Sunday, August 23, 2009

race report: Blunt Park CX Race (Accelerated Cure Project #1, Spank Me Sunday #1), 23. August 2009

So first of all, the good news is that Diane let me upgrade to Cat 3 in CX a couple weeks ago, right after SpectaCross. This means that I can now do not just women's open and 3/4 events, but 1/2/3 events. Because I'll be doing some open (1/2/3/4) and 1/2/3 races this year and expect to get my butt kicked for a while, I have decided to start referring to such events as "Spank Me Sundays" (or "Saturdays," where applicable).

Second, note that I'm actually posting my first Spank Me Sundays series report within 24 hours of the event itself. This is because I need to get the words out before the sting of defeat gives way to shame, with shame leading down the inevitable slippery off-camber slope toward seclusion. You get the picture.

Third, I was fairly lucky in terms of mechanical issues last year. Yeah, I'd had shifting issues occur, I'd dropped chains and gotten them back on, and I'd crashed in the sand pit at Gloucester and ridden a bent saddle to the pit 100m away... so I've been delayed, but no more than, say, 30-45s. So I've always wondered, in the back of my mind, what it must be like to be that person who spends half a lap running to the pit.

The problem is that lately when I think ANYTHING, either my riding suuuucks or hilarity ensues.

So... the course. I was absolutely loving it on the pre-ride. Light mud is kinda my new thing--a. it grosses other people out, and b. after the swamps of Jersey it is NOTHING to me. Also, I like chicanes, and those little scrabbly uphills that require me to shift a lot, really fast. I was therefore pretty psyched about the course. There were a couple logs in the woods section, but I successfully rode the second one during the warmup and the first one didn't look too hard. That, and Jeff and Mike told me that the stuff was rideable. Bastards.

Unfortunately, during the warmup I wasn't hitting these obstacles at race pace. So, even though I got a decent start despite them not staging the three combined fields at intervals of 30s or 1:00, I bumped over the first log and almost bit it. "Nice save!" said one of the 55+ guys. That could have been a warning to me (I mean, when my elders speak, it's like the oracle, RIGHT?), but it wasn't. I went for the second log, figuring, hey, I rode it in warmup, I can do it again.

Notsomuch. I hit it the wrong way and managed to crash pretty fantastically, with my leg still twisted in my bike and handlebars. By the time I'd disengaged myself, half the field had gone by. When I hopped back on, I realized that my left shifter was bent at a horrible angle and the chain was dropped. I immediately scrambled to fix the chain, but it was kinked back in the derailleur and on itself several times. I tried to untangle it; I kept losing seconds. So I decided to just run for the pit... for about, oh, 3/4 of a mile. I think the running was a crowd-pleaser, but, for obvious reasons I was not terribly overjoyed. By the time I reached the barriers, MRC's train was already lapping me. Blah.

After all that running, my legs were shot, and I was mentally in the hole too. I couldn't bring myself to care about a race where I'd already lost 5-8 minutes, and I hate it when I stop caring (though I was going to finish... no doubt about that). Thankfully, Spank Me Sundays are designated C efforts for me, and thankfully it's still August, because last year's nemeses and victims lapped me one by one. Truly, when the highlight of the race involves giggling to yourself because some friends on the sidelines sprayed you with a water bottle and it inadvertently landed all over your rack, you're probably having a bad day on the bike.

The results cheered me up somewhat, though. Turns out I did not finish DFL--coming in at 13/15, I somehow still kept two women behind me, even with all that time lost running. I also learned, or re-learned, that what someone else was able to do on their warmup or in their race doesn't ultimately matter--I need to race in consideration of MY own technical abilities. If running a sketchy area is the surefire but less impressive solution, it's what I need to do, even if it jacks up the line of someone behind me... no, ESPECIALLY if it jacks up the line of someone behind me.

Anyway, had fun hanging out afterward (YAY BEER AND PEOPLE), and am looking forward to the next race. Hey... it's August!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

in which bikes, fashion, and slumber all collide.

Last night I dreamt about cyclocross again.

It wasn't a repeat of the dream about winning Gloucester, or one of my more standard "'cross race gone wild" dreams about being forced to ford a river with my bike on my back.

Oh no. This dream was about trying on the Dopers Suck tall socks that I recently received in the mail (but have yet to take out of the package--I'm sort of, you know, saving them). And in my dream, the socks could've been a little more fitted, but were even taller than they were in the picture on the internets, and I was pretty jazzed about that.

I think I need help.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

race report: NJ State Fair SpectaCross, Day 2, 1. August 2009

Note: I apologize in advance for any grammar gone awry in this race report. I just got my wisdom teeth out Tuesday and am intermittently on Vicodin, so... deal!

Anyway, second day of SpectaCross. Arrived at the State Fair late Saturday morning fueled by a giant breakfast (Jersey does diners right) and carrying a sack of groceries for the rest of the day. It was sweltering hot (this is where everyone can chime in with "yeah, not 'cross conditions"), but we had jugs of water in the back and there was always the bike wash if necessary. Despite the uncomfortable weather, and the fact that my event was not until 8:00 p.m., this was probably the most relaxed I've ever been at a bike race. I spent part of the afternoon walking around the fair with one of the other evening racers, Jess, giggling over what type of embarrassing airbrush decals we could purchase for the guys who pulled up to the race driving a secondhand ambulance (they'd painted it black and were looking for new logos). We also checked out the MTB stunt trials happening outside the arena. For the remainder of the afternoon, I divided my time between watching Al Donahue, Jonny Bold, and Jared Nieters battle it out in the elite race and hanging out in the shade.

The course became available for warmup shortly before 5 p.m., so I hopped on my bike to make a couple rounds. It was the same loop, but the terrain was totally different from the day before. Most of the slop had dried up into rutted dirt, but the morning and afternoon races had packed down a hard, fast lane about a foot and a half wide. If I could stick with that line, it would be smooth going; if I bounced over into the ruts while making turns, it was going to become painful. The giant puddle was smaller than it had been the previous day, but it was still there, throwing water on my feet and mud on my drivetrain. I noticed that, after two rounds through the puddle, my front shifting was a bit wonky. After pre-riding, I went to wash the mud off, then re-greased the chain and ran it through the gears. The shifting was somewhat better, but I was pretty sure that, given the course conditions, it would become an issue during the race again. So my working game plan was to jockey for position early on in the big ring as long as I could stand it, then make do after downshifting (not ideal, but it worked for me last year when I had shifting problems at Canton). Later, for the rest of my warmup, I spun out for a bit on the asphalt road behind the fairgrounds, and generally just tried to stay loose and hydrated. As the race was unsanctioned and it was sweltering for most of the day, bottle hand-ups were OK'd for the pit, and I took Dave up on his offer of feeds during my race.

Shortly after the end of the race prior to ours (elite women and elite juniors), we started warming up. I decided to save my drivetrain by avoiding the mud section (I'd already pre-ridden it like three times at this point) and sticking to the grass. Meanwhile, the event organizers gave us the news that they were going to combine our race (novice/intermediate/45+ women) with the final race of the evening (novice men). Which, of course, meant that Lang's and my eyes lit up as we exclaimed, "REMATCH!" The start got delayed about 15 minutes, but finally they staged us and set us off. I had a better start than the day before--I think I was about seventh coming into the hole shot. Eric Davidson passed me right after that, I think, along with another guy. Things were moving a lot faster than they had the day before in the slop.

I really wanted a repeat win, and I really wanted to stay ahead of Lang, so my goal was to race smart and minimize crashes. Yeah, oops. A couple laps in I lost Lang when I took a corner in the spiral too quickly, hit a rut or something the wrong way, and wiped out. I tried to lose as little time as possible--righted myself and hopped back on. I also had another crash on the course--at this point, it was getting dark out. The arena was lit, but the lights weren't yet on over the grass, so we were doing 180s and jumping barriers in the twilight and it was awesome.

Oh... also... feeds. I'd told Dave in advance that I was going to want the feeds to start around the middle of the race, so he hopped in the pit about a lap or two in. We were all set to do the first handoff and then both totally jacked it up... fortunately, the rest of our handoffs went smoothly. I'd actually never taken feeds in a race before (I'm not a 60-mile hill race kinda gal) so it was kind of fun. 'Cross racers have a rep for being more laid-back than road racers, but it's also not a big secret that we really like to yell at/heckle people, so between my yelling "next lap!" and Colin heckling Dave for the one botched feed, several people met their verbal quota for the day and went home extra-happy.

The other PRO thing about the race was the fact that the announcers were narrating both the men's and women's leaders... so... I got called out. "And we have the women's leader in the arena--she's the one in the green and blue kit, wearing a pink helmet!" QuadCycles got some air time too! It was really awesome and also nerve-wracking, because... well... usually only Verge Series races are announced in New England, and I've never led one of those. The announcers were also narrating the women chasing me; because the course was so small, I could see Jeni, in second, pursuing me as I went through turns. I could also see Lang ahead of me, and he was cheering for me, which was rad. Stay smart, and hold it together, I kept telling myself. When I entered the spiral in the arena for the final time, I tried to get through it as efficiently and carefully as possible. I knew I had room coming around the final corner (in which I'd crashed before) so I coasted across the line and threw my arms up. Great conclusion to one of the best race weekends ever.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Race Report: NJ State Fair SpectaCross, Day 1 (Cyclocross sprints)

When I told some of my friends and teammates that I was doing a 'cross race in July, they thought I was crazy ("Doesn't that not start for, like, another two months?" Ben and Jeremy asked). But I couldn't wait to go. 'Cross is my focus this year, so I decided to throw in the towel on my lackluster road season and get right to the good stuff. Yes, for me, "the good stuff" involves bombing over rutted grass, taking 180-degree turns through mud, jumping off my bike and over planks, jumping back on again, trying to finish respectably in the face of coughing up snot and wanting to puke, and then probably drinking a beer in the parking lot afterward to replenish any lost fluids. It's a lifestyle preference--don't hate. Fortunately, about a hundred or so other bike racers shared my 'crosslust, and joined me in Augusta, NJ for a weekend of bikes, mud, muscle shirts, strollers in beer tents, and, of course, 4H quilting exhibits.

I had Friday off of work, so I loaded up the car, got some coffee, and then rolled over to JP to pick up my friend David, who was going to race the men's elites and got assigned the job of navigating about ten pages' worth of Mapquest directions. Thankfully, he was up to it: it was sunny when we departed Boston, but once we reached the middle of Connecticut the weather became a full-on Herman Melville-style squall. At some points I was white-knuckling it at 40 miles an hour, barely able to see the car in front of me.

This totally rad weather front meant that by the time we arrived in Augusta, parts of the Sussex County Fairgrounds were covered in a glorious layer of slop. We de-racked the bikes, talked to some fellow racers, then walked around and scoped out the course. About half of it looked like a normal 'cross course, marked off with the requisite stakes and tape. My "tape reflex" (which involves smiling dreamily and drooling a little every time I see stakes and tape, and had been inadvertently set off at crits earlier in the year featuring children's grass races) engaged, and then I saw the rest of the course. It was a dirt arena-turned-mud-pit in front of the bleachers, and a bunch of fluorescent mesh organizer worms from IKEA marked off what the race organizer referred to as the "spiral of death": a series of twisting turns with a junk car in the middle of it all. Originally we were supposed to compete on a run-up over the junk car, but the organizers had lost power and were unable to finish building the run-up (still, the junk car was a nice accent, especially since the IKEA worms looked a lot like prophylactics).

I took a lap or two on the course, trying to figure out which lines to take through the mud. A fall during the warmup revealed that under the mud was a layer of asphalt (this was why the worms were used instead of stakes and tape). This was great in one sense because it meant the mud was rideable, but it also meant that any crashes in it were not just going to cause me to lose time: they were going to hurt like hell.

From the "spiral of death," the course went over a short grassy hill, around a tight chicane of a turn (mmm... grass chicanes... how I missed you) that required picking a good line in advance from the top of the hill, and through more turns in the grass, winding around some animal stalls and back to a set of wooden plank barriers. The barriers came shortly after a turn but still allowed for a little momentum coming through, so I figured this race would be terrific practice. After the barriers, there was another small, muddy hill, then a turn back up and over the same hill, then a straightway past the pit, and back into the spiral. The course was shorter than the average 'cross course, but given the resources available, it was pretty authentic. The only thing that was really different was that a. it was summer and b. someone played a tape of LeeAnn Rimes singing the national anthem. I'm still not sure that bike racers know what to do with patriotism beyond stars-and-stripes jerseys: people were standing around, but still sort of setting up their bikes, while Colin, who runs crossresults, was huddled in the car with Linnea, hiding from the rain and/or really hating on America.

My race, a combined M/F novice field, was at 6 p.m. We were staged by our rankings on, which was pretty sweet because I got called up to the front row right before my friend Lang (I wore number 71; he was 72). We mock-glared at each other briefly and decided it was ON. The whistle went off and we converged across the field, headed for the spiral. I was fighting for a decent position and ended up about ten back from the hole shot, gasping for air as we started turning through the mud. The first two laps were agony; then somehow I passed Lang in a barrier between laps 3 and 5 and never saw him again. I still felt awful but at least my race was going okay--I was pretty sure I was first woman by a long shot. The laps were short--that, and the fact that I kept finding chewy (and nutritious!) chunks of mud in my mouth, made the race seem longer than it actually was. Fortunately, the men's leader lapped me somewhere near the finish and relieved me of doing one more lap. I ended up finishing 13th overall (thereby preserving my crossresults lead over Lang, who finished 16th), and getting 1/7 for the novice women, with a gap of 3+ minutes (thanks, mud!). Midfield in a mixed-gender race and first among the chicks were both better results than I'd hoped for, so I was pretty ecstatic.

Dirty biiiike, I got Pedros, I know what you liiiike

After the B event and the elite men's race, and what must have been at least two bike washes, I headed out of the arena and into the fair with Dave, where we found running water and some delicious ribbon fries. Then he got a call from Ben Popper and the Chicago/Canada crew about some Mexican food, so we headed there and I practically fell asleep in my food. Still not sure how I made it back to the hotel.