It seems like every time I sit down to write about a race, I always want to convey how excited I was about the event–how much I look forward to it. Each race is different and special. Northampton is my home (or thereabouts) and is special for that reason, but it’s more than that. This is the oldest UCI race in the country, and in its 23rd year, the race has taken place at Look Park for many years now.
This weekend is the ONE weekend I have ALL YEAR that is ALL MINE. My son is away with my ex. My significant other is away on business. And there is a huge 2 day cyclocross extravaganza practically in my backyard. I look forward to this weekend all year.
So you can imagine how bummed out I was when I started to feel like a tired piece of crud on Thursday. I started popping Zicam like candy on Friday and by Saturday morning, I was still feeling abnormally fatigued and a bit sneezy. Not to mention, I haven’t been riding much the last month Work, fading daylight, and increasing demands of my son’s schedule have made rides few and far between. Now that I’ve properly explained away why I did so crappy, I’ll tell you about the races.
Course was slightly moist, not really muddy, but greasy in spots. I got a really terrible start. Too much hesitation in front of me and I was caught in the dominos. On the first pass of the run-up, I was forced right, up the steepest, least climb-able part of the hill. The racer in front of me slipped and lost control of her shouldered bike and hit me, and then the same thing happened to me. I practically dragged the bike up the steepest part of the hill. It was ugly.
Then we were in the woods, which I liked. The course twisted and turned and spit us back down onto the flat and fast grass, taking us down a swift singletrack. On the grass there was lots of sprinting and braking and turning and more sprinting. The second run up wasn’t anything to sneeze at, and wound us through the woods again, and onto my favorite addition to this course. A very mountain-bike-esque set of dirt turns through trees with minor elevation changes. I LOVED this section. It was just plain fun and challenging enough to keep the best riders on their toes. I think I liked it because it was hard without being dangerous. Perfect.
I did, however, crash in this section. My first actual crash in a race. The rider in front of me spilled and forced me into deep unstable soil and I went ass over tea kettle. She quietly apologized (Cat 3/4 Women as very polite racers I’ve discovered) but I hopped back on and kept going (and so did she). No worries. This was all part of the adventure.
After this the course shot us down a trail on over the railroad tracks. If you had enough speed, you could catch air here. I did every time and it was wicked fun. Despite feeling like shit, I was having a good time.
Back on the grass it was power, power power……something we all know I’m short on. I did my best and tried to ride hard and smooth. I finished 60 out of 82 racers. Now I shouldn’t feel too bad about this since the top 15 are all crazy good. But this wasn’t the middle of the pack I was aiming for. Sigh. Being off the bike for nearly a month has its repercussions.
On Sunday, the two monster run ups were gone and the course was much, much faster. The good news is I felt much better this day. After spending Saturday hanging out with co-blogger Heather and new cycling friend Aileen drinking beer and eating pizza and watching the Elite races, I got some rest and Daylight Savings Time gifted me another whole hour of sleep. Sunday was a new day. The bad news is it was 15 degrees colder and fast courses eat me for breakfast.
Whatever. I was there to race. I decided that I was going to leave it all out there on the course, Save nothing! I lined up and had a much better start. I was more aggressive and sprinted when things opened up. I had contact with riders for 3 of the 4 laps, playing cat and mouse with several. By the 3rd lap things had shaken out and riders were stretched through the course. I stayed on the wheel of one rider for a half a lap until she shook me and steadily opened a gap on me that was too big to overcome. I worked on keeping myself enough ahead of whoever was left behind me.
I sprinted for the finish alone, finishing 62 of 75. A worse result than Saturday. I was a bit mystified by this because I really felt like I raced this one, rather than just survive it. I think this just illustrates how much better I do in technical sections than on flat open sections. I am no sprinter, I am not fast. I like dicey technical stuff.
So a great weekend all in all. I really would like a full CX experience by having a really sloppy muddy race. Or snow. Most of my races (this year and last) have been very dry. The muddiest race so far has been Providence. I’d love to see how I do in some terrible conditions.
Too much to post about! I raced both days, lackluster performances both days. More on that later. I’ll start with some photos. (I dare say I’m a better photographer than I am a bike racer!).
A write up will come….sometime this week. I’m spent. This was a fun weekend, on a great course. I went in sick and my results were my results. It is what it is. It was a beautiful weekend in New England for bike racing.
Boom! Providence Cyclocross Festival! Probably my favorite course–especially with today’s rain–a true CX experience! Race report will follow. Results are in but under review so I’m going to wait until those bake a bit to talk about the race itself. Until then, here are a few pics of the fun!
Stay tuned for the race report……
Since my first cyclocross race ever last September, I knew I was in trouble. I knew I was hooked. I wouldn’t be able to stop. And judging from my numbers on Crossresults for the season, I knew I’d need a faster bike.
No disrespect to my Specialized Tricross Sport, but truthfully, it wasn’t meant to race. Dirt and gravel roads, a randonee perhaps, but it just wasn’t made for speed. Weighing in at 23.5 lbs, I got strong riding it, but placed at the end of the pack every time. I decided at the end of CX season in 2012 I needed an equipment upgrade.
Enter the Kona. I walked into a bike shop I’d never set foot in in Southwick, MA called New England Bike Shop. The only reason I went there was because my friend and I were bored and she said they carried Cannondale, and I had my eye on the Cannondale SuperX Carbon Rival. I was dismayed, because despite having a really wonder selection of mountain bikes and road bikes, I couldn’t find any CX bikes. Finally after a bit of browsing, I asked if they had any Cannondale CX bikes and they pointed to a CAADX. But next to it was this……
The price was reduced from $3282 to $2252 and it was a leftover demo from 2011. They had demoed it last year at the NEMBA Fest. The new Major Jake (2013) retails at $3400. I was surprised to see it there, since it was a 2011, and was loving the price. Once I picked it up I was very, very interested. It weighed in at 17 lbs, 15 oz. A very noticeable difference from any of my other bikes. Oh the difference a full carbon frame makes. A seed was planted, and a few days later I returned with my pedals and cleats and bike shorts for a test ride. 3 hours later, after a few adjustments to the stem and handlebars, I was packing it into the back of my Element and taking the Major home with me.
One of the deciding factors was watching the “Bike Talk” video with Helen Wyman, the British 8 time National Champion, who rides the Major Jake. I’ve watched Helen race the Gloucester Gran Prix in 2011 and 2012, and I even managed to sneak her a bag of my coffee to her at the 2012 race (although I missed meeting her, she tweeted some nice words about the gift the following day). Helen is FAST. Like, no one can touch her fast. A few months back, I openly polled my Twitter Stream for CX bike recommendations and Helen responded with “Kona. End of Discussion.” Sure, she races for them so of course she says nice things. But her performance speaks for itself.
After I got the Jake home, I had almost no time for a ride before my son returned home from school. I jumped on the Jake and sprinted over to the closest patch of woods to my house. I have a nice, private CX loop segment I do there, and it’s saved on my Strava profile. It’s a great area to practice CX. My best time on the Tricross for this segment was 6:02. On the Jake, without going 100%, my time was 5:09. Almost a whole minute. What would that mean over the course of a whole CX race?
Middle of the pack, here I come.
I never knew how poorly my road bike fit me until I spent some serious time on a bike that actually fit me.
For the past 18 months, I’ve been riding my CX bike almost exclusively. Before that I had returned to mountain biking for a spell, and as a result, I spent spare little time on the road bike (a Specialized Dolce Elite). During that time, some nagging physical conditions evaporated–but I didn’t notice they were even gone until I started riding the road bike again.
Here is what hurts: lower back, my shoulders, the base of my neck. The neck is an issue–and I was in PT last year because of it. I have some disk that’s askew and the position I have on the road bike makes it worse–so much so I cannot turn my head. What hurts most this morning is the lower back. All of it is no good, and I can’t believe I endured these aches and pains for so many years.
The road bike is a women’s specific frame. The CX bike is a standard frame, also a Specialized. I can ride and ride this without issue. So to solve my pain problem, I have 2 options:
- Get the road bike professionally fitted to me.
- Sell the road bike and get slick tires for road work with the CX bike.
I have to say I’m leaning toward option #2. I wouldn’t mind the extra cash and would use it toward buying a true racing bike for the CX season, something I’ve been saving my pennies for. The CX bike I have now would be a great all around training bike. If I had more disposable income I’d upgrade the road bike outright, since I bought it back in 2006. But that’s not where I am right now (at the moment). I really don’t want to invest the time and money in getting my road bike professionally fitted to me. And I suspect the women’s specific frame was a little too much marketing and not enough function for a woman who is as tall as the average male.
The one (silly) reservation I have is that although painful, the road bike is faster. I can go longer, faster on it. When I ride the CX bike with friends who are on road bikes, I have to work harder. Maybe that’s a good thing overall, maybe it will make me faster come race season.
So what do you think I should do? Weigh in, because Craigslist is a few clicks away….
This week is the week schoolchildren pine for–their spring break, April Vacation. And while my son is doing a week long happy dance, I’m left trying to figure out how I’m going to get any saddle time this week.
I have some ideas….although it remains to be seen if they will pan out. I sometimes tempt my son to ride bikes with me, and although it’s not the kind of bike ride I would want to do, it’s something. He’s 8, so he peters out after about 5 miles. I can hire a sitter, but that gets expensive fast. I have one coming today, and at $8-10 bucks an hour, anything more than 20 miles gets pricey. I am planning to drive out to Boston to visit the family, and I could take the bike along, but truthfully there are no areas to really ride where my family lives. It’s too congested and drivers there see a point value when they see a cyclist on the road, so I have never tried a serious ride so close to the city. I heard Boston has improved, but alas, I just don’t trust my fellow Boston drivers with my life, for the sake of a quick workout. I also considered bringing my mountain bike home, since Lynn Woods is nearby and boasts some excellent mountain biking. Alas, I just don’t feel comfortable riding there solo, not due to difficulty level but do to crime. Again, maybe it’s improved since I grew up but too many dead girls wound up in the Lynn Woods when I was a kid, so I really don’t want to ride there unless my not-so little brother comes along.
Overall, I’m not feeling encouraged about the amount of riding I’ll get in this week. I hate to think that I would resort to the trainer, but I may have to.
Small post, big news!
Sip, Clip & Go’s Coffee is now available for sale in its first retail location in Holyoke, MA. Read about all the details here.
No that’s an open question–I’m looking for advice here. My second cyclocross race ever is tomorrow morning and I’ve done a good job at keeping the nerves at bay, but I’m starting to feel a bit jumpy and I’m going back to all the advice I have ever been given to calm me down and focus me before a race.
10.) You are not going to win. There is only one winner and chances are it won’t be you, but you’ll be having a similar experience to everyone else there who isn’t that one person who wins. I have a love/hate relationship with this statement. It’s almost like “Hey loser, pressure’s off. Just have fun.” I mean, it’s a RACE. We’re all trying out there. Of course there are few of us capable of winning the whole thing but you can’t tell me that every single one of us entertains fantasies about somehow pulling a storybook ending out of the experience and winning the whole damn thing in dramatic fashion. Hey, at least we have rich imaginations. But the intent of the message is to push hard and enjoy the experience, and not get too caught up in the podium fantasy.
9.) Ride your own race. What the hell does this mean? It’s a bit trite to say, but sometimes it’s enough to hang your hat on.
8.) Just do your best. OK Mom, I will :/
7.) Always evaluate the course ahead of you and anticipate. Yeah, I can’t say anything bad about this at all.
6.) Pedal circles not squares. This is actually good advice all around. It speaks to pedal efficiency when your pedal stroke feel free & floaty. basically it means you’re doing it right, and not wasting energy.
5.) Stand and deliver. When the going gets tough, get your ass out of the saddle and crank up that hill. Just make sure your not in the mud when you do it because if your weight isn’t over your rear wheel you are going nowhere fast.
4.) If you worried about falling off the bike, you’d never get on. This one’s from Lance. What the hell, he’s had a rough year. But suffice to say that’s pretty much all the performance advice you should take from him. Aw, Lance, whydidyadoit?
3.) Pick your line. Some common MTB wisdom here and it applies to ‘cross as well. There are many lines on the path, chose wisely.
2.) Point your bike where you want to go. This seems obvious but it’s amazing how often it isn’t done and a rider ends up zig-zagging around losing precious time. This one is about focusing on the path ahead, pointing yourself in that direction, and pedaling through. It works remarkably well.
1.) Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way, turn. Come on children of the 80′s! You know this…..
Have any more advice! Share it with me! If enough of you chime in I’ll do another advice column for would be bike racers.
After 12 years of watching from behind the yellow tape, snapping action shots with my camera while guarding my beer, I think I might actually be fool enough to give cyclocross a try. I heard about a CX clinic for women through a Mountain biking group I belong to on Facebook. I had never met any of the other members of the group nor have I ever attended a ride. I have wanted to but my schedule just would never allow it–my parental duties always took precedence. The clinic was held on Labor Day at 6PM–and it was only because it was a holiday that I could have a friend watch my son so I could attend.
I convinced my friend Heidi to join me and a total of about 10 women in Southampton, MA. There is a group of farms and unbeknownst to me, an entire practice cyclocross course just off the main road (a road I ride on fairly regularly–this little gem was under my nose all along). The clinic was led by the founder of the MTB group along with Molly Hurford, a writer for Cyclocross Magazine, and another local racer. Molly did a nice piece about the entire event in Cyclocross Magazine and you can check that out here, complete with photos.
Most of us had never raced a cyclocross bike. A few of us had cross bikes, some had mountain bikes. The clinic touched on the basics of cyclocross: the dismount, jumping the barriers, the remount, the carry, and off camber turns. The group was friendly and the emphasize was on fun and camaraderie. We went through the drills and had plenty of time to practice and ask questions. I had a great time and learned a lot, and feel really excited about taking on my first cyclocross event this fall. The women who hosted the event were super–graciously giving their time and expertise to our band of enthusiastic beginners.
Today I returned to the course alone to practice what I learned. This was a telling experience. Without the natural stopping points to receive instruction or ask questions in a group setting–I decided to reset my Garmin and just ride the course loop. I managed 2 loops and I was exhausted–less than 25 minutes. Two things played into this–one–I was not caught up with the energy of a group. Race conditions always make people faster–they carry you along. I didn’t have that. Two–I discovered just how fatiguing riding on grass can be. There is a fair mount of climbing on the course and the grass is like a million tiny arms holding you back.
I plan to return at least once a week for practice. Building up my endurance for the specificity of the event will be important. Riding 50 or 60 miles on the road might not be a big deal, but 8 or 10 on a cross course is an entirely other matter.
I’ve gone crazy and signed up for a free women’s-only cyclocross clinic for Monday night. I’m a little nervous and excited. I have been practicing the dismount and I’m getting better. Adding real barriers will add a layer of reality to it though.
I’m not sure what tipped me in this direction. I bought the cross bike last year but rode it once in 2011. A series of flat tires on the road bike has forced me on the Trisport for 85% of all my rides this year. I’ve done well over 1000 mile on the cross bike this year. So I’m comfortable riding it, but riding it on the road and riding a cross course are really two wildly different things.
Still, I have been surfing BikeReg for a suitable low-key race. I think I found one in Lancaster, MA this October. Hopefully I’ll feel comfortable enough with the dismount, remount, and shouldering the bike to give it a try. I’m looking for a good set of cyclocross tires for the event. Is it just an excuse to shop for more bike gear? No–I think I just want to be serious about this. I’m looking at the Michelin Mud 2 which looks like a good all around tire that will perform in the mud and still not slow me down on the packed dirt. Not that I’m fast. That hasn’t changed. But my bike handling skills are decent so I think I can survive a 40 minute event.
I will post about the clinic next week. It’s on Monday at 6PM so if you are a female and interested and live in western Massachusetts, email me at sipclipandgoATgmailDOTcom and I’ll give you the info.