Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cyclocross Nationals 2010: B Races-aka Course Preview

Organizers chop ice off the start grid at 2010 US CX Nationals
(The following was written by Corey Green, our reporter for 2010 CX Nationals in Bend.  After reading this the only advice I have to those racing is to wrap yourself in Saran wrap, wear your water-wings and affix an ice axe to your handlebars.  Since this was written our other reporter Gregg Shanefelt of Zephyr Wheel Sports finished 9th in the Men's Open Non Championship race.  Results link click here.  Enjoy!)

Today was B race day, which is more commonly know as "preview the course at race speeds with other crazy people day". The B races are the only races at CX Nats that a Cat 4 CX racer can enter, so the field has a wide range of skills. Today I saw guys on mountain bikes and guys wearing pants!?!  So, you can't enter this race too serious or you will be at risk of actually thinking you accomplished something by beating the guy out there in his jeans and hiking boots just looking for a fun ride.

The race is really good for taking laps at race speed and testing multiple lines through the elements. Where can I pass? Where will the dollar bills hand ups be? How close are the port-o-johns to the finish line? Can I ride this run up, or should I remember that superman has a cape but I do not? By taking this approach you can learn a lot about this course and help your race later in the week.

Cyclocross Magazine's National Championship Course Preview - 12/8/10 4pm from cyclocross magazine on Vimeo.

CX Magazine posted this preview, which was taken today about mid-afternoon after the four B races had finished their circuit of the course. Prepare yourselves as what you see might frighten you - and I will say that the earlier in the day you raced, the harder it was to ride. At 8am during previews there was still 6+" of snow on about 50-60% of the course.

The start is one of the best starts anywhere (photo above of organizers chopping ice.) Long, smooth, beautiful blacktop. The kind of blacktop that makes a roadie wet his pants a little bit when he is riding over.  Oop!  That roadie would not be excited about the 180 in snow at the end of the start though. The start was pretty controlled today, but the outside line is a horrible line on this start. Of course a 180 degree turn in much at 20+ mph isn't exactly a joyride either.

After the 180 comes a long segment of straight. When you look at this course on a map you might think to yourself "there is where I will pass people. I have a lot of straight line power, I am superman!" But then again, you don't have a cape and this section isn't as easy as the map suggests. The ground here is soft and squishy. As you might see from the cameraman he is being fussy about picking his lines through this section. This is most likely because he wants to save his rims. Below the appearance of plain mud and ground is rock - ugly rock with sharp edges - a pumice type rock. Hit one of these wrong and it will pierce the most protected tire.

There is then a sweeping right turn (complete with all mud) that leads into a lake. Well, it wasn't a full on lake when we raced in the morning, but from the looks of the video we may need to put boat oars in the kid's back pockets. Coaches will also be required to train in CPR and complete a life guard test to supervise this section of the course. When we rode this at noon today it was about 8" deep and frigid (yes, snow runoff). That water would spray up on your legs en masse and instantly freeze your feet. The best part? You are less than 2 minutes unto your race.

After freezing your feet into popsicles you turn a few relatively easy sweeping corners and head into a nice long straightaway. This straight is one of the few times you are not fighting your bike to stay under you and gives a chance to go fast! At the end of that long straight section you hit a cambered, BMX style turn that, if dry, would be super fun to rail and propel your momentum back the other way. Only problem is the snow and mud make it nearly unrideable. Even the cameraman of this video got into it and gave up. As you are trying to ride it your rear wheel is falling away from and you either power-drift it all the away, or you hit a stake, stop your momentum, and run through the corner.

After butchering that corner you head back along a long straight and through some nice sweeping turns. These are entirely passable and in some cases you can ride them like a real cyclocross racer. Another long straight and you are back to the fun sections, or at least that is the way they explained it to me. Now we get to do the drop-in/run-up combos. Remember back in Junior High School when you were play football and your coach made you run in place, drop to the ground and get right back up? and you just kept doing them? Yeah, that it what these felt like.

The first drop in is pretty simple and easy. Smooth, good ground, no real need for being in a certain line or speed. But, the run up following is killer. I tried to ride it one lap just to see if I could do it and failed miserably (see pic). (Editor note: you look like you need an ice axe)  The run up is quite steep and with ice and snow you can't get the speed necessary. After scaling Mt. Bendverest, you got to remount in another lake at the top - if your feet had warmed any after lake #1, they weren't warm anymore.

After surfing through the lake over a slow downhill you got to another run up which is again, unrideable. I tried and failed. You sense the correct pattern here. The problem with this run up is it never learned the meaning of "smooth". This run up may have been part of the WW2 attack on Normandy with the bomb craters that line it on each side as you try to scale it. Another quick remount and you are on to the next dropin/runup.

The next dropin has a major case of schizo. One line is smooth and straight and makes you feel all warm inside when you get to the bottom. The other line could have also been involved in the Attack on Normandy with bomb craters in all the wrong places. I took this line once, and only once, and had a near "oh shit" moment, riding a front wheel wheelie stand for a couple seconds until the body weight could be placed back over the bike. The runup partner here is an easy ride and can be cleared pretty quickly if not trying to pursue it with 10 of your new-found friends.

Once you have cleared the dropin/runup version of Candyland you have a couple longer straight sections to gain some speed and feel good about yourself - and lake #3. Once you go through lake #3 your feet won't ever be warm again until after your race and you have been standing in the shower living through that painful feeling of regaining warmth.

The Best CX Nationals Bike Trailer EVER
Crossing over the street you hit some really nice grass. Deschutes Brewery has very nicely groomed grass on their side of the course. It is well kept and thick and feels like velcro on your tires - the kind of sticky that makes you feel all warm and cozy inside. This is a section very reminiscent of the cross back in Ohio.

At the end of the grass is a great runup. It is a runup that is deceptive and fair. A lot of times you can ride it and really make time up it. If you get off the right line or can't get speed with people around you, it really becomes a run up and this segment becomes very hard to do fast. You see the remount at the top is off camber. Last year when the ground was frozen your rear tire would be sliding down the course while you were trying to remount. If you did a flying remount your weight would shove the tire further down the hill.

Once you ride you white knuckle the descent back to ground level and hit a freshly paved road section for the final stretch before the start finish. This final stretch includes two difficult elements - the flyover and the steps.

Inside the Best CX Nationals Bike Trailer EVER
The flyover (pictured above) really isn't hard and over the week it will (should) get easier. However, today there was six inches of snow in this section, making it difficult to carry enough speed to get over the flyover with any efficiency. The last section of pine board seemed impossibly difficult.

Descend the flyover and head through a few more lakes and onto the final challenge of the course - the steps. These steps are just wrong. They look great and make for a great spectacle racing, but their size makes them impossible to get the right step on. They are too short to take one at a time with any speed, and just a touch too small to take two at a time without making your heart rate spike. You do them like Tiny Tim one time and like crazed lunatics on the stair master the next time. Either way your heart is through the roof before the finish line, making a sprint to the finish very hard.

That is the course that your National Champions will be determined on this week. The conditions combined with the course will make for difficult racing and the winner will certainly earn their prize. Now that you have the settings I will be on the lookout for more oddballs and oddities this week.

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