Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Weekend of Cross Racing(Part I)

     Another full weekend of racing came and went.  Both Saturday and Sunday had me dragging the wife and daughter out to random locations so i could feed my cyclocross addiction.  Saturdays race was in Topeka, KS.  Its' promoter was put on by Slimen teammate and friend Jeff Unruh.  Quinton's Cross was held at a local elementary school in Jeff's hometown of Topeka.  About a 55 minute drive for the Taylor clan.  This race was also the 2nd race in the 7 part series that Localcycling.com's Mark Thomas has put together called Series60 Cyclocross.  Now prior to the start of the current cx season, I had set a goal of Top 3 in this series in the Masters 'A' 40+ category.  The first race of this series was the KC Cup race put on by the 360Racing crew at Swope Park in late September.  There I finished 3rd.  So the goal of this weekend was to go as fast as possible and battle with the 2 or 3 big guns from the 360 team that happened to show up for Saturday and Sundays race.  Sunday's race would be part 3 of the Series60 located at Wyandotte County Park, the Boulevard Cup which was put on by the Boulevard/KCOI racing team.

    Saturday morning came not too early with a morning Starbucks run at 8:30 a.m. and we were blazing down I-70.  My wife would be pulling double duty, babysitting and photographer during my race.  It would probably be a race and run soon after with another race the next day.  Pulling up to the school parking lot at a quarter to 10, I was immediately impressed with the 'pro' look of the course.  The Tape and course marking looked right out of videos i have seen from USGP races that the big name pros show up too.  Kudos to Jeff and his fellow volunteers.  My only concern with the looks of the course we would be racing on was the big hill they set part of the course on.  I thought I had specifically told Jeff, "NO Hills".  Obviously, he didn't listen too me.   I was registered and had my kit on and was on the bike taking some warm-up laps a little after 10.  Race time was 11 a.m.  I didn't want a big warm-up.  I knew I was racing the next day, so no since and wasting energy.  I also was judging the lack of competitors that showed up for Saturdays' race.  It was gonna be a small field and I was already thinking of conserving energy during the race, because I knew Sunday's Boulevard Cup always gets the bigger more competitive fields.  Again, no sense and wasting the whole tank.  Especially since i have a limited one to begin with.  Warming up with friend and rival 360racing's Andy Lucas, we had a conversation on the very same subject.  A tentative plan was to not do the usual 'killer' cx start, and have me, Andy, Steve Songer(360racing) and my Slimen teammate Joe Houston set the pace that would create a gap early over the rest of the small field.  A hard but not killer tempo would do it.  Now the writing was on the wall.  The steep run-up hill was going to be the deciding factor in this race.  Joe and I were on the outside looking in with Andy and Steve having a big advantage over Joe and I, because they don't have extremely large, fat asses.  However, Joe and I would be willing to give it a go and give Steve and Andy a run at it.
     Line-up for the Master's race was at 10:45.  Joe and I got a front row start.  Jeff had created a runway for the start of the races that was wide enough for 20 racers across.  Fields were not that big, but I think we started maybe 8-10 across at the line.  With instructions from officials and a few words from our promoters, we were ready to race.  I just wanted to follow wheels and not kill myself for the 'holeshot'.  That is exactly what happened.  Lucas and Songer led it out, with me and Joe following close on their wheels.  Joe or I didn't have to dip into the 'red' to maintain contact and once we were thru the 200 meters of the start, we hit the first brief pavement section.  Songer and Lucas had a 4 or 5 length gap on the pavement, but once we hit back into the grass and took a couple of high speed technical turns, Joe and I were right back on their wheel.  A couple of 180 and 90 degree turns and we were bombing down a grass decline and racing thru an open field heading towards the northern most part of the course.  This fast grass field section took us thru an off camber high speed 90 degree turn around a tree and up hill a few feet before we leveled off and bombed towards another high speed but softer left hand turn that had the racers riding along a creek or ditch and racing towards a set of tennis courts.  A 90 degree left hand turn right before the tennis courts and we were grinding up a false flat to 90 degree right and now really going up a soft and thick grassy section along the length of the tennis courts.  200 meters or so along the tennis courts and the course pitched up and to to the left in a 180 turn and down a few feet to a 180 right hander that pitched back up again 30 meters or so into the first barrier section of the day.  The first set of barriers were set in the middle of an incline, and right after the 2nd of 2 barriers, the terrain pitched up even steeper for 5 more meters making the racers finish the climb shouldering their bike and turning right and remounting.  The top of this run-up was the entrance to the wheel pit.  Now going back to the 180 right and left hand turns before the barrier section, I somehow had a brain freeze.  I looked down briefly and suddenly i was in Songers' rear wheel. Now I just was rubbing tires, we never got tangled up.  However, I breifly panicked here, and was immedialtely steering of course and into the tape.  I went thru the first set of tape and into a stake and got my bike wrapped and tangled into more tape.  That was it.  Andy, Steve and Joe and the gap we had set at the start were gone.  10-15 seconds of getting untangled and the lead group was gone and i was getting passed by two more racers before i got going again.  I ran 30 meters to the barriers and up the run-up and remounting trying to desperately to get back up to speed and close down the gap to the leaders that I had created.  "F!@#".  A moments mental lapse and my race plans went to shit.   So now I was chasing.  Racing past the wheel pit and down a hill 200 meters into a technical section of the course that had the racers going thru a maze like set-up of looping 180 degree turns.  This section allowed the racers to ride right by their competitors that were a few seconds in front or in back of them.  In my haste to latch back onto the front 3, I once again found myself going off course into the tape and running thru and over a stake.  I literally impaled my shin on a course stake.  I removed splinters post race.  I lost no time during this incident but did fluster my self more and had to work really hard to not waste extra energy in the panic of getting or staying at speed.   This circular section led out and up towards the grinding steep 25 meter run-up.  To get to the run-up, the racers had to pedal uphill 50 meters to a right hand switch-back which continued uphill another 50 meters to another switch-back and turned back to the right.  From there, racers continued uphill another 50 meters towards the barrier at the base of the run-up.  I and the rest of  the racers were already grinding our way with no momentum, then we are forced off our bike only to try to pump our legs over a barrier and up a 60 degree pitch for maybe 20 meters to the top of this brutal run-up.  At the top, I was just about closed the gap to my teammate Joe.  Pedaling into a slow off camber 180 degree left and down towards a 90 degree right that had the racers bombing down and into a sweeping soft  right hander.  Carrying a ton of momentum, the course pitched uphill briefly and flattened out right by the edge of the parking lot.  From here you had to set yourself up for a steep off camber/downhill 180 degree left hand turn that transitioned at the bottom from grass to a concrete sidewalk.  I saw plenty of people wipe out on this seemingly harmless section in warm-ups.  Thru this little downhill turn, the racers were bombing downhill again into a sweeping off-camber right hand turn.  Again, if you took this right, you could carry tons of momentum back up the hill that had the racers pedaling by the pits for the 2nd time.  Turning right 90 degrees, the course headed back uphill towards the finish line.  One lap down and 6 to go.  I had now gotten within 10 seconds of Joe.
      I was able to finally close the gap to Joe coming back up the false flat along the tennis courts.  However, Joe's pace had dropped and he was unable to stay on my wheel once we were thru the first run-p/barrier section.  Bombing down the hill past the pits, I was on my own trying to reel in Andy Lucas, who had fallen off of his teammate, Steve's wheel.  On the big run-up on the 3rd lap, I caught Andy.  He was not doing well.  You could hear him struggling to breath.  I knew he was having asthma issues.  So now it was me in 2nd with Songer up the road.  I never really felt like i was going to catch.  Not unless he made a big mistake, so I kept at it for another couple of laps.  I could see that the gap behind me was growing.  Andy had drifted back and altogether disappeared.  So did Joe.  Noone else was in site with 3 laps to go.  A lap later I realized that both Joe and Andy had pulled out of the race.  Every time I slogged up that run-up with lead feet, I wanted to drop out too.  Somewhere along the way, Joe shouted a time gap to me that I was a minute and 25 back of Songer.  This was about the time 2 of the 50+ fastmen had bridged up to me.  Randall Crist from Lincoln, Nebraska and Paul Fancher of Localcycling.com caught me with maybe 3 or 4 laps to go.  I hopped on there wheel and took a ride until we hit the tennis court section.  This was where I lost Randall's wheel.  The slight climb thru the slow grass was the difference. Randall left both Paul and I behind.
     So Paul was my pace setter briefly, until we got to the climb up to and before the steep run-up.  Paul's smaller ass allows him to climb faster than me.  By the top of the run-up he had a 5 second gap.  For the next lap  that time gap stayed the same.  Paul seemed to be struggling as well.  Back around to the run-up I had gotten back in contact with him.  I realized that I would overtake on the technical maze section.  I actually gapped him by a couple of bike lengths and by the top of the run-up i had a couple of seconds on him.  Thru the fast downhill and the next 3 or 4 turns I had the 5 second gap.  Thru the pavement section just past the finish line at the start of the bell lap, I decided to put the hammer down to see if Paul would answer.  This was really unnecessary, because we are in different age groups.  But honestly, Paul is a guy that I really enjoy beating.  He has the personality of a stump, he tends to aggravate about all of the guys he races against, and he is the ultimate 'sandbagger'.  Even with my 30 second head start to the race, I really didn't want him to beat me to the line.  But as little as I really know Paul, I have ridden and raced him enough to know how little class he has and that  he would sprint his dying bedridden grandmother to the line.  So I needed a big enough gap going into the 100 meters to the line, because it was uphill to the finish.  Paul would have the advantage on me there.  So, I tried hard to extend my little gap on the fast flowy turn sections on the first third of the course.  The bells ringing indicating 'last lap' was my reminder how much I needed to 'kick' it if I wanted to get to the line before 'Mr.' Fancher.    I honestly thought I had him.  Still had a few seconds at the top of the run-up the last time thru.  Bombed the last few turns and thru the last right hand turn to the finish I peeked back to take a look and the gap was the same...maybe 3  or 4 seconds.  I got out of my saddle to power to the line, and hesitated.  Why waste anymore energy when I was still finishing 2nd wether the 'you-know-what' beat me to the line or not?  I had another race to compete in tomorrow anyway.  I was thinking about the series.  Andy had pulled out, the 2 guys who beat me at the KC Cup were no-shows for  today's race and Songer didn't race the master's at the KC Cup.  I would be the overall series leader and needed a good result tomorrow to hold that.  Screw it!  Let Paul beat his crippled cousin to the line if it made him feel better.  It didn't affect me and my race.  That's what happened.  I think Fancher nipped me at the finish line by maybe 3 or 4 inches.  Fuck it!   I was already thinking about tomorrows race and how that could play out.
     It was gonna be SlimenUndGrossen, me, Joe and Jeff racing the the whole of the 360Racing masters crew.  Hedjuk, Songer, Jenks, and Lucas would be gunning it for Sunday's race at the Boulevard cup.  I was already putting my game face on.  I wanted to be on the 360 train.  I needed to catch from the start to have a chance to fight with them to the finish.  Sunday was gonna be tough.  Fast Bastards!!
    So the Taylor crew packed up.  We didn't stick around for the rest of the day's races.  I needed food in my stomach and some compression socks on if I was gonna be competitive for the next day's race.  So Quinton's Cross was in the books.  A unimpressive 2nd place, but I had the lead thru 2 races of the Series60.  It was homeward bound to hang out with the family for the rest of the day.

Boulevard Cup report coming soon...

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