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 took 2 whole days off the bike after Northampton’s CSIcx race weekend. It’s amazing how 45 minutes of racing can leave you destroyed. Two days in a row, I tapped out, needing the break.
When I entered that race weekend, I thought that this might be how I end the chapter of this freshmen effort in the sport of cyclocross. But I was selling my new addiction short.
I registered for a small race in Connecticut for next weekend. Last year only 10 women raced in total. They have a breakout category for just Cat 4 women this year, which may mean they are expecting a larger turnout. At any rate, I’ll be racing with the Cat 1-4, but scored as a Cat 4. I’m interested to see how that looks. I was really pleased with my results at Northampton. I felt I made very solid efforts and my placement–while nothing to write home about–had improved from a similar race (Providence). In Providence, I was 63rd, in Northampton, 52 and 55th. And while I realize it’s not an identical crowd, identical course, identical conditions or identical size field. It is similar enough in all those regards that I feel a 11 placement improvement is well, an improvement.
Other things I have noticed in this pursuit: I started playing women’s pickup hoops again this year. Last year, my lungs burned and I poured sweat, red in the face and gasping trying to run a full court game for 90 minutes. This year, I was up and down that court faster than ever, and I didn’t feel fatigued at all. I was also sinking a few baskets this time, which was a nice switch.
To top it off, yesterday I went back to the ‘cross practice course that I am so lucky to have access to. There is one other woman on Strava who has indexed this course in her workouts. I’ve never met her but she is a friend of Heather’s and she races ‘cross and mountain bikes and does pretty well–considerably better than me. When I first started doing laps at Ed’s farm I was a good 2 minutes off her time. After yesterday, I have reduced it to 30 seconds. And I know she has been going back there and improved upon her personal best as well. It’s a stretch to think I could close down that gap entirely, but I wasn’t going full throttle yesterday, just keeping it a consistent effort and working on being efficient–so I know there is still time to carve off.
Not making mistakes on the course carves time. Getting faster and stronger carves time. Building endurance carves time. Knowing your bicycle well enough that it is starts to become an extension of you carves time. Skills work carves time. Staying healthy carves time. Staying lean and light carves time. I am starting to see the moving parts, the art of improvement, the finer points of chance and luck and very hard work.
Cheshire CX (that small race in CT) is next weekend and I will finish toward the end of the pack. I will score higher points because it’s a smaller race. That will help me get a better starting position for another race. Which will also carve time.
Cyclocross races might only be 40 or 45 minutes long, but the game is a long one. The effort that you put in day after day, each race is another stepping stone, each barrier, each muddy turn–each of these things are small factors that go into the larger result. But what supersedes all of these things is the biggest, most important point of cyclocross. It’s just really, really fun. It’s really hard, really intense and incredibly fun. It does not matter where you place, it matters that you are out there, shivering in the cold and mud and under modified sunlight pushing yourself and your bike as hard as possible. This is an optimal medium for self discovery, and the person you race hardest against is yourself.
I’m already wringing my hands about my first cyclocross race. The race is tomorrow and I am at the point where I need medication to stop obsessing about it. I literally dream about it, every night. My Facebook and twitter stream is filled with cross race images. At my computer I sit and type, filling pages with my solitary focus:
All work and no cross makes Karen a dull girl…
All work and no cross makes Karen a dull girl…
All work and no cross makes Karen a dull girl…
Yeah, it’s that bad. So what am I obsessing over? Like anyone I want to do well. In an open field with 15-20 racers “doing well” could take on a bunch of different meanings. I want to have realistic expectations but also realize this could be a grand exercise in public humiliation.
What’s interesting to me is that I see this behavior in my son and I’m always responding by telling him “Of course you won’t be an expert at it right away! That’s why we practice!” He hangs his head and digs in, still wanting to be as good as Tony Hawk even though he just got his first skateboard last week. I realize now that I am exactly the same way, even though I know better. I still want to be seen as highly proficient at pretty much everything I do. This isn’t realistic, and just by reading this back I realize I’m doing a great job at sucking all the fun out of it.
So I give myself a little smack, because I deserve it. I need to keep this in perspective and remember I’m doing this for fun.
I decided to create a list (another anxiety manager I often employ. Also it makes me appeared highly organized) of goals for my first cyclocross race experience.
1.) HAVE FUN
3.) Try not to be lapped.
4.) Finish mid pack.
5.) Podium or top 5 finish.
6.) Blow everyone away and get attention of Cannondale Cyclocross scouts and a contract offer.
You see my wish list is grounded in reality and quickly ramps to fantasy. I’m still a little kid thinking I’ll play major league ball someday. Except I’m a middle-aged mom. So let just focus on the having fun part. I should take a lesson from this unnamed female pro cyclist from the 2010 Cycle-Smart Northampton Cyclocross race. I was poised on the sidelines with my camera, snapping shots of the women on a difficult point on the course. She got hung up in the sand pit and fell off her saddle. I was taking pictures and she just came up smiling.
It’s one of my favorite cycling images ever.
This photo has been making the rounds on Facebook, and I thought I’d share it here.
The woman who posted to it FB thought it might have originated in Sweden, which just goes to show you that not only do they have The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but also The Girl with the Stilettos & Cross Bike–a woman who may prove to be even more mysterious than Lisbeth Salander.
At any rate, I fell in love with the photo and thought it did a few wonderful things, like:
- Empowered women to ride
- Empowered riders to still be feminine
- Laughed really hard at itself
- Enjoyed life just a little more than everyone else
- Set the example for having some FUN.
But it got me wondering…..is it harder to ride with those things on, just like it is harder to walk? Are those heels any good in the sand? Could this new piece of equipment give rise to a new category of cyclocross racing?
You know that expression, “why don’t you go pound some sand?” Well if you want to see what that looks like, watch the Cyclocross World Championship race this weekend.
The cyclocross season officially wraps up at the 2012 World Championship Race in Koksijde, Belguim. You can get a schedule and article here. Sand dunes are the dominating feature of the course and if you’ve ever pedaled through sand, imagine for a split second how these racers are going to feel. If you need some visual stimulation, check out this video.
It took some searching but I finally found a URL for live streaming coverage. I watched it last year as well and the lack of English commentary does not lessen the excitement.
Both men are from Massachusetts and I’ll be watching them from the home state. J-Pow just won the National Championship and is having a great year, it will be fun to watch him. And as always, I’ll be rooting for Timmy loudly. Here are a couple of pictures of these two American pros (and former teammates) in action from the Gloucester Gran Prix, Day 2, 2011. Powers won that race, by the way. And Johnson took second after leading for 95% of the race. They had some sand to contend with there too, on the coast of Gloucester, but nothing like what they are racing in Belgium. I wish them both good luck at the Worlds.
I finally got a chance to get out on the cross bike last week. It’s interesting how different this bike feels. Not bad–just different. It must be the geometry–a little bit of a stretch when I first got on, but comfortable by the time the ride ended. I’m definitely going to have to switch out the seat–it’s pretty to look at but brutal to sit on. The shimano M520 clipless pedals did well, although I still need to make a few adjustments on the tension.
I really need to get out onto some gravel and grass to check the handling further. I plan to check out some of the gravel trails and roads my commentors linked in this post. I like this bike; but I’m realizing how infrequently I will be able to ride it–and this makes me a little crazy. This past week I was on vacation and manged to ride all three bikes:cross, mountain, road. That’s pretty good for me, although I’m still wanting more. I didn’t run at all. I did some light hiking with my son. I was active nearly every day. Still….I long for more cycling.
At least I can ride vicariously by watching the Tour de France until the 24th! Vive le Tour!
Even the kids enjoyed racing, and I was happy that I delayed my son’s participation in the kids race. He’s going to have to get those training wheels off to compete with these little kids. I even spied a few pint sized cross bikes, and one kid in full bike gear, Lycra included. These kids don’t mess around!