Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Reflections on the Sheboygan CX Race

This is a longer version of a piece I wrote up for the WCA Cyclocross website:

The 2014 Sheboygan Bicycle Company CX Classic held this past Saturday, September 6th, was a great success. The weather was beautiful, the event was smoothly managed, the racers and fans were in high spirits, and the course was varied, fast, and fun.

Walking around the course and watching different categories race, the comment I overheard most frequently was some version of “’cross season is here at last!” Everybody I spoke to was just happy to be racing ‘cross again, to be testing out new gear, and to be seeing old friends. I also heard a lot of people comment positively on the music in the start/finish area (hey, thanks for getting the ‘Led’ out with “Heartbreaker”!). For sure, the music and the location near not only the playground but also the barriers and the spiral made the start/finish area the place to be--or at least the place to be if you weren’t out heckling people on “The Equalizer.” It didn’t hurt that the podium was right at the start/finish area this year and that awards were swiftly given out after each race.

Speaking of awards, I don’t think I was alone in appreciating the introduction this year of cash prizes in more than just the Pro/1/2/3 race. A little goes a long way toward making a racer feel that his or her hard efforts are being honored. But I’m sure we all agree that it was the Twinkie stashed in each trophy water bottle that really made it all worth it! (That’s how my 4-year old daughter felt anyway.)

As for the course itself, the main comment I heard was that it was really bumpy but still lots of fun. I raced it twice—once with the Pro/1/2/3 field and once in the Masters 35+ 1/2/3 field—and I agree that it was a lot of bumpy fun. But what I really came away with was an appreciation for how well the course served as a season opener. Above all, it reminded me just how much ‘cross hurts. As they say, if it didn’t hurt, you weren’t doing it right. But it also reminded me how that pain can be tempered or endured if you nail the right pace and get the right rhythm going. 

More specifically, here’s what key parts of the course reminded me to work on in the coming weeks:

--the start: practice clipping in and accelerating across bumpy terrain!
--first turn: figure out the best line coming into the first turn!
--the barriers: practice slowing down while clipped out of one pedal!
--the off-camber turns: practice using a little body English to get through!
--the gravel downhill: practice two-wheel slides and riding in the drops!
--the steps: practice cornering while clipped out of one pedal!
--the Equalizer: eat your Wheaties! And practice shouldering technique!
--the grassy stretch after the hill: eat more Wheaties! Practice slogging away!
--the spiral: practice carrying speed through turns by setting up early!

So, like I said, this course served well as a wake-up call, reminding us of all the little techniques and the psychological resilience required to race ‘cross well. It was a great kick-off to the season, and I’m sure everyone else is as eager as I am for the next race—Lake Geneva Cross on Sunday 9/14. See you there!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Taking Stock on the Cusp of the Season

Hard to believe it, but the first WCA CX race--The Sheboygan Bicycle Company CX Classic--is just 5 days away! That means it's high time to take stock of where I'm at with my equipment, condition, and mentality. In simple terms: how ready am I?


Things were looking very grim for cyclocross purchases this summer, but by selling 7 of my 8 bikes and by working my tail off at two part-time jobs this summer, I was able to get what I needed at the last minute. So here's what I'll be on this year:

My 'A' bike (on right in photo):
--Trek Boone 9 cantilever
--1x10 drivetrain (Red crankset, Force shifters, CX1 rear derailleur, Wolftooth 40t chainring, 11-28 PG1070 cassette, KMC 10SL Gold chain)
--Avid Shorty Ultimate brakes with Swissstop Black Prince pads
--Bontrager RXL alloy stem, RXL Isozone bars, Bontrager carbon fiber seatmast, and Fizik Aliante saddle
--Easton EC90 SLX carbon fiber tubular wheelset running Challenge Chicanes.

My 'B' bike (on left in photo):
--Trek Crockett 7 cantilever
--1x10 drivetrain (FSA Energy Cross crankset, Rival shifters, Force rear derailleur, Race Race 40t chainring, 11-28 PG1070 cassette, KMC 10SL Gold chain)
--Avid Shorty 6 brakes with stock pads for now
--Bontrager RXL alloy stem, RXL carbon bars, Thomson Elite setback seatpost, and Fizik Aliante saddle
--Vista Cruiser alloy tubular wheelset running Challenge Limuses

Both bikes are the same size, have the same geometry, and are dialed in to fit exactly the same. So this should make swapping bikes very comfortable. The bikes feel the same underneath me, and they handle very similarly. The Boone, of course, accelerates a lot faster, feels a lot lighter when carried, pushed, or lifted, and offers a smoother, more comfortable ride. I swapped back and forth between them this morning and was pretty amazed at how much better the Boone is overall, but the Crockett is certainly good enough to finish a race on if I get a mechanical on the Boone or to take every other lap or two in a mudder. So this is a great set up that I plan to get two good seasons out of.

The weakness in my equipment is wheel selection. I've just got one great wheelset--the Easton EC90 SLXs--which are set up with the Chicanes. This limits that wheelset to dry or tacky races only, but that is 80% of our races. I've got the heavier alloy tubular wheelset with the Limuses on them for the Boone in muddy races, and they will be on the Crockett for dry races. I also have a new set of  Bontrager Race TLR wheels that I'll set up tubeless with Clement PDXs which I will put on the Crockett for muddy races.

That's how I'll be starting the season, but I have placed an order with Trek for a set of Aeolus 3 D3 tubulars. So when (or if?) those ever arrive, I'll put some new Challenge Chicane Team Edition tires (which I already have) on them. I will then pull the current Chicanes off my Easton wheelset and replace them with new Challenge Limus Team Edition tires (which I already have). That'll give me 2 superlight carbon fiber wheelsets, one for mud and one for dry. Plus, I'll still have the alloy wheelset with the old Limuses on them. So in a mudder, I'll have a superlight Limus setup for the A bike and the alloy Limus setup for the B bike. I really hope to get all of this set up by the time of Jingle Cross, my first important race of the season.


I'm feeling pretty confident in my current condition and plan to keep building it between now and Jingle Cross in mid-November. I started the year slow, with lots of unstructured endurance riding in March, April, and May. That meant I suffered hard in the first MTB races of the year; I didn't have any real muscular endurance--the ability to hold a hard effort for a long time--nor any real force--the ability to power up hills and through rough terrain. In June I started doing more structured training in the form of weekly hill repeats, more muscular endurance workouts, and a bit of high intensity training. I also started holding a weekly cyclocross skill session (now in week 15 of that!). I started seeing improvement in my MTB fitness by late July, and in the last few races I've been a lot stronger (even when sick!).

So right now I have very good endurance, muscular endurance, and force for cyclocross, and I've honed my skills pretty well. Recently I have done some hot laps and some anaerobic threshold training (in the form of HIIT workouts), so I'm starting to feel the higher-end fitness come together. The plan from here is to let that higher-end fitness come via all the racing I'll be doing in September and October, setting me up for my new big goal of taking the Master's 35+ overall award at Jingle Cross (that's right--I'm racing in 35+ there, not 45+, because I want to race against those top 5 guys who bested me there last year).


Since I've got all my equipment dialed in and have my condition on track (not counting the summer flu I'm fighting right now), my mind is in a good place for the coming year. I'm excited but not chomping at the bit quite as much as I was this time last year, but I think that's just because my goals are different and I'm more aware of the real length of the season when Nationals is the top goal. Also helping my mental outlook is the fact that I will be focusing primarily on the Pro 1/2 races. I won't go into those races feeling the same kind of pressure to win as I would if I were trying to repeat last year's feat of winning both the Masters 35+ Cat 1/2 WCA Series and the State Championship race. Instead, I can approach the WCA races as an opportunity to build a very high level of fitness by chasing guys like Brian Matter, Joe Maloney, Tristan Schouten, and others around. That leaves the real psychological pressure for the select national-level races I'll be doing such as the Trek CXC Cup, Cincy3, Jingle Cross, and Nationals.

Finally, one thing I really got more focused on during this summer's MTB racing is racing for the joy of racing. It's great fun to win races, but if you focus on that, you tend only to enjoy the races you win. If you focus instead on how awesome it is to be flying around a technical course, elbow-to-elbow with your racing brothers-in-arms, you'll enjoy all of your racing. And when you're enjoying it, you're probably going to race better anyway.

It's going to be a great season: I've got my gear dialed, my fitness on track, and my mind in the right place. I also have great support from my team (KS/TW), my teammates, and my team's sponsors (KS Energy Services, Emery's, Trek, and others), Plus, my family is into the bike racing scene too, so every outing is a good time for all of us.

CX is Coming Now! Let's do this! See you all out there!