Monday, January 23, 2012

#CXMasters2012 A Softie Riding Hard

Shielding my tears from two young girls no doubt waiting for their Dad to cross the line, I broke down after the finish at the Masters Cyclocross World Championships in Louisville.  When I told my wife about wearing my emotions on my jersey sleeves at the finish she rolled her eyes.  She knows me.  I also cried on my wedding day.  My shoulders rattled with man sobs and sniffles.  A photographer snapped pictures of the newly crowned 45-49 year old Masters World Champ Don Myrah next to me but I swear he snuck a click or two in my direction.  I wiped my face, mixing tears with mud and put my head in arms atop my handlebars till it passed.  Under it all I smiled.  Like my wedding day, I was happy.  My friends and family will tell you I’m a softie.

I remember seeing the Cycling Dirt video of Adam Myerson after an east coast race.  Completely emotional, torn apart and crying, he was upset that he thought that day was his day.  Oh please spare me.  He made the lead group in the Elite race only to have one small thing derail his hopes.  He was crushed under the thoughts of all that training, practice and meticulous attention to detail seemingly being of no use.  All he wanted was that one good day on the bike.  I rolled my eyes watching the video.  It’s just bike racing.  There’s always another race.  That's what I thought until my day came.

“Do you want me to put it on you?”  Barb, one of the Worlds organizers and a Louisville race promoter, offered to drape the finisher’s medal over my helmet.  I chuckled and sniffed.  My buddy Jimmy talked about finishers medals on the trip down and how bullshit they are.  He told me he once turned one down, dismissing it by saying medals should only go to the winners.  I remained indifferent.

Smiling, Barb held it out, a white enameled medallion hung from a red, white and blue ribbon.  She recognized me as her “results runner” from the USA Crit Series at Cincinnati’s Hyde Park Blast.  Being close to many of the Papa John’s team riders from Louisville and knowing practically every rider in the Ohio Valley racing scene, she knew first hand all the hill repeats, practice dismounts, and garage trainer nights that brought me to this moment. 

The Pink Pony Pit Bike
The same feelings that Adam Myerson wrestled with on his bad day were welling up and spilling out from me.  It’s not just a bike race.  World Championship or not, it really has nothing to do with the race.  It’s all those hard-guy miles, intervals and practice carries that come back at the finish line to give you one last kick in the ass and slap across the face.  Just when the dues are paid, you get one last call from the collection agency, and like Myerson, I paid in tears. 

At the beginning of the season, all I wanted out of Nationals and Worlds was to be competitive with the best my age.  Seeing the names Fred Rose, Mike McShane and Jonathan Card on the prereg list, I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but after racing the USGP in Louisville that I could stay within 2 minutes of them.  Concrete, specific and (hopefully) attainable, I set my mark on the top 35 and the lead lap at Nationals and Worlds.  That’s not too much to ask from my Sven Nys prayer candle.

Then former Olympian, Don Myrah crushed the field on the 9am frozen ruts at Nationals in Wisconsin.  Even though we weren’t lapped, we probably would have been.  My teammate Mike and I were pulled, officially 2 laps down, 40th and 41st.  I hit the deck three times that day and more course marking stakes than I can count.  Still, I felt good with my ride.  However anticlimactic and disappointing, I still had one more chance, 500 miles, 2 loads of laundry, and 1 bike cleaning away in Louisville.   

"Onetago" Courtesy
“Onetago, onetago, one-to-go!”  The announcer shouted as I got the bell.  I buried myself on that last lap, gained three spots and lost two.  I went no handed over the line, clapping my hands, applauding for myself.  I cruised into the finishing chute on the lead lap and the 29th rider to cross the finish line at the 45-49 year old Masters Cyclocross World Championships.  I nodded, wiped my nose on my armwarmer and Barb slipped the medal over my helmet.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

#Cyclocross Sizing Tires Like Carry-on Bags

A 33cm Clement PDX Clincher Too Fat for UCI
Even that spiky haired Food Network culinary star Guy Fieri will tell you a cup of flour is not necessarily a cup of flour.  It depends on how it’s measured.  The UCI device for measuring width of cyclocross tires is the heaping tablespoon of baking.  The maximum legal width for a cross tire is 33mm.  It says right there on the sidewall.  I'd assume someone probably measured it before it was stamped and stickered, but you know about assumptions. 

Regardless, last time I checked at my local shop they didn’t sell 33.1, 33.2 or 33.5 tires.  They did have quite a selection of 32’s, 33’s and even 34’s.  So we all brought tires to the Masters World Championships with a number of 33 or less written on the sidewall.  No one wanted to risk getting DQ’d for something silly at Worlds.  Personally, I smartly left my 34 Griffo mounted on a carbon Zipp at home and instead brought a 33 Clement PDX mounted on a old Ritchey WCS wheel.  Coincidentally, one tire that was getting flagged by officials as being too fat was the Clement PDX 33 clincher.  You’ll recognize it by the World Champion rainbow stripes on the sidewall.  I brought three to the venue, two on the pit bike and one on a back-up wheel.  I had to scramble.  

Like a cup of flour, there’s air inside a tire.  When you’re baking a cake, do you pank down the flour in the measuring cup to get the maximum amount inside?  Maybe you do, if you want a thicker batter.  Do you leave it slightly heaped or leveled off with the edge of a knife?  Do you use the cup measure made out off stiff stainless steel, or does the OXO brand plastic one your wife bought on her $200 shopping spree at Target do in a pinch?  

Rider: "We Can't Hear Back Here."  UCI Official: "Listen!"
I’m sure a Clement PDX Clincher 33 can in fact measure 33mm wide, maybe less, on a submarine.  It may measure 40mm on the moon or Breckenridge.  While the distance between the two sides of the UCI measuring jig may be an exact 33mm, it is quite possible to fit the device over a tire that measures slightly fatter.  The real problem is that there’s air inside of tires, sometimes inner tubes.  The more stuff inside the tire, the more unyielding it will be.  There's stuff on outside of tires too, like morning dew or peanut butter mud.  On a cold day, rubber can be stiff.   In effect, a pliable tire that passed the test on a rainy warm October afternoon at the Cincy3 Cyclocross Festival may not pass the test on a frozen mud morning in January.  After a few hours of hearing about riders being sent back from the start line with too fat Clement PDX’s, we learned that rim width also played into the equation.  The 33 PDX mounted on a wide rim skinnied up the sidewalls and passed the officials measuring jig test.  Mounted on a skinny rim, the 33 PDX plumped up and measured too fat.  I scrambled to borrow a set of wheels for the pit bike; coincidently pit bikes weren’t being checked.

Now what was originally intended to be an exact measurement of 33mm becomes an opinion.  Riders with flagged tires told me the official said the jig didn’t go on and off the tire smoothly.  It's like the Seinfeld parody of the Simpson trial.  Maybe the official had wimpy biceps, we joked.  You would think either the jig goes on or it doesn’t.  Either it comes off or it doesn’t.  Is the jig stuck to my tire permanently or not?  Should we smear a little Vaseline on the sidewall and try again.  The UCI is measuring millimeters like airports measure bags for the overhead bin.  Believe me, there’s not a bag I own that I can’t stuff into that metal frame.  Now and then, I still have to check it.  Go figure.  It’s the opinion of that bitchy flight attendant, not exact science.

A Nice Addition to Your Toolbox
Obviously I’m in no position to make suggestions such as actually using a device that measures width in actual millimeters, so I won’t do that.  Maybe there’s an App for that.  I will suggest that the UCI come up with a better place to measure tire width than at the start line of the World Championships with 5 minutes till the gun goes off.  It was sad to hear riders with what they thought were 33mm tires have to run back to their team compound (ie: back of their 2001 Honda Civic packed like a Jenga game) in the 5 minute window and risk losing their call up for likely the most important race of their lives.  I will also suggest that we all put a caliper in our toolboxes and practice a little more riding mud on 32mm tires.  I heard Sven Nys once said a 34mm tire makes muddy descents child’s play.  We all can get better.  So can the UCI.  Maybe there could be a tire width checking station where riders could report to at their leisure before their event and get a tire pre-approval sticker.  I’d suggest one with rainbow stripes.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Euro Guide Map to #CXMasters2012 Worlds

If you’re traveling to the Cyclocross Masters World Championships from Europe you may have packed your bathing suit and open toed sandals after seeing that Louisville falls on the same geographic latitude line as Portugal, Spain and Southern Italy.  Sorry to disappoint.  This is no Mediterranean vacation.  The weather recently is more like the UK.  It’s wet, cloudy and a tish chilly.  Belgians however are rejoicing and wearing sandals.  It’s pretty much as sunless, muddy and miserable as the weather back home.  While you’re visiting, feel free to explore our area.  You’ll find, much like countries that accept the Euro, a rich diversity in people and landscapes and probably discover somewhere that feels like home.  Let’s go to the map.

As you can see, Northwestern Indiana is flat, barren and windswept much like The Netherlands.  There are probably more windmills along I-65 between Indianapolis and Chicago as there are along the North Sea.  While just as hypnotic, they are not as romantic.  If you’re looking for romance however, there is a Lions Den Adult Bookstore off the highway if you long for Amsterdam’s Red Light District.  Smack dab in the middle of the state is Superbowlianapolis, which in a few weeks will be overtaken with drunk and bare chested American Football fans much like those at the Cyclocross Elite World Championships in Koksijde.

Northeast Ohio for all practical purposes is on the Baltic Sea and is as snow choked and frozen as Siberia.  In Cleveland you’ll see people wearing Russian style fur hats.  To keep warm locals burn old LeBron James Cavalier basketball jerseys.  Columbus, a university town is the cultural epicenter of the region.  It’s much like Austria, if you see Cornhole and Beer-Pong on the same level as artwork and classical music from the masters.  Cincinnati, with rolling hills and a rich history of brewing, is essentially Germany with an Ikea store, history being the operative word. 

With the recent wet and cold weather Kentucky is easily divided into two regions: the UK in the North and Redneckia in the South.  Contrary to world beliefs, not everyone in Louisville owns a horse, but like Mercedes in Germany, they know someone who does.  Louisville is currently soggy.  Those from the UK that have a “thing” for Wellies would feel right at home this weekend at the Masters World Championships.  The further south you travel in Kentucky, the larger the hills get and the harder it’ll be to understand what people are saying.  Welcome to Redneckia, the gateway to Countrymusica.  Don’t worry.  Simply heed the “no trespassing” signs.  Other than that, Kentucky is very friendly and known for Southern Hospitality.  However, when the clerk at the petrol station affectionately calls you “Honey,” rest assured she’s just being friendly and isn’t interested in a date.  

Monday, January 9, 2012

#CXnats Elite Podiums Won in the Pits

Everyday I'm Pamperin'
While you may have watched the live streaming video or followed #cxnats on Twitter, you missed a few things at the Elite Cyclocross National Championship Races in Madison, WI on Sunday.  For one, you missed this dude in the diaper with a cooler full of cold ones and a RoadID on his wrist.  You also missed the details that made the difference for Antonneau and Powers.

The CX Nats pit was small, crowded, inadequately spaced and tough on entry/exit.  While pits are usually crowded during top level races, the pit at CX Nats was one tough mooglie for riders and mechanics.  For wrenches, it was hard to get to the race lane.  Many places were 3 people/bikes deep as mechanics tried to get out to the race lane. Coming from a background setting up pits for UCI events in Cincinnati, they needed more width and more depth.  For riders, the entrances, exits, and race lanes were bumpy and rutted.  Add in the technical turn preceeding Pit #1 and it was a mix that rewarded perfection from crew and rider and spelled disaster for those that bobbled.  

Women's Race-Antonneau's Recovery
Antonneau running her bike after early mishap
While Meredith Miller took the hole shot, Compton stomped on the pedals and built a gap of almost 5 seconds within 4 turns of the start. With the sketchy descents and rutted mud that was still half frozen, you could see on her face that she wasn't willing to take any risks today and simply wanted to run in clean air.  Game over.  The race was on for 2nd.  While the cameras followed Compton, there was a huge battle behind. Antonneau, Duke, Miller, Butler, Stetson-Lee, Bruno Roy, and Rivera were all in place and chasing each other down back and forth the whole day. By now we all know that Antonneau was 2nd on the day for the Elites after winning the U23 race.  What you don't know is the pits played a pivotal role in her podium.

On the second time through the technical turn immediately preceding Pit 1, Antonneau was in 3rd place behind Duke and Compton. She was looking pretty comfy, but navigating the tight technical turn she slipped and fell. The crowd heard a very distinct SNAP!  The sound that makes your heart sink.  She snapped a spoke on her Zipp.

Kaitie got up, tried to remount and quickly realized the damage.  She immediately ran the few steps into the pits and retrieved a new bike. If the spoke had snapped a bit later, as happens a lot, it would have been day over for Antonneau. Running after the pits back around to the pits again would have been disaster, a feat Olympian Usain Bolt couldn't pull off.  Luck was on her side and a good crew always at the ready with a fresh ride.  

Dylan McNicholas drills the hole shot
Men's Race-Powers Attack
Watching the men's race was edge of your pit-bucket excitement for the whole hour.  From the coverage you didn't see that it was Pit 1 that made the difference in the men's elite race as well. It played out like this.  Page would pit every time through Pit 1 and take a clean bike. Powers and/or Trebon would punch it past the pits, choosing to not take a clean bike and put some distance on Page.  Page would power out of the pits and catch back on before the stairs.  Powers attacks here proved to be the difference.  

Page on the bumpy exit from Pit 2
If you remember from the Women's race, the technical turn preceding Pit 1was incredibly difficult.  There was almost always a shuffling of racers in this particular spot.  Even Tim Johnson choose to run this section several times due to the difficult ruts and awkward lines into and out of this section. If you missed the line exiting this technical turn, getting to the pit lane to change bikes was really hard.
Nearly every lap we'd see Page attack heading into the technical corner, clean the corner and head straight for the pits. He'd swap bikes and by the time he exited the pits he would be almost right on Powers' or Trebon's wheel. 

Leaders hit the climb on Lap 1
The difference came on the next to last lap. Powers knew this was occurring every single lap.  He pushed the pace heading into the technical corner which forced Page to navigate the corner in traffic with Trebon and McDonald. Exiting from the technical corner, Page and McDonald bumped each other, then bumped each other again. Page was stuck on the left side of McDonald (Powers' Rapha-Focus teammate) and the pit entrance was on the right side. Page had to nearly ride through McDonald to get to the pit lane to swap bikes.

Obviously Page was hell bent on getting a fresh bike.  Doing so he was forced to bump and rub McDonald twice, slow down, ride across the rough ruts in front of McDonald and get into the pits. Right there, Powers smelled blood and put 8 seconds on Page as he exited the pits.  

Powers driving the pace with Page following
Whether this was planned team tactics or luck, it worked to perfection for Powers. Once Page was chasing he didn't take a clean bike on the last lap trying to catch back on, but the gap created at the entrance to Pit 1 never changed through the end of the race.  The rest is history.  

Had that exit from the technical turn and the entrance to Pit 1 been less bumpy and more roomy the final two laps of the race might have gone down differently. Kudos to Powers for knowing where and when to attack the race - whether it was his spidey senses or just plain luck, it worked.

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.

#CXnats: Course Inspection

Tuesday 9am Conditions uphill barriers courtesy GumboBoy
Calls and texts are streaming into my phone all day and nearly every one of them is asking what tires they should bring to Madison. Facebook is lighting up with banter back and forth about ice and danger and why aren't there any more turns. Since none of the calls, texts, or posts appear to be from anyone that has inspected the course, let me try to shed some light on the course, as well as sharing a video of three other people sharing their perspectives - that might help you decide whether to glue on that new set of tires before leaving town.

Road starts are typically short on a lot of the courses we see, but this road start will be long. On the CXmagazine video we clocked the road start at 53 seconds before hitting a soft grassy right-hander.  There is a bend in the road that means with speed you will question the tire pressure you run on the course as a low pressure will certainly make navigating the start a bit dicey as long as this pavement section runs. Plus there are a few other pavement sections on the course, though none that really require a lot of handling.

All Flat My Butt!-The Hill Tues 9:30a Courtesy GumboBoy
After the start is a good section on grass that does include some icy spots.  The ice is far less than yesterday.  With the higher temps and salt in place today I think most of it will be gone tomorrow as well. Stomach of Anger's Twitter feed reports cheese curds being spread to melt the ice (we'll get back to you on that.)  What is left is a thin layer of mud on top of about a three inch deep freeze. I know the depth from pounding in 18 stakes to hold down our tent, canopy, and other asundry items to keep ourselves warm and protected in case of inclement weather.

Personally I see the question that needs answered being how deep the top layer will thaw with increasing temps. There is some moisture in the ground, but no precipitation in the forecast - this could either be a real fast, hard grass race - OR - if the ground thaws deeper with the increasing temps that moisture could release a much deeper mud that what we saw today. If the thaw releases a lot of moisture the afternoon races could get really sloppy and slippery.

Monday Run-Up courtesy Peter Hills
Challenge wise the biggest challenge on this course will be the climbing - and the descending. To do well at Nats this year you will need to have downhiller skills as there are two sections that are bumpy, somewhat slick and all downhill. On the bright side, it is a chance for the heart rate and legs to recover, but that recovery assumes that you aren't freaking out as you gain speed headed into a tight right hander with ice and mud in it.

Turns were added to the course and the sand pit is in play. The sand pit is short, but there is a tight right hander into the pits and then a tight left out of the pits that make it complicated to get right. Add to the mix bumpy, frozen sand and you can't seem to stay on the line you want. I fully expect a berm to form to facilitate the exit of the pit as the week goes along.

Otherwise bring your legs as it will definitely need power to get you through. It is less technical than the courses were the last two years in Bend, but that doesn't mean it is easy. With some ice in the course you will have to choose your line properly and if you want to take a risk, that opportunity will be there.

Overall I like the course and find it very fair. It will be a good test and worth the trip.

Here is a video of Peter Hills, Masters Elite race from Fuji Cycling, as well as Mackenzie Green and Spencer Petrov from QCW Lionhearts sharing their insights from riding the course.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Monday Travel Day #cxnats

4 Runner loaded to bear
Monday is a travel day and a day to recharge a bit after a couple hard races in Chicago. There were a lot of expectations for Chicago, but racing in the same nasty mud conditions we had the last couple OVCX races was a surprise and the kids needed some time to recharge.

So we loaded up the truck and headed to Verona. Hills that is. Gravel climbs, icy descents.

Surprisingly I got two teenage kids out of bed at 8:00 am, had breakfast, packed the car, loaded up the bikes, and out the door on our way to Madison by 11:00 am. Dad’s always have schedules and times we expect to get things done by, but rarely do dad’s plans meet up square with teenage productivity. Somehow today we did it.

Starched flags the whole way up
Once we got on the road we were glad we had plenty of time to get up to Madison. We were greeted by temps in the upper teens and a head wind all the way in the low 20’s mph range. Normally this is a touch annoying, but today we have the Thule Mountaineer rooftop box (big enough to be a coffin for a 6’ 5” guy), two bikes on the roof, and four bikes hanging off the hitch. A 20 mph head wind was like riding a TT bike with an Zipp 808 front wheel and a disk rear wheel and being adamant that you had to stay in the aero bars – you know you are going to get bounced, you just never know when and spend a lot of energy steering into the cross.

We drove a leisurely pace, thanking the Illinois department of highways along the way for raising the tolls on January 1st. The tolls on I-90 north of Chicago to Wisconsin now takes $3 a shot. Adding up the tolls and their increased price from south of Chicago all the way to the Wisconsin border it will now cost $20 just to pass through Chicago. My first thought was “DAMN!”, but then I started thinking…if we want people to think about driving every place at any time this is the way to do it. If it was going to cost me a Jackson a day to drive to work just in tolls, you can bet I would be thinking about alternatives to driving my car.

Verona-Still Work To Do
We drove into Verona and headed to Badger Prairie County Park and immediately noticed one thing: ice. Ice on the driveway into the park, ice on the course, ice in a lot of places. Immediately we talked about Bend in 2010 and the ice time trial we had to ride there. When comparing conditions side by side there was no comparison. The ice at Bend was way, WAY worse than anything we just saw in Verona. The ice in Bend was so thick that there were ruts in the ice, and it really never went away. The ice in Verona will go away with a little salt and some reasonable temperatures.  (Jan 2nd Course Preview Video courtesy You Tube/Ted C Burns/CX Magazine.)

After hitting up a Chipotle in Middleton, WI (the McDonald’s of cross racers) we hit up our hotel and started to get settled. And by settled I mean the kids went played in the pool while I washed six bikes and 3 additional wheelsets in the shower. When we finished in Chicago the mud was sticking to the bikes and on top of that freezing to the bikes. As a result of the freezing temps we didn’t want to wash them outside in Chicago – last thing I needed was water getting in sealed bearings, freezing, expanding and having to run to bikes shops collecting bearing replacements. So I channeled my inner Dusty Labar and soiled the shower.

Now the bikes are clean, the kids are refreshed, and we have all ridden on trainers on the hotel to shake out the legs after yesterdays beating in Chicago. Tomorrow we start our quest to learn, prepare and compete in Nationals – look for insights on the course and tires in tomorrow edition. We will try to get reviews of the current conditions utilizing the following tires:

- Vittoria XG (almost exactly same as Challenge Grifo)
- Vittoria XM
- Vittoria XN
- Challenge Limus
- Clement PDX

- Clement PDX
- Clement LAS

I have also included a few fun photos below. Teenagers are fun, interesting, and perplexing to travel with – they are so easily distracted by normal every day items.

Occupado! Sorry kids, can't use the toilet right now

Pretty nice hotel pool, even has life guards

Hotel with bunk beds? There were fights over the top bunk
I found them in the closet playing with the hotel safe.
Seriously, I did not stage this.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

#CCCNYR Sunday: Terminal Wind Chill

Racing cross late in the season requires a good head for the weather and being able to anticipate conditions well enough to dress properly from head to toe for your race. Isobars and wind chill mean something to cross racers, you just gotta know what level of Mad Alchemy to put on the legs.

Sand pit lip exit
Today reminded me of a comedy bit by Lewis Black, which I have cleaned up to ensure kids can read this, about wind chill. His contention is that weathermen should stop reporting wind chill. "It's 27 degrees outside, but with the wind chill its -3. Well, then its -3! I don't need to know what the weather was like if the conditions were perfect!" This is quite true in cross - when I am racing I really want to know what conditions are going to feel like - and that has never been more true than today.

In fact today I started to wonder if there was such a thing as a terminal windchill? Does the wind ever reach a speed and a resulting low temperature where even the weather man gives up? If so, we had to be close to the wind speed today. Tents and riders were being thrown around like a piece of paper in a breeze, with riders on the course feeling the same way. The kicker was the combination of weather and ground conditions.

Over night it was warm enough to rain a little bit - not a lot, but enough to make things wetter than they were before. Since the course had been rutted up on Saturday, the water collected in the ruts making the muddy sections even deeper muddy sections. Then add in the course configuration and topography. Almost all the deep muddy sections were on a portion of the course that was part of the typical driving range at the golf course. Driving ranges aren't manicured like the rest of the course and they routed the course through the drainage areas of the driving range.

Isn't Chicago famous for cement shoes?
Also on the driving range they had sand traps - for targets for the golfers I assume - that weren't your typical sand pits, but lined with a fine gravel. Each one had a large lip to get out of the sand pit. This fine gravel would pack into the mud that just got on your tires and packed into them and add weight and grit to your tires.

If that wasn't enough to destroy your mojo you had to add the wind to the mix. The long muddy section leading to the second pass of Goose Poop Hill was into the wind, including the run up Goose Poop Hill.

Let's do the math on this. Uphill mud into fine gravel that sticks to your tires up a steep lip exit of the gravel pit to another uphill mud section to a run up of a hill made of aeration cores and goose poop to a remount on top of a hill, all with a 35-40 mph head wind? Oh wait, I forget to mention that the wind was blowing so hard on top of Goose Poop Hill that your bike would nearly be ripped from your hand as you were trying to set it down to remount. That and it snowed for most of the women's Elite race - in a sideways, white, blinding sort of way.

We had a lot of "cross" weather this year in the OVCX, but you have to trust me when I say that our worst OVCX weather was a cake walk compared to today at Chicago UCI.

Spencer brings home more Goose Island root beer
Here is Mackenzie's take on today's conditions. "Haha, we thought this was gonna be an easy course! Well, WE WERE WRONG. When you're in Chicago and the weather changes as fast as you can give up on your New Years resolution, the course is likely to be muddy. Like, mud tracks on the sand and pavement muddy. The entire course under a layer of mud muddy. And if your like me, and you get a flat after your first time past the pit, then you have to run the entire way back to the pits. In the mud, over Goose Poop Hill, through the countless sand pits, and hope you don't collapse. And, if your also like me, the toes on your shoe covers (just the toes!) will come off so they are sticking off the top of your foot like a unicorn's horn. And then, because of all the mud, you will have 10 pounds of mud in each of your shoes by the time you finish. I don't know about you, but I don't practice with 10 pound weights on my feet. The wind was so strong, while I was standing in line to wash my bike (and shoe covers..and shoes...and gloves...) for 30 minutes, I almost got knocked over more than a few times. "

In racing news we saw Messer once again claim the 30+ race win. It appears Andy is in fine form to contest nationals in Madison this year. Also in great form is Spencer Petrov. Spencer lined up with the 15-18s today and was holding first place until his prescribed 30 minute timer went off and he sat up. He  claimed second and another 4-pack of Goose Island root beer. Wonder if there is any connection to the Goose Island selection with Goose Poop Hill on the course? Probably not.

In Elite news Sue Butler revenged a terrible start yesterday with a win today. It was not without drama as Sue had issues on the first lap of the race again today, but less drastic and still had enough to collect herself and chase down everyone to claim the victory.

Eating and keeping up with The Best Bike Blog Ever
The Elite men saw a ton of pit action trying to keep bikes functional. With the dropping temps (33 degrees at race start) and the high winds (35+ mph at times) the wind chill was creating muddy, frozen drivetrains. If you think about what the pit action in a mud race involves, then lower the temperature to right at freezing and add in the wind chill it becomes very difficult to clean bikes. Trebon and Powers have very dedicated and experienced pit crews and on a day like today that makes a huge difference. The two of them race pretty much the whole race together, with Trebon edging Powers at the end of the race for the victory.

With so much mud in the OVCX, the last few ICX races, and now the Chicago UCI weekend I am praying for weather that is cold enough to keep the ground solid in Madison. My dishpan hands need some Palmolive to "soften the hands while washing the bikes."