Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cross National Champions

Last race of the season. The top dog, the big enchilada, numero uno.... Yep, it doesn't get much bigger than Cross Nationals. This is where they hand out the stars and stripes jersey to the winner.

Yes, I know I really wouldn't "compete" for the top honor. So, you may ask "why the hell bother if you're not competitive"? Good question. Here's my thoughts when I decided to do this race months ago.

1 - It's freakin' cross nationals! In our backyard. How can you not be a part of that experience.
2 - It will be in Bend 2009 and 2010. I'll be stronger and more competitive next year.
3 - See if I can race late in the year. Last year I was totally burned out in November after the Cross Crusade.
4 - It's Bend Oregon. One of my favorite places in Oregon to have a 4 day weekend.

Pack my gear, bike, and Ali and I hit the road on Friday afternoon for the adventure. Yes, Ali is the girl I met a cross race at the beginning of the season (you see, I knew this bike racing stuff was good for me). She found this fantastic B&B, the Hillside Inn. Totally a fantastic location. Stay there if you're in Bend. It is totally worth the extra ~$15 per night.

My race (40-44 men) was 930am on Saturday morning. The earliest race I've done all year. I got registered and my number bright and early at 730am. The USA Cycling official that signed me in was grumpy. You see we're totally spoiled in Oregon with our OBRA officials.

We got to the course and I was able to do a pre-ride of the course to check it out. It was about 32F outside. Cold, but I guess much warmer than the previous 2 days of racing (a friend raced on Thursday and it was about 4F). The course had icy patches and of course snow. I've never ridden or raced in those conditions before. I was totally nervous. Slipping and falling on my side on hard ice was something I didn't want to do. I was feeling OK about it after my pre-ride, but I was still nervous.

Spent the next hour on the trainer next to the car. As you can see I was pretty well bundled up. I even slipped some toe warmers in my shoes. It wasn't my typical season warm-up. I was taking it pretty easy and skipped the higher intensity parts. It's quite different racing in a category that you know you won't be in the top 1/4 of the field. I would say it's more difficult to mentally motivate yourself. Especially when it's freezing outside and you're thinking about the hot tub back at the B&B.

The start call ups were based on national points and then registration order of your USAC license category. I just got a USAC license for this race, so I was going to be in the back. The way back that is. There were 190 riders pre-registered in my field. However, not everyone shows up. Actually, only 147 guys lined up. I think I was like 130th in the call ups.

The race started with a "bang" or really a big crash. It happened quite a bit in front of me, so I was able to run around it. However, it split the field up quite a bit. Which means the top guys were that much ahead (remember, in a national race you get pulled when/if the lead guys catch you). Here's a video I found on the internet of our lovely start......

Video - Start of Mens 40-44 Race

The first lap was bascially total chaos. However, us guys in the back were having fun with it. We all knew we were way off the lead group, so we joked around while waiting at the pinch points. The first section was in the trees and lots of switchback corners. It's tough to finesse the corners when you are surrounded by fellow racers.

They added a cool set of man-made wooden stairs on a run-up. This would be a great photo spot (unfortunately, I haven't seen one of me on these). Only one set of 2 barriers, but the good news is that my personal paparazzi, Ali, got a great photo of me there. I "nailed" the barriers and looked good while doing it since I did alot of barrier practice at the beginning of the season and have a few years of experience now. There was one large run-up and downhill on the backside of the course. The downhill was icy during my pre-ride and it was a congested mess on the first lap. I ran down it like most guys. This led into a pavement section across the start/finish line.

As normal, riders began to string out by the beginning of the second lap. I was now able to hit the straights with power and had the entire lane to finesse the corners. I was finding my snow riding technique. Lap 2 and 3 were fun and I was looking good. Heidi Swift, who writes for the Oregonian and Wend Magazine, captured a few sweets photos of me.

Near the end of the third lap, it happened. :-( I got pulled. There was quite of few of us pulled at the same time. I recognized my RiverCity nemesis from the Crusade season. We joked about how that was the quickest race we've ever done and it's time to start the off-season.

So that's what I did the rest of the weekend..... started the offseason. Ali and I hit the after race party that evening, went snow shoeing, hiked around Smith Rock, and of course enjoyed the hot-tub back at the Hillside Inn.

Fantastic weekend to end a good cross season. Now it's time to enjoy the break.

Final Results - (at least I wasn't DFL)

Cool PDXCross Photos - (I'm number 470 in the gallery)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

USGP - 12/5

The USGP is a national series that ends in Portland. In years past, I would go to watch the pros and other team-mates since it was so late in the season. I had to do it with nationals the week afterwards. I figured I would do it in the "open" masters field. Then I would have 2 weekends in a row of getting my a$$ kicked.

You see, I've been racing the master B category this year in the Cross Crusade. The next group up is the A field. These are the guys that have either been racing for years and have tons of experience in their legs or they have lots of time to train during the year. Basically, they are way faster than me. So why am I even bothering? Well, the B race at nationals is on a Thursday - can't do that, so I needed to sign up for the "open" category for my age group. I knew that I would struggle in this group, but it's always good to push yourself and get some good experience. BTW, you know you're in a tough group when the national bike rag has a story on one of your competitors (cool to see a story on a masters racer).

USGP was in a similar boat. The B race was at like 8am in the morning! Forget that!!! The "open" 35-45 age group was a 12:30. A good thing since it was WAY COLD that morning. I go there about 10am and it was freezing. There were a couple team-mates racing at that time. I found the warm-up tent, got my number, and packed my gear over to the tent. They gave us a timing chip and numbers for our shoulders - how pro. I started "warming up" about 90 minutes before my race just to prevent myself from freezing!

I was able to get a lap on the course about 11:15am. That was one of the first times I did that this year, but it was important since I've never raced this particular course at PIR before. The mud was greasy. I didn't pay attention on 1 corner and "ate it". Great, mud on my number even before the race started. Good thing they gave me an extra! Got to line up at a national caliber race "looking good".

The sun came out and things warmed up just before my race. Calls up were based on national points and registration order. I started in the back of the field which was fine with me. The course was about 2.5 miles. My key goal was not to get lapped since you get "pulled" from the race if you get lapped by the leaders. I held on pretty well the first lap, but these guys were smoking fast. I rode my own race - strong on the straights and finesse in the corners. I was competing with the guys I recognized at the the back of the field.

The top 2 or 3 riders caught me on the end of the very last lap. So, I didn't get pulled. I stayed upright the entire time. I placed 83 out of 98 riders. Obviously, not a great result, but I'm happy I raced, had a great time, and got some cool photos.

Photos courtesy of OregonVelo. These guys take great photos.