Bikefag “Serious,” “Non-Ironic” Cyclocross Season 2010
Reader(s), I know it wasn’t always my style to write about my “real,” “normal” “life.” But that was during my late-2000s “post-bike-hipster” period of uncertainty.
Now that I’ve fully “compressed” my dignity and individuality into lycra tights and completed my transformation from a “bike hipster” to a run-of-the-mill “non-ironic cyclist,” I’m going to be talking more about my own boring life – complete with details of my training, race results, excuses, and wattage data. Stick around in the coming months to watch me transfer my ego-validation mechanism from “writing blogs about how phenomena that I don’t embrace are stupid” to “writing blogs about how tenaciously I have embraced certain phenomena, with the data to back it up!”
Well, let’s get started:
Bikefag Cyclocross Season 2010
It all started in 2009, actually, when I put some narrow cyclocross tires on my purple bike and decided to try out one of the New Belgium cyclocross series Tuesday night races. I got a pinch flat on the start (even riding at a pressure that I’d now consider far too high), borrowed a wheel, and rode my way up the field for the next 30 minutes to a middling result in the B race.
I was hooked. You had to be there to understand why.
I bought an old Kona cyclocross bike with no drivetrain that week and had it riding as a single-speed by the next Tuesday race.
I raced all four of the Tuesday races, and made my own course in a park to practice on that winter.
So. A year later, license in hand, and several hundred more dollars invested into the Kona (now with a flat bar and a 1×9 drivetrain I share with my mountain bike), I was ready to race “seriously.”
I’d been “training” all summer. I’d raced a handful of mountain bike races, and a handful of road races. I’d done a nine-day bike tour, and taken nearly a week-long rest. I’d done a practice race without proper chain retention devices, and stopped five times to put my chain back on. I’d ridden hot laps of David Cross. Ridden “tempo.” Done intervals. I was ready, goddamit!
The second practice race, I went from the gun and ended up riding off the front with local fast guy Troy Heithecker on my wheel. Troy passed me, and I even managed to pass him back before he passed me again and kept going. But the guys behind never caught me, and I got second place, beating a lot of cat.3s and maybe even a cat. 2 or two.
I honestly had no expectations before that first practice race in September, but afterward I knew that I was going to have to make a go of it this season.
“Should I try to, like, talk them into a cat. 3 upgrade before I race, or should I just try to win as a four first?” I asked the great internet cycling oracle of Fort Collins, Dan Porter, after the practice race.
“Just go for the win as a four, then cat up, I say,” he said.
So I did.
Boulder CX Series #2
I raced my first “real” cyclocross race two weeks later as a cat. 4. I knew how important a good start was, but I didn’t know how the staging worked. It turned out that this particular race was the second race in a series that used the series points to determine starting order. So they just read the results from the last race and called up everyone who had raced in the last race – 62 dudes, at least half of them present, many of them clearly fat and slow. Luckily, there was no “grid” at this particular race – just a very wide area of grass with a front row 15-dudes-wide – so when the official called “everyone else,” I managed to force myself into the third row of the 60-man field.
Oh, did I mention I had a cold this week?
I got a very good start considering the amount of people trying to do the same thing as me: get into the narrow course in as good a position as possible. I probably went into the course in twelfth or so, and had an easy enough time moving up to the leader by the beginning of the first lap.
The breathing part wasn’t so easy after lap one though, and once the leader – 15-year-old Spencer Downing – dropped me on the double run-ups, I could never catch back up. Oh well, I’d be seeing him many more times that season, it turned out.
The next race was part of the Colorado Cross Cup, also the second race of the series, and I also wasn’t getting a call-up. But this time, I was emboldened to the point of cockiness by the certainty that I was one of the fastest dudes there, probably a sandbagger, and back to full health. I was a total asshole about staging, pushing my bike halfway into the second-row grid as they were finishing call-ups. I got my spot in the second row (oh, by the way, I had my number pinned on upside-down, so a spectator had to re-pin me at the line). They gave us the thirty-second warning and I started doing this bizarre fast-breathing thing to get my heatrate up and my brain into insanity-mode before the gun.
My cat. 4 cockiness was driving me to pull some crazy shit during that first lap. I was riding dudes twice my size into the tape, dive-bombing u-turns to get inside of people, passing people halfway, then riding them off the course with my back wheel to get back in the good line.
Oh well, I thought, I’m gonna beat them one way or another…
I got to third, and the guy in second-place made a pass for the lead. I followed him, riding through some deep, off-camber gravel, and practically crashed out the guy who’d just been leading.
I sat on the guy’s wheel through the start-finish straight, then dropped him on the first climb.
Holy shit! I’m winning!
Other than one guy who showed up out of nowhere (that guy went on to win the cat 3 state championship two months later) to get within sight of me, and my chain dropping just as he got within sight, it was a pretty straightforward race for the next six laps. I followed my friend Brian Holcombe‘s advice and rode my own race, trying not to freak out too bad and crack halfway through. It was a brilliant feeling suring the second half of the race! The course was technical – loose dirt with fast downhills and a bizarre downhill that confounded the roadies to the point of running it – making my flat bar a big advantage. Once I learned everything and felt comfortable with my gap, I could rail every corner, putting a leg out during the long downhill two-wheel drift right hander, and airing it out a little over the rock at the bottom. By the finish, I had a big lead and rode across with my hands in the air, just like you see in the Youtube videos.
Blue Sky Cup
I upgraded to a cat. 3 and raced the next weekend, again with no call-up since I’d just relinquished my cat. 4 points by upgrading. Being at the starting area of the threes was great, because I finally got to line up with Brian Holcombe and Tom Hayes, two of the guys I’d been duking it out with the most in the local practice races. Well, I didn’t exactly line up next to them, as they’d both already received Colorado Cross Cup Points in the threes and been called up to the first and second row respectively. I managed a halfway-decent starting position in the fourth or fifth row that week.
The threes were different. I couldn’t just beat everyone off the line anymore, and we all more-or-less went the same speed down the starting straightaway. I got into the narrow part in a pretty terrible position, having barely moved up any spots at all.
But I did what I’d learned the last two weeks and just started moving up as many places as possible any time I possibly could. I made it within the top ten by the end of lap one then I started to die a little and lose some places, then I came back a little and moved back up a few places. I finished in ninth place, in a big field, having started from a bad position, in my first race as a cat. 3. I was happy with the result.
NACT – Colorado Cyclocross Classic
The next race was my first experience at a “big deal” event – The Colorado Cross Classic, a UCI race and part of the North American Cyclocross Trophy (which I guess is banned next year?). It was pretty cool to see all the big team’s tents and buses.
It was pretty uncool that the course was completely closed for pre-riding.
In keeping with my principles, I followed their rule and didn’t pre-ride (even though I saw other dudes from my category flouting the rules), and it about killed me. I’m a technical rider, not a good starter, so knowing how to ride all of the Boulder Reservoir’s sand and root sections would have been a big help. Oh well, I was getting a decent start this week, as I now had points in the Colorado Cross Cup. I got my very first call-up, to the third row.
I’m not much of a starter, it seems, so I went into the course in 25th or 30th. I am a good first-lapper though, and I was moving up like a motherfucker on the totally foreign course. Then I rode straight off the course in between the tape and a fence that bordered the pit.
I had to rip the tape to get back on course. I moved up, moved up, moved up.
Then I tried to ride around someone just before the sand-pit and I rode to a dead-stop in the untracked sand. I had to wait a second, then force myself into the line of riders on the one rideable line.
I made back all my spots eventually, but never got close to seeing the leaders.
Oh well. I got 14th place, and a few more series points.
The real highlight of the race was watching the top North American riders race the course. There was a sandpit with a beer garden in the middle, and some stairs at the end. By halfway through the race, people further back were trying to ride the stairs, and the crowd was loving it. Finally, Adam Craig made it up the stairs, and he rode them every lap afterwards, oftentimes coming nearly to a stop as Rapha-Focus rider (and fellow mountain biker) Zach McDonald ran by him to retake his position. You’ve gotta love Adam Craig. The dude was barely outside the top ten in a UCI ‘cross race, and he was fucking around riding the stairs just to please the crowds.
USGP New Belgium Cup
I took the next weekend off to be well-rested before the biggest race of the year – The New Belgium Cup. This was part of the USGP, in my home town, and definitely the biggest race in Colorado. The cross racers in town had been freaking out about this for months. My coffee shop had a booth and I was going to make a killing selling people french-pressed coffee. It was definitely the main event of the cyclocross season for me for a variety of reasons.
My race seemed almost incidental to the weekend. I was working so hard with the coffee thing that I could only race one day. My race was early in the morning – long before most of the crowds came out to watch the pros. I’d only slept five hours the two nights before the race. Starting order was determined by registration, so I wasn’t getting a good start position. And since it’s the USGP, I had to race a cat 2-3 race instead of a separate cat. 3 race. So I didn’t have big expectations.
But I warmed up on the incredibly, fantastically designed course. The surface was frozen mud, formed into hilarious shapes by yesterday’s racing. There was a flyover with a stairway run, that dropped you down onto a steep series of slick downhill corners. There was full fencing, so you could crash into the tape and just sorta bounce off of it. There were sponsor logos in every direction. Waffle and sausage vendors. Team mechanics with power washers and extra bikes in the pits. God, it was beautiful, man!
I lined up on the well-delineated grid, and had a whole crowd of local guys around to coach me about the start and take my jacket and shoe covers.
“Don’t follow these guys too close through these corners. They’re gonna crash,” Andy Clark told me just before the gun.
It was pure, hilarious, disgusting bliss from the get-go. I was leaning on guys going into downhill corners; skidding wildly on the now-thawed mud-sculpture; laughing while racing; riding over crashed bodies; pushing them into the tape; killing them on the climbs!
I got into the top-ten by the end of the first lap, and just kept riding. It was a race in slow-motion on the deep, halfway-cured-adobe-hut surface. We trudged! We crawled! We crashed! PRAISE THE BENEVOLENT, ALL-KNOWING BIKE GODS! THIS WAS FINALLY REAL CYCLOCROSS!
Somebody told me I was in ninth, just before i caught two local phenom youngsters and watched them crash into each other. Later I heard over the loudspeakers that one of the leaders had dropped out with a mechanical issue. I was sitting in sixth, right behind a dude from Utah, and neither of us was about to drop the other guy. We rode the second half of the race together, with no one in sight ahead or behind. I’d attack him on the wildly fast downhill, crash at the bottom, and we’d ride together. the rest of the lap. On the last downhill, he rode it too fast for me to pass, but this time he crashed, spectacularly in a super-man mud slide. I let ‘er rip up the final climb and held him off for fifth.
Damn! Fifth place in the cat. 2-3 race at the USGP! Not bad!
The whole thing taught me that I can probably hold my own with the cat. 2s (let’s be honest, though, a lot of the cat 2s were only doing the pro race). I also learned (as I suspected from the Aspen Lodge race I won as a cat 4) that I am definitely a technical rider. There’s no way to say this without sounding like an asshole, but: dudes, what the fuck were y’all doing on all those downhills? I thought this was a race!
Oh, and the best part of this weekend? I finally scored under 300 on Crossresults.com!
Let’s watch as the pros recieve a “Canadian Surprise.”
Alpha Cross #2
The next week, I had a cold again, and placed a mediocre 11th on a forgettable “grass criterium” course in the Denver suburbs.
Lookout Cross #2
But the next week, in Golden, it all came together for me. The course was basically a mountain bike trail with no rocks. It was never flat, so you never needed a drop bar, but the downhills were pretty fast and felt real nice with a flat bar.
I warmed up for like five laps, and was feeling pretty good by the start. It was a tiny field, so I got to start on the front row, all-the-way-right going into a right-hand corner. I was feeling very confident, and definitely ready to redeem myself after the last weekend.
I got a good start, going through the first corner in third place. My friend Tom Hayes passed me, then passed the roadies ahead of us just before the downhill. I got stuck behind one of the roadies, and had to wait until he rode wide on the singletrack. I pulled up next to him and rode the whole straight side-by-side with him, holding him off the packed trail with my elbow, and forcing him to brake going into the corner. I bridged to Tom on the uphill, and held onto his wheel for that first lap.
Without a word, I pulled through to start lap two, and we stretched out our gap. By lap three, it was evident that Tom and I were going to ride away with this race, and we continued to work together, hardly speaking a word.
“So what are we gonna do about this, man?” I finally asked on lap five.
“I won’t go if you don’t. Let’s just wait.”
“OK. We’ll wait until the last lap.”
The last lap came, and it was my turn to pull.
I rode steady, but slowed my pace a little bit to conserve energy for our battle. I expected Tom to attack me any second, but he just sat on my wheel. We rode most of that lap like that, coming through the spectator section together, where our respective parties screamed,
“COME on TOM! GET HIM TOM!”
“Come on DAVID!”
“YOU GOTTA ATTACK TOM!”
We still weren’t attacking. I mean… attacking is hard. But I knew that if Tom didn’t go, I’d need to attack on the final climb.
I stood up out of the corner and put everything I had into the pedals. I raged the final uphill so fast that I had to brake on the corners. I washed out on a right-hand corner at the highest point and had to put my foot down.
“No! You’ve gotta be kidding me!”
“You’re ok, man,” the nearest spectator said. ”Go!”
I got moving just before Tom caught me. We both raged the final downhill as fast as either of us could (Tom’s a skilled mountain biker), but I still had a little bit more left on the last straightaway. I had a comfortable gap through the final corners and crossed the line a few seconds ahead of Tom.
Wow. A win in the threes!
I felt a little bit guilty for beating my friend Tom, but we raced a fair race and we absolutely had each other to thank for our easy one-two sweep. I really loved the guy right then, gave him a hug after he finished. It was definitely one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had racing – one of those moments that pushes all of those doubts about money and time and burnout out of your head for awhile.
I loved bike racing without reservation, there in that dirt field on the side of a hill next to a juvenile corrections facility in Golden! And I loved racing with friends!
People started giving me grief about being a sandbagger after that race.
“When are you gonna cat up, dude?”
“I can’t! I only have five upgrade points!”
In truth, I was eating that shit up, though.
Colorado Cyclocross Championships
The next race was the the last race of the tightly-knit, every-weekend racing in Colorado – The State Championships!
I had enough points to get either a first or second row start, depending who showed up.
It turned out everybody showed up.
The Cat 3 field was the biggest it had been since October – at least 60 starters. I was relegated to the second row, and the pressure was on after winning last week.
It was real cyclocross reunion out there in the cold.
“Hey man, how’ve you been?”
“Did you race last weekend? How was it?”
All friendships were forgotten when the gun fired, though.
There was a big, wide road to start on and I moved up a little on the left. But the whole thing funneled into a driveway and a sidewalk.
“I don’t wanna die!” I yelled, as I pulled on the brakes and shoved my way into the three-wide line.
I’d appraised the course as “lame” during warmup, but it made for some interesting racing. It was a dry, bumpy grass course, typical of Colorado cross racing. And it was fast. It was like a road race out there – complete with a bunch of dipshit roadies that took corners too slowly and dismounted their bikes like a fucking hundred feet before a barrier! Nevertheless, I moved up quickly, emboldened by my win last weekend.
The course tape was higher than my handlebar, so I could take all the tight u-turn corners wide and ride my handlebar under the tape in-between the poles (is that legit?). I was absolutely raging those leg-waxers through the u-turn section – again begging the question of whether or not a flat bar has some sort of quantifiable advantage in technical cornering (or if I’m just that good…).
It took me awhile, but I made it to the front of the chase group. The lead group of three were just a few seconds ahead, but working together and flying on that fast grass course.
I did everything I could to “attack” my group and bridge up to the leaders, but it turned out I just pulled everyone up, and then got attacked by like four dudes who closed the gap to the leaders.
I played it cool for a lap or two, sitting on wheels, and making passes only when necessary to stay with the lead group. Then I looked back and no one was on my wheel. I was last in a group of five leaders.
I sat at the end of the line, but found that the guy I was following had a terrible riding style to follow: he was probably 200lbs, and way over six feet tall. He lumbered through corners at a near-standstill. Then he accelerated and powered through the straights at a pace that had me barely hanging on to his wheel for dear life. I passed him, and moved up within the top three, but that effort killed me and I ended up getting gapped and riding back behind the gigantic dude. I figured out a way to ride with him where I dropped off his pace before a corner, then rode the corner faster than him, trying to time it so I slingshotted out just in time to catch his wildly-accelerating wheel. I’d ride his wheel most of the lap, then attack him coming into the u-turn section and ride away from him in the u-turns.
The final lap, I rode away on the u-turns, and kept going with everything I had. There was a lot of that last lap left, but I held my gap pretty well the whole time. I was riding so hard that I couldn’t really see or thing or hear.
I rode by the pits with my elbows on my bar for maximum aerodynamicism, looking down and putting my entire existence into the pedals.
When I looked up, I was riding straight at some spectators waiting to cross the course. I barely corrected in time to avoid hitting either them or a pole.
I ran the last run-up with everything. The gigantic guy was seriously like 30 feet back.
I managed to hold him off down the final off-camber straightaway, and turned the final corner in time to watch the winner’s sprint ahead.
Because of the field, my fourth place finish was worth almost as many upgrade points as my win the previous week. I now had eight points – two more needed to request a cat. 2 upgrade.
That’s the last thing I’ve raced, but I still have one more chance to get those two points this season, on January 22nd (the other race was cancelled).
I haven’t exactly been training, but I also haven’t exactly been sitting around playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater. I’m still out riding David Cross pretty regularly, just trying to get better and better at riding off-camber, snow-covered roots and the like.
After the state championships, I’m 12th place in the Colorado Cross Cup standings, and three people have catted up to the twos.
The race is at the Boulder Reservoir again, but this time I’m guaranteed a front-row start. It’s already a somewhat technical course, but if it’s snowy, I’ll probably have an even bigger advantage.
Given the right combination of a lucky start, a lethargic mid-January field, and a technically challenging course, I may just get those two points!
Show me the way Bike Gods. But please, oh please! Don’t make me race the pros yet!