The Blunderer’s Guide to Cyclocross – Part 2.4

With some 20 races done, I was well and truly hooked on CXing. And even though I wasn’t necessarily getting any faster, I could get around more challenging courses better and better. Still lots of points for improvement, though….

January 2nd.

3207A mixed bag, today at the CX in Woerden. After last Wednesday’s mud-fest in Benschop I’d expected it to be a bit worse in Woerden. As I needed a rubber mallet to get the mud off of the tires (that’s a first!), I decided to change them for the umpteenth time. The ones I put on have a prescribed rotational direction, which puzzled me a bit while working on it. It seemed to me that putting them on in that way would actually make them lose traction, but who am I?
Anyways, I arrived early enough to make two recce laps, and, yes, it was muddy, and, yes, I didn’t have the traction I’d hoped for. Not that I was sliding in every which way, but I had to make sure I kept control all the time. Trying that at 165+bpm would make things interesting….
The start was on a stretch of tarmac at the finish, and I had a fairly OK start. Had two riders behind me at the first turn, and close behind another in the first lap. I was about to try to pass him in the second lap when the horde of ATB riders (who’d started about a minute after us B-class CXers) started overtaking us. After 7 or so had passed us, I was some 20m behind… Well, lap 3 to make up that 20m and pass him. That did work out, and I’d opened up a bit of a gap when my front wheel slid out into a pothole in one of the curves, and send me over the bars. Somehow I managed to dismount in a split second, but I still carried the momentum, so I had to make a few fast steps in order not to fall, all the while dragging the bike in my right hand. It must’ve been a funny sight…
My heart rate must’ve been something around 165bpm when that happened, and shenanigans like that are sure to produce an adrenaline boost. If there’s one thing you’ll learn from CX is that you have to let that initial adrenaline rush pass by. If you don’t, you’ll either crash hard, or you’ll explode a minute or so later… So I walked a bit down the course, and got on the bike. In the mean time, just about the entire field had passed me by. Besides, it took me a lap to get back into the rhythm. I managed to chase down one or two ATB riders.
I’m having a feeling that if I put the tires on the wrong way, I’ll be having better traction. That’ll be tomorrow’s experiment.
Lap times: 5:22, 5:20, 5:40, 5:25, 5:13, 5:11, and 5:21.

January 3rd.

foto106The good news is that swapping the tires on the CX worked. More traction, which is always good, at the expense of the bike being a bit more skidish than I’d expected. It wasn’t too bad, but I needed to get used to it.
The bad news is that I’m having an off-day, lacking power. And that resulted in a DNF. I don’t easily stop mid-race, but when you start not enjoying yourself without any expectation of that changing, you better get out.
I was running a bit late, so after collecting my race number I’d did a bit of checking out the first stretches, especially the sequence of bumps. Yup, they’re still there. As there was a bit of time left, I started noodling on the last (muddy) section just before the finish. There I found out about the skidishness of the bike.
The start was decent, and the first lap went OK. I’d thought I was doing OK, so at the start of the second lap, I tried to dig in, but I found out right away that I had no power in my upper legs. And you need power just about every 25m or so… So after lap 2 I was pretty much wasted. I did try to take a breather at the start of the 3rd, but once I thought I could push it a bit more, it didn’t work. So I cruised the remainder of the lap, and signaled I’d stop to the jury.
Well, these things happen from time to time. No reason to get concerned or anything. We’ll see how it goes next time.
I’d forgotten the Garmin, so no link…..

January 9th.

3219When I drove down to Woerden for another round of CX, it started to drizzle just before arriving. Good CX weather, I’m starting to like it.
I was early enough to do two recce laps, the first one was spend on getting to know the course, the second to find better routes on the more difficult sections. The course turned out to be very slippery to my surprise, and at some points I had almost no traction.
We started like last week at the bottom of the tarmac, and I had a fair start. As race intensity is always higher than when doing recce laps, I managed to get through the first slippery section quite alright. I’s left one rider behind me at the start, and another rider was some 20m in front of me. I decided to focus on him, and try to stay within 20 – 30m of him. The second (very) slippery section went good, I rode more aggressively than ever before (we’d rode that section a couple of times before), and even the turn where I’d almost had no traction went OK as I found an even better route than in the recce laps.
Then I noticed that the rear rim hit the ground more and more often, and some 10s later it wouldn’t leave the ground at all. I got off the bike, and checked the rear tire. A flat…. So I walked back to the start to call it quits.
These things can happen, hopefully not too often. Only too bad it happened today, as I felt it was a challenging course, but I was up to it.. Well, maybe next week….

January 10th.

3221Well, it’s a DNF weekend, it seems… Was it a flat yesterday, today it was entirely my fault. I’d expected the course to be very muddy, but it turned out not to be the case, only a few short stretches were slippery. So after two recce laps, I was pretty optimistic.
I did have a good start, but early on I made a couple of minor mistakes, but I could correct them relatively easily, but from there on it was from bad to worse. I came to a complete stop on a slippery patch, and everyone that I’d managed to keep behind me at the start passed me. I tried to follow once on the bike, and then to catch up, and just when I was within meters of the rider in front of me, I made another bad mistake by choosing the wrong line, and I was off the bike once more. I’d expended too much energy in the first lap, and I had to throttle back in the second.
I obviously hadn’t throttled back enough as in the third lap I once again came to a stop on a slippery patch, but this time because I didn’t have the power anymore to ride up. That’s when I decided to call it quits. Better luck next week.

January 17th.

3235Happy days are here again! After last weekend’s CX disasters with two DNFs, I headed out to Woerden for round 13 of their cross competition. Due to all the rain we’ve been having I expected a very muddy course, and, indeed, it was.
The recce lap was done with a bit of care, but even then it was tough as hell. I checked the time when I finished the recce ap, but there wasn’t time to do another one. I would’ve liked to do another one almost on race speed, but alas..
I botched up the start somewhat, failing to clip in on the lhs. Thankfully, there was a sharp lefthander after 30m, so by the time I’d clipped in and got to the turn, I was part of the field again. I was a bit cautious in the first lap, not pushing things too hard (lesson from last week), but sufficiently hard not to lose contact with the rider in front of me. Although I lost some ground in the first half of the lap, I caught up with him in the second part, and judging from the way things were going, I thought I could pass him, and stay in front of him. That was the plan going into the second lap. Coming out of the first turns of the second lap, we were riding in a group of four, when the lead rider somehow lost control and went down. All sorts of chaos ensued, so not only needed I take care that I’d not hit the downed rider, but also prevent the rest from crashing into me. As there was a slippery downward section coming up, the best option was slowing down, I thought. On the false flat to the top of the course I managed to pass him, and as there was a very slippery section just ahead of that, where I knew I was riding faster, I thought I had a good chance of staying in front of him. Going in into the third lap, I noticed the guy who’d crashed right in front of me was gaining on me. Guessing he’d most likely be a faster rider, I kept on going as if he wasn’t there. At the end of the lap, he passed me, and he was riding away pretty fast, so I was cool with that.
The sand pit was all uphill this time, after a long muddy stretch. I managed to ride up in the first three laps, after that, I took the wrong line once, and twice had the rear end slipping away at the wrong time, so I had to walk up. At the start of the fifth lap, I noticed the guy that had crashed was slowing down. There still was a considerable gap between the two of us, but I went into chasing mode nonetheless. At that point, things got interesting. When trying to chase someone down, you’re riding at the absolute limit, both physically and technically, but the two don’t always mix. I’ve found out before that when I’m riding into the red, I start to make little mistakes, and these mistakes can escalate quickly. So I’d made sure my heart rate was just under the red line in the technical sections, but riding at the limit on the slippery sections was new to me. Staying upright there depends on your reflexes, but how do they function when you’re stressed out like this? Turns out, they’re doing OK. I could maintain my speed, and even go faster on these sections. That’s a relief!
So, going in into the last lap, which I thought was a pity, and said so passing start and finish, much to the amusement of the spectators, I hadn’t caught up with the guy in front of me, but I’d been closing in on him all the time. And as he was walking the entire length of the sand pit (100m before the finish line), I thought I’d have a chance if I could catch him right at the start of the sand pit. Pushing it just a little bit more, I was at his wheel at the sand pit, and was about to pass him in the pit when my rear wheel slipped away, and I had to dismount… Bit of a bummer, but I was more than happy by the way it all went down. And considering we had two bouts of hail, one just after the start, and another half way through the race, I couldn’t’ve been more happy, as I just love it in the hail. Yeah, you can call me silly ;-)
Lap times: 5:40, 5:49, 5:56, 6:25, 6:22, 6:12, 6:16. It’s clear when I had to walk in the sand pit.

January 18th.

3236Winter had finally come to Holland, bringing sub-zero temperatures. When I arrived in Leiden, the course looked frozen solid. I didn’t mind that. The recce lap, however, reveiled that parts of the course were still slippery and wet, or had only frozen ridges. So it was going to be tricky, as I’ve never rode in these conditions before.
The start field consisted of just 14 riders, so I was determined on finishing (scoring points for the competition), but it also meant that there was little chance of being able to keep someone’s wheel, let alone passing him.
The race itself was kinda tough. The three short climbs in short succession, and having to walk up the last few meters of the last one, left me quite out of breath every time. The ensueing downhill part had to be taken with care, as during the race one of the riders went down in front of me on the 1m of frozen tarmac… The off-camber downhill section was very tricky, as here the ground was only partly frozen, so you’d either be sliding down on the wet clay, or hitting the frozen ridges. I had some close calls there during the recce lap, so I’d been forewarned. The remainder of the course was frozen solid.
In all, I got around the course just fine, but slowly. I didn’t have too many mishaps, had to clip out once or twice on the off-camber section, and going sideways a couple of times. It was a good experience, and I’m happy to have been able to finish.
As for scoring points, I happen to hold 9th place (out of 61), even with missing 3 races. And with just one race to go next week, who knows? I might finish in the top-10. That would be pretty awesome.
Lap times:6:18, 6:18, 6:22, 6:40, 6:32, 6:22, 6:16, and 6:25.

January 23rd.

3249Did I mention I love mud? Well, there was plenty of that stuff on the course in Woerden this afternoon. Riding the recce lap showed that it was going to be very, very hard. A few muddy sections went uphill, where it was very hard to keep going. The sand pit was down, and up again (that meant walking up), but also extended a bit further up before sliding back down to the finish line.
When we lined up for the start at the old location on the grass, rumor had it that the section through the bushes was going to be taken out. I had some mixed feelings about that, as I was going strong there, but having it replaced by a section where you could take a breather wasn’t too bad either.
My start was pretty OK, and I was getting into a good rhythm without blowing myself out. That was hard to do due to loss of traction on the hardest parts of the course. I probably gonna scour the internet for yet another pair of tires for next season…
Anyways, I was feeling OK, but it seemed I was running out of steam a bit halfway through the race. I was using the smallest gears more and more, and was was walking on the most slippery uphill section. Still, I was feeling fine, especially on the winding parts of the course. As a testament of how hard it all was, I managed to do just five laps (plus the starting half lap). And the bike had collected probably five pounds of mud…
Only bad thing is that it was the last cross of the season in Woerden. Thanks, folks! Been a blast.
Lap times: 7:00, 6:56, 7:15, 5:55, 6:40. Guess that running out of steam was just a figment of my illusion.

January 24th.

Well, it seems a combination of a sore throat and a bad night has ended my CX season somewhat prematurely. We’ve had some sub-zero temps last week, and I don’t always react positively on that. So I decided to stay at home rather than make my throat even worse in the final round of the SwaboCrossCompetitie.
So, time for a quick recap. I started CX season with the intend of learning as much as possible. I think I managed that. Compared to the first weeks of the season, I’m riding much better now, but I also have a long list of points on which to improve. But above aal, it’s been fun, and I’ll be taking the CX every now and then in the (CX) off-season, I’m sure.
And I’ll be back next CX season for more, much more!

12366356_1156425604386672_8030028923657849441_n

Not quite the ending of the CX season that I’d hoped for, but I can’t complain with an odd-25 races done. Some went well, others not so, but overall, I’ve learned a lot. There is still a lot I can improve, not only from a physical point of view, but also technical. I did notice I was getting better in the mud in the last few races. Hopefully I remember all that at the start of the 2016-2017 CX season. I still brake way too much when there’s a tight curve in a descent, so I’ll have to work on that.
 The bike itself is pretty much as good as it can be after the switch to Shimano shifters. I may try a shorter head stem as I felt a bit stretched out in the last races. Two things are for sure: I’ll be CXing in the 2016-2017 season, and I’ll ride the CXer every now and then in the summer!

 

The Blunderer’s Guide to Cyclocross – Part 2.3

Two months into the season, and I’m well and truly hooked. I was getting more confident, got stronger, and was enjoying every minute. So far, it all had been relatively dry, but that was about to change. And when it eventually started to rain, I had no idea how I’d fare…

December 5th.

3157Not the best of CXes, this time in Woerden. I thought I’d try a different profile for the tires out, but that backfired. It did alright in the hard sand and grass, but it did not so great in the mud and the slippery sections. And I lost traction going up, and we had three climbs to do….
The course had been changed considerably compared to any of the previous versions. The starting section was skipped (unfortunately for me as I always did pretty OK there), and parts were now run in reverse. The climb at the end had been brought back, and two new ones were added, one like the one from round 3 and 4, but now we went over the top and down the other side, and do the reverse some 20m down the course. Had I had better tires, I might’ve been able to ride up the last one, as in the recce lap I almost made it. So per lap I had to get off the bike three times, two for the two climbs (the one at the end of the lap I could manage), and for the sand pit.
I struggled somewhat in the recce lap, it felt like I didn’t have much power, and that turned out to be the case in the race.I had a slow start, and almost lost the field in the first 20m. I managed to get back onto the wheel of the guy in front of me, but I was feeling uncomfortable on the bike. It was after two laps that I started to get a feel of what the bike was doing. The guy in front of me was still there, 30-50m away. So I made an effort to catch up to him, and on the climb at the end of the lap I was right behind him, and passed him right after the climb. I kept going as the sand pit was coming up, and he did better there. I got to the pit with a 20m lead, enough to still be in front of him, but now only just. In the following sections I managed to extend the lead again to some 30m, but when I was at the top of the first climb, he was right beside me, as he was able to ride up it (at least this time, I’d seen him dismount a couple of times on that climb), and he was going down just before me. Knowing he was able to ride up that second one, I knew it’d be difficult to finish before him. Indeed, after that second climb he was 50m in the lead, and I caught up with him right at the start of the sand pit.
So I probably FDLed this time, which is OK with me. I consider this to be my rookie year, and making bad calls is all part of the game. Of course I would’ve liked to do better, but if you never change a thing, you won’t know what works, and what doesn’t work. Anyways, guess I’ll change the tires before next week. Tomorrow’s CX has been scrapped in favor of the NK tegenwindfietsen. That is just too quirky not to participate whenever possible.
Lap times: 6:00, 6:09, 6:12, 6:20, 6:09, 6:34.

December 6th.

12342326_816858931756524_6889549318343887914_nI skipped my club’s CX for quite a quirky event, het NK tegenwindfietsen. For those of you not living (anymore) in the Netherlands, it’s an event only the Dutch can dream up: a timetrial into a force 7+ headwind on a typical Dutch road: the Oosterscheldedam. And you don’t have to bring your bike, you’ll get issued a box standard Dutch pushbike, single speed. As it crucially depends on the wind, you never know when it’s going to be held, and since they only allow 200 participants in the individual category, you have to decide pretty fast whether you’re in or out. Guess it took me a millisecond to decide ;-)
When I saw the starters list, I noticed my beach biking buddy Martijn two lines below my name, so we teamed up and drove down together. He’s recovering from the side effects of a newborn (sleep deprivation), so he decided to take a more comical approach to it by dressing up as Zwarte Piet (PM me if you’re curious as to what that’s about). I donned the IK Hero skinsuit because I felt like wearing that one again.
12239861_1077210388964133_2728907542128483211_n As for the timetrial itself, well, you’re riding a complete unknown and very uncomfortable bike, as the handle bar is way too close to the saddle, and the only thing you can reasonably adjust is the saddle height. The course is not all headwind, as you’re riding on the lee side of the dam’s pillars occasionally, but there was a brutal false flat section going straight into the wind. That was totally killing. The course’s only 8.7km, but the winner needed 0:19:15 to finish. It took me a bit longer, I finished in 0:23:55, which landed me on 53th place out of 184 finishers. I’d done it once more, in 2013, and was a full 3 minutes faster then. I suppose the wind wasn’t as strong as today.
In all, it’s been a fun day.

December 12th.

3169After last week’s tire fiasco I’d gotten myself two sets of new threads that are supposed to do better. To roughen the surface up a bit, I’d done a 40km ride in the morning with my bikepal Mr. J. It was a nice ride, and I managed to surprise him with a small passage through the Loosdrechter Plassen. After the ride, I reduced the tire pressure from 5 bar to roughly 2.5 bar, and headed to Woerden.
I got there early, so I could do a two laps recce. The course had changed once again, all the climbs from last week were gone, and a single one right after the sand pit had been added. I didn’t see anyone ride up that one, maybe the top-5 guys did, but I didn’t see it. The tires indeed did better than one ones from last week, but I still lost traction in the deep mud. Thankfully, there was only one such spot (a corner, of course).
The weather had gotten a bit worse during the day, the sun had gone, it was overcast, and close to raining. Because of that, the number of riders wasn’t as high as it’s been at times, and odd 30 CXers, and 15 ATBs. I had a bit of a problem clipping in at the start, and was last into the first bend. Where I could hang on at the back of the field last week, this week, I had no such luxury. I tried to catch up to the rider in front of me in the 2nd lap, but the gap opened up again in the 3rd lap.
The race itself was a bit of a mixed affair. It took me some time to get used to the quirkiness of the tires, especially on the new corners, but once I did get used to it, it went a whole lot better. And even though the CXers were well out of sight, I managed to pass one ATB rider. And of course it means nothing, but it’s good for morale.
Lap times: 6:03, 6:03, 6:12, 6:19, 6:16, 6:20.

December 13th.

3172Today’s CX was in Alphen, round 10 of the SwaboCrossCompetitie. One thing was for sure – it’s going to be muddy. Only question was how the course would be lain out over the sound barrier wall. As it turned out on the recce lap, just two short climbs, one doable, the other one almost doable (for me) due to the wet section right at the bottom where it was the steepest. With about 20 riders at the line, we started in one bunch rather than three. In the first two laps, I was contesting last place, but a couple of mishaps allowed a gap to develop, and by the time I’d recovered last place was once again firmly in my hands ;-)
The tires were doing fairly well, I was suffering from a bit of wheel spin in the more slippery sections, but traction was sufficient to not come to a standstill. And I must say it’s cool to compensate a sliding front wheel by putting power in the paddles, and sorta counteract the sliding by having the rear wheel slide, too!
In the last lap I saw the rider that I was contesting last place with walking back to the club house. So even if I’d stayed in front of him, I’d be last anyways. Oh, well, that’s cross.
And with so much mud ‘n’ crud, I decided to take the bike apart, and check some critical components. they’re holding up pretty well, except for the brake pads. They last for about 20 CXes, give or take a few training rides….
Lap times: 5:28, 5:30, 5:54, 5:52, 6:08, 6:09, 6:18, 6:18. I was getting tired at the end….

Later that day…..

Had an extensive refresher in throwing curses and black magic spells on a Campa hub. Oh, and lost a couple of hours trying to assemble it again. I hate that crud.

December 15th.

CX is fun, but I’ve never had so many small injuries: fingers, hand, wrist, lower back, calves, Achilles tendon, feet.. Loving it, though.

December 19th.

3185So, today the inevitable happened: I crashed during the race. No harm done to rider, kit, or bike, nor was anyone held up besides me. The race in question was once again held in Woerden, but this time we were the finishing act for some national races. This also meant that the course had already seen 4 races, so conditions were less than perfect. So much so, that the most atrocious part of the course had been taken out for us.
While driving down to Woerden, I realized I’d forgotten the Garmin, but I’d taken the smartphone along, so at least the course would be recorded, but I had to do without the heart rate info. Might as well take the strap off, then, although that felt kind of weird. It’s amazing you get used to wearing these things.
Even before I started the recce lap I saw that the course was muddy. I’d expected that, so I changed tires once again. That proved to be a good move, but on some sections I could do with a little more traction, but for the most part, they did just fine.
The start went sort of OK, but some wheel spin landed me in a familiar place. Pretty soon I saw the two riders in front of me having a difficult time in the more slippery sections, so I made an effort to catch up with them. By the end of the first lap I’d passed them both. The effort had been a little too much, and I had a couple of difficult minutes. Thankfully I’d opened up a gap, so I could “comfortably” take a bit of a breather. Then again, on a course like this, there were no easy sections. So it was keeping the pressure on the pedals, and keep on slipping and sliding through the course. I must say, I’m liking that more and more.
Then, on a little downhill slope with a bunch of ruts in it, my front wheel hit one side of a rut, and bit hard into this side. Attempting to steer clear of that side only made the wheel slide out from under me, and so I hit the deck. Getting up, and continuing on, I checked the bike, then myself, and with two OKs, I tried to get back into the rhythm. And even though I’m not easily phased, I must admit saying “yeah, that’s how you do it” to myself on passing that section in the next lap.
Unfortunately, the race leader entered the last lap not far behind me, and he passed me before I could pass the finish line. Would’ve loved to ride another lap, but then again, this was brutal enough… (but still a lot of fun to do!)
Lap times: 6:17, 6:28, 6:49, 6:40, and 6:45.

December 20th.

3187Today’s race happened to be the club championship CX. I arrived in Leiden rather early, so I had enough time to check out the course, topped up the tires a bit, and get ready for the start. the start went pretty good, and for a change I wasn’t the last to leave the tarmac of the start and finish section. First were the two two-by-eights, followed by three barriers that you had to zig-zag through. Those barriers were a bitch, I just couldn’t find a good path through them. From there on there were three climbs to the highest point of the course, two short ones that were doable, and a long one that I could ride for two-thirds. On top there was a 10m flat section for easy remount, then a steep and soggy descent, across a footpath, then down some more, followed by a short climb to another muddy descent. This time I used the brakes on the steep descent, I didn’t fancy having the front wheel slide out, and hitting the tarmac of the footpath at speed… After a few ups and downs on the slope of the old landfill on which the course had been lain, the most difficult sections were done. Only the stairs and the sand pit (just after the finish line, but skipped at the start) were the harder obstacles in the 2nd half of the course.
IMG_2928 First lap went OK, but going into the second lap I felt that first one had been way too fast, so I had to back off a bit. That lead the sole rider behind me to catch up with me, and pass me on the third lap. I kept the distance between the two of us within 20m, knowing that when I’d recovered somewhat I’d be able to pass him again. However, before either happened he flatted out. He’d later return, but I’d lost my focal point. From there on, it was just a matter of keeping it all together, and have the small mishaps and mistakes not escalate into something bigger.
Even though the course was fairly dry it was tough going. Halfway through the race I was starting to run out of steam a bit, and walked up the last of the three climbs. Not that it was much easier, but at least you’d not fall over when coming to a complete stop. Anyways, this was by far the most brutal CX I’ve done so far. But you need those brutal races to find out what your points of improvements are. And, yeah, I got a couple ;-)
Lap times: 5:52, 6:10, 6:29, 6:33, 6:31, 7:09, and 6:54.

Later that night……

554839_947743498594644_4062616377269419379_n24 hours ago, this leg was unscathed. 2 CX races later, it looks like this. Funky thing is, I have no idea when or how this happened. Honestly! Only thing I know is that something happened in both races, as that big scratch wasn’t there this morning….

 

 

December 26th.

The plan was to ride the Kerstcross at my club, but driving down to Leiden, I noticed the distinct absence of my helmet…. So, on to plan B. Picking my helmet up from home, and drive down to Bussum to have some off-road fun. So, I got on the bike, and rode down some paths that had become somewhat familiar. And then they became somewhat less familiar, then unfamiliar, and then I’d no idea where I was. Driving down Laren (I only knew because of the sign) I was looking for some more unpaved roads. And, hey! there’s a gravel road! And I did swerve around some potholes, but I missed one. And I heard a loud crack… I wouldn’t have been surprised to have found myself on the ground surrounded by the randomly scattered remains of what once was a CX-bike. But I was still riding…. only the Garmin had blacked out. So I tried to restart it. Failure. Try again. Failure. Once more. Nope, still dead…. Oh, well, then not.
And maybe it was for the better. I think I’ve rode on a lot of paths where perhaps I shouldn’t ;-)
And a few minutes before I was back at the car, I realized I could’ve tracked my ride on the smartphone… Hmmmm…
At home, I hooked the Garmin up to the computer. And, after some fiddling with the cables, it came back to life.
So, I did have a lot of fun, but I have no idea where that was….

December 27th.

This morning, I could barely walk down the stairs. I usually have a fair idea as to what causes any soreness, but this time I’m at a loss. OK, I did run 3km two nights before, but I was fine yesterday. And I did squat with some weights at breast-height, but I’ve done that too, albeit with the weight on the shoulders. Anyway, a CX race would not be a good idea, so no trip to Lisse, but rather a repeat of yesterday. But this time I tried to stay out in the fields as long as possible, and steered clear of any pothole. Even though I went down twice, I didn’t need the Forerunner that I brought as a backup. And apart from banging my legs on the bike’s frame, no harm done.

December 30th.

3203Having missed the CX races last weekend due to various reasons, I got an extra shot at it this afternoon, at the Bereveldrit in Benschop, organized by the good people from Woerden. I arrived somewhat early, but this time it didn’t matter as they were running a tight schedule with all sorts of national races, and, just before us tailgaters, a dikke banden race. It’s so much fun watching those young kids on all sorts of bikes, some doing serious racing, others just along for fun.
After collecting my race number I ran into Jeroen Devilee, who’d finished his race. He’d done OK, and told me that the back side of the course was very muddy, and you’d have to run/walk there. Hearing that I regretted switching tires, but there’s not a lot you can do anymore. Anyways, on the recce lap we found out they’d cut that section. But there were enough slippery sections left.
The start was on a stretch of tarmac for a change, and I had a reasonably good start. I wasn’t last to take the first turn, and I could keep up with the pace of the riders in front of me. As the lap progressed, the field got stretched out more and more, but I kept the rider in front of me within 50m or so. The course was mostly long straights, some muddy and slippery, pieced together with 90 degrees turns of which two were very slippery and muddy. So much so that you’d (almost) come to a complete stop every time. They could be ridden, but only if you had no mishap.
After the first laps I felt I needed a bit of a breather, and I accelerated a little slower out of every turn. The rider in front of me was still there, so he’d probably needed the same. Once recovered enough, I decided to try and get to that rider.
It wasn’t the most fortuitous of times to make that decision, as by now we got into heavy traffic from the faster guys passing us. That meant that sometimes, I’d be within 10m, other times it was 50m again. A couple of laps later, we’d started to overtake the backfield of the ATBers, and I managed to get within 20m for most of the lap. At the end of the lap, I made my move, and passed him, only to be passed again in one of the very muddy turns when I had a little mishap and had to click out.
Going into the next lap, I was still within 20m behind, and caught up with him on the 3rd long straight of the course. I moved past him immediately, and kept the pressure on to open a bit of a gap. There were two muddy straights coming up where I knew I’d be the stronger of the two. Only thing, the other very muddy turn separated the two straights… I had a 10m lead going into the first straight, and extended that by another 5m on that stretch. The turn went reasonably OK, and so did the second straight. The exertion of catching up and opening up a gap lead me feeling pretty wasted, and it took much longer to gain speed on the paved section of the course. I hoped the efforts I could make were enough to keep ahead. It was only going into the last lap that I checked how far ahead I was. I had a gap, but it wasn’t much. And I had a feeling all the while that he was getting closer and closer….
Then that very muddy turn came, and I got stuck. Well, out of the saddle, and hop a few times, then hop on, and continue. Well, I just couldn’t get the speed to hop on. Damn! OK, one thing: don’t rush it, just keep cool (at 165bpm? yeah, right…). As I got my bike out of the mud and on to a patch with some more traction, I heard a crash behind me. I managed to not look at what happened and to whom it happened, but just got on the bike, and get going again. It was only in the last stretches of the lap that I’d measure my relative position. There was that other difficult turn coming up, just before the finish line… Well, the gap was big enough to just walk through that turn if needed. But it wasn’t.
So, that was a very enjoyable race, albeit a very tough one, but one that suited me well. I love to play in the mud, it seems ;-)
Lap times: 4:59, 5:02, 4:58, 5:05, 5:15, 5:10, 5:17, and 5:14.

 

The Blunderer’s Guide to Cyclocross – Part 2.2

 With the training evenings and the first races going OK, I felt confident enough to keep on going, even though I was bringing up the rear. But, as I considered this to be my rookie-year, that was cool with me. But pretty soon I had to make a decision whether I keep on CXing, or forego a few for some beach racing…

The hang of things

October 24th.

3088.jpgRound 3 of the CX in Woerden. Again, the course had been altered in some sections, this time stretching the long straight to the max, and adding two short climbs, one I just managed to ride, and another that I just could not ride. And once more I was the last rider to take the first curve, but only because I didn’t want to press the issue. I passed the rider with who I contested last place just a short while after that. For some reason it was tough going, and I only managed to pass two more riders. At the climb I couldn’t ride, there was a file forming, so at some point, everyone was walking, so I had no idea whether I would loose time having to walk compared to riding up. No such problems at the second new climb, but the descent looked a bit like the one at Leiden where I hit the deck, so I was a bit apprehensive, and maybe a bit too much. I did make a recce lap, but I failed to notice that this descent wasn’t really that steep. It was only after the race I noticed
Anyways, after passing rider #3 in the 2nd lap, I pushed things to the limit, forcing me to take things a bit easier in lap 4. It was only then that I could find a good rhythm. Not having anyone breathing down my neck, and not breathing down anyone’s neck myself, it was a relative easy ride to the finish.
The sprained finger didn’t give me much problems to my surprise, but in hindsight, I think I wasn’t pushing things as much as I had done the previous weeks. Seems like it takes more than one good lap to regain confidence. Not screwing things up hopefully is.
As to running versus riding, that didn’t matter at all. My guess is that the difference was at most a second either way. Lap times were consistent once again: 6:51, 6:47, 6:56, 7:08, 7:01, and 7:03.

October 25th.

3090Up for today: the Swabo-Crosscompetitie in Alphen. I’ve done Alphen twice last year, and then it was the easiest of the three. Well, not anymore. Compared to last year, it’s now in reverse, and they’ve added a sand pit. Also, the passage on the sound barrier wall had been changed to a long climb, and a zig-zag down. I had trouble riding up on the recce lap, and I didn’t try riding down, leaving that decision to race time. Also, there were hardly any easy passages where you could take the pressure a bit off without coming to a complete stop.
First round, I had to walk through the sand pit due to traffic, and I wasn’t in last spot, yes, that can happen! The barriers went smooth, plus the section of bends and curves. Then on to the sound barrier wall. I managed to ride up, but it took a lot of effort to get there. Not feeling like having any oomph left, I dismounted and walked down. As a matter of fact, I continued doing that all the way through the race. I’ve thought about hopping back on the bike after the (downward) 180, but chances were high I hadn’t clipped in in time for the downward 90. then some slippery ups and downs before a long bumpy section back to start and finish. I did manage to pass a few riders, mainly at the sand pit or the barriers. Most of the times, I could ride through the sand pit, and even riding in and hopping off half way was faster than walking through, never mind the clumsiness of the dismount. Also, being able to hop on the bike after the barriers saves at least 5 seconds. No drama during the race. The lap times are a bit more scattered this time: 5:35, 5:52, 6:12, 5:56, 6:02, 6:27, 6:03, and 5:56. I did take a breather during one lap, so that’s the 6:27, and there was a bad dash from the starting line, resulting in the 5:35. But if you disregard those two, it’s consistent again around the 6 minutes mark.
Only miff of this day is not being able to find my sunglasses again after I threw them in the grass mid-race.

October 27th.

Sidegrading my CXer.

This was a bit cryptic. One of the causes I felt why I struggled on the down hill 180 was the Campa shifters, the ones with the push-button down-shifter. I’ve had similar shifters on the last Alu racers, and they were OK for touring, not so great for racing. So I decided to swap them for Shimano 105s. As this was neither an upgrade nor a downgrade, I called it a sidegrade. And it worked out pretty sweet.

October 31st.

3103So one Saturday is not like the other Saturday. Round 4 of the CX competition at Woerden was at almost the same course as last week’s. Almost, as one switchback was made wider to accommodate the riders for the district championships that were held earlier today. Not that because of that our numbers were any less, though. Added plus, or rather a left-over from the championships, was the start box. Gee, almost official!
Anyways, I was once more last to enter the single track. Two junior riders that normally race before us, were also in the mix, and one was just in front of me. I could’ve pressed the issue, and make things tough, but hey, it’s for last place, who would we be kidding? Besides, so far I’ve managed to overtake a few riders in every race, so I wasn’t too worried turning in an FDL (finished dead last). And, indeed, at the start of the second lap, I’d left last place. I’d pass a few more during the race.
As I’d already done 60km in the morning, I was a bit worried I wouldn’t be as fast as last week. The thing with racing is that you never have the time to look at the head unit on the bars to read more than one number, that being my heart rate, usually. Also, I started off counting the laps, but I somehow lost count halfway… How hard can it be to count laps, you might think. Well, try that at close to max heart rate. Very simple cognitive skills suddenly have become unbelievably hard, I can assure you.
And when sweat was running into my eyes a number of times making seeing the damned course a challenging task, I’d lost all hope of doing better than last week. On the other hand, I managed to ride the climb I couldn’t do last week (not sure if I was any faster, but it sure felt better), and that difficult descent wasn’t so difficult this time around. Not that I was flying through, but it was way more smoothly.
So when I finally crossed the finish line I was happy to see I managed to do one more lap than last week! That’s awesome!
I must say, I do love to race at Woerden. It’s a nice course, there’s a nice atmosphere both on and at the sides of the course, and as an added bonus, the speaker already know me by name. That might have a bit to do with me turning up in a Vanderkitten CX outfit the last two times ;-) (Oh, speaking about outfits, I’ll be racing in my club’s pink outfit tomorrow. Yeah, I’m 6 sigma out!).
Lap times: 6:28, 6:26, 6:24, 6:27, 6:29, 6:31, 6:25. Don’t ask me how I manage to ride this consistently. It sure didn’t feel that way…

November 1st.

3104So I skipped the longest beach race for the CX race at my club. And, when I woke up at 8 this morning, I was glad I did, as it was quite misty. Eating breakfast, taking a shower, and off to Leiden. When I arrived, the sun was trying its hardest to get through. Getting the race number, pinning it on, and on to the course. I started a recce lap, but pretty soon I noticed that the front wheel was hitting the ground quite a few times, so I cut the lap short, and checked the pressure. Front was at 1.5 the rear just under 2.0. That’s too low, so I topped the front up to 2.5, and the rear to 2.7. By the time I was done it was time to line up at the starting line.
Right from the start, I knew it was going to be hard. I left the tarmac in last place, and I never managed to get even close to the one in front of me. Maybe riding 60km plus a CX the day before is a bit too much… Anyways, even though I was struggling, and more so from lap 2 where my left calf was starting to hurt and I had to take it a bit back not to cramp. The technical sections went well, apart from having problems at times with the dismount. My left foot got stuck a couple of times before the stairs, and one time at the barriers, almost sending the bike flying off.. I almost hit the deck at exactly the same spot I hurt my finger 10 days ago. The guy in front of me did hit the deck, and was blocking the normal route, so I had to go around him. I ended up getting too close to the ribbons, and got it on the inside of the drops. With just 1m to go and too much speed to stop, my hand hit the pole around which the ribbons were wrapped. It sent the bar sharply to the right, and sent me almost flying off on the left side. I could unclip just in time..
I’d just gone through start and finish when the 40 minutes mark was announced. That meant I had another lap to go after finishing this one. That was a pleasant surprise, but only if I started that lap before the race leader finished the race. I think it was close. I expected to finish as the last rider, but that was not to be. At the top of the long climb, a rider had gone down, and was in pain. So I asked him if he was OK, and didn’t quite get a clear answer. It took some time for him to check he was indeed OK, and he managed to get back on the bike, even though his shoulder was hurting. I got back on the bike, too, and rode off in front of him. At the bottom of the long descent I looked up, and he was riding down, too, much to my relief. Not taking any risks at the stairs, the rest was easy going.
In all, it were 50 well-spent minutes on the CXer, and I enjoyed every one of them. Looking at the numbers, it’s interesting to note the heart rates.The max was 170-175 over the last three weeks, with the average climbing from 150 to 165 last week. Yesterday, it was 167 max, 155 average, and 165 and 158 today. So the 60km in the morning had an effect on the race in the afternoon, and the combined effort yesterday had an effect on today. And it pretty much felt that way, too.
And speaking of numbers, I managed to squeeze out 9 laps, the most I’ve ever done so far. Lap times: 5:21, 5:38, 5:37, 5:43, 6:00, 5:37, 5:50, 5:37, and 6:00. I’m pleased with that.

November 3rd.

So it was time again for the LCTC training in Leiden, tonight, this time lead by relief trainer Jeroen Devilee. Even though I’ve done 7 CX races in the last month, it’s always worth to do your training. During a race, you often don’t notice all your little mistakes and mechanical flaws, but at trainings, you sure do notice them! I’d noticed last Sunday that the left pedal’s springs were too tight, making a dismount a challenge at times, but that was made perfectly clear tonight. Another find was that my brake pads had been slipping somewhat.
One of a more biological flaws I was just made aware of is that at night, I can’t see the darker patches at night. My night vision is still pretty good at night, but when there’s also a bright light around, those darker parts become completely black. Comes with old age, I reckon. I noticed this problem on a somewhat badly lit patch of the course where there was a switchback, and alternatively a right-hander, both going back down. The right-hander posed no problem, as there was a bit of light hitting the path down, but the switchback looked like riding into a dark pit to me, and I couldn’t get my head around taking it again after I almost went down the first time around. OK, at least I know that, now. Apart from these mishaps, it was a fun hour.
Oh, and the obligatory tumble was this time courtesy of the front wheel stepping out completely unexpectedly, sending me to the ground. The left knee did hurt for a bit, but the pain subsided after a few minutes. Guess I was lucky.

November 7th.

3114So, round 5 of the CX competition in Woerden. It’d been raining somewhat over the last days, so I was wondering if there were any alterations to the course. As I managed to arrive somewhat late I opted for a quick scan, and then do a couple of warm-up starts rather than riding the full course. The short, steep climb had given way for a sand pit, but the pit was running upwards… But apart from that, I didn’t see much different from last week.
The start was the regular dash to the single track section, but this time I decided to push on, and keep my line. There was one rider on my left contesting my place, and we did touch, but he was one wheel behind me, and therefore backed off. I expected him to pass me, and it did eventually happen, but only midway through the second lap. Once past me, he was gone in a matter of minutes. Kinda awesome you can keep a better rider behind you for so long by just riding good lines and maintaining good speed on the more straight sections.
Due to the rain some sections were more slippery than on the previous weeks, but they were manageable. The sand pit was a different story. When I checked it out before the start (without being on the course), I noticed that none of the riders that attempted to ride through it managed to do so. So it was clear to me I had to dismount, and run through it. Well, run…. I’m not a good runner with a bike on my shoulder, and starting with a heart rate of 165….. Anyways, it didn’t surprise me that I lost time in the sand pit. At one time, I overtook a rider some 30 seconds before entering the sand pit. Once out, he’d overtaken me, and was leading by some 30 meters. I was back on his wheels within two minutes, and powered past him on a particular bumpy section.
Just over halfway through the race, I noticed that the ride in front of me was slowing down. In the curves and switchbacks, the difference was more or less stable, but on the straights I was approaching fast. Just before the sand pit, I was on her wheel. Her being a lot younger and lighter than me, she was a long way away once out of the pit. So, if I wanted to finish in front of her, with the sand pit just some 200m before the finish, I had to have a lead of some 15 seconds entering the sand pit in the last lap. But honestly, it would be easier if I only have to pass her once. So I either stay in her wheel until the next and last lap, or overtake her straight away, and try to build a comfortable lead in this lap. As I still had to catch up with her, and she’d sped up again, I was starting to doubt if it ever would come to that. So, at the sand pit I still hadn’t caught up with her, but I had reduced the gap to some 25m, and out of the pit I saw she was slowing down again. So, I pushed as hard as I could, and coming out of the first switchbacks I was on her wheel again. Although it was a bad spot to overtake, I steered into the rough, and put the power full on. She was having none of that, of course, and did the same. Halfway to the next curves, I had passed her, but being in front is one thing, staying in front is another thing completely, so I took the gamble to keep the power on, and try to open a gap right away. The risk of doing so is that you start to make little mistakes that are going to cost you. Riding on that thin edge for a few minutes, I took a look at how things were progressing at the third cluster of switchbacks, and I was happy with the size of the gap, and I eased up just a little. Coming out of the sand pit and into the last switchbacks I still had a sizable lead going into the last lap. There was one rider some 10s in front of me, and I decided to push it in the last lap, just to see how close I could get. In short, what I’d win on the straights I lost when it wasn’t straight… And that’s a thing I have to work on. I corner way too slow. Still, I feel I’m doing better than a month ago. I may be cornering slow, but I’m cornering far more confident than at the start of the competition.
Lap times: 6:44, 7:07, 7:11, 7:05, 7:12, and 6:58. Not bad. And I was totally wasted when I passed the finish line. This was the hardest here so far. So, yeah, I’m happy.

October 8th.

3116Lisse for round 5 of the Swabo CX competition. I arrived early enough to do a two-lap warm-up and course recce, and top up the rear tire as it hit the ground a couple of times on the first lap. The course hadn’t changed much, only the barriers were replaced by shorter ones that you could zig-zag through. And some of the bumps after the start had been flattened and sort of removed. There were some nasty remnants, however, that made life less agreeable if you weren’t careful.
The mad dash after the start ended at the start of these bumps and the back field almost came to a complete stop. One of my team mates found herself on the right of the line, and threw herself into the first available gap, however small that one was, causing the rest behind her to click out. Clever move! I may have been in last place at that spot, but I think there were still one or two behind me. On the next somewhat higher bump, someone had come down, and was blocking the way just long enough for everyone behind him to have to click out, and take a few steps. Oh well, all in the game. Only thing is, I had to brake so hard that the cable to the front brake slipped twice…
The race itself was more or less as usual. A couple of laps on my own, then paying attention to the faster riders that come to overtake you. Most of the times, there’s no problem. I try to get out of the way as much as possible, but every now and then, it goes awry. Coming out of a right-hander, I stayed on the left to let three riders pass, but the first rider somehow expected me to go right, and somehow got stuck behind me, and the others behind him, even though the course continued on the right of the line I was taking. So they were still behind me when we entered a single track section. When we came out of that, I told them to go left. Problem solved.
Speaking of overtaking, the way that works best for me is do it as soon as possible, and put the power on, even if that means going through some rough terrain. Waiting half a lap or so to overtake on an easy spot just doesn’t work for me. I do take care not to get either one in trouble, after all, we’re riding in the back field.
Lap times: 6:41, 6:44, 6:50, 6:58, 6:49, 6:56, 6:43, 6:27.

November 13th.

So it had been raining this morning, but it had stopped when I started riding. At some point, I had to take a blind corner as a minivan was blocking my view. As a result, I couldn’t see that iron manhole cover about 1m long, and rode straight over it. A few seconds later, I realized both wheels had slid over it.
I love CX just a bit more.

November 14th.

3126With the CXer in the back of the car, I turned on the ignition, and was instantly reminded of the empty gas tank… By the time I’d topped up the tank, I was running late. So late, in fact, I had to put my name on the list at the finish rather than the club house. And so late as to having to depressurize my bladder at the start.
So with only the frantic dash to the starting area as a warm up, I got ready for the start. We’d practiced that in last Thursday’s training, so I had the best start so far only to find out my position on the track was far from ideal: lots of wheel spin in the wet grass. Still, it was a decent start, and exiting the first bend, I could already overtake two riders. I kept the power on in the first lap, but had to back off a bit in the second lap (so it felt anyways), also due to the lack of warming up.
The course had changed a little, some long zig-zags had been replaced by short curves, the sand pit was now a descent, followed by that short steep climb, and some trees were now passed on the other side. In all, changes that suited be just fine.
About half way, I somewhat got stuck behind a group of three riders. I managed to pass one before a series of curves, and the plan was to overtake the second ride on the inside of the last curve. I’d done that a couple of races ago at that same spot. But when I turned into the leaves on the inside, my front wheel hit something and washed out, sending me to the ground. Thankfully, I’d not taken out anyone other than myself, and I was OK. The bike had only suffered a dropped chain. At which point I was grateful for being so late at the start as to not having had the time to grease the chain.
Back on the bike I reminded myself to take it easy for half a lap, and then get going again. I’d been faster than the riders I’d attempted to pass, so with about two laps to go, I should be able to catch up on them again. And so it happened one lap later, at almost the same spots again. That’s also where my inexperience with overtaking riders showed, as I never thought of calling out I’d be taking the inside, and got myself in a bit of trouble where it got narrow again. No harm came out of that, thankfully, albeit that I got just about everything wrong whilst staying on the bike in the next section…
The call for the last lap came a bit early to my taste, and I wouldn’t’ve minded doing another lap, or even maybe two, as I was riding well. Oh well, maybe next time.
Lap times: 6:17, 6:03, 5:57, 6:05, 6:28, 6:04. Hitting the deck’s gonna cost you 25 secs, it seems…

November 15th.

3129When I woke up this morning, I had no idea what I was going to do, apart from racing a bike. I’d been enrolled in a run-bike-run with my running mate Frans van Kampenhout, but yesterday he let me know that he might pull out because of personal reasons.So when I hadn’t heard from him this morning, I prepared for the bike part of the R-B-R. Just when I drove away from home, Frans texted me he pulled out. OK, go back home, swap bikes and kit, and on my way to Swift Leiden for round 6 if the SwaboCrossCompetitie.
Driving to Leiden, I noticed that there was a strong wind blowing, and with the skies being overcast, it was only a matter of time that it was going to rain. And a lot of rain had already fallen. Knowing the course was built on an old landfill using mostly clay, well, it was going to be a slippery affair…
The course recce lap showed that the course had remained unchanged, but some sections had become very tricky (at least, to me). And I hit the deck when on a short but steep incline my front wheel took a different course than expected… Taking it the second time was far less dramatic, thankfully.
So, race time. Where the start went pretty good yesterday, today was a different matter. I just couldn’t get the left foot clicked in. When I finally managed to do that, last place was firmly in my grip. About a minute later, I overtook a rider, but he quit after one lap, and from there on, I’d lost track of whether I was still in last place, or that I’d overtaken someone having a mechanical. Anyways, the going was tough, but I was determined to go on, as this was the first time I’d been riding on such a slippery track. And with rain falling half an hour into the race meant it was going to get even harder. And it did. By that time, I was in survival mode, just trying not to make any bad mistake. I’m cool with slippery sections when it’s flat, but it’s a different matter if it goes up or down, or on a slope. I don’t have the confidence yet to keep the pace on such sections. Making it in one piece was good practice, and probably instrumental in gaining that confidence.
Lap times: 6:20, 6:36, 7:08, 6:52, 7:06, 7:19, 7:10.

November 21st.

3140Never thought I could have so much fun on a CX! Originally, I’d planned to do an off-road ride in the morning, and then go to Woerden for the race, but hours of rain in the morning kept me at home. Although it had stopped raining late in the morning, the course was wet and muddy at places. There were some changes, the sand pit now sported a switch-back: going down first, a 180, and up again. I might have tried it if it’d been level, but not in this case. Overall, the number of switch-backs had been decreased. In hind sight, I’m a bit disappointed by it.
I’d made some changes in the setup of the bike. I’d put the saddle horizontally, and a full cm further back. Thankfully enough, I was early enough to do a recce lap, and I fully needed that lap to get used to the new setup. Also, I felt I’d somewhat over-inflated the tires, so after the recce lap I deflated both a tad.
I had a good start for a change, right up to the point where the rear wheel lost traction a couple of times, and I was in the back field once more going into the first curve. Coming out of that curve, I started to overtake a couple of riders, and I noticed that I’d deflated the rear tire just a bit too much, as I was hitting the ground more often than I’m used to. Still, coming to the second curve, I’d passed two riders.
At the end of the second lap, I was right behind another rider. However, out of the sand pit, where he ran and I walked, he was having a 30m lead. Unfortunately, I was being held up by three ATB riders that overtook me, them being faster than me. It took me the remainder of the lap to get back to that rider in front of me. And again, he had a lead coming out of the sand pit, but this time I saw his lead was just 10m or so. Half a minute later, I was on hist wheel, right at a section where it was easy to overtake. I did just that, and kept the power on for the remainder of the lap. Next lap, I passed one more rider, and put a comfortable gap between us. That came in handy when my front wheel stepped out in a particular tricky section, and I barely avoided hitting two trees… Once on the course again, he was right behind me. Putting the power on, I was able to open up that gap again. At the end of the penultimate lap I took the time to look around me, and I couldn’t see any rider in front of me, nor behind me. So I could take a bit of a breather in the last lap, and I just had to cross the finish line in one piece, and I did.
This was the most slippery and muddy course I’ve done so far, but I felt very comfortable. Only at a few points, for instance coming down on a slippery section with a sharp left-hander at right the bottom, I wasn’t feeling very confident. Still, even when the wheels were sliding out in every direction, I had little problems keeping things upright. I’d never thought that two months ago!
OK, lap times: 6:10, 6:32, 6:45, 6:32, 6:48, and 6:46.

November 22nd.

3141And if I thought yesterday was muddy, well, I was in for a surprise today. Even more mud. So much more that at places it was close to swamp riding. The course had been changed at one point, the 180 at the slope of the sound barrier wall was gone, and it was a straight up and down. As the course had been raced on yesterday, it was already muddy, and that climb was close to impossible to ride for me.
During the recce lap, it started to rain a bit, but it came with a crack of thunder, so we left the course for shelter. A couple of minutes later, that had passed, and we were called to the start. Due to the weather and the mud, only 18 riders lined up. After the mad dash on the tarmac I pretty soon found myself in last place. Well, that was to be expected. On the other hand, this is really my first CX year, so it’s more about learning than anything else, but it’s an added bonus when you can overtake another rider. All that mud was making the going pretty tough, and as a consequence, I started making little mistakes as early as the second lap. Nothing really bad came out of that, apart from having to stop every now and then. It was only in the first lap that I could ride up that slope, from lap two my rear wheel started slipping from underneath me before I reached the top, and with every lap it became more difficult to walk up… Clipping in also became more difficult, and riding down a slippery slope while not being clipped in is scary, let me tell you that! Apart from that section, I didn’t have much problems with the rest of the course, but all the mud made it a hard race.
The last lap was called a bit early, or so it felt, but when I looked down at my Garmin, we’d been riding already for 42 minutes. Time flies when you’re having fun. In all, it was a good race, and I’ve learned a lot. Guess I’m becoming a mudslinger ;-)
Lap times: 5:48, 5:55, 6:02, 5:59, 6:09, 6:16, 6:05, and 6:04.

November 28th.

3149Saturday, so CXing in Woerden. It had been reasonably day over the last days, so I assumed the course would be more firm than last week. How wrong I was….
After pinning my race number to my shirt, I rode down to the course. There were quite some changes to the course, so I went out for a recce lap. I noticed right away that it was very muddy and, hence, slippery. That point was brought home rather drastically when I turned into the starting area, and the front wheel just slid out from underneath me. No harm done, apart from mud on a new kit… On the other hand, it’s CX kit, so it’s kinda fitting ;-)
I botched up the start somewhat, clipped in only after some (slow) meters, and I had to plow through some swampy grass. I hardly had to break for the first curve, that being the positive thing. However, it could’ve been worse, as one rider was already pulling out due to a flat. I had some problems finding my rhythm and I had to sprint a couple of times in order not to lose contact with the field. Half way into the first lap I got things going, and I could overtake the guy in front of me. The sand pit still had last week’s 180 in it, and in the recce lap I’d tried riding through it, but failed to keep traction. So I gave it another go in the first lap, only to get the same result. Problem is, I’m not (yet) comfortable with tight turns on an incline, especially when leading down. So it was walking up on the sand for the rest of the race. It took me a few laps to get used to the slick sections, but when I was, I was having lots of fun, even though I wasn’t going any faster. I must say that I’m quite getting the hang of having the wheels sliding out just a few inches, even when going faster.
I didn’t fall during the race, and I found out in the second lap why I went down in the recce lap. There was a small ridge in the most slippery part of the turn, and the front wheel caught it, and followed it, sending me down. I was happy to find that out, because now I knew how to take that turn without getting into trouble. Also, I’m curious as to I like to know whether I made a mistake, or just had bad luck. I always try to learn from these incidents. The tough thing is forgetting it happened during the race, otherwise you start to make other mistakes just to avoid making the first one. That’s never a good thing.
CXing is funky business. Sometimes you’ve got to react blindingly fast, sometimes you just need to not react at all. I’m kinda amazed I seem to get that right about every time. It does make it fun, and I’m enjoying it like I never thought I would.
Lap times: 7:11, 7:15, 7:20, 7:27, 7:32, 7:24.

November 29th.

3151More brutality this morning in Lisse at round 8 of the SwaboCrossCompetitie. It had been raining for the larger part of the night, so it would be more mud than ever. The recce lap confirmed that. It was a small field, today. I’d say about 30 riders in all, starting in one group. After the start I was right behind a rider, and I had the feeling is was somewhat faster than him. With the first obstacle (a series of short bumps) a 10 seconds away, I thought about overtaking him on the tarmac, or on the long grassy stretch after the obstacle. I decided to go for the latter. I think it turned out to be a wise decision, as we almost came to a complete stop at the obstacle, and I’d probably would’ve crashed into the file because of the extra speed I’d be carrying. Right after the obstacle I rode up to him, and passed him without too much difficulty. At the end of that stretch there’s a 1.5m rise plus descent on the other side, a 180 turn, and back up the rise again. That rise is sandy, and the rain had caked the top 5cm of it, but underneath, it’s still fairly loose sand. So every time you’d ride up again, your rear wheel slips in the loose sand… Other sections that were made “more interesting” were the twisting and turning sections at the second half of the lap, where the trees are mere inches away from the track, and at times you’d find yourself sliding towards them.
Having not a lot of riders meant that I’d find myself all on my own already at the start of lap 3. Without someone within reach in front of you it’s hard to keep concentrated, but I managed to keep going without making too bad a mistake.You’d slip out every now and then, and choose sub-optimal lines, but in all I was doing dandy. One small incident in the last lap: I got lapped, and I tried to follow as best as I could. But some 15 seconds later I saw he hit the deck in a not too difficult bend. He was on the bike again when I was a few meters behind him, so I could follow him again. After the finish he said he relaxed just a bit too much, and missed to spot that little tree stump that clipped his foot. But that’s cross.
Lap times: 7:09, 7:43, 7:58, 8:14, 7:57, 8:43, and 7:17.

The Blunderer’s Guide to Cyclocross – Part 2.1

  Three years ago, I wrote part 1, but didn’t quite get around to finish it. There were a couple of reasons for that. First and foremost, there’s another winter biking competitive activity in the Netherlands, beach biking, and I’d done a bunch of those, and was enjoying them thoroughly. Secondly, I was also running in those days. So CXing came 3rd place, and somehow fell through the cracks that year. One year later, I skipped CXing entirely due to having broken my collarbone earlier that year, and not feeling very confident. Last year, I started again, but was plagued by a painful shoulder, so after four races, the season was over. Now, with everything OK, time for a restart. This time, going full bore!

Getting started

October 6th.

Well, had the first CX training of the season. That’s almost by definition a lot of fun, but it was also a pretty technical training. This being the first time I really used the bike, the setup was somewhat sub-optimal: pressure in the front tire was a bit too low, I need to raise the bar, and replace the brake pads. But apart from that, it was a good training. Kinda like, OK, the others are riding down this incline without crashing horribly, let’s give it a go, and finding out you can reach the bottom in a more-or-less controlled fashion.
So, yeah, I’m looking forward to the first races!

October 8th.

So, I thought it be a good idea to join one of the local cycling clubs for some more CX training. Well, that was a very good idea, indeed. This evening was the first training, and it was far more race-like than last Tuesday’s at Leiden. In all, the two do complement one another very well. So, the remainder of the year will be training on Tuesday and Thursday, and races in Saturday and Sunday. One happy camp…, er, crosser, here!

October 10th.

3069  CX season has officially started. Did my first race at Woerden. I’d lain eyes on that one last year, but a shoulder injury finished my CX season after only four races. Now that my shoulder is OK again (through weight lifting, who’d’ve guessed that???), I fully intend to make up for last year.
After pinning up my race number, I rode a few miles on the road just to get the legs going before doing two recce laps. I’d searched for the course on Garmin Connect, so I knew it was twisty and turny, but what’s not shown on GC is just how bumpy it is. Well, some sections, especially the grassy ones, were very bumpy…
Obviously quite a few other riders were keen on getting their season started, as there were about 10 A-riders, 40 B-riders, and another 20 or so ATBs. As it took some time for everyone to line up, I started chatting to the guy next to me and the conversation pretty soon turned into a lighthearted philosophical discourse on the nature of this CX event. I just love it when weird things like that happen.
After the start, it was a 100m dash on the grass to the first curve and single-track. As sprinting from the get-go is not exactly my forte, I was the last of the B-riders to enter the curve, but was in contact with the field in front of me. After the curve, there was a straight for 50m, and I managed to pass two or three riders. I passed a couple more in the first lap, sometimes by better positioning before a turn, sometimes powering through, and one time by sneaking past with a bunch of ATBs, them having started a minute later.
The race went pretty smooth for a CX, I cornered OK, and went over the bumps without much hassle, also helped by the fact that no dismounts or bunny-hops were required. CX is never relaxed, but I could keep everything controlled as I never got into a position that I had to push it to the limit. My only concern was not getting in the way of the faster riders and since nobody cursed me, I think I’ve done well in that department.
In all, I’ve done better that I expected. When doing the recce laps, I was worried I might run out of steam on the bumpy false flat sections, but that never happened. I could maintain a good pace throughout, and only had to dismount once to clear the rear derailleur from a branch that had gotten in and was making the chain jump over the cogs. And I feel both Tuesday’s and Thursday’s training sessions had been beneficial, if only for having the confidence I’d make it through the technical sections. So, yeah, I’m looking forward to the next CX!
Just made estimates of my lap times. As start and finish were at different places, I chose the passages at the starting line. So, 6:46, 6:37, 6:49, 6:39, 6:35, and 6:36. Not bad, not bad at all….

October 13th.

2nd CX training at my club in Leiden. Tonight, we started off with some off-bike exercises that were not enjoyed by everyone. I’m fairly flexible, so I was cool with that. Others, no so much. Fun fact: the instructor was one of the club’s youngest girl rider.
After that, it was off to the starting line for a 1-lap, 2-lap, 3-lap, and 1-lap race. Darn hard, but every next race went better than the last. Next up was running up the stairs with the bike on your shoulder. That needs getting used to, and a bit more practice for me. At the last descent after running up the stairs, I took the obligatory tumble, and lost the GPS’ head unit. Last exercise consisted of jumping over the barriers (bike in hand, thankfully). I’ve dabbled with bike dismounts before, but in training, it’s something else. You have to time the dismount a whole lot better, and it’d be handy if you execute it well.
It was pretty tough going, but who said it should be easy? In all, it was another evening well spent.
Oh, and luckily I found the head unit.

October 15th.

I thought that a trainer had to make sure everyone understands what the next training is all about. No such requirement this evening at the CX training… After 20min of warm-up exercises, we made two laps on tonight’s course. After that, we were to get an explanation of the following exercise. Thing was, when I arrived at the spot, the dude in front was already half way through his story, and when he was about finished, some were still arriving…. So rather than guessing what we were supposed to do, I took off and biked another hour and a half in the cold rain. Well, I’ve got a 200km tour end December, so this might come in handy, then.
And I’ll probably come up with something for tomorrow evening in the park right here.

October 17th.

3084  So with today’s planned event, Omnium Drafbike, having been canceled, it was a perfect opportunity to make up for last Thursday’s botched up training by going to Woerden again, and racing the club’s CX. As it had been raining and drizzling for the most of the last three, four days, I expected it to be slippery. I arrived late, so I had to skip the warm-up and recce lap, and went straight to the starting line. There weren’t as many riders as last week, but still 49 showed up, with 24 B-riders, me included. Not having warmed up, and riding for the first time in wet conditions, I took it easy at the start, but still managed to not be the last to take the first turn.
The course was a bit easier compared to last week’s (i.e. a bit less technical), but with today’s conditions, the going wasn’t any easier. Still I felt like I wasn’t that much slower than last week. There were a couple of tight 180s where I clipped out a couple of times. Not sure if it was necessary all the time, but it was a good practise, anyways. It did make sense in a fast left-hander in a slippery section. I felt far more in control clipped out than being clipped in.
The race itself was rather uneventful. After passing a few in the first laps, I found myself in a sort of void, with no rider close enough to chase down, and far enough in front of the ones I’d passed to not have to worry about them. At which point it’s all about bringing it back home. Dirt included….
Lap times: 6:54, 6:54, 6:51, 6:52, 6:48, 6:56. Don’t think I could’ve been much faster…

October 18th.

3085 2nd CX of the weekend, this time SwaboCrossCompetitie, round 2 at Lisse. I’ve done Lisse once last year, and I remembered it to be somewhat tricky, as at some points, mistakes may land you in the water. I did have time to do a recce lap, and the course hadn’t changed much from last year’s. At one point I got a bit confused. I rode up on the side of the viaduct, but on top failed to see how we were supposed to continue, as there was a set of stairs on the other side. You only go up stairs, never down, hence my confusion. A few seconds later I realized it was just go right over the tarmac, but I also saw that you’d end up at the bottom of the stairs if you’d continued on the other side. And as we’d just practiced stairs last Tuesday, this was the perfect opportunity to put it to use.
The start was the usual mad dash on the tarmac to the first unpaved section. I usually opt for not doing the mad dash, but this time I could’ve even started at walking speeds, as the first unpaved section comprised an odd 7 bumps, and the entire field (about 50) had to pass it single file… After that, it was mostly twists and turns, with obstacles as a sand pit, barriers, and the set of stairs thrown in.
At the start of the 3rd lap, I noticed I was gaining on two riders in front of me. I tried to overtake one of them at the barriers, but I just hadn’t enough speed to get past. At the bifurcation point I continued on to the stairs, and they took the route I did at the recce lap. Turned out that their route was a few seconds faster. So, if I were to get past them, I had to open a gap big enough not to get overtaken again at the stairs. Thankfully, once I’d caught up on them, we were at a section where overtaking was fairly easy, and I’d gotten past them just before the series of bumps. Keeping in mind I had to open a big enough gap, I started pushing it. That wasn’t too difficult on the long straights, but at the more technical sections, I noticed I was starting to make little mistakes and errors, culminating in a botched-up dismount at the stairs, with the bike doing a 360 around me. Must’ve been a fun sight to see, but I’d gotten the message to ease a bit off. Even with that 360, I had a comfortable gap at the top of the stairs, so I could relax and trying to take the more technical sections at a more constant speed. I hadn’t caught the right rhythm in the first laps, so I had to brake a fair amount. Only thing is, this was fairly bumpy, so every time my rear wheel bumped up, it locked, and that’s not cool when you’re still paddling. But by the last lap I was cruising through those sections, hardly touching the brakes there.
Lap times are a bit more spread this time: 6:52, 6:58, 6:57, 7:02, 7:13, 7:08, and 7:08. And I know there’s room to improve on this course. Still, I’m happy the way it went.

October 19th.

Three years ago, when I’d just gotten my first CXer, I rode the MTB-route near Almere (the one close to the Stripheldenbuurt). It was a challenging route at the time, but just doable. This afternoon, I thought to myself, let’s try that one again. I’d read that the route had been extended. Well, that was a let-down. The first stretch was a new section, and it was fun, even though part of it was a single-track on clay, winding through the trees. The old route followed that section, but with the last 5km (of the old 13.5km) were replaced by new sections that got riskier by the mile. It started off with an odd 6 passes over 2m high banks. What made that particular difficult was the clay, and the number of bumps and potholes in the route. Another winding section through the woods ensued. That’s where trouble started for real. The route lead over tree roots with less and less grass in the clay, so traction became an issue, and there were a few small bridges built out of tree trunks, the holes filled with by now wet clay… So you’re slipping and sliding, and you have to lift your front wheel out of the clay over a tree root.. Further down the roots became increasingly bigger, the grass had returned, but was covering up what was right next to the small path. That lead to some emergency stops inches away from deep pits, or tree logs. At one point my neck was almost hit by the rear wheel. So I just walked the last km or so. It’s preobably doable on 6cm wide MTB tires, but not on the 35mm wides covering my wheels… It’s a pity, as these tracks are harder to ride than CX courses.

October 20th.

Not a lot of riding during the CX training hour this time. Partly because it was a free training, but mostly because the club’s CX course had been built, making it somewhat harder to pick small sections to exercise on. I did do a walk-about of the course, and it is very much to my liking. It’s not going a course that I can ride all the way through as some sections are steep and long, but I know I’m going to get a lot out of it.
So, after the start, there’s a sand pit that’s tougher if only longer than the one at Lisse. Then, it’s on to a long straight with a set of barriers. then there’s some zig-zagging, followed by this big climb. What goes up, must come down, and here there’s lots of room to come down, thankfully. Then it’s on to a set of stairs and going down right after it, some tightish curves, a long straight with a small bridge, a tight 180, maybe another barrier, and a 1m drop onto the tarmac, and on to start and finish.
I had other things planned on Nov. 1st, when the first race will be held on this course, but I’m now seriously tempted to forgo on that and ride at Leiden. Anyways, the bike was making some worrying noises, I think it’s telling me it wants some grease on certain parts. I’ll attend to that tomorrow, and have a go at the course on Thursday.
Hmmm, I just might put a camera (an old one, mind you, don’t expect HD) on the bike.

October 22nd.

So I hatched a plan last Tuesday to check out the CX course at Laiden today. And so I did. Drove down, and got to it. First, I put the second barrier back where it ought to be, then proceeded to the climbing section. That went sort-of OK, except that I probably won’t make the last part of it on the bike, even at the races. What goes up must come down, and so it’s on to the downward part, but that turned out to be a bit trickier than I thought, as after the first drop, it’s back up a bit. I hadn’t noticed that in the walk-about on Tuesday. Then it’s down all the way, and that’s where I made a little mistake, and went down. Nothing too serious except a sprained finger. Sure do hope that’s OK by Saturday. Continuing on, the rest was pretty OK, walking up the stairs, hopping on, and riding down again, and doing long straights with some obstacles here and there. Only problem there is the sand pit.There’s no way I can ride through that one in the current conditions. The wheels just dig in too deep to get through. Anyways, because of the tumble I did another lap, and kept it upright this time. I did a lap in about 7 minutes. I vaguely remember having similar lap times at last year’s CX on an easier course (in race conditions), so I’m reasonably pleased.
As my fingers were still hurting from going down, I left the course, and checked out a path I’d seen many times before while warming up for a race, but never actually rode on as I didn’t know where it went, so now I was about to find out. Well, more or less where I thought it’d go. Least now I know.
After this detour, I went back to the course to try a couple of things in the sand pit (all failed), and tried the descent once more. I’d figured out what I’d done wrong, and wanted to do it right this time. To be honest, I’d made a rookie’s mistake. I went down on the hoods rather than down the drops. I have no such problems on the road, but out here, you are mislead to feel more in control on the hoods. So I went down in the drops, and that made a big difference. On that positive note, I left for home.
So, where will I ride on Nov. 1st? I haven’t decided yet. My confidence took a bit of a hit when I went down on a section where I had no problem last year, but I think I’ve correctly identified the problem, and I know how to prevent it from happening again. And even though I haven’t done the Alphen course, I already know Leiden is the most challenging course. I like that. So I guess there’s a 60% chance I’ll do Leiden.

Post mortem of a failed ride

The plan was to ride from Utrecht to Paris and back again in one go. The route was provided, and it covered 1000km. Having done the Styrkeprøven in 2011, totaling 540km in more difficult terrain, I considered this to be doable, with a 50% chance of success. I love challenges where the outcome hangs in the balance.

I find it near impossible to train for such events. I know from the Styrkeprøven that finishing is for the larger part a mental thing: how much discomfort can you stand over an extended period of time? After riding numerous 200+ km rides, I knew I’d be OK in the physical department. So how do you prepare mentally? I rode Milano-San Remo (300km), Strade Bianche (180km), and the Giro di Lombardia (210km) in 5 days, whereby each day the discomfort grew. That went well. I also rode 230km solo, even though I knew I’m capable of riding long distances on my own, as I rode the Styrkeprøven mostly (more than 500km) on my own.

So, what do you carry on such a trip? Well, 1000km sounds a lot, but when you’re doing 20km/h on average, that’s 50 hours, or two days. So food for two and one half days, and enough water bottles to get through the night, as very few shops are open at 3 in the morning in the country side… With good weather forecasts I decided to leave any rain gear at home, and reckoned that it wouldn’t get so cold at night I needed warmer clothing. I had one extra piece of clothing: a reflective jacket, as that’s mandatory in France when cycling at night (or so I’ve been told, but it makes good sense). I also had spare batteries for the Garmin and the lights.

So with all that (plus the regular items as phone, id card and insurance cards) stuffed in the six pockets of my shirt and wind jacket, plus three saddle bags, I set off from home in Amsterdam Zuidoost for Utrecht, where I’d team up with Daan for this adventure.

There were some problems when setting off for the trip. I chose to use my old Etrex Vista for this trip because of battery life-time. I also have two Edge 705’s and a Forerunner 305, but their combined life-time wouldn’t cover the trip, and as the Etrex uses regular batteries, I’d be able to replace them any time it was needed. The thing is, I hadn’t been using that unit for years, and I’d forgotten that it can only navigate on routes consisting of 50 points or less. All I could do is show the (thankfully) complete route on the basemap. But Daan has an Edge 800, so I didn’t worry too much.

Trouble began when 30km into the ride the Edge decided to take us for a detour. Where on my map it showed a direct route, Daan’s unit showed another course. The sources being different (mine a route, Daan’s a track), we just found it remarkable, but nothing more than that. But when at 5km away from “my” course it still was taking us away from that course. Even more, when restarting the navigational part, it suddenly couldn’t find the course anymore! As this was still (relatively) close to home, we could cope, but we wondered what if this were to happen further on…

And as you might already have guessed, it did happen later on, multiple times. So we navigated on my plot and the sun… which is less than ideal, I can assure you. If you have to go in one direction, and there happens to be a road that starts off in that direction, there’s no guarantee it will keep on doing so. And if there’s no obvious one, which one do you take, then? All in all, it was taking way more time to cover distances even though our actual speeds were above what I’d expected.

Then we hit Belgium. Belgium, with the bike path on one side of the road, very often having atrocious surfaces. I lost two of my four water bottles in a matter of hours. They’d gotten bumped out of the triathlon saddle-mounted bottle holder, and broke the top when they hit the ground. Not only does that ruin your mood, it also complicates logistics. I’d brought four bottles to have enough water to cover the night, but with half of the capacity gone, that was getting dicey. With a few more navigational issues causing us to loose a few hours on our time table, I started wondering if it were wise to push for Paris. I mentioned it to Daan, who went silent for some time, then told me I did have a point, and we’d assess the situation at our check point at Mons.

We arrived at Mons at 2:30 in the morning after riding 315km, taking us 17 hours rather than the 14 hours we’d expected to need for the 250km we’d have to cover. Extrapolating, we’d have to expect to ride some 200km more, resulting in an extra 10 hours of riding time. That may push us well into a third ride in the night. Both of us had ridden at night, but neither had ridden through the night. Putting yourself then in a position of having to ride through three nights might not be the wisest thing to do… Combined with the changed water carrying capacity, we decided it be wiser to return home rather than pushing on for Paris.

The return trip proved the hunch about navigational problems right, as we found ourselves off-course a couple of times, adding another 35km to our distance. I also ran into a battery problem. At the end of the night, my front light was burning two red LEDs, meaning the batteries were about to die. I had four spares, so that wasn’t a problem. But in the morning my GPS was also running out of its battery juice…. As by now we weren’t expecting to ride in the dark anymore, I took two out of the light, and put it in the GPS unit. And after 20+ hours of riding, our physical discomforts were increasing. Not only being saddle sore, but also getting painful hands and feet. We were fully expecting this, and could stand it reasonably well, but it all adds up. And at 21:00, we arrived in Utrecht. I had to ride home, taking another one and a half hour, roughly. And with the last drops of battery juice for lighting, I got home at 22:30. I’d ridden about 700km in 40 hours. In all, not too shabby.

Now, would we have made it to Paris had we not have had those navigational issues? I believe so. We were both feeling OK apart from being saddle sore, but that was bearable. Making it back would’ve been hard, but I think we’d manage it. We’d probably take a few more hours than we’d expected at the start, but I don’t think we’d be even close to a third time of riding in the dark. I needed some breaks after 24 hours, but in all that took less than an hour, and I felt like I’d be able to ride through another night without much difficulties. We’d certainly would’ve run into technical difficulties. I would’ve had problems with lighting, Daan with his GPS. My GPS would’ve run out of juice, too, leaving no backup for navigation.

Now, to pop the big question: was this a failed ride?

Yes and no. Yes in the sense that we didn’t make it to Paris. No in just about every other respect. Our bike handling after 30+ hours of riding was on par as when being fresh, we could still think clearly, and take the right decisions, eat and drink right through the end, and keep a good pace throughout. Plus we enjoyed not necessarily the ride, but the adventure.

In hindsight, I would’ve done a couple of things differently. I’d make more 200+ km rides, and doing a few of them back-to-back. I’d also put larger saddle bags on the bike, or just one big one. That wind jacket proved to be quite warm during the day. I’d also get longer lasting lighting. the power was OK, but its lifespan wasn’t. And I’d use the Edge, but with an external charger. And for last-resort routing, I’d make a list of places we have to pass.

Would I ride such a distance again? That’s an interesting question. After the Styrkeprøven I said I probably never would do such a thing again. Well, here I am. So much for that statement. Now, I’d say, maybe. I’m immune to the Paris-Brest-Paris virus, and I don’t subscribe to the Audax approach of riding, but I can see the challenge rides like that pose. For the time being, this goes on the get-it-right-the-next-time-but-there-is-no-hurry list.

MTR 2013

De MonsterTijdRit zit er weer op voor dit jaar, een waardige afsluiting van het wegseizoen.

Mijn verwachtingen waren hoog gespannen, ik had een nieuwe (tijdrit)fiets, was afgevallen, was sterker geworden door de clubcompetitie, en reed harder dan ooit tevoren.

Ik had een week geleden een trainingsrit van 60km gereden, en dat leverde geen noemenswaardige pijntjes op, afgezien van het zitvlak. Er waren me tijdens die rit wat kleine dingetjes opgevallen, en met dat in het achterhoofd nog wat veranderingen in de afstelling van de fiets gemaakt. De laatste werkdagen had ik het woon-werkverkeer op de P3 afgelegd, en had daardoor de bevestiging dat de veranderingen ook verbeteringen waren. Maar ja, 122km is een hele afstand….

Bij het inrijden viel het me op dat het erg fris was, en dat de wind een stuk harder woei dan de afgelopen dagen. Toch kon ik 32km/h tegen de wind in halen. Dat lijkt niet zo hard, maar dat was wel de gemiddelde snelheid die bij mijn beste tijd (3:49:00) hoort. Ik moet zeggen dat dat wel een lekker gevoel gaf. Na het inrijden naar de auto, overschoentjes aan, helm wisselen, en mouwtjes aan.

Na de start is het zaak om zo snel als mogelijk in je ritme te komen, en dat zo’n 120km vol te houden. Simpel, toch?

Dat in het ritme komen lukte best aardig. Het eerste lange stuk ging tegen de wind in, en op zich ging dat goed, maar ik zat tussen twee versnellingen in. De lichtste was eigenlijk net iets te licht, en de zwaardere voelde net te zwaar aan om zo lang vol te houden. Einde rechts, en er kon een tandje bij (of, eigenlijk, af). De harde wind was nu goed te merken: als je achter de bossage wegkwam, dan kreeg je een klap naar rechts. Ik had bij het inrijden me even zorgen gemaakt over het dichte achterwiel, maar ja, dat was het enige achterwiel wat ik bij me had. Nu bleek dat het wel meeviel. Weer einde rechts, en nu de wind grotendeels in de rug. Opschakelen, opschakelen, opschakelen, opscha…. o, ik zit al op de grootste versnelling…. Heb niet de hele tijd op de 53/12 gereden, dat durfde ik nog niet in de eerste ronde. Je kunt ontzettend stuk gaan op de MTR. Dat was me vorig jaar overkomen. Je gaat harken, krijgt een hongerklopje, en de toeristen vliegen je om de oren, bij wijze van spreken.

Een hongerklop zou me nu niet overkomen, twee gelletjes in de zakken, en een Camelbak op de rug zouden daar een stokje voor steken. Note to self: de Camelbak eerst op de rug doen, dan de tijdrithelm opzetten.

Tweede ronde. Bij het passeren van de lijn stond clubgenote Harriët Koorn aan de start. Meestal wordt je in de tweede ronde vrij vaak ingehaald, omdat er op te verwachten eindtijd gestart wordt, en de snelsten komen als laatsten aan de beurt. Maar deze keer was het behoorlijk rustig, ik werd (nog) niet ingehaald. De tweede ronde verliep ongeveer gelijk aan de eerste ronde, maar ik durfde nu wat meer de zwaardere verzetten te schakelen. Alles voelde nog goed aan, behalve het zitvlak. Dat stak en brandde, al naar gelang de houding waarmee ik op het zadel zat. Normaliter worden dat soort pijntjes alleen maar erger, maar aan het einde van de tweede ronde viel het me op dat ik steeds minder last van het zitvlak kreeg. Goed fietsje, die P3!

Aan het begin van het laatste lange stuk tegen de wind in kwam Harriët me voorbij, en reed maar heel langzaam bij me weg. Ik had het even moeilijk  op dat moment, en een roze fietster voor me was een mooi richtpunt. Zelf had ik een stayer in het wiel gekregen, en ook die ergernis hielp om het tempo vast te houden. Wederom langer en vaker de zwaardere verzetten gereden, ik zat nu in de laatste ronde, en ik voelde me naar omstandigheden goed. Ik zat tegen de 3 uur op de fiets, en had zo’n 100km gereden, en dat laat echt wel wat sporen na: de bovenbenen werden wel stijver, maar dat heb ik al eens veel erger gehad. Laatste keer einde rechts, wind in de rug, nu de 12 schakelen, en maar blijven beuken. Harriët zat nu een paar honderd meter voor me, en was nog steeds een goed richtpunt. Langzaam maar zeker kwam ik dichterbij. Ik kon het me op dat moment veroorloven om tegen de verzuring (of verstijving) aan te rijden, ik zou so wie so een fors stuk van mijn beste tijd afrijden.

Ik had gehoopt om op de finish vlak achter haar te zitten (‘t is niet zo leuk om ingehaald te worden door iemand die je zelf hebt ingehaald), maar ik haalde haar met nog een paar kilometers te gaan in, net aan het einde van de lange laatste bocht naar het laatste rechte stuk naar de finish. Ik had de 12 laten staan, en moest behoorlijk duwen om die goed rond te krijgen, maar ik kreeg niet de indruk dat ik aan het harken was.  Aan de andere kant, hoe objectief zijn je waarnemingen nog na dik drie uur tijdrijden?

De finish werd gepasseerd, en de benen stik gehouden. Soms komt dan het lastigste stuk van een tijdrit: het loskomen van alle nog niet afgevoerde afvalstoffen uit je spieren. Deze keer viel dat ontzettend mee. Toch wist ik wel dat het niet veel harder kon. Had ik dat geprobeerd, dan zou ik hoogstwaarschijnlijk kramp hebben gekregen, en dan kun je het helemaal wel vergeten.

Aan het begin van de derde ronde was de Garmin gaan piepen, en ik had er wat mee gerotzooid, waardoor de eindtijd niet betrouwbaar was, evenmin als de afstand (118.1km i.p.v. 122.4km).  Het bleek 3:22:32 te zijn, na analyse van de tcx-file.

Ik had de afgelopen dagen ingeschat dat ik 3:30 zou kunnen halen als alles meezat. Dat leek me bij het inrijden niet meer mogelijk te zijn. Na de eerste ronde zag ik dat ik die net onder de 1:10 had gereden, dus wellicht zat die 3:30 er dan toch in. Na de tweede ronde werd dat bevestigd: volgens de Garmin zat ik nog onder de 2:20. De derde ronde gaf me niet het gevoel dat ik snelheid verloor, maar ik heb me daarin wel eens vergist, maar dus niet deze keer. En zover onder de 3:30 is een aangename verrassing.

De conclusies: het aanschaffen van de P3 plus een dicht achterwiel is een uitstekende zet geweest, het is nu al iedere Euro waard geweest. Het kwijtraken van wat overbodige kilos helpt ook, en van het meedoen aan de clubcompetitie wordt je sterker.

En het helpt ook als je maf bent, want anders begin je niet aan zo’n monsterlijke onderneming.

Finish what you started

Sometimes, it’s not the challenge, or even completing the challenge. Sometimes, it’s the story behind it.

Strava‘s 2013 Spring Classics Challenge was pretty easy: ride 1319km (or 820 miles) or more in the month of April. Having a daily commute of about 2×19 miles would make this challenge almost a triviality. To kick-start the challenge, I took my new race machine out for a century-miler on April 1st.

The new race machineAll went well until about 80 miles. There, on a round-about, things went wrong: I crashed, and broke my collarbone… Now, the thing about a broken collarbone is that they can’t put a cast on it. The only thing they can do is cut it open, and screw a plate on it. As I not only had two fractures, but also two chips, chances were that the chips had come off on the very spot they’d want to put the screws. So, what was left for me was to let it heal on its own. So, when I got out of the hospital four days later, sore shoulder and all, and the last thing on my mind was the Strava Spring Challenge.

Not being able to ride a (race) bike is one thing, but being indoors 24×7 is not quite something I fancy. So I started walking, that being the only outdoors activity I could still do, and true to the Mythbusters adagium that anything worth doing is worth overdoing, the walks averaged 15 miles. Although I was happy to spend those hours outdoors, walking just isn’t, and probably won’t ever be, my favorite activity. As by the end of the 2nd week I was cleared to get back to work, I needed transportation. Driving a car is out of the question, riding a race bike too, and public transportation with the risk of having someone bump into me? Nah, I don’t think so…..

Now, there are bikes that you can ride while sitting upright, and steer with just one hand: the Dutch bike, or (in Dutch) the omafiets.

Image

Although it does have a front rim brake, the main braking system is a coaster brake, to I don’t have to use my left hand for braking. And as it’s a single speed bike, no changing gears, either, so I don’t have to use my right hand at all. Having bought one at the 16th, and taking it for a 25 mile ride, I found riding this bike comparable to walking in terms of strain to my right shoulder.

So, for the first days, I just rode to work, not thinking about the challenge. Actually, that’s not quite true: I’d pretty much given up on the challenge. There was no way I could see to ride about 700 miles in little more than two weeks. But on the 18th, I did a little calculation: I’d ridden 180 miles by then, so in order to finish, I had to ride (820-180)/12 = 53.4 miles per day. That’s “only” 15.4 miles added to the daily commute. That sounds a whole less daunting.

So, every day, I’d ride to work, maybe take a longer route than normal, depending on the wind, and after my right shoulder started to stiffen up, I’d ride back home, getting the extra miles done, plus a little more, weather permitting, to get the mileage down. The weekends might prove a problem, though. I’m not the kind of guy that bikes somewhere, spends half an hour there, and continues on. When I stop, it’s only for a minute or so. Riding 50+ miles on a new bike, with a different type of saddle, and a different geometry just might prove too much to do. On Saturday 20th, I managed to push a little over 30 miles in a strong wind. That’s 13 miles short. That’s a problem: I was already pushing it just about as far as I could during the week, no chance of recouping those miles then. And to add them to the Sunday ride? Hardly doable. So I was close to giving up on the challenge for the second time.

Sunday 21st, however, started out as a really lovely, albeit cold, day. As it happened, I had an appointment in Leiden to man the time-keeping electronics at the Junior’s race series at my cycling club. It was an easy peddle to Leiden, just a little under 30 miles. After the races, the temperature had become agreeable, and I decided to take a long ride back home. It turned out to be a 43 miles ride, and taken over the weekend, I was only 2 miles short. It still was doable!

During the next week, I was really pushing it. I’d become accustomed to the bike, although I had to fiddle with the saddle as that was sagging down, and changing its height a couple of times within a few days didn’t go well with my knees. But I was not only getting the allotted miles down, but also an extra few more, so by the time it was Saturday 27th, I’d ridden 630 miles, meaning I’d only had to do about 47.5 miles per day the remaining 4 days. Had the weather been windy, cold and/or wet during the week, this weekend, the weather was nice. So nice in fact, I’d ridden 50+ miles on Saturday, but went for another 30 miles in the evening, plus 50 miles again on Sunday! With the daily commute on Monday, that left about 20-25 miles on Tuesday. It being a public holiday, I could decide on a nice ride to complete the challenge. Then it suddenly hit me: why not going to the crash site, and complete the ride I’d started in the 1st?

Trip

 So, I went out on Tuesday with two GPSs. One for the trip to the crash site, the other one for the completion of the ride I started a month earlier. Considering it to be two rides also freed me from a rule I’d set myself eons ago to never ride the same road twice during a ride (unless there’s no alternative). At the crash site, I stopped, switched off one GPS, turned on the other, and completed the ride, as well as the challenge.

 

Now, you can make several remarks on this, an obvious one being that I must be crazy to bike more than 750 miles with a broken collarbone. Of course, there’s a risk there that I’m taking, but there’s also a risk of hurting yourself when you’re walking. And there’s even a risk when staying in bed: you can roll onto your bad shoulder while you’re sleeping. It happened to me at least twice.

Another one might be that it’s better to find out what you still can do, or can start to do, rather than moan about what you can’t do. I could’ve not bought that bike on the 16th, and it would’ve spared me a whole lot of pain in the quadriceps, but then I wouldn’t’ve had all the fun of watching people stare at me.

The remaining remarks are left as exercises to the reader ;-)