Time to wrap up the cyclocross season with one last race recap. The final race of the season was at Major Taylor Velodrome at Marian University outside of Indianapolis. I had never seen the venue before and therefore had no idea what to expect.
Going into the race, I was fraught with anxiety. If I won, I could bump myself up from 4th to 3rd in the series standings and accomplish one of my season goals. However, I knew that wouldn’t be easy because the small field was filled with fierce riders. If the course suited my strengths and I didn’t have any mechanical problems (I’m looking at you, chain), I had a chance. If anything went wrong, it was Game Over.
I took my bike to the bike shop a few days before with the intent of getting my chain shortened. Instead, the mechanic told me that a derailleur adjustment would probably help. Not sure why I was just now hearing that, after taking my bike in to four different mechanics multiple times, but I decided to risk it and go with what he said.
I was up and out the door early on Sunday morning. I wanted to be sure I had plenty of time to pre-ride the course and formulate a game plan or re-ride tricky sections. As I pulled up to the venue, I saw an entire field of beautiful, smooth, power sections taped off. My hopes soared.
Then I pulled into the parking lot and my heart sunk. While half the course was perfect – perfect! – for me, the other half was a nightmare. The trickiest feature, in my opinion, was a series of long, winding curves down a hill. Photos don’t do it justice, really. It was steep and the soil was loose. Of course, my brakes aren’t worth a damn so even if I would have felt confident going down it at a reasonable speed, there was no way to slow my bike down to my version of a “reasonable speed,” so it was one of those sections where I had to hold on and pray for the best. Other features included some steep uphill curves and a soggy run up.
But the other half of the course, as I said, was ideal for me: flat and with only a moderate amount of cornering and sharp turns. Maybe the race wasn’t a total loss.
I tried to pre-ride the downhill curves several times, with each time being a little worse than the previous attempt. I just couldn’t get my bike to slow down enough to feel confident taking on the 180 degree turns and loose ground. In retrospect, I think my brakes might be too big for my hands and if I had been able to figure out a way to be back off my saddle and corner while in the drops (giving me better leverage on the brake levers), I might have had more success. Hindsight is always 20/20.
After the starting whistle, the field charged into our first go at the power section. I was able to work my way up relatively quickly and I think I was sitting second or third wheel and gaining a little bit of ground on the leader.
Then came the technical section. The steep uphills, which I had been able to ride once before the race, were clogged with dismounted riders, forcing me off the bike. Okay, no problem.
Then the downhill. I stood on my bike and squeezed my brakes to no avail, so instead I put both of my
feet down in an attempt to slow my speed. I just managed to avoid washing out and made it down the hill, though I then had to clip in and attempt to re-gain what momentum I could before the run up. The run up was long and slippery but I made it up, fighting to not lose too much ground to the two women who had managed to pass me with their superior bike handling skills. There were two stone steps and then another steep downhill that led into four pump track humps. These hadn’t been any problem in pre-ride but the bike traffic and quickly melting frost made them a little precarious and I almost crashed after the third one.
On the power section, I put my head down and fought to catch up with the two women ahead of me. I gained a little ground but had lost a solid twenty or thirty seconds on the technical part of the course. I had my eye on one girl in particular and managed to start the second lap within sight of her. However, after reaching the technical section for the second time, I had a feeling it was a lost cause. I had to dismount on the uphill turns again, and one really awesome friendly dude kept ramming his bike into my Achilles, which I guess is the Grown Adult Human Male way of saying “Excuse me, I think I can ride this section. If you and the person ahead of you move slightly to your left, I’d be able to get around you”.
My second (and final, thank God) time on the downhill curves was significantly worse than the first. I tried with all my might to ride it but ended up going through the course tape at the bottom and into the SRAM tent. All the men were helpfully encouraging me to “brake!!” as though I was unaware that is what I should have been doing. I almost crashed head first into one of them and then quickly hopped back on the course.
I guess I wasn’t going into the run up with enough speed for one of the men, who almost crashed into me trying to get around me on an off-camber turn and then promptly fell into me trying to dismount. His saddle was caught in my front wheel and he helpfully yanked as hard as he could to disengage our bikes. I could tell something was wrong with my front brakes but couldn’t figure out what the problem was or how to fix it while running frantically up a slippery slope. I got back on my bike and knew my front brake was definitely rubbing and functioning even less than it had been, but obviously I wasn’t giving up on the last half lap over something as silly as a rubbing brake, so I charged on. The steep downhill and corner leading into the pump track humps was a little scary with essentially 0 braking power, and I definitely could tell my speed on the flats was affected, but I soldiered on anyways and managed to pass a strong Cat4 woman after she crashed on a slippery turn. The course had gone from moderately dry and hard packed at the beginning of the race to slippery and slightly muddy so I didn’t tear around corners as quickly as I would have liked.
I crossed the finish line well out of sight of the two Cat4 leaders and, as a result, well off the overall series standing podium. I was crushed and walked to my car to pull myself together and put some warmer clothes on.
Overall, I was/am just a little disappointed in my season. I’ve been trying to remind myself that I dropped my chain six times in five races, had decent braking ability only sometimes, and am no longer (usually) coming in in the bottom 25% of finishers but it’s still frustrating to not achieve all the goals I had hoped to. I plan to take a few weeks off the bike to focus on running, yoga, strength training, and some core work and come up with a training plan for 2016. Tentatively, I know I want to make skills work and off-road riding a bigger part of what I do and I think I’d like to aim for 400 hours on the bike next year. But that’s another blog post all on it’s own.
Here’s to the end of the 2015 season and to the beginning of the 2016 training cycle! #cx365