Cyclocross Nationals

20 12 2007

You know the scene in Rocky where he pounds the raw meat at the packing plant with his bare fists? Well, now I know what those hanging carcasses may have felt like after returning home from ‘Cross Nationals with a broken rib sustained in a last lap crash in Sunday’s single speed race!

I left Boulder in the FastForward rig stuffed with 6 bikes, a pop up tent, 2 wind trainers, 2 floor pumps, 2 camping chairs, 2 bike tool kits, 5+ duffel bags, and the brothers Squires. Twins Doug and Rick Squires are the ones responsible for me getting into cyclocross, so it seemed fitting that I culminate the season with a road trip to Nationals with these two devoted Philadelphia Eagles fans and cycling zealots.

After a lovely stay over in Hays, we arrived at the race venue outside of Kansas City around noon last Friday. As we crossed eastern Kansas, we got visual proof of the amazing ice storms that nailed the region recently. As we got our first glimpse of the race course at Wyandotte Park, we got visual proof of what an inch or two of ice can look like when it starts to melt and a few thousand cyclists have at it.

Here’s a glimpse of riders practicing on Friday:

We sloshed through 6 inches of mud and found the packet pickup tent… with no line! The volunteer asked for my license, and found no humor when I offered up my CO driver’s license and then my ACA card. It turns out that the USA Cycling Cyclocross Nationals actually requires you to have a USA Cycling license, and would not show reciprocity for the Colorado version… ACA. Unbeknownst to this “rookie”, there appears to have been some sort of split in the bodies that govern cycling in this land, and only 5 states, one of which is Colorado, does not use USAC to sanction their road, mtb, and cyclocross events.

I admitted my naiveté and that I was more than willing to purchase a one-day license, just as USA Triathlon requires at its races. Not only do they NOT offer a one-day license, but they didn’t even provide a USAC booth in the packet pickup area, and directed me to go to my hotel to use their computer, pay $60, and then print out a confirmation and drive back to the race site to get my packet! Further, I complained that this was the first time I was being asked for such thing, and that at no point in the registration process was I asked for my USAC #, or directed to their site to handle this transaction from the comfort of my home computer.

So, we check in to the Great Wolf Lodge which featured a huge indoor water park and fully themed kid-friendly roomsOf course, they don’t have a business center or publicly accessible computer and we are sent off to the public library… did I mention that Doug and Rick didn’t hold USAC licenses either… they were expecting to pick one up at the venue, and we were all none too thrilled at this point.

We gathered around one computer at the library and after Doug and Rick renewed their licenses; I began to set up my online account with USAC, which culminates with the sending of an e-mail to my account with the necessary password for going forward and actually purchasing a license. So, in the brief period it took me to access my domain account through the web, my home computer had already downloaded the needed e-mail to my Outlook inbox, which was sitting on my desk 600 miles to the west. I briefly considered setting up a yahoo account and starting all over, but I’d had about enough of this by now and decided that I’d just call my wife Liz later, so she could then text me the needed password, so I could go back to the Public Library the next day to use their computer to complete the transaction, and then print a confirmation, before heading back to the expo area to do what would’ve taken 30 seconds if they just would’ve let me fill out a piece of paper and taken my cash! I’m all for e-commerce, automated transactions, cost-cutting, etc., but it has gotten to the point now that face-to-face business is becoming a relic of the past, and the customer is often screwed in the name of progress!

Luckily my race was not until 2 pm on Saturday, so I’d still have plenty of time to get things done without too much rushing or extra stress. I slept in, then headed to a nearby hotel I heard offered a public computer in their lobby, then picked up my number without any further issues, and headed to IHOP for a hearty meal that would hopefully fuel me and keep me warm for a few hours. The temperature had dropped considerably from the day before into the low 20’s, a few inches of snow had fallen, and there was a pretty stiff breeze… lovely! Actually, I have a fairly good amount of foul weather racing experience and therefore was much more concerned with the frozen state of the mud and 1000’s of bike tracks and ruts on the course that I’d be dealing with shortly.

But first I stopped off at the nearby Cabela’s for some hand and toe warmer packets. Well, it turns out that the last few Saturdays before Christmas are the busiest of the year at the #1 tourist attraction in all of Kansas. The parking lot contained every make and model of American made pick up truck from the last 40 years, and standard attire for the average customer was limited to either a camouflage or Kansas City Chiefs jacket. Every check out line had dozens of customers, pushing 2 or 3 shopping carts full of thousands of dollars of assorted hunting and fishing paraphernalia. I got quite a chuckle observing a 5-year-old in full camo looking through a rifle scope while his parents were nowhere to be seen. Even more amusing to me was the juxtaposition of this incredible scene with the equally esoteric event going on only a few miles away. I was sure that they would be just as perplexed at seeing 100’s of lycra-clad athletes, trying to ride their several thousand dollar bikes through the snow and mud in late December.

My race, 40-44 year old Masters, was only an hour from starting as I entered the ‘warm up’ tent with my bike, wind trainer, and back pack full of assorted gloves, hats, warming gels, sports drinks, and layers of bike clothing. I’d already dropped of my spare ‘pit’ bike, which was lent to me by Spot Brand bikes honcho Nick Howe, assuring that I’d likely have the only TWO carbon-belt driven bikes in the race.

As the start time neared, I geared up and headed out to take my spot… 148th out of 165 racers, with start position based primarily upon when you registered… whatever. The gun sounded and I moved up a dozen or so spots on the initial icy road climb. As we moved onto the dirt/ mud/ ice there was a pretty good pile up that I managed to avoid and picked up another 15-20 spots. The terrain was the worst I’d ever been on, by far. The ground was mostly frozen solid, with a couple inches of snow on top of 6” ruts formed by the many races over the past few days. I tried to ride aggressively with the goal of moving up throughout the race, but mostly I’d ride 50 yards or so before taking an impromptu 90 degree left or right, then struggle to get back on course both on and off the bike. I crashed multiple times, along with everyone else, but kept getting back up and forging ahead.

Here’s a pretty good view of what it looked like, from a helmet mounted camera on a rider in the race immediately following mine:

The bucking bronco ride soon came to an end after only three painfully slow laps and I managed to finish in 66th place. I’m fine with that result, but felt pretty unfulfilled as it didn’t really feel like racing at all, and my heart rate probably never went above 130 bpm. Fortunately (or not) I’d also signed up for the single speed category at 8 am the next morning, so I’d get another chance to try to ride the beast.At 7:15 am on Sunday morning, I once again entered the warm up tent with a similar set of gear. Although the sun was starting to come up on a cloudless day, the temperature would only make it to 13 degrees by our 8 am start. Once again I was slotted toward the very back of the start corral, but this time every racer would be using one-geared bikes, and I was sure I could make up some ground on the first climb. I did just that and once again passed a number of riders who crashed at the first turn. Although the course was still frozen solid, it seemed a bit easier to ride this day, perhaps a combination of a preferred line had been carved out along with my gaining a bit of practice the day before.

The pace was definitely higher today and I felt like I was really racing for the first couple laps, which allowed me to reach about the middle of the field. I would still have a number of minor spills, but generally kept the bike upright for the first couple of laps. Following a small bobble on a tight corner, I was passed by my friend and savvy veteran cyclist Kevin Anderberg, and I was pleased that I’d been ahead of him this long. As I tried to close the gap to Kevin, my rear wheel hit a nasty rut, which flatted the tire and threw me immediately to the ground. My outstretched hand buckled under my chest, which took the brunt of the fall on top of my fist and the cement-like ground below it. I lost my wind and felt severe pain in my ribs, but I quickly remounted the bike to continue my chase back up to Kevin. The bike seemed to handle quite poorly (I would not realize the rear tire was flat until after the race), but I kept on pedaling and running back to the finish line to start my next lap, when the official motioned that I was done.

The Squires boys greeted me at the finish and immediately knew that something was wrong. We walked to the nearby medical tent, and a very helpful doc inspected my ribs and concluded that there may or may not be a fracture, but I did not have any lung or spleen damage, which was nice to hear. I took some high-powered Tylenol and we headed back to the hotel to rest for a few hours until returning for the Elite races that afternoon. I wound up in 38th position, while Kevin moved up to 33rd for a solid result for both.

Watching the Elite men and women, I realized that the solution to my bike handling issues earlier that morning was simply a matter of pedaling harder and faster over the bumpy terrain, as speed seemed to help smooth things out quite nicely. Obviously, if I was able to do such a thing I would have been racing with the pros instead of standing on the sidelines with busted ribs and a Dale’s Pale Ale in my hand.

Katie Compton was clearly the class of the Women’s field and took her 4th Stars and Strips jersey in a row, and Tim Johnson pulled off a minor upset over a stacked men’s field that included World Championship silver medalist Jonathan Page. The other big story of that race was the horrific crash between Boulder local good guy Stephen Iles and the defending US champ, the 6’ 5” Ryan Trebon. I was standing only 15 meters away when I heard the collision, which not surprisingly was captured on video by another spectator and may be viewed below:

Having been there at the time and raced that section twice, I don’t blame the course designers, Stephen or Ryan, but rather it was totally a freak accident that can occur in such extreme conditions. Fortunately, both riders came away with only minor injuries and would rally to attend the big party later on that evening.

Overall, I had a fabulous time at my first CX Nat’s, and despite the crazy conditions and now confirmed by X-ray ‘non-displaced fracture of the 8th rib’, I’m already looking forward to coming back next year. I’m planning to focus more on my cycling in 2008, starting with the 24 Hours of the Old Pueblo in February, which I’m doing together with Nick from Spot, some early season road races and criteriums, assorted mt. bike races and time trials, and of course a few key triathlons, but perhaps with a bit less running and swimming fitness than in past years. Cyclocross will start up as early as next August and I’m eagerly looking forward to my second season, and hopefully having along a few eager F4 athletes who aren’t afraid of a few bumps, bruises, and broken bones.




3 responses

20 12 2007

OMG! What a wild weekend better yet what a wild season! Congrats!

21 12 2007

great race, great report. well.done. proud of you.

that’s some crazy action.

i may have to leave it to you, well, at least until i’ve learned to mountain bike…

24 12 2007
Larry G

Nice report and vids. I was in that 50+ race on the above vid and I too agree it was absolutely the owrst conditions I have ever tried to ride in much less race. I have finally recovered partially from my bruised back and torn miniscus I received while THUMPING it in the 50+ race twice, first on the off camber hill of death and then later on lap one in one of the black ice mud rut corners. How about Jim Gentes skills in that 50+ video? The giuy started 50th and ended up 6th! Just sick skills and power there! Anyway, your race report is right on! As impossible at it is to decsribe the conditions on that Saturday…touche, you came s close as you can! Larry Grossman/Cult Cross Promoter, come race with us in the first ever SPRING cross series in the Vail valley!

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