Archive for February, 2008

I learned how to race during the 2005 season. It was my third season racing and I had changed categories each year. In ’05, I was racing 35+B. The previous year in the Cs, I’d had a couple of decent results — top tens — but I didn’t know what to expect in the 35+Bs. My first race at Hillsboro, I lined up in the back and figured I’d try to pass as many guys as possible. I passed a few and ended up in the middle of the pack.

In prior years, I’d gone out and ridden hard but with little purpose. I had learned the names of few of the riders around me. I tried to beat the same faces each week. But it wasn’t until ’05 that I started to pay attention to the race around me.

I learned the names of my competitors and recognized their faces, bikes, and kits. I started understanding their strengths and weaknesses. I analyzed my own abilities. During races, I watched how people were riding each section of the course and related that to how it would affect me. Could I attack them there? Would I need to get in front so they couldn’t take full advantage of their strengths?

That awareness was the first step on my way to racing.

It turned out that ’05 was the first year I realized I could win. Late in the season, there was a course that many racers cursed. It was a decommissioned gravel pit and it played havoc on tires. Often the weather was abysmal. The week prior to Barton, I told a teammate that my strategy was to get to the front and stay there.

It sounds like bravado, coming from someone who hadn’t yet finished in the top five. But Barton appealed to me. I found it sublime. The fact that others hated the course only increased my advantage. I lined up with the intention to win the race — the first time I had ever done so.

Here is a snippet of the race:

I’d been out front for a long time, maybe 30 minutes, but Grant was bridging. We had taken the bell but the laps were running ten minutes. We have a lot of racing to go. We are coming up to a long flat stretch into a fresh breeze. I let Grant come around just after the cement barrier. He looks at me as he comes around, perhaps wondering why I slowed. I get on his wheel and ride it until we dip into the mud covered rock garden.

Grant gaps me through the bog. I’d been riding it poorly all race but I’m not worried. I know there will be a moment to attack him. I get back on heading up a rise. Grant knows I’m there and I want him to feel me. I’m right up on him, pressuring him in every corner.

Bam. He’s down and I jump. This is it. Another curve and I drop down the loose chute and safely take the turn on sand, gravelly pavement. I stomp on my pedals and sway back and forth out of the saddle through the woods. As I skip onto the cement pad through the car port, I feel my rear tire is soft. Through the next rise I know that it’s soft but not losing air fast, if at all.

On the other side of the ditch, I see two juniors just coming out. They are both running the distance to the dike, side by side. This is a difficult decision. Each previous lap, I’d remounted after the ditch and ridden to the dike for the run up. I want to preserve my rear tire and decide to run it.

I’m off the bike, through the ditch and on the juniors quickly. I pause, and catch my breath. The three of us block the path and Grant comes up but doesn’t try to get around. At the dike, Grant and I scramble up in front of the juniors and remount simultaneously. As I sprint out of the saddle, my rear rim thumps on the ground at each stroke. I’m jarred and bounced and defeated.

Grant moves smoothly in front. I desperately try to stay with him. In the bog before the final run up, he’s already five seconds up. Eppick passes me. I have nothing going up the hill. They cross the line in front.

I finally picked up Tim Krabbe’s The Rider. In the past I’ve balked at the $12 price tag for a thin paperback. However, on Sunday evening at Powell’s, I picked it up and started reading. I was enthralled within a few pages and had to take it home. Just past the midpoint, Krabbe talks about fun. Racing isn’t fun, he says, until it’s over. Then one can look back and regal in the experience. Back in my rock climbing days, my buddies and I talked about climbs being retrospectively pleasurable. They are hard and scary until they are done. I find that cyclocross racing — and bike racing in general — is much the same way.

After one of my less successful races, a friend asked me how it went. I told him about my woes and he responded, “But you had fun, right?” Of course I didn’t have fun. Racing isn’t fun. But I felt a little guilty about saying as much since I might just be taking this racing stuff too seriously. So I told him, ” Sure, it was fun.” I knew that it was a lie then and I still believe it is a lie now. If you’re having fun in the moment, you just aren’t racing.

Let me tell you a little story. I’ve written a race report that contained this incident but I’ll drill down a little deeper into my psyche.

I’d come up on Diviney a few laps previous and he latched on to my wheel. We are working well together, trading off, and are pulling along Juenger. Mitchem had hung for a moment but we’d just dropped him after he crashed on a rutted corner. The leaders, perhaps ten guys in a loose bunch, are a minute or two up the road and there are some chasers a minute or so behind us. We keep on putting time into the riders behind.

Riding with Diviney suited my purpose. The two of us are pushing each other and I hope that we might overtake some stragglers falling off the lead group. If the three of us stay together long enough, I plan on attacking just prior to the bell. Diviney might be able to stay with me but I’m pretty sure than Juenger would drop

After the second run up, Diviney takes the front and drives down into the depression and leads us up the easy rise to the top of the course. Just prior to leveling out, the grade steepens for ten meters. I’m on Diviney’s wheel and plan on taking the front once we hit the flats. Going up the rise, Diviney slows. I’ve got momentum I don’t want to lose but I’m focused on staying on his wheel. I’m not able to parse the two conflicting desires. Instead my front wheel inches up the right side of Diviney’s rear wheel. I stare in terror as he stands on his pedals. Rock, rock, rock and bang into my front wheel. I push hard and for a moment I think I might stay upright.

The fingers on my right hand are crushed between my bar and the gravel as I hit the ground. Diviney says something. Perhaps “Sorry.” Juenger avoids me. I get up quickly and assess the bike. Turned bars, twisted shifters. Chain still on. I stand a moment and watch the two of them disappear. Mitchem goes by. I say out loud, “I’m done” and start to walk along the course.

I realize how foolish I am to quit and straddle my front wheel and turn the bars round to the front. I bang my hand on the shifter until it turns enough to be serviceable. I get on my bike and turn the pedals. At first it’s hard. There is no rhythm. I can see Diviney and Juenger up the course a long way. Mitchem has joined them. Are there riders behind me? I can’t see anyone close. My right hand is gray with dust and red with blood. My fingers are sticky with the paste as I shift and brake.

The riding is impossible. I try to go hard but I can’t. I run the cobbled hill. A man rings a cowbell and screams encouragement. I’m in the middle of nowhere. My old friends are ahead of me and the gap seems insurmountable. I still can’t seen anyone behind me. I have lost my will. On the paved out and backs, I see how close the chasers are to me. I’ve got to stay in front of them. Race not to lose position.

A lap floats by without purpose. Oh, there’s Diviney by the course, crashed. He looks hurt. He must have been up nearly a minute, thirty seconds at least, and he’s still on the ground. There are people there. One less rider in front of me.

The lead A riders lap me and I latch onto their wheels. Maybe I can ride this surge and get back to Juenger and Mitchem. I hang on until they gap me through a slightly technical section. I wish I had been able to stay with them.

Finally, it’s the bell lap and I can see Voldengen getting closer behind me. I’ve cracked. Mentally, I’m done. How can I keep going? Somehow I stay in front of him. On the final 200 meters before the finish, I look back and see I have a big gap. I sit up and pedal to the finish, my race done. Voldengen is on my shoulder as I cross the line.

It’s kit time for my team and I’ve been trying to get at least six (minimum order) people to get skin suits this year. I just won’t feel PRO unless I sport the skinny. Anyway, I got the following response from my mass email query:

Greetings Tireless Peeps,

In the spirit of lobbying, by way of presenting a counterpoint to the call for all to sport a skinsuit, I offer you the following:

First, and foremost, I applaud the gentlemen and ladies who are dedicated enough to cycling pursuits to adorn the skinsuit. It cuts down on time. It cuts down on drag. It is a superior racing outfit by all accounts. And you don’t even need a costume for halloween.

My personal reservations preventing me from getting rad with a skinny are these:

  • I wore lots of onesies as a small child during my gymnastics days. I have some scarring memories I’d rather not recount. Suffice it to say … the flashbacks are just too much.
  • I am extremely dedicated to supporting arm warmers as racing gear and casual attire alike. I cannot imagine wearing an long-sleeved skinsuit which would deprive me of a single minute of arm-warmer bliss.
  • Camel Toe. Vulgar? Yes. True? Yes.
  • When it comes to getting serious about dropping seconds of my time, the most appropriate decision would probably be for me to forgo the beer before the race and actually drink some water. If that ever happens, a skinsuit will most assuredly be in my future.

A commitment to racing at the highest level with the fastest gear and dialed-in training is an endeavor I respect. Further, I support mass quantities of spandex at all times I, however, am at a level where my pre-race meal consists of ethyl alcohol and a cookie, a place a skinsuit just doesn’t belong.

Respectfully submitted,
Megan Redshorts

During the week, I was bemoaning my ever shrinking opportunity to visit the North American Handbuilt Bicycle Show this weekend in Portland. Thinking I might be able to qualify as press, I surfed to the show’s media credentials page and quickly assessed that my meager blog wasn’t going to buy me access for the Friday press and industry day at the show. What I needed was a new plan.

Actually, I just needed a real media outlet to sponsor me. Thursday morning, I sent an email to Cyclocross Magazine and suggested that I would cover the show for them. Andrew gave me the okay and I applied for credentials on line. Andrew also emailed me a letter that officially hired me to cover the show for CX Mag in case I had to present it the day of the show. Regardless, I kept obsessing about whether they were going to let me in as press or not.

At 11:30 pm, I got the email from the show that approved my credentials and I was ready to go. Nevertheless, I felt a little bit like an impostor. I’m a blogger, not a journalist. Would I sound like an idiot trying to interview the builders? Sure, I’ve done a couple interviews for the blog but they’ve been learning experiences and if they sucked, no biggie. This was different. I was going to a trade show, the purpose of which is to get those builders as much publicity as possible so that they can make a good living. I didn’t want to bumble around taking up people’s time for no reason.

Friday morning I got to the show and walked up to will call for my credentials. Turns out that the laminator was on the fritz and I had no badge. An event organizer asked me who I was with (CX Mag, of course), and took me into the show. No ID, no hassle, no problem.

There were bikes everywhere. Nice bikes. Beautiful bikes. Too many bikes to take in on a single day. I kept to script and ogled the cross bikes primarily. Still, I had to actually interview people so I started with what I figured would be an easy mark — Sasha White. Not many people were at the show yet and Sasha was unmolested (uncommon for the rest of the day) so I cornered him.

Okay, this isn’t so hard, I thought as the questions started flowing. Then ‘ring’ his cell phone goes off and he has to go get some wheels. ‘Come back later,’ he says and is off. Even though our talk got cut short, I felt more relaxed and ready to go to work. Over the course of four hours, I got about a dozen or so short interviews and shot a bunch of not as good as I had hoped pictures. The builders were gracious and ready to talk. The people at the show were cool and I had a fun time.

Now, for the bad news. CX Mag gets my deliverables from the show. They get the good stuff and when I get done writing it up, I’ll spill out the leftovers on my blog.

Oh, and here’s a photo for K-man:

p1020960.jpg

p1030029-1.jpg

Those of you who might join me on a road trip over a snowy pass should be on notice because …

52%

Click on the image to take the quiz yourself.

NAHBS is in Portland this weekend. I had planned on spending the morning and early afternoon at the show on Saturday but it looks like I’ll have a lot less time than even that. This weekend is pretty busy for the family — my daughter’s birthday party on Sunday, team annual get together Saturday evening, my wife has a function Saturday afternoon into the early evening … plus taking care of two children. So when Super Tuesday failed to clear up the Democratic field in the primaries, I feel it is my duty as a citizen of the Republic to attend the Washington State caucuses on Saturday. They start at 1:00 pm. Since NAHBS starts at 10:00 am and I’ll need an hour to get from the show to my caucus site (find my car, pick up my wife, etc.), that give me a total of two hours at the show.

Now, if I can only manage to get a press pass for Friday …

Molly put up a couple posts over on race.cx that amount to listing the podiums on the three races after Worlds. Niles Albert is on the top step in all three. Albert is the fastest in cross right now and that bodes well for the sport. I say that because Albert is young and unlike the other emerging cross phenom Lars Boom, he doesn’t appear to be looking to embark on a road career. While Albert might become as dominant as Sven Nys has been the past couple seasons, I think it’s more likely that he will be in the mix for the win in most races but not always ascend the top step. I say this because it looks like Albert structured his season around winning the U23 title that has so far eluded him and now he’s racing in top form. I look forward to watching him race in the coming years.

Sheldon Brown has passed away. Rest in peace, Sheldon.

http://www.sheldonbrown.com/harris/