Thursday, November 13, 2008

Double Cross


You might remember my anxiety and exhilaration when I did my first 'cross race at the end of September. Since then work, weather or the siren song of sweet single track has kept Phil from getting his first 'cross race under his chamois.

I spied a "newbie" race on the schedule for the November 9 race and did my best to shame Phil into signing up. I had an unanticipated co-conspirator when Jeffrey said he'd like to give it a try, too. So Saturday morning we made our way to Chatfield State Park for the "On the Cross" event.

It was brisk.

Oh heck, let's be frank – it was damn cold! 26º when we registered for the 8 am race. We all put on all of our clothes – skull caps under our helmets, a thermal layer, a fleecy layer and a windbreaker, warm gloves, tights and anything else we could wriggle into. Luckily the sun was out, so there was a tiny little bit of solar energy keeping us from completely icing up.

About 15 or 16 "newbies" lined up for the start. "Newbies" are supposed to be riders who are new to cyclo-cross and "citizen" racers. Citizen racers do not have a race license from any accredited cycling organization. Citizens are typically enthusiastic recreational riders, but they are not "racers" and are not affiliated with organized teams. Phil, Jeffrey and I fit the Citizen profile to a T.

The course was great. Fun, swoopy single track through the trees, tough technical transitions, barrier work, and sand sections. It was a long course, but that kept people from getting lapped. Here is a little video someone shot during the Men's Open race.

Phil, Jeffrey and I all had a ton of fun. We warmed up (understatement – we were all dripping wet at the end) and had fun riding our bikes in the woods. Phil and Jeffrey both have the 'cross bug now – excellent!

I liked the course so much I came back at 1 pm and rode with the "big girls" [the Pro Women and the rest of the Women's open field.] I think there were around 35 or 40 riders all together. Again, I was not DFL. There were 3 unaffiliated Citizen type riders in the field and we spent the whole race chasing each other. I ended up second from last and did not get lapped, so it was a banner day for me.


Sunday morning we went to the Schwab Boss of Cross event at the Colorado State Patrol test track facility, just down the road from us on South Table Mountain. Phil signed up for the first race of the morning, the Sport Men's 45. It was a bit warmer than Saturday; probably about 40º at the 830 am start.

As we stood around getting Phil's bike ready we overheard a guy talking to his friend. It went something like this:

Guy 1 (obviously a road racer): Yeah, I finally decided to give 'cross a try.
Guy 2: Are you riding with the 45s?
Guy 1: Oh, hell no! My friends all said that would be suicide. Those guys are fast – and serious! No, I'm doing the 35+ & 4s at 930.
Guy 2: Great decision. Those 45s are just wicked.

So . . . Phil's eyes kept getting bigger as we listened. Uh oh. Strategic error; we didn't know which category he should race in, so we went with what seemed logical. Rookie mistake.

Then we headed down to the start area (with a lot of really serious looking middle-aged guys). On the way we heard a wave of whining. The course was evidently thick with "goat heads," Colorado's indigenous tire shredding thorns. Several riders had already changed two or three tires that flatted while they warmed up on the course. At the start line at least three guys were frantically trying to get to their spare wheels as their tires slowly lost air.

Then the whistle blew and the horde exploded. And Phil started hanging on for dear life. Those guys were FAST. I think Phil was secretly relieved when he flatted – both tires – near the end of his second lap.

So next time we'll know better and Phil will race with the 35s; which is nice because that is usually the second or third race, instead of the first, so it may be slightly warmer.

I came back at 1 pm to do my race. And it was bad from the start. There were no other Citizen riders in the field. The women were scary fast, the course was washboard, rocks, thorns and no sections where I could build up any speed.

I got lapped at the end of my second lap, and then I got freaked out. I think I would have been ok if they sucked me up and spit me out the back, but I ended up bunched in with the real racers. I didn't want to mess them up and I don't have the bike skills to ride in a pack through a rocky washboard field. I was praying for a flat tire, but I may have been the only rider all day able to avoid the goat heads.

So I quit.

I'm still disappointed in myself.

I have a lot to learn about 'cross racing. But the way the women's field is structured it can be pretty intimidating, too. I mean, I'm riding in the same field as Amy Dombroski and Kelli Emmett. Uh . . . yeah. That makes sense.

So my new mission is to see if I can get the American Cycling Association to include a Citizens field in its 'cross events. It can be co-ed; I don't mind racing with the guys. I think a lot more people would try 'cross if it was less intimidating. Because, at the end of the day - it's just FUN!

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