Monday, September 28, 2009

CCCX #2: Slonie at Fort Ord

(Photo by Steven Woo)

What better way to recover from (or atone for) Interbike than to start my 'cross season a little early? And what better place, than the Fort Ord Day Camp in Seaside? With many of my teammates out pre-riding McLaren park for next weekend's BASP season opener, it was up to me to represent the team alone at CCCX. I had little excuse not to show, since the race is "close" to my house. (For the record, this means 70 miles away, instead of 110 miles).

The first climb out of the starting gate led to the familiar realization that my fitness isn't where I want it to be, but I was handling myself for most of the first lap. Then the second sandy descent led to the familiar sensation of going over the bars. This was my first race on a proper CX bike (a borrowed LeMond with fresh Michelen Mud2's slapped on the night before) but I won't blame it on the unfamiliar bike – I've proven adept at crashing equally well no matter what bike I'm on.

The next realization came in the second lap, when I realized that no amount of dismount/remount practice truly simulates a race situation unless it is performed in a state of severe oxygen deprivation. But things started to seem like they were going pretty well. I was excited! My first race of the season! I hadn't even been passed (much) yet. Then, immediately after crossing the start/finish line to start my third lap, I flatted. DNF. Out. The day was starting to suck.

After a brief period of moping around in the pits, and some encouragement by Steven Woo, I changed tubes and went out for a dignity lap. That cheered me up a bit. Next, I rode out with Surly John and the heckle squad to the Sand [Heckle] Pit via some awesome berm-y singletrack that wasn't part of the course. The trails out there at Fort Ord are super-fun! Even when you stop to avoid crashing into the guy ahead, and the rider behind you crashes into you from behind. That cheered me up even more.

After a couple hours of merciless heckling, I went out for a couple more laps during the warmup for the A's. Whether it was the fact that I was following better riders, the lower tire pressure in my Michelin Mud in the front, or the two Tecates and several Belgian Waffle Cookies in my stomach, something made me ride much smoother and better than any of my previous laps. Probably faster, too. I made sure to power through the sandpit at high speed each time, in order to justify the previous heckle-sessions. I also hopped both of the log barriers, although I can't say I did a good job of it -- I biffed my rear wheel off of them hard enough to elicit an audible cringe from bystanders. Even the descent that I had crashed on earlier wasn't so bad, when I took the inside line.

After a few laps of heckling from the sandpit during the A race, our group migrated to the top of the run-up, where the world's best cyclocross racer/drummer of the Rock Lobster/HRS team had set up a full drumset.

(Photos by Steve Anderson)

Sure beats a bunch of cowbells, but just to be sure, we rang cowbells too. It was totally awesome, rivaling the Cross Crusade drum line from SSCXWC last year.

After the A race was over, I practiced dollar grabs with the leftovers at the top of the runup. After grabbing the soggy bills, I tried to give the dollars back to their owners, who then decided that I had earned them. Another realization: That was my first successful dollar grab! I'm commemorating it by taping the dollar to my toptube. Back in the pits, I chatted with race-winner Josh Snead, and he showed off his 46t Dura-Ace chainring. Bastard.

Yesterday proved that when it comes to cyclocross, you don't have to have a great race in order to have a great day*.

*But it doesn't hurt! See you all at McLaren Park next Sunday!

(photo credit: Steven Woo)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

CCCX #1 Still More about Sasha! (or lessons for teh nOObs)

So this is more a post for those of you who like me are new to the cult, but yes, let’s begin with a few words of praise for Sasha Magee. Silver Medal in single speed Bs? Nicely done. Driving there and back and not bitching when I totally fell asleep three times? Most gentlemanly. Loan of team kit jersey? Classy. Willingness to accept my direction when having his photo taken? Greater than expected. Patience with processing my endless stream of questions? Legendary.

I have often remarked that it is indeed a bitter irony that the best bicycling in the Bay Area requires that you drive to it and so it was with CCCX#1. Manzanita park is just south west of Gilroy which is indeed a bit of a hike requiring a pretty early departure. Personally I would not recommend my pre-race day preparation which involved a not insignificant amount of drinking at the Dolores Park movie night and a couple (one is too few and two is too many - sigh) of the ubiquitous truffle man’s truffles. At two in the morning my brain was still on fire and I tried to put it to sleep by watching the Big Lebowski but it was to no avail.

Lesson 1 - don’t party too hard or stay up too late the night before the race (this should be obvious but... you know... ).

Fortunately I had remembered to pack all my crap (clothes, snacks, tools, photo gear etc.) before we went out that night so at 6:30am, all I had to do was remember how to pour cereal and make coffee.

Lesson 2 - pack the night before the race and don’t forget to eat breakfast.

As we waited in line to register, I overheard some dudes say that the course was slow and technical. This immediately made me happy since my cardio abilities are still a work in progress and I know that time can be made up in the technical bits. As Sasha and I did a quick lap of the course I looked for the obvious good lines and danger spots but I also tried riding through some of the less ideal spots. If I had to pass or was forced out of the good line what was the next best option? This proved handy when some dude didn’t hear me repeatedly yelling “on your right“ and I had to pass him on the very edge of a downhill. Also after the long downhill the course pulled a hard right turn. Lots of people coasted through that turn but there was a soft-looking but actually pretty solid berm that you could use to pedal through the whole turn. I knew that because I had tested it out on the warmup lap before the race pressure was on.

Lesson 3 - get to the race in time to ride the course, and really study it. Look for the good, the bad and the ugly (but bearable).

I was racing in men’s 35+ Bs which had the awesome benefit of starting at 10am. Of late I’ve become a little less thrilled with birthdays, but the practical side of me loves the fact that the 35+ crowd gets to start later. There were 30ish dudes in my group and we started just after the open Bs and single speed Bs. The down side to this was that the start was a giant cluster fuck that only further dissolved into an even greater cluster fuck as we ran into the backside of the open Bs. Like Sasha I too was unexpectedly forced off my bike at the twin set of short, sharp hills.

Lesson 4 (Sasha’s first lap maxim) - be prepared to run up stuff that’s totally rideable on the first lap to avoid getting held up.

At the start I was kind of surprised by how slow most of my group was off the line. I’m not a fast rider yet by an means and it was my first sanctioned  race so I had taken up a position near the back. But the start was at the bottom of short hill which is the one kind of climb I'm good at. I hit it as hard as I could and I actually had to veer off the course to pass people in my way.

Lesson 5 - hammer the start like your life depends on it and don’t shortchange yourself by choosing a poor start position - line up early. 

There was only one relatively short run-up with a barrier and I was rather surprised by how early many racers got off their bikes. This was by no means a super tough slope and indeed I later saw one of the As hop the barrier and ride the whole thing. 

Lesson 6 - don’t run more than you have to.

I‘m a slow runner and on my first two laps I pushed my bike up the slope. Later I remembered to shoulder my bike and was shocked at how much faster I was able to go and indeed I actually passed people doing so.

Lesson 7 - shoulder your bike when you run - pushing is slow.

Scattered throughout the course over all the different kinds of terrain (pavement, dirt, grass and gravel) were at least five sections of chicanes. No one seemed to have any idea of how to do these fast - I gained valuable seconds in almost every one as people really slowed down to navigate these.

Lesson 8 - chicanes... umm... we should totally figure out the best technique for those and practice them at the next clinic.

Having learned a painful lesson at the first DFL, I was real careful setting my bike down before remounts. At one point I even heard some spectators yelling at a guy that he had dropped his chain - he ignored them and then lost all kinds of time as he came to a rapid halt. But even though I had improved that one part, I know that I was tossing away precious seconds on every one of my slow and sloppy remounts.

Lesson 9 - smooth and fast remounts will save you seconds.

As Sasha mentioned, the slope that was his ticket to a free helicopter ride last year was changed into a downhill. At the bottom of the hill the course pulled a hard 180 before throwing a barrier at you. Most people I saw coasted through this section and started braking early. I kept pedaling as long as I could and then braked hard before bailing off the bike. I was able to makeup time and catch up with faster riders many times this way. Of course they would then just smoke me on the climb that followed but you have to take what you can get.

Lesson 10 - keep pedaling going downhill

Lesson 11 - brake late, brake hard, brake before the turn

Of course all this speed would get me all juiced up and excited so there were a couple times where I forgot to downshift far enough before the barrier. Oops.  Your remount is going to be even slower if you’re not in a low enough gear. Don’t forget to downshift before turns and dismounts. Don’t forget to downshift before turns and dismounts. Don’t forget to downshift before turns and dismounts. See? Now I've said it thrice! This should be your mantra - getting caught in high gear is three kinds of stoopid.

Lesson 12 - downshift before the barrier or turn.

I‘ve been taking spin classes for the past month or so and while I can definitively say that I wouldn’t have made it through the race without them, I’ve still got a ways to go in building cardio strength. As I burned through the laps I could feel myself slowing down and getting sloppier. But then I hit the bell lap and I realized that I wasn’t totally fried. I still had some gas in the tank and I pressed hard to catch a rider I had been dueling with and just whisked by him by sprinting up the last hill to the finish line.

Lesson 13 - the last lap is not the hardest - you can always push yourself a little bit harder.

After our race we hung out so that we could watch Caitlin’s race and snag a few pix. While we waited we surreptitiously drank our booze (Sasha hid his beer in a bike bottle, I put my whiskey in my gingerale can) and this reminded me of the second rule of Butter Lap since I was drinking JD (which may actually be the worst whiskey ever made).

Lesson 14 - bring good booze.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

CCCX #1: More about me!

The last time I showed up at Manzanita Park to race cyclocross, I left in an air ambulance. So I can't deny that I felt somewhat nervous about this race.

As is usual for this venue, the course was excellent. the lap starts off with a big climb (broken up, this time, with a little chicane and a longer loop with a set of barriers), followed up by some techy stuff at the top and a long, fast descent to the ball field, where we were treated to a bunch of super slow speed twisty stuff. This time, they added an uphill barrier before the drop back down to the start.

More than a couple people pointed out to me that the piece of trail next to the fence I smashed into last year was an uphill, not downhill, section this time, and suggested I should feel honored by this. I told them I was holding out for a Sasha Magee Memorial Reroute, but was not holding my breath.

I signed up for Single Speed B, coincidentally starting me at the same time as Moonies Uri and Derrick (men's B) and Mark (35+ B). The organizers had some trouble trying to figure out where to put the 6 single speeders, and at the last minute lined us up behind the open Bs, in front of the 35+ Bs. We didn't really realize what this meant until about 10 seconds before the whistle, they told us "single speeders, you go with the Bs".

Then the whistle blew.

We stood there and looked at each other for a second, then took off. I got a better jump than the rest, and started to claw my way through the B field. I made the mistake of thinking I could ride the little sharp ups at the top of the course. Although they were completely rideable, on the first lap, people still screwed it up, and I was stuck.

I led the single speeders on the first lap, but Hank from Roaring Mouse came past me on the barriers halfway up the climb on the second lap (that moment memorialized here). I was a little blown at this point, and over the next two laps, he managed to get about thirty seconds on me. With 2 to go, I realized I'd closed to within about 15 seconds. unfortunately, at that point he realized I was closing in, and managed to stretch his lead out to close to :30, which is where we ended.


So second place is pretty good. But there's clearly a bunch of stuff to work on.

I got stuck behind some guy on a geared mountain bike for the last two laps. I was not able to close on the uphills enough to make up for his gapping me on the downhill. And unfortunately, I was too sloppy through the barriers to be able to make up time there. My barrier approaches, my remounts, and my bike carrying were all terrible. Still, for the first race of the season, I felt ok about it. I'm gonna miss the second CCCX race, so the next venture out is McLaren Park. I hope to do as well there!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Another great weekend for the Sheila Moon team

This weekend was another pretty good one for the team. Krishna Dole put an exclamation point on his mountain bike season by winning Bike Monkey's Lake Sonoma #3 race.

Lake sonoma 9/19

The next day, at the CCCX cyclocross race at Manzanita Park, we filled out the other two steps at the top of the podium, as I took second in Single Speed B and Caitlin Trahan picked up third in women's B.



We were not the only ones with good days, as Uri Friedman went top 10 in men's Bs, Derrick Chao continued clawing his way up in the Bs, and Mark Woloschuk finished in the top half of the field in 35+Bs in his very first race.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

It's almost cyclocross season!

Oboy oboy oboy.

We had our first Sheila Moon/Big Swingin' Cycles team cyclocross clinic Tuesday night, ably led by Matthias.

There were over a dozen Moonies and friends, ranging from A category racers to people who'd never remounted on the fly before.

This was our beginner clinic (and it also served as a refresher for people who aren't beginners). We'll be hosting an intermediate advanced clinic before the season really starts.

We closed with a little heckling training (and training in racing while people are heckling you).

(Photos by Jenny Oh)