Wednesday, January 4, 2012

#CXnats: Course Myths Busted

After yesterdays course preview time and today's B race experiences from four riders, this would be a good time to bust some myths about the course. We have had a total of 31 laps on the course during several different times of the day and can provide that last dose of insight to folks trying to determine what to plan for in Verona.

Myth #1: Course is a solid sheet of ice

The organization in Madison has done a fabulous job clearing the ice for Nationals. Tuesday, yes it was a solid sheet of ice, but today? No. This is a good point to talk about ground conditions. If you have a choice you actually want it to get colder in Madison and for the surface layer to refreeze - without the surface ice, of course.

Austin Vincent climbs the opening hill

We mentioned the three or so inches of frozen surface to the ground, as well as the unseasonably warm temperatures in Madison right now. This is making the course extremely slippery on the surface layer with about a 1/2" layer of mud on top of the frozen surface layer. If you want to know what that is like to ride on, take some fine top soil, mix it with water, spread on the surface of a table and notice the lack of traction. Booger cicles are all the rage this time of year, well you are riding on them constantly the more this course gets warm.

If you compare Mackenzie's 9am race today with my 1pm race today there is a marked difference in course conditions. The ice was not completely clear in her race so she had to be cautious about the ice, but the traction was way, way better in all the corners outside the ice this morning. In the later races after it had warmed and thawed you were doing the Tokyo Drift through every single corner, eventually resorting to a lot of tripod action to try to stay upright.


Myth #2: Not enough corners

Tough to judge here, but I bet this is the usual feedback from the guys who like a really technical course. When doing dry runs of the Kings CX course back in December I got 50/50 feedback on the number of corners in that race. 50% said too many, 50% said not enough - that meant I probably was pretty close to right on.

Karen Brocket navigates a 180
The perspective of the group was that there was a good number of corners to navigate, and that the corners were placed very well to test your abilities. It is somewhat deceptive to judge as there are a lot of straight shots on the course, but those straight shots are very challenging - almost every single one of them. Corners at the base of a bumpy harrowing descent are very effective at emblazoning themselves into your memory bank.

Personally there were a couple corners that gave me fits every time through the course, primarily a right hander into the uphill double barrier section. It comes at the end of a bumpy downhill where you are hanging on for dear life trying not to touch the brakes, but then you have to slam on the brakes to get turned in the boogercicles that are covering a frozen substrate. There isn't a lot of room for error in that navigation and the first time through at race speed I tried to correct a mistake and ended up on my back kicking my bike off of me to continue my race.


Myth #3: Course is flat

I am not sure where I heard this from, but whoever may have said this either lives in Colorado and weighs 120 lbs soaking wet or hadn't look at the course - at all. If there is a single thing you will remember about this course it is the constant up/down nature of a lot of the course.

Ian McShane grunts his way up the first hill
If you aren't going up a false flat or digging deep up a kicker you are going down an off camber, bumpy descent praying that you don't suddenly have a reason to stop. The first lap at race pace was an experience as I mentally knew to expect the downhills, but somehow that didn't translate to a relaxed feeling during the race. To do well here you really have to let loose and let it ride.

If you haven't arrived at the course yet, respond to this blog and let me know the first thing that really sets your mind in motion when looking at the course from the parking area. It isn't anything to do with corners or ice, but almost immediately you are looking and asking yourself "do I have to ride up to there?"

Before you head anywhere else, walk to the top of the hill next to the silo and look out around at the course all around you. If it is muddy and that mud is sticking to your bike, that extra 5-10 pounds of mud will make a huge difference on this course.

Busted. Busted. Busted.

Myth #4: You can't "race" on this course

Having built courses for cross events you are always looking for ways to encourage that risk/reward approach to cyclocross - it makes it fun and makes it racy. You also look at opportunities to pass people, places where there are several lines through corners and through technical features to provide that opportunity of surprise - this is what creates the drama and the fun of cyclocross. Being able to go from first to last in a blink of an eye creates interest in the fans lining the course.
Spencer Petrov runs the steps
Madison course does a pretty good job of it, but I think that racy experience would actually be better if the surface layer was frozen solid. The current boogercicle nature of the course leaves you with fewer options for the corners and starts to limit the alternatives in the corners. The passing I did and saw happened in many places, but not really on the corners on the course.

This could go back to the same corner conversation. If you have power and can dig big up the hills and let it fly on the descents you will think this is the raciest course ever built. If you depend on cornering and being able to maintain more speed than your opponent through a corner to gain your advantage then you will probably not look at the course as a racy course.

There are plenty of places to take risks, plenty of opportunities to pass, and plenty of ways to gain an advantage.

Busted, unless you don't like climbing and descending.

Myth #5: Pavement start is too long

From the starting grid to the entrance to the grass is approximately 1000 feet. In OVCX this is longer than any other paved start I have experienced, but at Bend in 2009/2010 the paved start was about 750 feet. It is 1/3 longer than Bend, but it didn't feel too long. Bend being 750 feet and the fields at Nationals being 120-160 per wave there was a backup at the entrance to the grass in every field.

Here in Madison none of the fields backed up entering the grass from the pavement, in fact I haven't seen a genuine scrum form on the course anywhere with this course design. Depending on your perspective that could be good - or it could be bad if you like to mix it up and shift people's bike for them while they are trying to get it together.

This start is definitely not too long and I think the resulting racing is better as a result, cleaner starts, better ability to sort things out before it gets ugly.


Mackenzie Green descends from the runup
Myth #6: Very bumpy course

Confirmed, confirmed, confirmed. This course is definitely bumpy. Again it comes to the ascents and descents - all of those are tough to just hang on. A skills that everyone should practice between now and whenever they race is using their elbows as shock absorbers and to raise your bum just a touch off the seat to prevent the ejection seat.

The opening climb has no smooth line that I, or anyone in the crew that I know raced today, have found. I tried every one I could think of in the 10 laps I have done on the course - same result. Now maybe you could zig zag across the course and find a smooth line, but that isn't going to work when chasing someone down.

In the end you have to be ready to run a low tire pressure and wear ear plugs. Ear plugs you ask? Your carbon rims are going to bottom out a lot on this course and the ear plugs will keep you from thinking about the thousands of dollars of damage you could be doing to your beloved Zipps.

With the ground this frozen, it will not thaw deep enough to smooth it out. There is no snow in the forecast to fill in the depressions and smooth it out. It simply will be bumpy, so better just accept it and ride it out.

Overall Impressions

The folks in our party found the course to be very challenging and worthy. It was hard in numerous ways and challenging as well. For those familiar with the OVCX series, this course is a combination of Harbin Park (elevation changes) combined with Bloomingcross/FishStiCX (bumpiness). It is oddly enough laid out somewhat similar to Harbin with the longer elevation stretches then a section of twists and turns, then back to the long elevation sections.

The weather will be nice, the party is just getting started, come on out and play, you won't regret it.


hunter said...

Thanks for the logic!

Ross said...

I say, if you don't like it, don't race or come.. The people that are complaining have no skin in the game, so I'm sure the guys in Madison are doing their best to make it great..

horse said...

Great write up Corey. Wish I was there racing with you! Love the love.....

Sherri said...

all thawed for my race today