This was my fourth single speed race and the first time I used a gear combination other than 42×18. I pitched in to set up the course on Friday and took a couple or three practice laps. It was pretty obvious the 42×20 I thought was going to be the bees knees would be too steep a gear. The second (non-consecutive) time up the big hill I was bogging down. That night I installed the 22t cog I hadn’t previously used and only bought because I thought I might do some light trail riding with my cross bike.

There was light rain overnight and some morning fog. The clouds burned off by noon and a light wind progressively dried the course from race to race. By my start time at 3pm, it was tacky wih only a few trouble spots. Once again employing my just in time warm up, I hit staging as the Bs were getting their call ups. I got about fifth or sixth call up in the single speeds and slotted in on the second row — I wasn’t planning on killing myself on the paved climb at the start. Official Terri Camp started the Bs and then two minutes later she started us.

Short flat section, little dip, then fairly long climb before we turned off the road. As soon as the road turned up, I started losing positions. By the time we turned off to head back down the swoopy turns, I was probably 18th, 19th wheel out of 25 guys. I held position down the turns and up and down through the “N” feature. Coming out of the top of the “N,” I started racing. I passed a couple guys on the long climb and was closing in on my friend Terry K at the top. I didn’t respect the wide, slightly downhill off camber sweeper enough and slid out. Raleigh Dave shot around me and I was up fast and back in the chase.

Coming up the long hill the second time, I settled in to a battle with Raleigh Dave, TK, and Scott Barker. TK was having a hard time of it because he was over geared. He managed to keep it going for three laps before his gear got the better of him. At various points in the course (usually the long climb), I’d pass Barker or Raleigh Dave, and then they would zoom by me somewhere else. Barker eventually fell off the pace — he might have had a mechanical since he took a bike change — and Raleigh Dave and I pulled in more SS riders.

Eventually, with three to go, I got a gap on Raleigh Dave and the couple of others that were trying to stay with us. I was railing the curves and riding the hills strong. I was surprised how strong I was on the hills since I’m a bit oversized and do not currently fancy myself a climber. It may have had more to do with gear selection than total fitness. I kept overtaking riders through laps 5 and 6 but was generally disappointed that they were B racers. Coming up the climb for the bell, I closed in on another SS racer and was about to go by him at the tree before the barriers when I rolled my rear tire.

Only a small section, perhaps five inches, came loose and I flipped it back on the rim. While I was remouting the tire, I considered my options; I could either quit since I didn’t have wheels or a bike in the pit (conveniently located only a few steps away), or continue with a compromised rear tire. With only one to go, I couldn’t quit. I ran through the barriers and took the bell. I babied all the corners and questioned the sanity of bombing the gravel road climb. On the paved climb, I passed the dude I was trying to get by when I rolled my tire. By the time I exited the “N,” Raleigh Dave and one of the hangers on were within a few seconds of me again.

I drilled it on the final climb since most of it didn’t require risky cornering. Coming around the blackberry bush near the end of the lap I looked back and my gap was back to a comfortable distance and I rolled it in for a solid eighth place finish.

The venue was great, the course was a lot of fun, the racing was challenging and the weather was beautiful. Perfect day of racing, I’d say.

I wanted to do this race. I really wanted to do this race. But it wasn’t on the schedule and I spent the better part of the day convincing myself that I wasn’t going to race. Though we have had a pretty full schedule of races since Labor Day, Alpenrose always represents the real kickoff of the Portland cross season. It attracts stupid big fields and is a circus. About 1:30 in the afternoon, I gave in to my base desires and got my crap ready and hopped in the car. Nothing like arriving at 2:30 for a 3:15 race, eh?

Benefits: Primo parking. No lines for registration. No obsessing over which lines to take since I didn’t get a pre-ride.

I spent virtually all my time before the race getting my son set up at the team tent, registering, and chatting. I think I rode around for 5-10 minutes to limber up. There were a few call ups for last season’s results and based on some early season races. Then it’s determined randomly by last digit of your race number. Mine was ‘8’ which put me last — but hey, I won a six pack of beer before starting the race! I lined up about 15 feet behind 121 other racers. The start is wide pavement with two 90 degree right handers and then two 90 degree left handers. I planned on getting a flying start and going wide through the first two corners to get by as many people as possible.

The 94 B men went off first and about two minutes later they blew the whistle for the single speeders. As the field began to move, I clipped in and started rolling. As soon as the back of the field got in the pedals, I was flying up around the outside. Wham. Everyone was stopped. There was a single car parked with tape running around it on the left side that was pinching the field. So much for the flying start.

I did manage to pass a chunk of people on the first curves so I wasn’t last going into the south pasture. The congestion was wild as I picked my way through people. I powered the south side climb and put more people behind me. During the previous race, light rain started and turned the course slippery as snot and conditions turned challenging. As I negotiated the course, there was carnage everywhere and I stayed upright — getting off the bike every time I saw people slipping out.

By the end of the first lap, things started to string out but it always seemed like there was a group of three or five guys in front of me. And I always set out to get through them as fast as possible. I think my first three laps represented some of the strongest racing I’ve done in a long time. I raced hard and smart, keeping up the intensity. Somewhere on that third lap, my left brake lever started coming loose. While it never affected my braking, it was a nuisance (aside: I have new levers I installed last night. I was going to install them before the race but decided to stand by the advice never to mess with your setup the day before a race. Guess that kind of backfired).

I’ve been trying to make the second to last lap a priority to kick up the intensity but I just didn’t manage it this time. I worked hard after the bell but two guys managed to come by (both of whom I had passed that lap) just before the end. They negotiated a technical section better than I did and I wasn’t about to try to sprint them on the wet velodrome apron.

The only sphincter puckering moment came when I was going down the steep descent on the north side. It curved left at the top then went 90 degrees at the bottom to go back up the hill. The best line was to set up outside on top and then bend it inside. Well, some dude I had just passed went totally inside on me and we momentarily locked bars. I let off the brakes and gently disengaged his bars and we both stayed up. I was screwed at the bottom and about stalled out, but I passed him going up the hill.

So I finished 46th out of 122 starters. Since I was riding through the back end of the B field for the last few laps, I figure I must have passed about 100 guys.

I can live with that.

Alpenrose last lap

Okay, Monday I did some long threshold intervals and yesterday I did a bunch of one minute intervals. That seems suspiciously like real training since, you know, there are intervals involved. On the other hand, I went for an easy ride today and had a lot of fun enjoying the incredible weather. Mid 70’s and sunny. The only thing to complain about would be some wind — and I’m not complaining. It was a nice day to tool around and act like a tourist on routes I ride all the time. I enjoy these kinds of rides because I can look around and actually *see* what I’m seeing.

This weekend is the Cross Crusade opener at Alpenrose Dairy. While there have been a bunch of races through September, Alpenrose always signifies the beginning of cross season to me. It’s been a few years since I’ve raced it but I always enjoy the course. In my second year of racing, I snagged a 4th place in the C race on a day I had a sore throat coming on. A few years later I was first loser in the 35+ B race. I can’t say that I had a chance to win that race but I was spitting distance to the winner, my friend Terry K. The year after that, 2007, I finished in the top half of the 35+ A race which kicked off a season which represented my best racing efforts to date.  And that was my last Alpenrose.

I’m not planning on racing this year either though it is tugging at my heartstrings. It’s a big race with big fields. And it’s a great marker of how you stack up against everyone else. It’s a carnival where all your racing friends show up. It’s a terrible race to miss.

Since I’ve been out of racing for a few years, I figured to be behind the eight ball a bit this season. Not only have I not done much in the way of racing, I have had some significant periods off the bike. I’ve found that really good fitness takes a couple of consistent years to build and I had very modest expectations as to how fast I would be this season. Throughout the Summer I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well I’ve been riding.

Because I like to have some goals, I picked out a racer or two who I’d like to try to hang with in the single speed races. My friend Terry started racing cross the same year I did and we’ve progressed at roughly the same rate over the years. Since I’ve been out of racing, Terry has turned to the single speed category exclusively. So he was an easy person to target for a measuring stick.

Saturday at Hood River was the first time we raced head to head in a long time. He bridged up to me and passed. I passed him back. Then he passed me and that was it. I followed his wheel the rest of the race. With a few days of reflection, I wonder if I psyched myself out a little bit. Going into the season I made the bargain that being as fast as Terry was good enough to call the season a success. And here I was sticking with him all race long and finishing within a couple seconds of him.

So the question is, could I have raced faster? Would I have been more aggressive in the field if he weren’t sitting in front of me. On the other hand, perhaps I raced faster than I would have had he not been the rabbit (see this interesting NYT article about the psychology of the rabbit). I’ve been mulling those two possibilities for a few days now and I don’t have a good answer. When I finished, I felt like I hadn’t used all my matches. But over the final two laps, I made a concerted effort to stay focused on riding hard.

I am fairly certain that I was lazy about the transitions though. I need to take my own advice and explode out of the corners, keep it frosty up the rises, and stomp out of the remounts. And I needed to be more aggressive with setting up passes. If I’m faster than they are, make the pass ASAP and keep them dropped. There were two instances where a B racer came around me after I passed him. One of those cost me a pretty significant penalty when he washed out in a corner only a few seconds later.

I’m pleased with the fitness I have but I have some work to do on my head.

The conventional wisdom dictates that one prepares for race day the night prior to the race. However, I’m up for living life on the edge — that and my race isn’t until 3:30pm. I really wish that I had gone to bed earlier Friday night but what are you going to do? Slept in till almost 8 and then started getting stuff ready. Call me crazy, but put off preparing my race wheels and pit wheels — moving cogs around by putting the 18t on the tubulars and the 20t on the clinchers — until the morning of the race. I hadn’t set up a wheel with the Surly 20t so I had to get the chain line right which meant shuffling spacers a few times. Then I rounded up all the other stuff like tools, pinning on numbers, making lunch for me and Frost, packing up water and lots of it, loading the team eazy-up, loading the bikes in the van, etc.

We rolled out to Hood River at 10:30am. Pretty good if I do say so myself. It was raining in P-town and continued to rain all the way through the Gorge and in to Hood River. At the venue, it was merely spitting and the skies looked promising. Because we rolled in to the parking lot at 11:30,  I was amazed that I managed to wrangle a decent spot for the tent. I hadn’t set one up before, consequently hilarity ensued. My friend Marc and I wrestled it up eventually and unloaded all the gear. Frost was racing the Kiddie Cross race at 12:40 so I got the two of us registered, ate some lunch, and took him out to ride around a little bit.

The Kiddie Cross had two alternatives, the 7-11 year old longer course or the younger kids short course. Since his racing age is 7, I decided, with essentially no input from Frost, that he would ride the long course version. At the line he told me he was really scared and he didn’t want to race. I offered encouraging words but gave him no wiggle room to back out (I’m a hard ass, huh?). I did promise to stay near him through the course. They started the kids and off he went at the back. He rode up the rise and down the other side to the 180. There he stopped and cried because I wasn’t right there with him. After ascertaining all this, I promised to run with him for the rest of the race. It turned out that the long course was almost half of the regular race course and it went through loose sandy stuff and a run up. Marc and I huffed along with Frost and he rode the whole thing. I was very proud.

After Frost’s race I got on the course to pre-ride. There was plenty of gravel, loose corners, boggy sand, and dusty run ups. I was off my bike five times per lap though some of the strong geared riders only had to dismount three times. Toward the end of the lap I was coming around one of the loose gravel corners (one of the ones from the Kiddie Cross course, by the way) and washed out my front wheel. Down I went with the left heel of my hand sliding across the gravel. I was riding sans gloves and I didn’t really want to look since I was expecting shredded flesh. There was some bruising and a nice big flapper but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I was expecting. My hip got some rash but I didn’t tear my bibs and my calf had some scrapes. Nothing terrible but I had some new found respect for the corners.

I whiled away the time to my start by watching the other races and cruising around with Frost on our bikes. I also caught up with my friend Terry Keele who I haven’t seen much since my racing hiatus. Since I’m trying to maximize my cycling fun this year, I managed to keep everything low key and spent a lot of time hanging out with Frost and my racing pals. After the A race, I did another lap of the course and felt pretty good about things. While the women finished up their races, I rode around on the grass to loosen up and get the legs ready. I’m really liking my new 10-15 minute low stress warm ups.

At the line the B’s staged first and then the single speeds. I got a callup since I scored series points at David Douglas two weeks previously. Some dude squeezed in to the front row next to me which kind of crowded my bars. They set off the B’s and about a minute later started the single speeds. Immediately the dudes on either side of me pinched me out and I stalled. By the time I got going, I was 10-12 wheels back and a couple more guys came around on the grass and gravel before the first dismount. Not a great way to get going. I spent the rest of the lap picking off some of the guys who start great and fade back fast. While a few faster SS racers came around me, I’m pretty sure I picked off more than passed me.

A few laps in we started getting in to the back of the B field in earnest. Terry K came up and around me and I followed his wheel around to the descent into the woods. From that point forward, we stayed within about 30 yard of each other for the entire race. Every time I felt like I was going to be able to make a move on him it seemed like he would put a B racer in between us just before some technical section. With two to go, I tried to keep up the intensity, something that has sometimes been a problem for me. Coming in to the last lap, there was one B racer between TK and I. I looked for every opportunity to get around him but he just wasn’t giving an inch. I finally got around the B racer late in the lap and tried to bring it home on the grass section to the finish but lost out by perhaps 10-15 feet. It reminded me of five years previous when TK held me off at Alpenrose for the win back when we were both racing 35+B.

The course was outstanding. Lots of variety and the it kept you on your toes. There were plenty of places where the choice to dismount or where particularly to remount would change based on the immediate race conditions. I was racing people from start to finish and I managed to drive my bike around the course with some skill. Riding though the back of the B field was challenging and put a lot of bodies in the way, but it really enhanced the racing. At no point in the race was I stuck in no-man’s land. There was always a person to race — chasing and passing or holding off guys coming up from behind. It was thrilling.

I finished 11th out of 22 finishers (24 starters).

Here’s a photo of the start a little after I made the move up to the second position. #508 in the blue and white helmet. Though it may look like I’m leading, I am actually second wheel.

David Douglas SS start

Went for a ride out at the Lacamas Lake trails. Some may scoff at that trail system but there are some cool new additions around Lost Leaf Lake. There are some technical bits and are 100% single track — very cool. Plus there is enough decent single track in the main park to make a fine workout with very little redundancy. I haven’t ridden any trails since I towed the kids around on the trail-a-bike in La Pine a few weeks ago. While it was a blast trail riding with the kids, I admit that I prefer an unfettered bike. The past few times I’ve ridden Lacamas, I got all caught up in cleaning everything. Consequently, every time I dabbed, a little more mental funk would cloud my brain.

Today, I started out the same way and finally figured out that goofing around and trying different lines and working on stuff for a few tries was more fun that acting as my own personal dab nazi. I managed to turn it around and had a great time riding the trails. I think tooling around on the rigid 29er has really improved my cyclocross handling too. I feel a lot more confident in the corners and through loose stuff. I found a few new-to-me kind of gnarly for a rigid bike descents that provided some thrills (whoa, lots of disclaimers in that sentence, huh?).

It’s rides like these that make me love riding my bike — high fun factor.

Every race should be a learning experience. You can learn something about yourself, your equipment, your competitors, something. Since it’s been a few years since I pinned on a number, I was not surprised to learn a few things about all of those. So here are the biggies in no particular order:

  • Racing cross is fun. And I hate to DNF. Which brings us to …
  • I had planned on being very low key this season and hadn’t planned on stashing so much as a spare set of wheels in the pit. But I’m just not wired that way. I was lucky enough to be able to finish the race with only a refill of air but I can’t guarantee that with every puncture. Consequently, I will be setting up a set of pit wheels. Changing out the rear will be rather involved since I have the tensioner but losing some spots is going to sit much better with me than abandoning the race.
  • I still have some punch for the starts. That’s nice to know since it’s always good policy to be near the front early and make people pass you. I have no illusions that I’ll finish with the top guys but with a good start and some solid riding, I should be competitive with the next group or so. Getting a good start and settling in should pay some dividends late in the race.
  • When I have properly functioning equipment, I’m not too shabby through the corners. I don’t recall being this confident in previous seasons, Perhaps the SS mountain biking I’ve been doing has improved my handling — or at least tolerance of drift and estimation of adhesion.
  • My fitness doesn’t suck. The slow leak made me slow through the corners — lots of braking going in, baby the bike around — but I was still full on the gas coming out of the corners and on the straights. And I was still riding strong right to the end. If there had been SS racers to race, I had some matches left to burn in the final couple laps.
  • I don’t know much about the dudes I’m racing since it’s only been one race and the field was pretty small. I do know that the SS winner was wicked fast. I’d like to think I’ll be able to mix it up with some of the more fit dudes. One guy was tailing me for a couple laps but he was fading even before I pitted to take on air. When I remounted to exit the pit, he was a few seconds behind me and once I was able to maintain speed, I left him far behind. The guys in front of me had gapped me pretty good so I had no idea whether I changed my position relative to them late in the race. I expect I’ll start recognizing my competition within a few races though.
  • Did I mention that I remembered that I like racing my bike?

So all in all, I’m really looking forward to the next race to see if I can put things together for a solid effort.

Conveniently, the first race of the season is about 2 miles from my front door which helps with the scheduling immensely. Of course I got talked in to helping with course set up in the AM. Because of family scheduling, I need to take my 6 year old with me to the races which means I need to line up someone to watch him when I race. I had talked with a friend of mine and he agreed to come out and give me a hand.

The night before, I made sure to get all my equipment squared and was ready to turn in early so that I would get some good rest before my 5:30 alarm for course setup. I forgot to remind my friend about the schedule for the next day so the last thing I did was to text him.

5 minutes later, I get a call. “Uh, I forgot and I made plans to go out of town.” Effing-A, Mr. Reliable. I know that team people will be around most of the day but my race is the last one of the day and often people are reluctant to hang around that long. Still, I figured I would work something out. However, the added stress of having to come up with a new plan for the boy at the last minute kept me up till midnight.

5:30 alarm. Coffee. Oatmeal. Drive to the venue. There at 6:10. Second one there. Pretty soon I’m pounding stakes, running tape, and laying out cones. I get a crapload done in the 2-1/2 hours that I’m there. Then back home before the beginners start to watch the kids while my wife heads out to an appointment. I make some breakfast for the kids, hang out, relax, make some lunch, and then go back to the races so the boy can race the kiddie cross. The team tent is in a great spot and I can stand around there while the boy does some practice laps. He “races” (prizes are fruit gummies, Capri Sun, and ribbons), we hang out some and I make sure that some of the peeps are staying until the end of the last race and are okay with the boy tagging along. It’s cool and my mind is easier. Then I run back home to pin the numbers and put on the tubies.

We arrive back to the venue about an hour before the race and I mostly hang out. The single speed and B men run at the same time and one of my teammates is in the B race. He is strung tight while I am relatively loosy-goosy. About 20 minutes before go time, I ride around a bit and check out the competition. At first I figure they all look fast. Then I pick out the dudes I know I’ll beat — I ascertain that I won’t be DFL.

Just after the hour, they call the racers to the line and call up the pre-reg riders, of which I am one. I’m in the front row and wondering whether I really should be there. There’s the regular official’s yadda-yadda and I’m getting that nervous excited feeling. I notice I have my front wheel on backwards — chevrons should point front. But I’m not about to pull it out of the drops right there. Racers ready and the whistle.

Bad clip in but everyone seems hesitant so no biggie. I’m running about fifth wheel off the bat and put some power down. Immediately I’m second wheel and not full gas. I’m kind of wondering WTF? Where’s the acceleration? We hit the grass and the first turns (that I laid out, lol) and I realize that things aren’t perfect. My rear tire is light. Like making that ripping noise as it folds over in hard corners.

I lose a spot. Then there are some more corners and I lose a couple more spots. I mostly hold my own through the woods and canyon but coming out on the second run up, I lose 2 more at the top. And that was it. No other SS riders passed me and I didn’t gain on any in front of me.

The second lap was bad because my tire got lighter. I can’t hold speed in the corners and I’m trying to be gentle on the remounts. By the third lap, it’s pretty much flat. I’m bottoming out everywhere. On the single track descents in the canyon I’m totally on my front wheel — not too great for handling. I’m babying every corner and thinking about quitting. It was a world of frustration to see people come by and not being able to respond — because of equipment and not fitness.

Through the canyon and backside playground, a group of 4-5 B racers come around me. After exiting the canyon on the runup, I go straight to the pit and call for air. The pit guy (a saint, I tell you) has the pump ready, finds my valve, unscrews the stem and inflates it to 40 (my request). He screws the stem and I’m off. Effing quick I tell you.

I’m like a new racer. I can corner and run full out. Over the remaining couple of laps, I manage to reel in all but one of the group of B racers that passed me right before pitting. Two guys racing for 6th did pass me at the very end of the last lap. They managed to do it on a tailwind section that had a big dose of pavement — I was spinning hard in my 42×18. I closed the gap to them through the late corners but they got away again on the pavement. Those final couple of laps reminded my what makes racing so fun.

So I got 8th out of 15 finisher in the SS. I was the highest placed 40+ racer, lol. And the oldest dude in front of me was 10 years my junior. The bottom line was that it sure felt good to pin that number on and spin the cranks.

Denouement: I pulled a sliver of metal out of my rear tire. I’m not sure when I picked it up but a photo of the start and the initial handling leads me to think that I poked the tire during warm up or when rolling to the line. Some Stan’s sealed it right up.

Start of the race. Crooked hat.

It’s been almost a year since I’ve posted an entry. The good news is that over that period of time I have had a lot of fun riding my bikes. I’ve ridden my single speed conversion on the road quite a bit and really enjoy that. I’ve had a great time riding my road bike fast(ish). I also got a Redline Monocog 29er right at the beginning of Summer. It has been a blast to tool around on trails. I’ve been tailoring my riding to maximize fun while incorporating training principles into my rides. I call it un-training. My fitness is okay given that I’ve had some heath challenged the past three years that have taken me back to completely untrained a few times.

My cyclocross season starts Saturday of Labor Day weekend with a race only a couple miles from my house. I’ll be racing single speed and I’m still debating whether to bring pit wheels. I know that once I pin that number on, I’ll be 100% ready to compete, but my overall outlook is much more relaxed. I’ll race some races, do what I can, and be accepting of unforeseen circumstances.