Archive for August, 2007

Pauls, Eggs, top tube, top tube, skills practice, repetition, 38/46 or 42, moto, 12-27, tubular, Kool-Stop, high 30′s, etc.

Every 1.279 racers out of 5 have a blog. Each day they wrestle with the same batch of questions that arise from season to season. Don’t get me wrong, that’s heady stuff and I’d read it all day long if I could. I eat up the tech aspects since I want to know what works and ponder whether it’ll work for me. I’ve made bunches of changes (most for the better) based on internet suggestions.

But here and now I’m interested in what it is that makes cyclocross the most beautiful bike racing in the known universe. I’ve mentioned to my cycling pals that I like cyclocross because the races are fairly short, multiple laps make it spectator friendly (good if the family wants to come), I’ve got a lot of races to choose that are a short distance from my door, the season is relatively compact, and it doesn’t hurt too much if you fall.

All of those are fine arguments for trying out cyclocross and continuing racing if the will persists. But it certainly doesn’t get to the heart of the reason that so many of us consider cyclocross THE season — all else is merely a sideshow, preparation for the big game, training. Most of the country hasn’t even raced a race and everyone is abuzz with electric anticipation of the fast approaching season. What gives?

Some people pray for mud, others decry it, some glorify the most horrid conditions, while others prefer a balmy day. Whatever your predilection, the weather always plays a significant role in the terms of the course. A course that may be fast and encourage packs in the dry might turn into a bog that strings out the field once the rain falls.

I fall into the camp that glorifies poor conditions. I relish standing in the grid with a cold rain soaking me and sending a chill through my body. Perhaps the best part of the race is when the weather falls into place as another obstacle, certainly bigger than a set of barriers, but a force to overcome nonetheless. It hearkens back the elemental struggle of man finding his way through the multitude of calamities that nature throws his way. I feel as a ship’s captain might as his boat is rocked by waves and pelted by rain and every sinew of his body is struggling for survival against the elements.

This struggle is to a large part psychological. Certainly there are physical demands of overcoming poor weather with hypothermia being a real concern. But some guys are already beat at the line. They are worried about cornering or if their tire choice is right or how miserable they feel right that instant. The trick is to embrace the struggle until the weather melts away and becomes just another competitor you have to beat.

The psychological element extends past the weather and into the realm of physical struggle and adversity. During a cyclocross race, a recovery period may consist of perhaps tens of seconds riding at a tempo pace — in other words, not much of a recovery at all. From moments into the race until you cross the finish, there is a constant challenge of will to keep going and not let up. The drive to push harder and harder has to be balanced with an understanding that you need to race your race and not blow up before the end. Even in this you need to guard against succumbing to complacency as your mind tells you that easing up is “racing your race” when in fact it is just playing tricks with you to make the pain go away.

Which brings me around to other racers. A cross race typically develops into many races. There’s the race at the front for first and then there are clumps and dribs of racers strung out behind carving out their positions. They will fight mightily to hold onto their spot when challenged by others and pour out their hearts in the valiant attempt to bridge up to the next guy up the road. I find it unacceptable to get passed on the bell lap and I’ve had many a battle to fend off hard charging foes.

While we all want to win, these races within the race offer stiff competition with a group of the usual suspects. Each season you get to know a shifting group of guys who inhabit the same space in the race as yourself. Sometimes you might start out referring to them by a moniker like “Cannondale guy” but by then end of the season you know all their names and follow their results almost as closely as your own.

So what’s all this add up to? Cross racing has it all. It’s a psychological drama that tests the mettle of your soul. It’s a physical struggle against both man and nature. And even in the struggle against your competitors, there is a warm comradery. What more could you want for twenty bucks and an hour of your time come Sunday.

While the kids frolicked in the yard, I messed around with wheels and tires. I mounted a pair of Flexuses (sp?) to stretch. I raced them last year but a bit of stretching before gluing can never hurt. Then I rolled the tape ball the rest of the way around the base tape on another Flexus I am intending to use on a backup wheel set paired with an old Tufo Elite. I’d mounted this tire with tape and glue last season and the tape came off on the tire. So I pulled some of the tape off and rolled it along pulling the rest of the tape up along the way. I got a pretty good blister on one of my thumbs. I’m swearing off the tape for good.

Then I futzed around with the Flexus I shredded last season at Barton. I’d put some super glue in the big gash in the tread and it seemed to be holding okay. Then I put a little dab of super glue on the hole along the base tape. After fifteen minutes or so, I pumped it up and it wasn’t leaking air too badly. Then I added a tablespoon of Stans sealant and worked it around the problem areas. The small gaps in the super glue filled in and it held low pressure through the night. I intend to pump some more pressure in, see how it holds. If it looks good, I’ll mount it and use it for training.

Then I repacked the bearings in one of my wheel sets. I like Dura Ace hubs since they are light, relatively inexpensive, and serviceable. As long as you repack the bearings once in a while, they will last a long time.

Which gets me around to the real heart of this post. I love doing this stuff. For the professional wrench, it’s no big deal since they do this stuff day and day out. But for a regular guy like me, it’s a way that I get to connect a bit closer to the bike. As I coated the cups with Phil Wood grease, the familiar scent wafted up and was greeted like an old friend. I recalled the first time I repacked some wheels — it was twenty-four years ago and the bike was a friend’s Schwinn Varsity. I was using it as a guinea pig for my own hubs. Better to screw up someone else’s bike. Now I can service cup and bearing hubs in pretty quick order and usually get the play set right so it’s not too tight under the quick release compression.

Sure, wrenching your own bike costs less and that’s a big deal since we’re a family of four getting by on one salary and have made some organic and sustainable living commitments. But the real allure is the satisfaction of serving the bike — smooth operation makes the bike more like an extension of yourself. I never get tired of tinkering with the set up trying to dial in everything just right.

Sometimes, life gets in my way and I’ll let maintenance slide a bit. When I finally get around to replacing the cables and trimming the brakes and dérailleurs, I wonder how I could have waited so long.

Now is the time of year I start gluing the tubies. My wife rolls her eyes at me when I start layering glue on rims and base tape but I’m thinking about the sound bond required to rail the corners. I’m dreaming about racing and glueing isn’t a chore, it’s a preview to excitement.

That is all.

Check out VeloNews TV. They’ve got four pretty good technique videos that display dismounts, mounts, lifting/shouldering, and barriers. The advice is solid and the production is fairly goo though I’d have liked to have seen more iterations of each skill.

The two quibbles I have regard shouldering the bike. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given for shouldering with arm wrapped around the down tube is to flex your bicep. This accomplishes three things: 1) positions the bike properly fore and aft so that your seat doesn’t bop you in the head, 2) steadies the bike so it isn’t flopping around, and 3) takes much of the load off of your shoulder. I got this advice from Erik Tonkin during one of the Sellwood Cycle Repair clinics. The second quibble is the advice about grabbing the down tube during the dismount for shouldering. I see this as optional. Some racers find grabbing the down tube less stable especially over rough terrain.

Still, a nice resource. Thanks to crossniacs.com for the heads-up.

VTM (Flemish TV) has renewed Allez Allez Zimbabwe, the reality TV show where a team of Zimbabweans live and train in Belgium and race in the big Euro races. As you may recall, team Zimbabwe finished pretty far down the results at Worlds. Sure it’s a reality TV show predicated on selling products but I have a bit of fondness for the fish out of water stories like these. Some of these guys come from BMX backgrounds and all are athletic. Plus, their coach is Roger de Vlaeminck.

I’d like to link to as many race reports as I can. If you have a report up somewhere on the web, drop me a line so I can link to it! Don’t worry if you don’t think your prose it up to it. People want to read what’s going on and enthusiasm trumps talent any day.

Northeasterners started out the season on a mountain bikey course at Agawam. Here are some race reports …

JJ could have had a better day.

Josh got a flat but still managed to salvage the race by staying positive.

A video from the race on crossnut.com.

Zank managed not to race but was on hand to check out the races.

Karen GoritskiKaren Goritski is a masters racer and competes in the SW Washington and NW Oregon area. She races the full Cross Crusade schedule and adds in other local races as they come up. She has ridden this bike to a masters Nationals top ten, lots of Cross Crusade wins, a series title, and an OBRA championship. Karen rides for Tireless Velo.

Karens Vanilla has lugless (fillet brazed) construction to meet her needs. Since she’s a woman and needs a smaller frame size, the frame geometry was tweaked to reduce toe overlap. The matching steel fork was mated to the frame to further minimize toe overlap.

  • Frame: Vanilla (Dedacciai steel)
  • Fork: Vanilla (steel)
  • Shifters/Brake levers: Shimano Ultegra 9-speed
  • Rear dérailleur: Shimano Ultegra 9-speed
  • Front dérailleur: Shimano Ultegra (6500)
  • Crank: FSA SLK carbon 46/36
  • BB: FSA
  • Pedals: Crank Bros. Candy Ti.
  • Chain: Shimano Ultegra
  • Cassette: Sram 12-26
  • Wheels: King hubs (pewter) laced 3x to Reflex rims. Tufo Flexus tires. Training wheels are Ultegra hubs laced 3x to Open Pro rims with IRD cross tires
  • Bars: Salsa Short and Shallow (40cm width)
  • Stem: Salsa
  • Seat post: Easton carbon
  • Saddle: Specialized Jett
  • Headset: Chris King (pewter)
  • Brakes: Paul Neo Retro front and rear


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

A successful cyclocross race begins with the start. A good start means you won’t be watching the race head up the road as you get caught behind the masses at the first bottleneck. If you want to maximize your potential for success, you need to be on the front row (second row at the least), be prepared to go full throttle for several hundred yards, and then continue at red line for another half lap or so.

Let’s break it down:

Get a good starting position. Check out the first couple hundred yards of the course and decide what the best line is likely to be. Try to camp out in the spot that will give you an opportunity to hit that line. Asses where the first constriction is likely to be and set yourself up to take is as fast as traffic will allow.

Some races will have call ups which means that the race promoters will determine the starting positions of top ranked racers (or early registrants). Find out whether there will be call ups or not. If registration affects call ups, preregister or get to the race early.

Get on your pedals. Find out what signal is going to start the race and be ready for it as soon as it’s given. If you’re on the front, watch the wheels along the front. As soon as someone starts rolling, go. Unless you’re racing UCI, the officials aren’t going to call back a false start. Once you go, get that foot clipped in first try. Spend time in practice honing this skill. If you miss the clip, get power to the pedals and clip when you can.

Go fast. The hole shot is great and it makes you feel really good about yourself. However, second through fifth wheel is a nice place to sit. Work for position immediately and as soon as things string out, slot in behind the fast guys and hang on. Starts are usually a long and flat stretch perfect for catching a draft. As long as you can eat some mud (or dust), stay glued to a wheel and be prepared to latch onto a dude taking a flier up the side.

Be ready for the unexpected. When hammering along the opening stretch, it’s tempting to put your head down. Don’t. Keep your head up so you can react to crashes, sketchy riding, gaps, and attacks. The opening of the race is very fluid and you want all your senses working in overdrive to keep your rubber side down and maximize your opportunities.

Don’t push too long. Remember to ride within your abilities. At some point during the first lap, you’re going to have to start racing your own race regardless of what’s happening up the road. It may be difficult to see the leaders gapping you but the first lap is no time to blow up. You will have to race a number of races to understand how your body handles the 30, 45 or 60 minutes of effort (depending on your race length). Perhaps you get stronger as the race progresses and tend to come on like a freight train during the later laps. Maybe you are more of a steady state kind of rider and need a great first lap to hold off the late comers. Figure that out so you can determine what your pacing strategy should be.

Don’t clog the front row if you don’t belong. I realize that in races without call ups, it’s first come, first served on the front rows. However, I think it’s poor form to take a front row spot when you’ve never finished outside of the middle of the pack.

Aside. I’ve seen video of races where Sven Nys is fifteen or twenty guys back over the first couple of laps only to come on during the middle laps and then gap everyone to win by a bunch. Gerben de Knegt often gets serious television time as he leads the first lap at big races but fades back by the end.  So while the start is very important, knowing how to read the race and adjust your effort accordingly is the key.

On Thursdays, I go for a unch ride with a few guys from work. Yesterday Kevin Hulick showed up and proceeded to kick my ass severely. We rode up and down Prune Hill in Camas to the tune of almost 3,000 feet of vertical in about 22 miles. Four of the climbs had grades in the teens and one topped out around 19%. Anyway, it’s good fodder for training motivation.

Goals? Okay, I’ll go on record as saying I want to finish top ten in a Crusade race. I’ve got some work to do if that’s going to happen — as evidenced by my ass kicking yesterday.

pre-war cyclocrossGo visit this site if you haven’t already seen it: http://www.blackbirdsf.org/cx/ It’s got some great photos of pre-war cyclocross. Think Steilacoomb is a hard run up? Check out what the old school guys did. And cyclocross legend Eugène Christophe gives some technique pointers like how to cross a ditch or thicket (among other tips).
Jon Page is doing Cross Vegas. Apparently, the whole Page clan is heading down for holiday. Page is also doing some skills clinics up in Seattle the weekend of September 29 and 30.

I don’t know about any other Euro pros, but Erwin Vervecken is also supposed to show up for Cross Vegas. So the top two finishers from Worlds ’07 will go head to head in the desert.

Horner wants to do cross again this year if he can swing sponsorship. Predictor-Lotto won’t pay him to race cross and he doesn’t want to race out of his own pocket so sponsorship is a must. Check out the big cyclingnews.com article.

One last thing, Molly Cameron is doing a cross clinic for beginners on Friday, Sept 7 @ 6:30 pm in SE Portland. It’ll cost you $2 to get in and the money goes to support Molly’s season (it costs a lot to fly all over the country and to Europe). Stop by if you’re in town.

Head over to plusonelap.com and check out Jeremy’s series of custom frame builder questionnaires. He’s also got a fine list of custom bike builders if you’re looking to go that route. I’d love to go custom except that I’ve got two kids, one income, and a bike habit.

True story: I was all set to plunk down my $500 to get in line for a Vanilla. This was a couple of years ago when the wait was a more “reasonable” 12-18 months. But then I second guessed my decision since I figured that the money I would spend on the bike would be better spent on my kids’ futures. I ended up getting a used Waterford frame for a song — the low price was probably explained by the handlebar strike mark on the top tube. Anyway, I still lust after a custom frame but not so hotly as in the past.