Sunday, August 30, 2009

Race Report: Palmer Cyclocross 2009--3 Mechanicals and a Full Speed Yard Sale Crash

I got home from work after midnight on Thursday and I had a meeting early Friday morning. But my mud tubulars needed to be glued. Even in my advanced state of exhaustion, I completed one of my better mounting jobs in record time (under an hour for final coat, mounting, setting/straightening and broomsticking). Tubular cement needs 24 hours to cure and this was my last opportunity to get these on in time for Palmer.

It started raining Friday night and built to a steady downpour over night. This was going to be messy.

Upon arriving at the venue, there was lots of miserable looking cat 4's covered in mud, many sporting fresh wounds and broken bikes. The rain was steady and relentless. Reports indicated that course conditions were deteriorating by the minute.

Most of the course is double track, all of it degraded. In some places the degradation just produces deep ruts, in others it exposes gnarly roots and rocks.

I got one course inspection lap. And it was scary. Everything was slick and covered in mud the consistency of room-temperature butter. This was not your tacky mud, or even your famous sucking peanut butter mud, but super-slick, greasy mud. It coated everything. Turns that would be demanding when dry became unpredictable and dangerous at any speed. Raised roots were partially hidden as mud was slopped up on them and then pushed off when a rider slipped out on them. Ruts were filled with mud which obscured thier depth and treachery. The only two breaks from the stressfulness of the course were the slick grass sections that I was able to rail through with my newly earned improvement in bike handling skills and the long run up and down and run up again, which left me (and everyone else) exhausted.

I was cautiously confident in my chances to do well in this race. I felt that my handling skills were on and my fitness was/is there. I had mud specific tubulars (Tufo Cubus) which I ran at 25 and 28 psi. But everything went wrong.

There were about 35 guys on the starting line. I did everything I could to let them all beat me.

I missed my clip in and did a reverse hole shot, aka a Cary Fridrich. I was basically DFL going into first corner and the single track. I was stuck behind the poorest of the poor bike handlers. I seethed as I knew that the leaders were putting serious time into me while I dithered at the back. I couldn't pass effectively since we were riding on slick downhill double track that had one clean line. Deviation from that line would cost you dearly, as I repeatedly found out when I took ridiculous risks to get around guys who were wisely riding the brakes. I gained a few spots, but the stress of doing so took years off my life.

The downhill ends at a deep mudpit/pond. Seriously, if you hit your head, you could drown in it. Frustrated with watching my teammates ride away from me, I shouldered folks aside to gain places while running/splashing/flailing through the water.

While doing so, I knocked my left front canti into something solid and caused it to go past my rim, down to the spoke area where it proceeded to lock up my front wheel. I was forced to stop and undo my front quick release to fix it. I accomplished the fix easily thanks to the Igleheart's lack of lawyer tabs.

Now I was seeing red. We weren't even a quarter of the way through the first lap and I was off the back. Enraged would be a good descriptor.

This next section was a series of grassy (read muddy and slick) S turns, off cambers and switchbacks that snaked up and down a small rise, eventually cresting the hill and feeding into a gentle downhill ending in a greasy, blind corner feeding into the woods. This section is not long, maybe less than a fifth of the whole course. Again, I was enraged. I rode through half field in this section, ala Cary Fridrich. I didn't brake once. I took inside lines and passed people easily, if not rudely. When I got to Spaits, I gave him some consideration and waited until it was safe instead of forcing the issue. Seriously, Cary would have been proud of my recovery.

Going into the woods, the course gets scary (at least for a cross race). I was able to keep the gas down and also stayed off the brakes. Passing was dangerous and difficult. But I was assertive but tried to remain safe. Since I had only had one preride, I was unfamiliar with the good lines. I often found myself on the roughest part of the course, praying that I didn't get bounced into a tree at full speed.

The middle section of the course is a fast rutted workroad that has a few fast curves. If you are stay on the good line and can handle a bike, you could keep the speed high and stay off the brakes. There was a rider ahead of me sliding all over the place, but maintaining a good pace. I didn't see any point in passing him, but also stayed a bit back since his rear wheel was bucking and jerking wildly making me think that a crash was imminent.

I passed my guy heading into the run up. He applied the brakes and unclipped before the rooty mud bog before the run, while I came screaming into it, riding my bucking bike as if it were a bronco. Had I not been running tubulars, I'd have double flatted for sure.

I reached the run up gassed. Gary was ahead of me. Being the good team mate that I am, I dug deep in order to drop him while running. He stepped aside when he realized that it was me. Apparently, this is where he gave up. Um, seriously he actually gave up and dropped out of the race shortly after this. He offered no real explanation afterward other than that he would have been disappointed with his result if he remained in the race.

At this point, I settled in. I was still in the first of 6 laps and feeling pretty tired. My adrenaline from the mechanical failure was wearing off and the pace was starting to hurt. Also, I was not reeling in riders anymore. I had caught all of the riders that desperate riding could catch, now it was time for steady rhythm and sustainable suffering.

My second lap was much better than my first. I was basically alone. I took my own lines and stayed off the brakes. About half way through I caught Eric Goodson of BRC and Sebastien Dumont of Cape Cod Racing. Together we three formed a little group who fought it out for the next 4 and a half laps.

I got the first gap, probably in the 3rd lap. Then I bobbled the a run up. Actually, I tried to ride a ridiculously rooty, slick runup. I slipped out and fell over while still clipped in. I hit my rear left canti, knocking it below the rim. F***. It took me a few seconds to figure out why my rear wheel wouldn't spin. Meanwhile I was passed by the dudes I had just attacked. I had failed to properly adjust my brake pads when I swapped wheels. What a JV move. I wailed on the rim with the palm of my hand until the brake pad popped back into place.

Shortly after this, one of the race organizers was yelling riders placing at them. I heard "7th...8th..." and then "...9th..." as I passed.

I spent the next half lap riding beyond my abilities in order to get back into 7th place. The leader had over 3 minutes. More on that later. Either way, I knew that 7th was about the best that I could hope for, though I knew that race changing crashes and mechanicals were likely.

I caught my group. We rode together. I attacked again, and again I got a gap. I was really laying down the watts to create a mental gap. I wanted to get out of sight. I almost did it.

But as I was slobbering and panting, riding myself inside out on the rutted workroad, I felt myself slipping. It was in slow motion. My front wheel was slipping out from under me to the left and I was going to the right. There was nothing that I could do to correct it, I'm not saying that a superior bike handler like Colin Reuter couldn't have saved it, but not this roady with one season of part time mountain biking. By the time I realized what was happening, I was already a quarter of the way down. I stuck my right hand out to break the fall in classic collarbone breaking style. As I was about to impact, I realized that I was going to break something if I landed with my hand extended straight out at that speed. I pulled the arm in just in time.

It didn't hurt. But I was blinded. I literally ate shit. There was mud packed into my mouth, eyes, ears, up my nose, down the front of my jersey and even into my bib shorts.

Like lots. Clods. Piles. Pounds of it. Seriously pounds. I had to scoop it out of my eyes. It fell away in chunks.

The bike was obviously messed up. The chain was dropped on the outside and sort of wrapped around my front derailleur, my shifters were knocked aschew, my pedals were packed up with mud.

I put/knocked everything back into place and started pedaling. I gave up. For a minute. Then I realized that I had only been passed by two dudes. I concentrated on taking good lines and staying off the brakes, reeling them in slowly.

I had so much mud on my gloves and one my handlebars that I had no grip. It felt like my bars were made out of Vaseline. The mud squirted through my fingers and complicated every effort to shift or brake.

I caught them again in the next lap. We traded blows. I'd attack, skid off trail and have to work my way back up. Eventually Goodson and I wore Dumont out.

Goodson took the lead through most of the last lap after I had to lock up the brakes to avoid a tree. I was waited until after the barrier section to attack him. I got around him at the foot of the second to last ride/runup. I basically out ran him. He was breathing down my neck on the sucking, saturated grassy ride into the final run up. I pinched off his passing avenue by cutting inside very close to the tree and holding my shouldered bike across the whole path.

I had my bike on the pavement first and should have won the sprint. My cassette is old and my chain is new. 9 of the 10 cogs work just fine. I found the one that didn't. Goodson got around me as I furiously batted at my shifter to get in a working gear. Goodson deserved to beat me, he rode a hell of a race.

I got 8th, but I should have gotten 7th. Another a++hole Canadian cat 1 was here in the 3/4 race. This was different one than last week. This series must be posted on a sandbagger message board north of the border. POS put 4 minutes into us in the 3/4 and then went on to win the elite race an hour later. Seriously, the promoters of this series need to start checking foreign licenses. This is becoming frustrating.

While I am dissapointed in my crappy start and frustrated with my mechanical failures (really they were failures of my mechanic, RMM), I am also glad that I am getting the chance to iron this stuff out before the high pressure races later in the season.


Swiatlowski said...

GREAT description of the course! Stay muddy!

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