Psycho-cross -- a well deserved nickname I've heard twice this week from two different sources. Mud. Blood. Water. Hills. Rock bed. Sunshine. Grass. And a race with over 40 people charging around an approximately 1.25 km course that twisted and turned around the campus of the Canadian Mennonite University. This is Menno Cross.
I asked one of the volunteers at the end of the race how the College was going to like the state of their grounds come Monday morning. There is no doubt that cyclocross does damage to the landscaping. It had rained all week and had been dry for only one day but I was still hopeful when Andrea and I rode up to the CMU campus that my initiation race would be as dry as last week's race at Wildwood. One tour around the to the back of the College where the starting area was had us dipping through puddles and gave us a preview of the already mud smeared course, pretty much shattered that illusion. I had cleaned Dave's bike up prior to leaving my house and wondered, why I bothered.
A Word About Dave's Bike
I spent probably the last 24 hours of the race in virtual panic once I found out exactly the nature of what I was riding. Consider it the Mercedes Benz of Cross bikes. There were small hints you know. The SRAM shifting. The shiny wheel hubs. The carbon forks and chain stay. The removable back fork. The weight of the bike itself. But I was sort of in the la la land of denial about what I had in my possession until sometime on Friday when it occurred to me that I could look up what the retail price of this bike was quite easily. And so I did. And it was good solid hour before I was able to function normally again. And then I had to email Dave and remind him once again of his awesomeness. I'm sure he's getting tired of me gushing all over him now so I promise, that's it.
Very teensie iensie in the background is me on the gravel road (From the Woodcock Cycle page)
And they're off!
Being my first MCA affiliated race I got to race for Free. In what other sport would this happen? As you know I've been terrified of bike racing. So when they went through the seeding in what I would estimate to be a race with well over 40 racers, as a "citizen" racer I was seeded at the back while Andrea got to start a few rows of riders ahead and this was OK with me to be at the back. I was nervous and I had to have a goal and it might as well be to see if I could eventually catch her. And see how many other riders I could pass in the meantime.
Chris from my triathlon club was back there in the dregs of the start line with me as he was also unlicensed. He and I and Andrea did our warm up laps of the course together and there were a couple moments when I saw him unclip ahead of me on really steep hills. It turned out that he had about a 7-speed bike that he was riding. One big ring and about 7 cogs in the back. Chris was looking at a real grinder of a race but he was a strong rider and an amazing athlete and I had no doubt he would do well.
Barricades at Mound of Mud Part II (Woodcock)
The course went something like this: Gravel path start onto the grass which weaved in and out of itself and up some ball breaking hills, onto some swoopy slanted hills onto the rock garden path which was the curse of many a rider and the cause of more than a few bruises, and scrapes and four letter words, out to the front parking lot of the college to the steep mound of mud (from two angles) that crashed down into more mud and puddles and loose grass and then back around again to the start. There were two areas where barricades were put up. The first was about half way through the early section of the lap and the second was right at the mound of mud the second time you went up to the top. I'm told this is the most "mountain bike" like course of the series and it definitely favoured riders with mountain bike skills. And I don't think my lungs have felt the burn like that since I was a kid racing cross country running.
And this kind of thing is why we got so dirty (Woodcock).
We did six laps total. The leaders did 7, so I did get lapped by a handful of riders. I would guess that I was lapped by about 10 riders but it is really hard to judge on a course of this nature that doubles back on itself in multiple places. Half the time I couldn't tell who was ahead of me and who was behind me. I actually suspect that there were a couple of riders that I lapped in the race as well.
Of all the laps the first lap was the hardest. It took about one lap for the riders to start to spread out and for it to get easier to pass people. The start was full of bottle necks and being at the back I had a lot of riders to contend with in front of me and that actually pumped my confidence and showed me how badly I've been downplaying my own riding and bike handling skills. People were going down all over the place and taking bad lines and cutting people off. At one point on the first lap I noticed I was inching closer to Andrea and was probably about 30 metres behind and then some guy knocked me off my bike on a simple blip of a hill and it was a while before I got that close again.
The second and third laps were my passing laps where I found my endurance kicking in. This was where one by one I picked off riders in front of me that went out too hard on the first lap and toasted themselves. I just worked on picking off one rider at a time. And until my 4th lap or 5th lap I don't think I got passed again. The guys passing me in the 4th or 5th lap were the leaders.
I finished my third lap and looked at the time and it was about 25 minutes into the race so I knew the 2 laps warning was going to come sometime in the middle of the 4th lap. And frankly the last two laps were the most exhausting of all. I remember wishing that I wouldn't get a 2 lap warning and that I would miss it all together and just get the bell so I would only have to do one lap. But no I got two full more laps and they felt like sloggers. My lungs were burning my legs were aching and the barricades that I dismounted in front of and leaped over with confidence in the first 4 laps I started pretty much walking through in the last two laps. On the last lap I could barely lift the bike anymore (the bike that weighs about 18 pounds -- sheesh... how would I be lifting my 26 pound mountain bike over those things after 4 laps). I dragged it over the barricade and noticed I'd inadvertently knocked the chain off. So I lost about 45 seconds on the top of the hill trying to get it back on.
The rock garden from hell...
I caught up to Andrea in the middle of the 4th lap. She was a damn hard catch. When I was finally able to spot her again after the mishap of the first lap I found myself gaining a lot of ground on the technical sections (and she was having her own difficulties with clipping and sharp turning) and then promptly losing it on the big straight away through the end of the lap. I was meters behind her on the grassy loops before the rock garden and I kinda just intended to stay there for the rest of the race (I was toast) and then she ended up falling at the end of the rock garden so I went past. She got up and finished with a sore elbow and that slowed her down a touch.
Coming down the mound of mud (Woodcock)
The Technical Details
I stayed upright for pretty much the whole race. I fell three times. The first time on the first lap when the rider on the hill knocked me over from the side. The other two times was when I stubbornly tried to climb the mud mound at the front of the college on my bike. I had done it on the warm up lap without difficulty without other riders around but got slowed down by riders in front of me on the first lap and went down about half way to the top. Most people were getting off their bikes and running up the hill. That's what I did on the second lap. On the third lap I came through pretty much alone and tried again but my legs were fatiguing by that point and I went down about a foot from the top. I ran it up for all the remaining laps. That was a tough part of the course.
Andrea at the finish. She was talking to someone when I took this picture. I can't remember who it was but it was hopefully someone cute.
Clipping and reclipping is difficult when your shoes are wet and caked with mud and slipping off the metal pedals. I perpetually had difficulty clipping my right foot as I think my cleat on my right shoe was crooked. I pedaled unclipped for long times on that one side. I took some very steep downhills unclipped as well and they always ended with a big clunk into some puddle that made me thankful for the carbon forks cushioning my blow. Probably save me a little bruising in the nether region too. There were puddles everywhere and you never knew what was at the bottom. At one point water splashed up under my sunglasses and into my eyeball and left me blind for about a minute on one side. But this is all the fun and games of cyclocross. Sometimes I would look down into the drive train of the bike and wonder how the heck the bike was even still pedalling.
How is this Drive train still Working under these abusive conditions?
How did I do? Fairly well I think in terms of placing and extremely well in terms of my personal expectations. Having a citizen's license I don't count in the main placing and official results are pending. Chris came in right behind me (he had done one more lap than me which means he came close but did not quite catch me and fully lap me). We had talked before hand about the pain of cyclocross vs. the pain of duathlon and he wanted to know what I thought now that I had finished the race. And cyclocross definitely wins.
Not a bad start but then again any future races I do won't have me on the Mercedes Benz Specialized Tri-Cross Expert either and even if I am to one day buy my own cyclocross bike it won't ever be of the calibre of the Specialized.
A very dirty expensive bike
Thanks Dave. You got me bike dreaming again. But you kinda knew that would happen didn't ya........ I'm smiling.