've gone out too hard. But it was the first time I've done it unintentionally. I need to learn to listen more closely during those first few laps when my body is speaking softly and the excitement of competition is speaking loudly.

I was not 100% rested before the event. I felt OK going into the race but the hurt probably came sooner and harder than usual. And it definitely lingered longer. I'll be paying closer attention to rest, fuel, and hydration in the days leading up to subsequent events.

Blue Moon's wheels will next turn in anger at my local course, Fort Steilacoom Park, in just a few days. This event is being organized by MFG Cyclocross this year and they've shared their intended course layout. It will be flattish, straightish, and fast fast fast. I expect to have my hat handed to me.