Monday, November 30, 2009

Uncomfortably comfortable

The biggest difference between doing well at cyclocross race and not doing well is the ability to sustain maximum effort during the entire event. For the most part, road and mtb racing does allow for a rider to find some recovery time after putting out hard efforts. I call the feel of racing with time to recover as being uncomfortably comfortable. What I mean is that both road and mtb racing can hurt pretty bad at times from the amount of effort I am putting out, but that level of pain does not last for the entire race. Cyclocross, on the other hand, requires a rider to go much deeper into the pain reserves and ride at a completely uncomfortable level pretty much the entire race. I think this difference in effort is a big reason why some of the best road and mtn bike racers don’t always make great cross racers. Being the pain monger that I am, I decided to dig deep into my box of pain this weekend and do three cyclocross races: one on Saturday and two on Sunday.

On Saturday, I did the elite men’s PA State Cyclocross Championship Race in Allentown, PA. Yes, I know that my cyclocross racing age is 42 and that I should probably play with “kids” my own age, but because of my recent USAC category 1 upgrade in cross I had no choice but to do the elite race. Anyway, as my current racing trend would have it, I had a fairly bad start off the whistle. By the second or third lap, though, I was able to work my way into the top five riders. Eventually, this group was whittled down to me and Patrick Bradley, with two riders (Andy Wulfkuhle and Pavel Gonda) ahead of us. After what seemed to be way too many laps of riding with that feeling of being “uncomfortable,” bad Andy took the win, Pavel came in second and believe it or not I actually won a sprint to take third over Patrick. Even though I came in third place overall, I was the second placed PA Rider and therefore was the silver medalist.

Yeah, there was definitely pain associated with PA States, but my racing on Sunday in New York at the Staten Island CX Race was a two headed monster. Being the single speed fanatic that I am, I had to register for the single speed only race. And, for a single speed only race, there was a pretty good turnout. I really think single speed cross racing is going to keep growing and one day be a pretty big thing. Anyway, my start went pretty good this time and I was able to get into a group with about four other racers right after the first few turns and technical features of the course. By about part way through the second lap, a Team Toga Rider and I were able to get clear from the other racers. We pretty much hammered each other and the one gear we had on our bikes for the rest of the race. My gear choice was a 39x17 and he had a 39x16, so I was accelerating faster, but the Toga Rider was faster on the long flats. With one lap to go, things were shaping up for an epic sprint between us. Unfortunately, however, for the Toga Rider, he got a flat tire with about a third of a lap remaining in the race, giving me a much easier win than anticipated.

After my single speed race, I did some spinning on the trainer, drank some fluids, ate some food and stretched my legs to prepare for tackling my second race of the day against a group of fast elite men. I thought that my preparations between races would be enough to keep me in the mix during the second race, but I can tell you now that it certainly was not. Right from the start of the race, I went backwards faster than I was going forward. I was totally at my limit and was completely questioning my logic about doing two CX races in one day. After the third lap, and all of the positioning insanity of the first couple of loops, I was able to get into a pretty good rhythm on the course. I basically told myself that I was not going to win this thing, so I needed to knock my level down to more of an uncomfortably comfortable type of speed rather than a full out effort. I made the decision to enjoy the course and learn where I could make up time and keep up my speed without exerting too much effort. Surprisingly, even though I was not going full-tilt, I was able to work my way back into the top ten riders. Unfortunately, After about 45 minutes of racing and with three laps remaining, my fun on the course came to an abrupt end when I flatted my rear tubular on the furthest section of the course away from the pit. I pretty much immediately decided that riding the flat, or running to the pit would not be a good choice with so little time left in the race. So, convinced that my pain dosage was more than enough for the day, I took the DNF and went back to my trainer to spin out the concrete in my legs before the long drive home.

My hat goes off again to the promoters of both the PA State and the SICX Races; both events and course were awesome. Of course, it is hard to have any complaints with another weekend of dry racing, especially in late November. I am certainly not used to this much love from Mother Nature during cyclocross season and it is kind of taking a huge chunk of that uncomfortable feeling away from cross racing. But, I must say that re-gluing yet another tire on my racing wheels this season is probably much more painful to me than doing a cold and muddy cross race is anyway, so I guess there is always be something to give me a little anguish.

Another weekend of racing gone and only two more to go before the off season begins. Next up for me is the Team Lake Effect Race at Broughton Farm in Akron, OH. Hope to see you there friends to share a bunch of uncomfortable feelings with you. Happy Trails, Gerry

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cows, Guns, Trophies and Cyborgs.

I had an interesting weekend of racing with a lot of different sights and observations.

The racing and sights started on Saturday in Bruceton Mills, WV at the Don Parks Residence. Don has had cross races on his property ever year since 2004. Before racing there on Saturday, my only other race at Don’s was in 2005. The changes in the course from ’05 to this year were 100% better and made the race a true fast and fun cx course, thanks to Gunnar helping with the design. The start of the race traveled up Don’s driveway passing a fenced in cow pasture, with the cows standing along the fence watching the racers closely like the fans at a Belgium Cyclocross Race. The race then went around Don’s house and twisted around his entire yard in a clever design. After the first couple of laps, Gunnar and I separated ourselves from the rest of the pack. I tired to get a gap on Gunnar a few times during the race, but my single speed bike choice was just not giving me the right gear to get clear from him. I made a decision with 3 laps to go to switch to my geared bike, which was waiting in the pit. The bike change made an increase in my speed immediately noticeable. After the switch of bikes, I waited until the next lap to make another attack on Gunnar. I attacked on the toughest climb of the course and was able to gain a few seconds advantage with my move. I was then able to maintain my gap over Gunnar for the remainder of the race and take the win. While taking a cool down lap on the course, some guys with guns started shooting at a target, which was just off the race course loop. I am pretty sure that WV is the only place where herds of domesticated animals and guys with guns come to checkout a cross race. The only thing to top the sights viewed during the race was receiving a trophy for the win that was almost too big to fit into the back of my car for the trip Home.

My second race of the weekend was at Kirkland Park in Cleveland, OH. Again, the course put on by Team Lake Effect was superbly designed. Kirkland Park is a little park right outside Cleveland with a small amphitheater built into a hillside. The course uses this man made feature along with concrete steps also built into the hill for technical features, along with a lot of twisty stuff. In addition to the toughness of the course, I had to race against the Ohio Cyborgs (my new nickname for riders like Paul Martin, Matt Weeks and Dan Quinlan). Paul is and has been Mr. Consistency for years and Matt is riding super strong this year; both perform more like machines than humans. Dan is newer at racing cross, but has really started to come on during the past few weeks. Both last week and this week I witnessed two crashes which would have caused most riders to abandon the race. Last week Matt went down hard on a gravel turn and then pretty much got back up and started working his way back through the pack. The only thing that kept him from rejoining the lead group was a rolled tubular tire later in the race. At the start of the race on Sunday, Dan did something that caused him and his bike to go head over heels at least a few times. Again, I figure he was probably done racing for the day; however, by the end of the race he fought back for a fifth place finish. I am not sure what is in the water up there in Cleveland, but these guys are definitely a little tougher than your average human. Anyway, I finished the race in third behind the cyborg duo of Matt and Paul.

This coming weekend I am traveling to Allentown, PA for the PA State Cyclocross Championship Race and to Staten Island, NY on Sunday for two more CX races. On Sunday, I am doing a single speed only race at 11am and then the elite race at 2pm, so this is going to be one hard weekend of racing with 3 races in two days. Maybe some of that Ohio Cyborg Toughness has rubbed of on me this season and it will help me be just a little stronger this weekend. If not, at least I am sure that I will still have the opportunity to experience more interesting sights in and around the races , but I am sure none of them will be quite as unique as those in WV. Again, thanks needs to be given to Team Lake Effect, Don Parks and all the other WVCXS People for putting on two great cross races.

Happy Thanksgiving Friends - Gerry

Monday, November 16, 2009

Second Fiddle

For the third race in a row, I finished second at a CX race. Last week at the Tacchino Race I finished second and then this weekend I did two Ohio CX Races and finished both in the number two position. Not that placing second in a race is a bad thing, but winning is certainly more fun. Without a doubt, few things can compare to the feeling of a win. But, even though I only finished second at both races this weekend, I still felt like a winner because both races were super fun.

On Saturday, I competed at the Team Lake Effect Cyclocross Race in Kent, OH. The course was an interesting mix of fast grassy field type riding mixed with an almost equal amount of mtb style double track. Being more of a mtb racer than a road racer, I thought the course design would suite my skills very well after pre-riding it. The start of the race was a bit crazy with about 20 riders (instead of the typical 8) lined up on the front row and all wanting to win the sprint into the first gravel to grass transition turn. After the first lap, things did calm down some and a group of about six of us began to separate from the rest of the pack. Towards the beginning of the second lap, however, Matt Weeks threw a pretty hard attack going into a turn which transitioned from grass to gravel to asphalt. Matt carried a little too much speed into the turn, which caused him to go down directly in front of me. I am still not sure how I did not go down with him, but I am glad to have survived the carnage. From this point in the race, the lead group was whittled down to me, Steve Cummings, Shawn Adam and Ernesto Marenchin. Steve-o then got away from the group in the wooded section and began his individual TT to the finish. Ernie, Shawn and I were left in the chase for second place with a constant battle for position going on between us. At the end, I was able to work my way to the front of our little pack during the finishing stretch and hold on to the spot for second overall.

I did the OVCX - Alan Infirmary Hill CX Race just outside Columbus in Granville, OH on Sunday. At this race, I had the choice of either doing the elite master race, the elite race, or actually doing both races. I started the masters race with the game plan of also doing the elite race in my mind. I think this might have caused me to take things a little too conservatively on the first couple of laps. In addition to my lackadaisical start, I also got hit in the eye by a low hanging pine tree branch that kind of obstructed my vision for a lap or so and then had another racer almost take me out when his attempt to bunny hop a barrier failed. But, even after all of this, I still made it into the lead group of the top five riders. One rider, Fred Rose, was able to get a gap on the rest of our group on either the third or fourth lap. A lap or so later only Phil Noble and I were left in the chase after Fred. Phil and I made a few attempts to get away from one another, but pretty much rode the rest of the race together. At the end, I was able to make it into the last turn in the lead spot, which allowed me to win the sprint for my third second place in three races. After my effort in this race, I had no desire to immediately inflict more pain on myself by doing the elite race, especially with only 15 minutes to recover in between the two events.

So, yeah, both races, even as the second fiddle, were good fun. I am sure the fact that both races were held on fast, dry courses added to the pleasure of racing this weekend. It is not often during cross season that I get to race two weeks in a row without mud, so it certainly has been a nice treat to race mud free recently. This coming weekend I will be racing at the WVMBA CX Race in Bruceton Mills, WV on Saturday and at the Team Lake Effect CX Race at Kirkland Park in Cleveland on Sunday. The cross season is winding down, so come on out to the races and play before the season is gone.

Happy Trails, Gerry

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Crowd Control

Due to my occupation, I have received quite a bit of training in the methods of managing and controlling large groups of people. During this training, I have learned there is always a chance that a large group of people can become disorderly when they converge in one area, perhaps even to the point of causing a riot. With proper crowd control techniques, though, like those displayed at the recent G20 Conference in Pittsburgh, a riotous crowd can be well managed and controlled. This past weekend it would have been nice to use some of my crowd control training to separate a group of people from me. This group I was focused on spliting up was not a posse of disorderly Anarchists, but a pack of rowdy cross racers all shooting for victory.

This past weekend I did two cross races; the MAC Fair Hill CX Race and at the MABRA Tacchino CX Race. Neither race was super crowded or anything, with each having about 40-50 riders in the elite master category, but since I have not done any MABRA or MAC Races so far this season my starting position was staged near the rear of the pack. Starting position is so important at a cross race because unlike road or mtb racing, there are usually no long climbs or areas to allow the riders to separate quickly. Additionally, cross courses are typically only about 3 meters wide, so on the first couple of laps things can bottleneck at technical points on the course pretty often. Take all this into consideration with the fact that the fastest series riders are staged at the front of the pack, giving them a clear, unobstructed shot to go full speed on the course. Meanwhile, riders staged in the back of the pack must work their way through the crowd even to get near the front.

At the US Cross Nationals this December, I will be starting at least 40 riders back in the master men 40-44 race and about 90 riders back in the single speed race, so my plan for racing this past weekend was to use my bad starting positions for practice in moving through riders staged and starting ahead of me. In my opinion, the only way to learn how to move through a lot of riders quickly is to do it during a race. At both races this weekend, I was able to practice riding through two fairly large packs of racers before it will really count in December and actually did pretty well at it.

On Saturday, at the MAC Race, I started four rows back and by about 1.5 laps into the race I was able to make it through the majority of the riders who started in front of me. The only problem was that a group of five fast riders (all of whom started in the first row) had separated themselves from the rest of the pack. Then, from about lap 2 or 3, I was forced to chase this group by myself, which is never a good place to be in any race. A few times during the race I did get pretty close to the group, but never close enough to completely bridge the gap by putting out one huge effort. I ended up finishing the race in 6th place, directly behind the breakaway group of five.

On Sunday, my starting position was in the third row, so it was one row better than on Saturday. My start was not great, but I was able to latch onto the lead group by the middle of the first lap. From there, I was able to continue working my way through the main group into the top three riders. After the main front group of about 4-5 riders solidified, I then started to throw some attacks off the front of the pack and keep the pace of our small group pretty high with the help of Blair Saunders. Unfortunately, Blair suffered a mechanical on the last lap, which left me all alone with Dave Fuentes. I knew Dave would have a better sprint than me, so I did try to get away from him a few times during the last lap, but none of my efforts were good enough to get clear. At the finish, Dave did win the race and I came in second.

All in all, I am pretty happy with my results from this past weekend and my ability to quickly work through the riders that started in front on me. After reviewing my performance from the weekend, I realize now that I should have probably been just a little more aggressive at getting around riders on Saturday to make contract with the group of five in front of me. Hopefully, I will make a mental note of what I did right and wrong at each of these races and learn from them for nationals. Of course if I didn’t do well this weekend at getting through the crowd, I could always resort back to my professional training and use my riot baton to take a more forceful approach of gaining control over the rowdy group of cyclocrossers in front of me, as this has certainly been proven as an effective method in separating most groups. I am sure, though, that the sanctioning bodies of the cycling community would not be too happy with this action.
Happy Trails, Gerry

Sunday, November 1, 2009

It's been a long season

I did my first race of the year on March 29th and have pretty much raced every weekend since then. So far this season, I have done 33 races and there are still ten more on my schedule to do until I will take my winter break. Surprisingly, even with doing this much racing, I do not feel tired or like I am close to burning out. As long as I am having fun at what I am doing, I will continue racing. I will admit, though, that the Marilla Cross Race this past Saturday was almost enough to break me from racing again on Sunday at the Chagrin River Lake Effect Cyclocross Series Race in Ohio.

Yes, Marilla was bad. Pretty much the whole course was covered in two inches of slimy mud by the time the "A" race started. I really don't mind racing in the mud. It is the clean-up and mess afterwards that is such a burden to me. Not only is the bike trashed, but all the clothing and everything else just seems to take forever to properly clean. After the race on Saturday, I wasn't too sure that I would want to clean everything I made a mess of on Saturday, only to take it back out on Sunday and destroy it again. Well, I did get everything clean and after sitting in my hot tub for awhile, I soon forgot the misery of Marilla and decided to race in Cleveland on Sunday.

As unhappy I was with all my cleaning chores this weekend, I was happy with my race results. At Marilla, I finished 2nd after battling with Mike Mihalik for 60 minutes. It was a lot of fun trying to find the fastest lines in the mess of mud out there, especially with me either chasing Mike or having him right on my tail. With about a lap to go, I slid out on a slightly off camber section. Mike was able to get about a ten second gap on me after this mishap and I just couldn't close it with a lap to go. Oh well, a nicer guy couldn't have taken the win and I can accept being the first loser of the race.

Even though there was mud at Chagrin on Sunday, it was nothing like the Marilla Race. Basically, there was just one deep mud puddle on the course to make things a mess on Sunday. The rest of the course was pretty fast, but definitely not a typical cross course. The course was more of a short track mountain bike course, but still a great time to ride. In a way, the course made me feel like I was racing in a Belgian Forest or something, with the transition from bright open sunny fields to dark, rooted trails winding between pine trees. Adding to this ambience was the large open pit fire with smoke blowing into the trees. On the first lap, Matt Weeks and I pulled away from the other riders. We worked pretty good together until there was about three laps to go, when I fell off his fast pace. I thought that I had second pretty much wrapped up, but Shawn Adams came on super strong after taking a fresh bike from the pit and eventually catching me. I tried to hang with him on the last two laps, but I was pretty much fried by that time. I managed to finish third on the day, with Shawn coming around Matt for the win.

The one constant about both races was the amount of excitement that the spectators at the race created. It is always so cool to see people cheering you on during the race. I know it certainly makes me ride harder and also makes the pain more bearable. So, thanks to everyone that endured the nasty elements out there during the two races this weekend and made my racing even more fun. Like I said at the beginning, racing is all about having fun; that is why I am usually smiling at a race. Yeah, it has been a long season for me, but I am still having fun. Happy Trails, Gerry

Thanks to JR Pesko for the above photo and if your are interested in seeing more shots from the Marilla CX Race, checkout this link: