Being a virgin at Cyclocross racing, I did my first race Saturday night up in Des Moines at the Bike Iowa Oakley NIGHTCAP Cross Race. And I survived!! And I woke up with legs that had been worked!!!!
I went up on Saturday morning to help the BikeIowa.com team out with course set up for the event. I ended up raking leaves for the majority of the course, picking up glass, debris and anything that looked like it would flat a tire or ruin a derailleur. I came home, showered, got my racing kit on and headed back up to Mullet's for the evening.
I had arranged to sell Zack and Alexa's Trek 4700 Mountain Bike that I bought in Vienna to Jeremy Bidwell for one of his children. So I brought the bike along and we hooked up in the parking lot for the sale. It was nice to see the bike find a new home.
I had pre-registered for the Category 4 race (1st Timers are usually in this group) because the Masters 45+ race was at 5 pm and I wanted to race in the dark under the lights, so opted for the 6:15 pm CAT 4 race. There were 72 signed up for the CAT 4 race, so it was going to be crowded.
The vibe, buzz, mood - everything of this event was great. Mullets Restaurant had a grill and bar going outside, a rock band was playing on a stage right in the middle of the field, there were hundreds of people hanging out and of course - all the racers were busy getting their number plates and warming up on their bikes.
I don't have a cyclocross bike, so opted to use my Dos Niner as my "cross" bike. Huge 2.4 tire up front and a 2.25 in the rear (not exactly cyclocross ready tires).
Bike with my number plate from last night...
I watched the Masters race at 5 pm and got the hang of dismounting the bike and running to jump over the barriers that are set up along the course. You more or less keep your "left" foot clipped into the pedal while you swing your right leg back behind the saddle and over the bike, place your right foot on the ground to begin running and simultaneously unclip your left foot from the pedal, lift the bike and run/jump over the barriers.
Barrier crossing looks something like this...
I haven't done much running at all this year, so I knew pain was going to be felt from the running alone. I haven't jumped over things since trying the hurdles in high school. More pain to add. Jumping back on the bike after crossing one of these boundaries as fast as possible looked like another recipe for pain. Add pain in the nether regions to the list.
I lined up around 6 p.m. because I saw there were already about 50 guys lined up. Wow! Everybody wanted the front line I guess. Suffice it to say, I would be starting in the latter 1/3 of the group of 72. The USA Cycling Officials ran through the rules with us, had some of us (including me) get our numbers pinned correctly on our jerseys (supposed to be on the right side of the back), and wished us well in our quest to go in circles as fast as we could until the lap count said 1 left to go. We were slated to spin circles for 45 minutes.
They gave us the go and off we went. I immediately sprinted past about 15 or so guys to move up before the first dismount and barrier crossing.
Game face on!
The course was easy to see how strung out a group of 72 racers were and it looked like I was about in the middle of the pack. The mountain bike was working fine in the grass, on the corners, on the climbs and I felt comfortable. The pace was high and there was nowhere for recovery as one would get in a mountain bike race on a descent. This was "balls to the walls" for the entire race. The death spiral is always good for a visual...
The course was lined with "hecklers" who would yell fun things at you as you rode by them. Mostly, words of encouragement, but some really fun stuff as well that made me smile. Now consider, that a lot of the crowd had been drinking heavily for a couple of hours at this point and you can imagine the things they would yell.
I passed quite a few people throughout the race, and about three made it around me after some fighting for position to hold my spot, but being overtaken by "youth". I kept thinking through the entire race, why would I want to subject myself to the battering the course was giving us on skinny tires, a rigid fork, and rim brakes? No less than 4 guys on cyclocross bikes went down in front of me on corners, and my bike didn't even flinch. Quite possibly it was faulty technique by the riders, but there is a difference between tire widths and traction. This particular cyclocross course was very mountain bike friendly - IMO. Of course, I haven't seen any others - so who knows? I'm sure I could tweak my tire choice and still get away with the mountain bike just fine if I do another one of these races, or only do 1-2 each season. Even then, if my Dos Niner works fine for the event - why bother?
Okay, so we passed the finish line that finally said 1 more lap to go. I didn't want to give up my position, so I went into final lap mode and fought off all attacks from the rear until 200 yards before the finish line.
Deep in the pain cave on the final lap...
We had to dismount and cross 2 barriers before the final sprint to the line. The guy who had been on my tail out "jumped" me and I didn't get back on the bike as quickly as he did. I tried to sprint with all my force to catch up, but he had me at the line. I rolled across in 35th place out of the 72. That's about as mid-pack as one can get!
Video recap of it all...
My number plate and kit that I dug out of the back of the Element this morning with drained legs and a body that felt like I had been through quite a bit the night before...
I'm still not sure what to think of it all. 72 racers jammed on a course that only took 5-6 minutes per lap is a much different experience than how spread out we get on mountain bike course laps that may be 5 - 8 miles in length filled with technical terrain and challenges. Everybody said "you'll love it" before I did a cross race. I don't know, I'm just not feeling the love and desire to do more than this one or maybe even another one per season. It was fun, don't get me wrong. And racing is racing - which always challenges one and gets the heart rate pumped. However, one race did not make me a convert and has not planted any sort of seed yet. This one had the advantage of the downtown skyline, racing in the dark, live music, party atmosphere and being run by my own bike team. Take away some of those goodies, and color me jaded at this point. I'll have to try another one or two for a better review of it all. I don't think I'll have a chance this season to do that, so it will have to wait another year.
I hopped on the road bike today with Tara and we got in 3+ hours as we rode to Des Moines to watch the marathon, get lunch and then rode home. My legs were cooked from the previous evening's effort at the cross race, but I needed some volume. The weather was great and the scenery made for a pleasant day for sure. After that, we saw a great concert by 3 of the Simpson choirs and then grilled ribeyes for dinner to end the weekend.
Now I'm watching the Giants claw themselves back into this series.