Thursday, January 10, 2013

S4: E4: #cxnats Course Pre/Review

Our typical nationals strategy is to partake in the B races, see how the course shapes up and then attempt to predict how the course will shape up based on weather predictions through the week. Usually the courses see continual degradation as the week progresses and the ruts get ruttier earlier in the day on each progressive day.

This year the course is going to be a mess from the start.

Early morning and still solid
The first B race this year was at 9:30am, with nearly a perfectly frozen course. The corners were sketchy, there was soft snow in places, but really the course was sort of predictable and very little mud on the bikes after this race. By the 10:30am race that was changing very, very rapidly and by the 3:00pm single speed race it had started to refreeze.

Refreeze you say? At 3pm?

Before we all got here Wisconsin was cold - like really cold. Up to three weeks in advance of us arriving the the temps struggled to get into the 20s and the tundra froze to a solid state. Whether those of us who only visit Madison on the first full week of January want to admit it, the temps really are typically very cold in January. The air temperatures aren't really the deciding factor on the surface area of the ground thawing, but rather the sunlight. Where there is ample sunlight there is thawing. As soon as that sunlight dips to an acute angle, things start to refreeze.

The kicker of this is that the low temperature for Thurday night and Friday night is in the mid-30s - but it won't matter. The ground is so frozen a lot of the areas will freeze back up as soon as the sun is gone - that snow layer is protecting the ground from thawing.

But it gets better.

Mid-day thaw - some water appearing
On top of very frigid temperatures, they got about 18" of snow. The course is plowed in its entirety from the start to the finish, leaving a 8"-18" berm, depending on location, along the course on both sides. At first it looks like Cottonelle tissue stacked and lining the course to prevent any injuries should you run astray from your intended target. While it is softer than the ground below it, it is creating a different problem - it is also thawing. In places this thaw is creating a  flow of liquid along the course, over the course, down hills, essentialy the path of least resistance. In the final 3:00pm course some of these areas were freezing and becoming slick while the race was in progress.

But, wait, there is more.

More you say? Sure, there is also rain in the forecast. Mid-30s, a solid breeze at 15-20 mph, and rain. What will rain do to course already surrounding by a large amount of frozen water? Worst case scenario planning has the Lionheart coaches heading to the local bait-n-tackle shop for some 40 lb test line, a rod and reel suitable for a Marlin, and a quick refresher on big game fishing. With a lot of rain this place will be undoubtedly wet and definitely deeper in mud.

What will it be like during my race?

Late day thaw with a stream of water
Who knows. Seriously, planning tires for the course right now is like sticking a dollar in a slot machine in Vegas - odds are not in your favor. Your tire of choice may work at the start, then be awful at the end. You also probably won't find a tire that works for the whole course. The shady parts continue to be snow/ice, the sunny parts have surface mud and very slippery, and the parts only partially in the sun are refreezing.

My perspective is that the focus may not be on the surface, but rather the solid underlayer. The much that does exist is not deep, and the ground seems colder and more frozen than last year, so odds are that it will stay frozen longer. Target the base, get a tire that makes you feel good, lower the pressure as low are your eardrums can handle and go for it.

Partial shade = half and half

Puddle of thaw beginning to refreeze

Apparently this is a sand pit

Black ice waiting to happen

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