Thursday, December 6, 2012

To 'Cross or Not To 'Cross?

I try to get in one cyclocross race each season. I'm not competitive, but like to race once in a while just for the fun and challenge of it. Last month, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, my schedule and the race schedule aligned, and I was able to attend the race located at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster, Ohio, organized by a group known as RideOn Cycling Team/Soup Can Racing, and part of the Northeast Ohio Cyclocross Series. The weather cooperated as well, with sunny, warm, and dry skies rather than the usual fall cyclocross wetness and mud.

After I registered, a guy registered right after me, and I noticed that he was the same age and in the same category as me. He was dressed in sneakers, cargo shorts, and a white cotton t-shirt--definitely not looking like a "serious" racer, but something told me that this guy would be my "mark" for the day.

The course description on the event flyer said "This course will be designed trying to adhere to UCI Standards. We have all of the necessary features available." I took this to mean that it would be a very traditional cyclocross course, with many standard barriers and run-ups. However, I think everyone there would agree that the course could be described as "very mountain-bikey." I rode my 29er mountain bike (which is set up with a drop handlebar and rigid fork), and I was greeted more than once with the comment "It looks like you brought the right bike for the day!"

The starting line was at the base of a short, paved hill, which served to space the group out from the start. A couple hundred yards to the top of the hill and the course turned a sharp left into what I referred to as the "spectator loop." There was a steep downhill, followed by a steep uphill, then a couple of swoopy curves, all on grass, then a short paved climb up to the finish line.
Here I am going down the first descent at the start of the spectator loop.
White t-shirt guy was hot on my tail at the start of the spectator loop. He dismounted on the climb, but just after than he passed me going through the curves.
Me and white t-shirt guy heading up the first climb on the spectator loop.
Powering up the first climb
White t-shirt guy was not a very good climber, so on the paved climb leading to the finish line, I passed him up and got a good gap on him.
Heading up the paved climb towards the finish line.
The main loop of the course continued past the finish line and was almost continuously uphill for about a half-mile, then cut across and dropped downhill with some hard curves for about a half-mile, before we turned a hard-right back onto the spectator loop. This downhill had the only barriers on the course, which consisted of two large logs, one right after the other. My dismount and remount skills were a little rusty the first time around, but I got the hang of it more on subsequent laps. There were some soft spots in the grass throughout the main loop, but nothing too muddy and unmanageable.

Soon after my first turn over the logs, white t-shirt guy was breathing down my neck and passed me up again; he must have been able to ride the downhill pretty aggressively on his standard 29er mountain bike. I passed him up again on the paved climb before the finish line. We repeated this cycle for the next couple of laps.

I lost track of time and the number of laps after a while. As I crossed the finish area for the 3rd, 4th, or maybe 5th time, I was sure we'd have one lap to go. When I saw and heard the race official announce "Two to go," I almost threw up. In cyclocross, that's the sign that you're doing it right.

On the grassy climb up the main loop during the final two laps, I put more of a gap between myself and white t-shirt guy. I saw him out of the corner of my eye gaining on me a couple of times, but he never caught up again. So, I finished about where I expected and what is typical of me, not on the podium, but not DFL (dead f'in last.)
Just after the final finish
So, even if you're not a "serious" rider or racer, give cyclocross racing a try some time. It's a great workout and fun test of your skills. Bring the significant other and the kids along, because of all the types of bike racing, it's the most spectator-friendly.

The next (and final) race of the Northeast Ohio Cyclocross Series is this Sunday, December 9 in Broadview Heights.

Thanks to my friend Dave for the event photos and the post-race beers!

1 comment:

  1. Great time out there! Who would have thought riding a bike could be so much FUN? (Kidding...) :)