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!

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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!

 

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