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.

 

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