During casual conversation in the cyclocross crowd I claim Fort Steilacoom Park as my 'home course'. I've discovered a mostly car free route from my home to the park and regularly ride to the park to train. This past Sunday the Cross Revolution crew brought the show to Fort Steilacoom Park for a great day of Cyclocross.
The ground was wet. Rain was threatening. It was perfect CX weather.
My pre race routine went as usual including bumping in to Adam and Mario who had already finished their races. After receiving an excellent verbal description of the course from Adam I set out to preview it in person.
My first impression was that there was a good balance of sections that included a soft soil run up, a multi stage climb, a technical grass section, some flatter and faster grass sections, a bombing descent with a wide open sweeper, and two sets of barriers.
At my start I received a second row call up. To avoid any early race mayhem I prefer to get near the front and stay near the front for the first half lap. This is tougher from the second row. The first few corners were tight but after about a minute of racing I was up to 5th and content with this position.
At the end of that first lap I was still in the top five. In previous races I've gotten a little excited when near the front and raced a little too hard. On Sunday I concentrated on finding my just right pace.
During much of the race when I checked over my should I saw a freight train of hungry racers right on my wheel. On a number of occasions a follower passed wherein I would hold that wheel until the rider waved me through by way of suboptimal line selection.
As the laps dwindled the following group started to string out a bit. I wasn't being threatened and felt I was near my maximum sustainable effort. Basically, I was doing my part without letting my emotions control my pace.
As my final lap started I was caught by Craig Undem, the usual winner of my class and a racer with a formidable palmarès. I believe he had a mechanical issue early and had been working his way forward the entire race. I held his wheel for about half of the final lap and thought I had a chance as we entered the technical grass section. I was wrong. Earlier in the race I had picked up positions but Craig brought a higher level of game. At the end of this technical section he had a five second gap and I did not get any of those seconds back.
Sunday's race was my best performance this year and I was rewarded with a 4th place finish in 45+ Masters Mens Category 1/2.
After the race I grabbed my camera, strolled the venue, and snapping photos while I thought back on my race. Compared to previous events I did nothing new, different, or special. Instead I refined my game just enough to shave a few seconds per lap and squeak out a great finish among a strong group of racers.
For those not already aware, the 2019 Cyclocross National Championships will be hosted at Fort Steilacoom park in December of 2019. Local racers such as myself are already preparing for this event. Amateurs will race the same course (but on a different day) as the pros. For cross racers it will be a 'big deal'. Expect many more words and photos from me in regards to 2019 Nationals over the next 24 months.