Monday, September 23, 2013

Vichyssoise and Types of #Cyclocross Mud

It has been said the Inuit have 400 names for snow.  It’s only urban legend of course.  The truth is the Inuit, like me, are just a very colorful, overly dramatic and adjective laden people.  Thinking about cyclocross however, there has to be 400 types of mud.  I’ve personally ridden in Bronchitis snot, Chunky Gazpacho, Stripper Wrasslin’ Mud, Cincinnati Chili and so on. 

Saturday as the sun came out in Columbus, after 2 inches of rain, elite racers feared The Peanut Butter and not because of allergies.  Peanut Butter can quickly become Mesa Verde mud, named after the type of mud/grass mix the Anasazi used to build their cliff dwellings at the namesake National Park.  Consequently when that type freezes on contact, and can only be removed by a combination of welding torches and jack hammers, you get Dirty Igloo Mud, much like we had at Masters Worlds in Louisville this past winter.  See how that Inuit line came full-circle?

Back in Columbus Saturday, during the Masters race we had more of the chunky gazpacho type of mud.  It was a very wet mud, not as watery as the cold potato delicacy known as Vichyssoise mud or the romantic pottery mud from the movie Ghost.  Like an Italian wine with good nose, this mud featured delicate garnishes of grasses, hints of wild flowers and bites of thistles and briars.  On any Sunday afternoon in fall, you can find grandmothers selling the exact same mud concoction vacuum packed for $22/pickle jar with cute pastel labels as an anti-aging serum at the farmers market in Park City Utah. 

Sadly, as witnessed first-hand after the elite women’s race, after the gazpacho spoiled in the sun for a half hour, it became Emotional Mud, the exact type of mud that will cause a 14 year old girl racer to become so upset she will snap at her family near the start/finish between bouts of shuddering tears.  Kudos to the entire women’s podium for consoling her after the race.  For obvious reasons, one of them being how I could be perceived as a creepy old masters racer, I had to leave the estrogenfest, but it was heartwarming.

Columbus Women's Podium
Unlike the non-sticky Vichyssoise, Sunday’s mud stuck a bit to the bike but, due to the preponderance of puddles (I’m not sure if I’m using that word correctly, but the phrase sounds congressmanly awesome), washed itself off the bike every few hundred meters.  Shifters still shifted.  Brakes slowed.  The bike didn’t get that much heavier whether you rode 200 meters or 10 miles.  Not many switched bikes during the race.    

That said, there is a point when a cyclocross racer should switch bikes due to mud accumulation.  Rather than go through the entire scientific calculation on my Garmin 8045S, (which has something to do with the depth of mud cubed, divided by pi and multiplied by the square root of the area of the starting grid) I’ll spell it out simply.  You need to ditch your bike a half lap before it gets bad.  It’s like deciding whether to add another cup of kale to your morning smoothie.  You have to know when to stop before you’re stuck with a liter of bitter green barf.  Like bike stopping mud, there is nothing worse than too much kale.

Vichyssoise (Cold Potato Soup)
It should be elementary, especially for the well-educated cyclocross racer, but another confounding law of nature comes into play when racing cyclocross in the mud.  Bikes are slower in water.  Ka-pow!  Mushroom cloud above your head.  Blew your mind didn’t I?  Sure now, in your dry air-conditioned office with a heart rate 35% of max, it makes perfect sense that you would be hard pressed to ride 50 meters across an Olympic swimming pool.  However, every muddy race, I’m amazed how many people don’t realize bikes are fastest on smooth concrete.  Using these two known constants, you should be able to calculate the fastest way through any cyclocross course.  Ride the most solid ground possible, unless the reroute will cost you more time than riding over the slower surface.  However, sometimes in cyclocross common sense and elementary math are Hope Diamond-rare.  

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