Between my injury last year, and the cracking of the frame of my Cyclo-Cross bike, I had not participated in a Cyclo-Cross race since Nationals on January 5, 2017.
The bike is fixed, and the tendon is healed, therefore I have been back on the racing bandwagon. My goal is to have a good Cyclo-Cross season. This means that for this year I want to work on my Cross fitness and hone my technique, and with that in mind, I am going to try to do two races per event when possible.
So, after all my travels, I finally got the season going with Caffeinated Cross in southern New Jersey by participating in two races: the 8:00am Men 40+ (Cat 4/5) and the 11:00am Men Cat 4. I gave a ride to a fellow friend and rider since he wanted to race the Men Cat 5 which would start one minute after my first race.
Due to some heavy traffic through the city of New York, we ended up getting to the venue with less than twenty minutes from the start of the first event. This was far from ideal to say the least. We had barely enough time to grab our numbers, suit up, prep the bikes, and get to the starting grid. No warm up, no course inspection.
Right from the gun, I struggled a bit to get clipped in, but then, I motored as fast as I could to stay with the main pack. I had to dial things back a bit since I was learning the course as I went along. I tried to avoid the mishaps of the other guys in front of me in the single track sections. First set of barriers went well, we then encountered the Belgian steps which I rode up without getting off.
After some more single track, we had a small run-up. Shortly after the run-up we were presented with a long sand pit. I hit it feeling confident until I bogged down after five pedal strokes. I quickly dismounted and resigned to running the soft sand with the bike on my shoulder.
Laps were clocking in at about just under ten minutes. I figured that in a forty minute race this was going to work out to about four laps. Indeed, I was correct. At the end of lap three they were ringing the bell for the final lap. In the end, I ran the sand pit all four times, I managed to ride up the run-up once, and the Belgian steps twice. However, the running in the sand really killed me.
On the last lap, I was hot on the wheel of Jim Martin, and, coming onto the gravel straight, I got on his wheel to get in the draft in order to ramp up my cadence so I could launch my sprint. I surprised him with a good sprint to beat him to the line. I ended up finishing sixteenth out of twenty eight starters.
I now had a few hours to get ready for the next race, so I ate, and rehydrated. I changed out of my soaking wet skin suit into a dry short sleeve one since the temps were not that cold. I also fixed my loose front brake caliper and performed some basic maintenance. For my second race, I had the confidence of knowing the course, but, I was still feeling quite trashed from the first race.
The Men Cat 4 race would feature people of all ages, including kids half my age. No matter, I would just ride my own race. The course had not changed much from earlier in the day. The single track area was a bit more chewed up, but nothing terrible. After two laps, the lap counter showed three more to go. This was going to be tough, as I was hurting since the gun had gone off. I was secretly hoping that I would be caught by the leaders so as not to do the final lap. I was glad when I did not get caught by the leaders and could complete my fifth lap.
My lap times were still pretty consistent at just under ten minutes, on par with my first race. The difference was that the young guys were riding much quicker. Despite the negative heckling, I was able to ride up the belgian steps on all five laps. With some positive cheering I rode up the run-up on all but one lap.
Alas, the sandpit was the bane of my race. I lost a lot of ground in there. I did finish the race with nothing left in my tank, but only managed a nineteenth place finish out of twenty one starters.
Reflecting back, I think the weaknesses I need to work on are the following: clipping in, remounts, sand, and some off camber handling or even very tight switchbacks on off camber terrain.
I am guessing that some of my clipping in issues is possibly due to the shoe design. If I land my foot in the space between the toe spikes and the cleat I can not get clipped in unless I move my foot off the pedal and land it again in the right space. But the good news is that these race/narrow Cranckbrothers cleats work infinitely better at unclipping then the wide Cranckbrothers cleat or the Time ATAC wide cleat. That gives me the confidence to unclip at the last second before the obstacle and not worry that I will get hurt with the shoe not releasing. I think it is possible that there is a spacing issue with the wide cleats and the lugs of the shoe.
And lastly, I think I need to shift my saddle back a touch.