Race Recap: Derby City Cup

After the chaos that was CincyCX weekend, you’d THINK I’d be looking forward to a weekend off. However, the next weekend was the Derby City Cup, another “big deal” cyclocross race at Eva Bandman Park in Louisville, KY.

Like CincyCX, Derby City Cup is a two day affair that hosts professional cyclocross races on both Saturday and Sunday. Eva Bandman was host to the world championships in 2013 (the first ever in North America!) and having seen the venue a few times, I was excited and apprehensive to race on the site. I was also eager to test out the effectiveness of my new “chain watcher” I had installed on my bike. It’s a piece of plastic that is supposed to prevent your chain from dropping off the small chain ring. God knows I was willing to try anything after the catastrophe at the previous weekend’s race.

Derby City mud pit ovcx cyclocross blog small
Peanut butter mud for the pro races

I drove up early on Saturday morning, leaving my house around 6 and arriving around 8:15 to pre-ride. It had rained the day before, meaning some of the course was a little muddy but luckily it was nowhere near Devou-like conditions. The only worrisome part in terms of mud was a huge mud pit on a straightaway near the start of the race. Watch the video I took of the Elite Women’s Saturday race to see what I’m talking about.

 

I ran into my friend Amie while pre-riding and we took a trip around the course together. When we got to the mud pit, we both opted off our bikes to try and walk through or around it.

“Are you just gonna wait for the race to see if you’ll make it through?” I asked.

“Yeah, that’s pretty much the plan,” she said.

Immediately after the mud pit were a few small camel humps and the rest of the course consisted of a nice mix of technical sections and power-filled straightaways. There was a flyover, which I had never seen before, some tricky sand with a deep enough rut that I could ride it halfway through, a few sets of large steps, some hills that most everyone ended up running up, sketchy off-cambers, and one or two scary, steep descents.

Before the race, I ran to my car really quick and used an old toothbrush to clean the mud from my cleats that was preventing me from clipping in smoothly and easily. As a result, I missed my call up (embarrassing) so I ended up starting near the back. Given my terrible starting skills, this was a handicap right off the bat.

The starting whistle blew and the field and I sprinted down a long, paved straightaway, a gentle left turn, and into the anxiously-anticipated mud section. Amie and I charged through it neck and neck, and there was mud everywhere, caking our drive trains, flying up in our faces, etc. As soon as we cleared it I looked at Amie and said “Well, that sucked”. She laughed and agreed and I tried to shift into the proper gearing for the short humps coming up.

The muddy aftermath
The muddy aftermath

I was trying to pass people whenever I got the chance, which was usually on the straightaways and while running through the last half of the sand. My cleats filled with mud pretty early on, making clipping in difficult. This wasn’t a huge deal on most of the course but it was unnerving not being clipped in going down a few of the steep descents.

There was one in particular I had been terrified riding down in pre-ride. The proper position to descend in is clipped in and standing up with your butt back off the seat. I descended fully seated with my feet not even on the pedals, hoping for the best at the bottom of the drop (I was pretty lucky). Click through for a video of Katie Compton riding the hill I was oh-so-scared of.

Towards the end of the final lap, I had my eye on one girl ahead of me. There was no one else in sight and I had no idea how I stood in the field. I tried to get around her on a few turns to no avail. The finish consisted of a steep run-up leading to the paved finish sprint and when I tried to pass her, she shifted her bike on her shoulder so I couldn’t get around her. I fumbled my re-mount at the top, putting me a few body lengths behind her on the sprint. I shifted up into my big ring, put my head down, and barreled forward. I passed her on the sprint and beat her by one second, according to official results. As she saw me pass her in the final yards I heard her yell out “Shit!” as the announcer called out our second and third place standings.

Covered in mud and so happy about it!
Covered in mud and so happy about it!

As I waited for the podium, I compared mishaps and mud with my friends Amie and Dustin. Dustin had had a mechanical on the last lap that took him from one of the lead positions to the back of the pack. I had actually passed him at one point which even in my state of exhaustion seemed strange. Amie had made the podium for Category 4 35+ and I was second step on Category 4.

I didn’t know the girl who had beat me but assumed she must ovcx women podimhave been way out there, since I hadn’t seen her the whole race. Of course, this might have been due to her tiny stature since she was, oh, eleven years old. Yup. Beat by a pre-teen. I swear, those cyclocross kids are badass. They have no body weight and no fear, making them formidable opponents. Anyways, that’s a podium picture I won’t be showing off.

I grabbed lunch with Amie and Dustin, showered in my hotel room, and came back to watch all the later races, including the typical domination of the women’s field by Katie Compton and a surprise victory by Stephen Hyde over national champ Jeremy Powers. hotel room bikeThen, a relaxing night alone in a hotel with my one and only (my bike, obviously).

The race the next morning had a start time of 8:30, meaning an early wake up call and trying to eek out as much pre-riding as possible between sunrise and call ups. The course was unchanged from the day before except some of the parts that had been unrideable due to mud were a little more dried out and packed down. This should have been an advantage but for some reason really messed with my head. Maybe it was the fact that the day before I was able to think “Oh, I can run this because no one will be riding it!” but now I had to think “Oh, I should be able to ride this!”. Unfortunately, due to my general and mental fatigue, this was not good. Coupled with an even shorter time to pre-ride and I was not looking forward to certain sections of the course.

I made my call up this time and the start was similar to the day before, although I could feel early on I didn’t have the “pop!” left in my legs that I had the day before. I traded off leads with people I would usually be able to fly around but I just wasn’t able to push it as hard as the day before, plus I was still running sections other people were riding, including the hill that had scared me so much the day before. For some reason, the packed-down dirt and deep ruts at the bottom really threw me off in a way I just wasn’t able to overcome mentally. I need to work on my bike handling skills so that minor tricky features don’t throw me off in the future because I know I lost a lot of time walking when I should have been pedaling.

One woman, a charismatic, quirky, and friendly Masters rider named Gail was with me for the most of the last lap of the race. I would pass her, and she’d pass me right back on the technical sections. We almost had an unfortunate collision at the bottom of the hill because I was trying to veer to the left to give her the good line for passing and she figured I’d do the typical cyclocross tactic of taking the good line for myself. Honestly, I figured if I was too much of a wimp to ride down the hill she deserved the good line. We narrowly avoided collision and stayed together for the rest of the lap. As we ran up the final incline to the pavement she looked at me and said “I need a drink.” Amen, sister.

I finished fifth of eight in my category and 10th of 16 in my wave and was disappointed but not surprised. I spent the rest of the day watching people ride the sections I had botched to try and figure out what I could do better. The answer is “be better at riding my bike”, basically. And commit to my line.

I think two day events aren’t really my jam. My heart rate data for the two day weekends was incomplete due to Garmin malfunctions but I could generally guess that while my heart rate was about my typical race heart rate for the first day, on the second day I just couldn’t put out the same effort. Not sure if I need to work on cardio or recovery to remedy that or just focus on being able to maintain a racing mindset for two days in a row, but it’s something I’ll need to sort out for next season and it’s good to know for the future (for example, if the race I really care about is on Sunday, maybe hold back a little on Saturday).

 

Race Recap: Cincy2 Cyclocross Weekend!

So, the weekend of Halloween was The Weekend. The weekend I’ve  been looking forward to for oh, a full year, year and a half. It was the Cincy2 (formerly Cincy3 because there was a Friday race in previous years), probably the biggest weekend for the Cincinnati cyclocross scene. In addition to the usual races, Saturday would host a C1 race (the highest UCI level race besides world cup races, I believe) and Sunday was the second annual Pan American Championships. The best racers from across the continent would be in attendance and I was super excited to race this year at Kingswood Park, my ‘home turf’ park where I do the majority of my off-road practice.

I spent the weeks leading up to the race anxiously anticipating and preparing. I was nervous about not doing another race before Kingswood, since my last race at John Bryan had been such a disaster. However, I stayed true to my workouts, tapered off the week before, and tried to get adequate sleep and manage my nutrition.

kings cx pre ride cyclocross blog
Took this when it rained on me during my pre-pre ride. Totally worth it.

Friday before work, I went to Kingswood to pre-ride the course. It was an open pre-ride and it was almost surreal watching people like Katie Antonneau and Stephen Hyde whiz around the course at the same time as me. I had also been a few days prior to try and pre-ride, but the only part of the course that was marked were two tricky mini-camel humps that I just could not figure out how to ride (click the link for a video of what I’m talking about). I kept hitting a root trying to go up the first one (causing my bike to fly out from under me), and on the second the turn going into it was so tight that I had to kill all my speed going down (or as much as my shoddy brakes would allow) and wasn’t able to muscle my way up the short, steep hill afterwards. After discussing it with my friend, he advised me to just commit to running the parts of the course I felt I couldn’t ride, as trying and failing to ride a feature is often more of a detriment during the race.

Overall, the course was definitely a “power course” as opposed to a “technical course” which was very good news for me. Give me a few long straightaways where I can shift into my big ring and I’m good.

As opposed to last year, which was bitterly cold, race morning was rather pleasant, with just a slight chill in the air. I decided to ride without arm warmers since I tend to get really hot really quickly when I race.

This race was different than the others because literally all the women not racing the elite races started together. I wasn’t thrilled because I tend to get anxious and have bad starts when surrounded by a bunch of people, plus my starting position was a few rows back from the girl I was most worried about beating me. However, this also meant the race was 40 minutes instead of 30, which usually works to my advantage.

As expected, my start was not strong. I was jostled out of position and ended up going through the course tape thirty seconds after the start. I had to dismount, re-enter the courses, and try to power past as many people as possible without getting overeager and making another costly mistake.

The course was about 2.2 miles long, the longest allowed by UCI standards, so we only did three laps around the course. As I predicted, the power stretches were hugely beneficial for me, allowing me to fly by people I would be stuck behind on the more technical part of the course.

Shortly after, as I went up and over an off-camber hill climb, my chain dropped. At this point I’d had some experience with such an event, so I was able to get it back on in about thirty seconds, run to the top of the hill, re-mount, and continue on. Definitely not ideal though, especially given the especially competitive field.

I think the rest of the lap was uneventful, with me trying to avoid being stuck behind anyone or making any more technical errors. There were definitely a few spots I had to run but I think everyone else did too, so I didn’t lose much time.

The second lap was a practice in the art of ‘playing catch-up’. I tried to use the long straightaways to my advantage to pass as many people as possible and to try and close the gap between myself the the leaders of my category.

The third and final lap started off strong. I had been eyeing the people in front of me and was able to spot the girl I had had my eye on at the beginning of the race. I knew if I was able to catch her, I was most likely assured a spot on the podium, if not the win. It was hard to judge for sure given the mixed field of sixty or so women of all ages and categories.

Of course, as I climbed the same damn hill, my chain dropped again. Cursing, I dismounted and frantically tried to get it back on as quickly as possible. One rider passing me told me to “get my chain back on and get back on the bike!” as a means of encouragement. “I know!” I responded. It felt like an eternity, but was most likely just another thirty second ordeal. I remounted and busted my ass trying to regain the places and time I had lost. Halfway through the final lap, I spotted the girl I presumed to be the (almost?) leader. Unfortunately, we came up on a series of tight turns and the woman in front of me kept blocking the line I wanted to take to try and get around her. I was frustrated but not defeated.

The finish line was a long straightaway with a slight uphill incline and deceivingly spongy terrain that made it an incredibly painful hundred yard sprint. I powered up into my big ring, put my head down, and pedaled as hard as I could. I was closing the gap but running out of real estate.

In retrospect, I'm still proud of this. Especially because I got a rad kings CX "coffee mug" aka trophy.
In retrospect, I’m still proud of this. Especially because I got a rad kings CX “coffee mug” aka trophy.

Despite my best efforts, the lead girl finished two seconds ahead of me. Two seconds. Two chain drops and I came in second by two seconds. I was crushed. I walked off behind the park building and tried to hide my tears of frustration from anyone who could see me. I knew my mother and grandma were looking for me but I was so angry at the results that I had to take time to calm down before I could face anyone.

I knew the next day’s race would favor the technical riders and reports from my friends Amie and Dustin confirmed my fears of a tricky course designed for much more advanced riders. I had tried to pre-ride the course last year and as a result had decided to not even bother entering. I hoped this year would be better.

As luck would have it, it rained all night Saturday. Rain makes tricky courses even more difficult and without mud tires or effective brakes on my bike, I knew a muddy, technical course would be a challenge. Nevertheless, I was up at at Devou before sunup to prepare and pre-ride.

Pre-ride was a disaster. The course was such a mess they even re-routed a part of it for our race because not only was it impossible to ride, but it was impossible to walk. Check out this video of the elites trying to ride it. No, really, watch it. It’s hilarious.

The rest of the course wasn’t much better for me. With abysmal bike handling skills and the aforementioned equipment handicaps, I cried before the race even began. I even decided to not even bother pre-riding some of the sections since I knew I was going to have to do them eventually and with sunrise not occurring until nearly 7:30 and a call up time of 8:15, I didn’t have much time to prepare anyways. A very nice Cat3 gave me advice about a steep, slippery hill that I was terrified of (the slickness of the grass combined with my shitty braking capabilities made it a feature I would have to tackle with the “hold on and pray” approach). Without mud tires and toe spikes on my shoes, even running some of the dicey sections was looking pretty difficult.

My friend Amie asked me before our race if she should just get her mountain bike to ride. I told her honestly that if I had my mountain bike with me, I would choose to ride that over my cyclocross bike. She made the last minute swap and as we lined up together I told her my goal was just to finish.

Again, with all the non-elite women starting at once, I started off near the back of the pack and kept moving steadily backwards throughout the race. I think I was mentally exhausted from the day before and just didn’t have the “go get it!” attitude I need to do well in a cyclocross race. Plus, did I mention the mud?

Without mud tires (and maybe even with, who knows) my bike was not feeling too steady underneath me. I probably crashed a few times and I definitely had a few close calls. Of course, the super muddy sections were totally unrideable for me, though I know a few of the better women were able to ride at least one section that I “walked”. “Walked” is, in this instance, a relative term. Compared to biking, yes, I was walking, but compared to what I would normally consider walking, I was more “falling”, “crawling”, and “clawing” my way around the course. Spectators tried to be encouraging but I was so unhappy I couldn’t even fake a smile.

“You can do it!” one lady yelled.

“I’m not enjoying this!” I yelled emphatically back.

On the downhill that made me nervous, my friend’s/the woman who beat me the day before’s husband hollered encouragement. I had dismounted my bike to walk a slick section right before the hill and as I remounted my bike I looked at him, yelled “I’m scared!” and tried to clip in and get my weight back and out of the saddle as quickly as possible, all while trying to “feather” squeeze brakes that hardly worked in sloppy, wet conditions.

It was not fun. I was literally crawling up hills of mud, trying not to drop the bike I was pulling up after me because if I dropped it, it meant I’d have to make a trip down said hill to retrieve it and waste even more time.

When all is said and done, I’m mostly mad that there’s no good pictures of me looking desperately unhappy while hauling a bike on my hands and knees up some stupid muddy hill.

On the second lap, I was relieved to see I was about to get lapped, and get lapped hard. “I hope they pull me!” I yelled to someone. “Please, God, let them pull me! Don’t make me do another lap!”

I ended up coming in dead last. Yep. Worst finish ever, including all of last season when I was riding the 31 pound mountain bike I got for my 12th birthday and I had only been riding for two or three months. 58/58. I was a little miffed, but it was such a shit show I wasn’t even able to be genuinely angry about my finish. Genuinely angry at the course, sure, but with a performance like that, I deserved last. Definitely.

I also did this. How? No idea. But it happened.
I also did this. How? No idea. But it happened.

Oh, I also dropped my chain somewhere along the way but like, fair enough, ya know?

Amie, who finished before me (obviously), had similar feelings about the course. Mid-way through the third lap, she crashed and thought she had messed up her handlebars. Since she was riding a flat-bar mountain bike, it wasn’t immediately obvious what was wrong, so she soldiered on to finish her race, somewhat concerned that her steering seemed to be a bit off. After she was done, a Trek mechanic (we like to think it was 11-time National Champ Katie Compton’s mechanic/husband) rushed up to her to assist with her bike. In one swift motion, he simply flipped her front wheel 180 degrees and handed the bike back to her. She had ridden the entire last half lap with her handlebars and front wheel completely backwards.

I had a good laugh and I think she realized the humor in it when I pointed out she still beat me handily.

Overall, the race was terrible, but spending the day in the sunshine with friends watching some of the best bike racing in the world was one of the better cycling-centric days I’ve ever had.

Also we didn't have to ride this section of the course, which is a definite plus.
Also we didn’t have to ride this section of the course, which is a definite plus.
We also didn't have to ride the PanAm Plunge, which looks both awesome and terrifying.
We also didn’t have to ride the PanAm Plunge, which looks both awesome and terrifying.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chain Drop Count for the 2015 Season – 4

Race Recap: Buckingham Financial John Bryan CX

So, I’ve procrastinated writing this entry for about a week and a half. My race at John Bryan was my worst so far in the season and kind of a mess from beginning to tenth place finish.

  • It was cold out. During warm up, I couldn’t feel my toes and my fingers were freezing in my Pearl Izumi “cool weather” gloves.
  • The start was a mess. I had second call up, so I strategically positioned myself. Another girl came and wedged herself between me and the other girl in the grid, which while I was a little miffed at, wasn’t a big deal. Then, a girl with a second row call-up quietly eased herself into the first row, making nine people wedged elbow-to-elbow in an eight person row.
  • This meant that my abysmal reaction time was even more of a hindrance, because the extra close quarters made maneuvering and avoiding everyone else’s wheels even more difficult.
  • So, I’m a few people back. No big! I’ve come back from worse.
  • A few minutes later, on the first small, steep descent, the girl immediately in front of me crashed.
  • Because I was so close to her and because my brakes were once again only-kind-of working, I had to make an emergency dismount or plow right into her.
  • However, this was on a part of the course that was a few tight, up-and-down “S” curves. So not only did I have to dismount, but I had to wait for people to pass me (since I couldn’t just interject myself into a row of moving cyclists), run up the small incline, and remount.
  • So, I quickly remounted and started down the next small hill. Because I had done an “emergency dismount”, however, my pedals were not in my usual remounting position and I couldn’t find them with my feet in time to maneuver around the hairpin turn. A spectator heard me literally yell “Where are my pedals?!” as I coasted down the hill and was forced to completely stop, run up the next incline, and remount (this time, thankfully, I was able to find my stupid pedals).
  • Of course, at this point, I’m almost in the back of the pack. I was able to fly by a decent number of people but the course was full of turns and technical features which made it nearly impossible to pass anyone on large portions of it. At least for me. I’m sure experienced riders had no problem.
  • So, I sit on someone’s wheel until the next straightaway. By this point, I’m sure the leaders are way far gone, but maybe I can at least pull close.
  • Whoops – caught behind someone else for another quarter of a lap!
  • I finally had a straightaway to myself at the beginning of the second lap. I put my head down and made a charge for it… and my chain promptly dropped. Cursing to myself, I dismounted and tried to quickly put it back on the chain ring where it belonged but of course, it kept getting tangled and stuck in the derailleur/other chain ring/etc. So it took me a solid 45 seconds to get it back on, which is kind of a big deal. Of course, all those people I had worked so hard to pass flew right by me, some even hollering to ask if I was okay.
  • Once I got the chain ring back on, the rest of the race was pretty much just being stuck behind people, passing them, and then getting stuck behind someone else.

I ended coming in 10th of 21 in my wave, and 5th of 9 in my category.

Below is some technical jargon no one else will really care about but that I feel like recording for posterity’s sake:

I record my heart rate data on Training Peaks and it gives you a number called “TSS Score”. I forget what it means, but it’s basically a score of your exertion during an activity. 100 TSS is basically as hard as you can go for an hour (meaning you can’t go faster but you can still make the hour at that level of effort).

My previous two races had TSS scores of 59.7 (for a 30 minute effort, average HR of 180, max 190) and 61.1 (for a 36 minute effort, average HR 177, max 192). This race was about 30 minutes and I ended with a TSS score of 44.4 and an average heart rate of 173, max 182.