Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Chagrin River Cyclocross Challenge

Since somebody considered me enough of an "expert" on cyclocross to give a clinic on the topic, I figured I better make good on that confidence, and enter my first cyclocross race in about four years. I chose the Chagrin River Cyclocross Challenge (part of the Northeast Ohio Cyclocross Series), held this past weekend in Bainbridge Township, Ohio, since it's close enough to my house that I could ride my bike there and back instead of driving.

There was a "costumes-mandatory" race on Saturday, and a "costumes-optional" race on Sunday. I spoke to a couple of people who raced on Saturday, and they said it was a soupy mud pit, and advised riding a fatter-tire mountain bike as opposed to a cyclocross bike. However, I've been itchin' to test the racing mettles of my Surly Cross-Check, which I recently re-configured as a singlespeed. Even knowing that most of the other dudes who race the singlespeed category are animals who got bored with winning every time in the "regular" races.

The 7-mile ride to the race venue took about a half hour. I got signed in without any hassle, and found the starting line to do a warm-up lap. Things had dried out a bit, turning the treacherous soup on parts of the course to a slippery peanut butter-like consistency. At one point, a large wooden door had been dropped to provide a bridge over a stream bed. The trail was pretty soft on either side, so I opted to dismount and run across. Just as I got across, a female rider warming up behind me hit the bridge while still in the saddle, slipped, and landed fully submerged into the stream, body and bike. I and another rider helped her out; she was unhurt, but faced a longer, chillier day ahead than the rest of us.

Thanks to Stacey Rhea of Grunt Girl Racing, who saw me during my warm-up and yelled a few words of encouragement.

I finished the warm-up lap with just a couple of minutes to spare to wait at the finish line. I'm already looking winded, while veteran singlespeed cx racer Sean Burkey (of race series sponsor Raleigh America) is looking better prepared:
After a few brief instructions from the starter, the Men's B-1 field started, then we, the singlespeed group (about 8 of us) were sent off 30 seconds later.

The competitive field took off right away, leaving me and one other rider to tag along and battle for DFL (dead f'in last). I stayed on his tail until we crossed a small wooden bridge over a ditch. He slowed down a bit, so I mustered up what little extra energy I could, and passed him before we got to a small stretch of woods. I don't ever recall seeing him again, so I assume my non-DFL was secure.

That small wooden bridge would have been a little trickier on Saturday, but on Sunday, they reversed the direction of the course, making the transition from grass to wood and back a little less severe:
After a few twists and turns around the parking area, the course passed by the spectator tent, where three large logs were placed as barriers, providing me an opportunity to showcase my cyclocross "skills."
The rest of the course snaked through more woods, with sharp turns, more mud, a few ups and downs, and the aforementioned stream. I was thinking that I should have heeded my friends' advice and brought a mountain bike. Fat tires would have helped me be more aggressive and not have to scrub speed so much in the corners, and let me float over the mud a little better. But I was meeting my goal of just having a great time, out for a hard ride on a sunny day.

I slogged my way through lap after lap. During the last lap, I was passed by the leaders of the B race, and soon after was passed by the leaders of my own singlespeed group. During the post-race commiseration with Sean and our other fellow racers, we enjoyed a few beers, pulled pork sandwiches, pasta, and coffee. Just after the start of the A race, I slung my bag on my shoulder and pedaled back up the road home. Tired, with a dirty bike, but a clear head.

Thanks to Fast Track Cycling, the organizers of the race, for putting on a great event! Thanks to my friend Dave (who raced on Saturday) for the photos (see the slide show below for more).

Congratulations to Weston Flickinger (part time rental bike guy at Century Cycles in Peninsula) for winning the Men's Open Cat 3/4 race!

(Click here if the slide show is not appearing for you.)

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