I have been home for a couple of days now from my trip to the 2008 Cyclocross Nationals, which were held in Bonner Springs, KS at a large county park. The biggest story about the race was the weather. A few days before the races actually began the region was hit by an ice storm which laid about an inch of ice on everything.
The first day of actually racing was on Thursday and the racers that had the pleasure of racing on that day made first tracks through the ice and mud underneath. The second day of racing was mostly a mud fest with temperature first rising and then falling throughout the day. It was my privilege to watch a long time friend, Gunnar Shogran, take third place in the Masters 45-49 Race that day.
On Friday night, the temperature outside continued to drop and by morning the course also had about 2 inches of snow covering the frozen tundra. The snow probably would not have been too bad, but the cold temps actually froze all of the muddy ruts created from the Thursday and Friday Races. Basically, the course became like a rocky section of single track and very difficult to ride with skinny cyclocross tires. Every race held that day had numerous crashes and saw many riders hitting the deck.
Andy raced in the master mens 35-39 age class. Unfortunately, he did not have a great outing at the race. A series of crashes made his bike impossible to ride. Being the go-getter that he is he did attempt to run his bike back to the pit, but he soon realized that the pit was just too far away for him to remain competitive. So, instead, like a true sportsman he began cheering on the others in his race.
My race, the master mens 40-44 age class, immediately followed Andy's. It was nice to have him at the start of my race for taking my warm-up clothing from me and to offer encouragement. Additionally I was thinking that since Andy was not all cold and muddied up from racing that he would be able to take some good digital camera shots of me racing for the blog. Well, this is a whole other story, but let's just say that I now have a lot of great "snow" pictures. Yes, I will admit that it was a new camera, but don't you think he would have at least checked the first few shots to see if he was operating it right or not? Oh well, he did try I guess... The quality pictures above are the best examples I could find of his beautiful work.
So, anyway, I was excited about my race. I typically race pretty well in cold weather and I thought that the technical course would slow down the fast guys a bit and allow me a chance to hang with them. Additionally, I was excited about my second row starting position because there were about 150 riders in my class and I know from experience that starting up front is a huge advantage with that many battling for the hole shot. My start was not too bad and I was probably in about the top ten riders going into the first turn. This first turn was crazy and in just about every race, including mine, there was a huge crash. It was a sharp right turn into a ditch, which was filled with frozen, snow cover mud. There was almost no way a pack of sprinting riders could cleanly clear the ditch. Unfortunately, I was directly behind a crash going into this turn at the start and then was swarmed by the pack of riders behind me. I went from being in the top ten to hearing some random guy outside the course tape saying "good job, you are in the top 40!"
Even with the crash causing me to lose my good starting position, I was still pretty positive that I could work my way back up front. But, I soon found out that pre-riding a course is much different than riding a course at race speed with tons of other riders trying to do the same thing. The frozen muddy ruts made passing almost impossible and actually almost dangerous. There was basically one single track line on the course that all racers were using. Anything off of this line was just way too bumpy to use with speed. Of course, that didn't stop me from trying, but after getting thrown into the course tape, other riders and wherever the course dictated, I just decided to pass only in the areas that were "safe." Now that I look back at the race, I can certainly say it was a race more against the course than it was against any other riders. I never really felt like I was battling against another rider as much as I felt that I was battling the course. By the end of the race, I did manage to finish 14th in a race that only 89 other racers finished. I am happy with my result, but I would not be telling the truth if I didn't say that I expected that my finish would have been better.
On Sunday, Andy and I watched the mens and womens elite races. Both races were exciting and fun to watch. Katie Compton destroyed her competition like always. The mens race came down to three main players; J. Page, T. Johnson and T. Wells. Watching Jonathan Page race is always a treat because the guy is so talented and because he does not race in the US much anymore. Page tried to ride away from everyone at the start, but after a few laps he started to fade away from his fast starting pace. Todd Wells was the first to catch him and they had a good battle going for a few laps before Wells dropped off the pace. Tim Johnson then caught Page and another battle for position ensued. Johnson did finally get around Page with about two laps to go. Page then made a rare mistake going through a rough frozen mud rut section, which caused him to drop his chain. Johnson capitalised on the mistake and quickly put 10 seconds on Page. The mistake happened close to the pit, so Page took another bike and began his chase. Johnson, however, continued to ride with his normal smooth power and held on for the win. Todd Wells was third, Wicks was fourth and Todd's brother Troy Wells took fifth. I have never seen a pro race fall apart as quick as this one did. In addition, I think there were only 30 riders that actually finished on the same lap.
All in all, cross nationals were a blast. If you have never gone, then you do need to go. Even with the bad weather it is an event not to miss. Here is a video clip that I took from the crazy first turn of the elite womens race.