Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Cross My Heart and Hope to DIE!

Cross My Heart and Hope to DIE...was the aptly named cyclocross race that was put on by Spin Bicycle shop in Willoughby, OH this past Saturday. The course was in a small township park, but used the terrain in a fun and interesting way. The course had two parts which stood out as being a little different than other cross courses. First, there was a large and deep mud puddle that the riders were directed to ride through on each lap. This “mud pit” completely trashed the bike and covered all racers with a thick crusty mud. The course would have been mud free without the addition of this unnecessary mud pit. The second unique feature of this course was a super long forced run – up, with a barrier at the bottom of hill. I would guess that the run-up was about 100 yards long. The rest of the course was pretty typical with grassy twisty stuff. Even with the unwelcomed mud pit on the course, I do think that the course was well designed for what was available to use at the park.

About 50 riders showed up for the “A” race and I was happy to see that many racers from the Pittsburgh Area made the trip. I traveled to the race with J-Pok and Charlie P, but I also saw Chris Mayhew, Mike Jernigan and Sam Morrison at the race. It was also cool to see local Cleveland Area Cyclists like Ernesto Marenchin, Shawn Adams and Paul Martin at the race, which of course was sure to increase the level of competition in the pack.

As of the Thursday prior to the race, my plan was to attend The MAC Series Granogue and Wissahickon Races near Philly. Since I was not able to make all the changes necessary to my work schedule to allow for travel time out to Philly, I changed my mind into doing the Willoughby Race. It turned out to be a good decision. Not only because the course was a lot of fun, but also because the prize money was spectacular. The race paid the top 15 riders with a total purse of $1500. Money like this is usually only set aside for the elite class in UCI Races and not local cyclocross races.

I trained hard the week leading into this race because my plan was to tapper during the week before the USGP Races in Louisville, KY. I figured that this hard training would leave my legs feeling tired for this race. Surprisingly, however, my legs felt pretty fresh before and during the race. I think that this is a sign that my fitness has seemed to have turned the corner for the better during the last week or so.

Anyway, I lined up in the first starting row of the race and had a great start, taking the hole shot into the first sweeping right turn. I never gave up the leading position throughout the race and ended up taking first overall. The win definitely felt good and also confirmed that all my hard training was finally starting to show.

It will now be interesting to see how my fitness compares to the top master cyclocross racers in the country when I race against them in Louisville. By looking at the starting list, I will say right now that a top ten finish in Louisville will be a good result. I will let you all know how it goes next week in a new blog entry…wish me luck! - Gerry

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Feeling a little more fit

Sorry for my delay in writing again. I always have good intentions to write after doing a race, but for one reason or another I always seem to get side-tracked. Since my last writing, I have raced in the final two Month of Mud Races in Grove City and Moraine State Park. I also did two elite master cross races in Cincinnati, OH. During each of the races, I felt a little more fit than the past few races I did in September. I am hoping that the extra effort that I am putting into my training and the increased racing over the past month will get me back up to top form. I don't feel like I am quite there yet, but I definitely feel like I am making some headway.

So, the MOM Grove City Cross Race was a blast like it usually is for me. The competition seemed to be a lot stiffer than in previous years, which only added to the fun. Since I was doing the single speed classification for the MOM Series, the amount of effort I had to put out in Grove City to keep up with the geared bike guys hurt me pretty good. Of course, having fast Evan Perone on his fixed gear cross bike only added to my work load at the race. With a little over two laps to go, Evan had like 20 seconds on me. I laid down a huge effort and bridged the gap with about a lap to go. I then had a major brain fart by letting another rider (Sam Morrison) come between me and Evan before the final turn. With only about 25 meters to the finishing line after the final turn, I was not able to come around Evan for the win. One day I will learn to sprint. Maybe...

This past weekend I traveled to the Cincinnati, OH Area on Friday and Saturday with Justin Pokrivika to race in two UCI cyclocross races. The races went well for me considering my bad starting positions. I took third on Friday after putting in a hard effort to work through the three rows of racers that started ahead of me. Justin rolled a Tufo Clincher Tubular Tire and had to abandon the race on Friday. On Saturday, I had another bad starting position in the fourth row back and the course was not friendly to moving up to the front of the pack very quickly. By the time I did get to the front of the main pack, there was a group of six riders that had about 15-20 seconds on me. I worked hard with Kris Auer, but we could not close the gap. With two laps to go, Kris crashed in a sand pit obstacle, which allowed me to finish in seventh. Justin started in the sixth row and managed a 21st place finish. The most notable thing I would like to mention about doing these two races is how much I dislike racing cross in hot weather. I can certainly see why cross is meant for the fall and winter seasons, not 80+ degree temperatures. Other than that, these two races were a lot of fun and are highly recommended for next year.

After doing the two cross races, I traveled back home and did the final MOM Race at Moraine State Park on Sunday. I could tell during my pre-ride of part of the course that the race was going to be fast because the trail conditions were perfect. Right from the starting whistle I could see that my pre-race assumption was correct. I actually took the hole shot going into the trails, mainly because I did not want anyone impeding my way for the first steep climb. I again chose a gear on my single speed that was a bit more than I could chew for the race and the first climb made me well aware of my poor choice. By the time the second climb on the course came, I was maxed out. I knew then that I had to back down a little, or would totally be blown. So, I let Evan (my single speed competition) ride away from me along with the top expert riders, while I re-gathered my composure. During this time, I was caught by another single speeder and a couple of other experts. Eventually, I did find my race legs again and was able to get by a couple of guys, but the damage was done and I finished third for the day in the single speed class. The points I gained from the race, however, were still enough to allow me to win the overall single speed win for the MOM Series.

After the race and while waiting for the overall series award ceremony, I did a 14 mile cool down ride with Henry Spreng and his up and coming fast 17 years old son. My legs certainly needed some flushing after three days of hard racing and the beautiful weather of the day made the ride more than enjoyable post race ride. The award ceremony was also cool, as it always is for the Month of Mud. All in all, it was a perfect way to end a weekend of racing.

Chris Huffman has been the promoter of the MOM for the past ten years and in my opinion and I am sure in the opinion of many others has done a fine job with the series. I do commend him for the work that he has done and thank him for keeping mountain bike racing alive in Western PA. Of course, he had help from guys like Gary Bywaters, Ty Musser and Tom Bell, but Chris was definitely the steam behind the engine the past 10 years. If you see Chris around, thank him for all of his effort because any race promoter will tell you that putting on a race is often times a thankless job.

I am hoping to do more cross racing this weekend and will be traveling to Louisville, KY the following weekend for the USGP of Cross Series. Hopefully I can continue to build on my fitness through the next month and work towards my goal of doing well at Nationals. I will try to do a better job at providing blog updates and will also try holding Andy's Head under water until he agrees to add at least one entry to this mess of a blog. Later... - Gerry