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!

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