Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cyclocross Nationals, "We'll be coming back next year"

(A few days after last weekend's blowout cycling competition, a friend wrote to me to say that a friend of his who had been in the event wrote to him about the race. I asked for and received permission to quote the letter. Photo Janet Hill.)

Cross Nats from Bend, from John Elgart

Quick Result: 3rd in the 60-64 Men

Of course it snowed. We were expecting it. It always snows at Nationals, accompanied by ice and frozen ruts. Sometime during the event, a blizzard comes along and blows away the tents. Cross is a winter sport and snow is normal for a winter sport. If you went skiing and it snowed would you be suprised?

So deal with it. Or that's my official attitude.

In my race, the temperature was 20 degrees. It had been 14 degrees below zero two nights before. The snow had a nice granular wet sand-like texture. Definitely rideable, if sketchy in the icy corners. I found one of these corners warming up and crashed HARD in the only dirt on the course. Not too good an omen.

The 60-64 field featured 5 or 6 former champions, including Dan Norton from Seattle, who has won at least a dozen times. Dave Rath from Vermont and Phil Bannister from Maine have also won several times. At various times these 3 have beaten me, and Dan had to be considered the favorite. He is a terrific turn rider and this course is nothing but turns. Phil beat me by a minute in the ice of Kansas City last year. Dave Rath beat me 5 years ago in Portland -- this is the one year we overlap. Were I seeding us, I'd put myself in 4th.

Somehow at the start I couldn't find my pedal and slotted in 4th for the hole shot corner. Norton was first and within a minute had opened a gap. Bannister took off after him and I was leading a group of 5 a few seconds back. It was obvious that Norton was riding the turns faster than anyone, and we weren't gaining much in the straight stretches.

My one advantage was that I could ride the steep icy hillside where most were running. After two laps (about 15 minutes into this 40 minute race) I bridged across to Phil Bannister and we took alternating leads. It seemed easy riding behind Phil, but I couldn't shake him. Our skills seemed to balance out: he was a bit faster on turns and I was a bit faster on the straights.

My greatest problem was the cold. While my body was quite warm, my hands were getting stiff, and I was having trouble shifting and breaking. With 2 to go, I hit a stake in a turn because I couldn't apply my brakes from the hoods and Phil got a 10 second lead. Half a lap later I caught him and then took the lead, but on the final lap I missed my pick up on the stairs and Phil passed me. Then coming off the hill, it took me 100 meters to shift into a big gear for the sprint. So in the end I was 2 seconds out of 2nd place.

Phil and I had probably exchanged the lead 10 times. It was a great race.

2 good photos:

I'm in the Janet Hill Gallery.

A few passing observations on Cross Nationals:

* Technical stuff: tubulars with 25 pounds or less were the tires of choice. And, yes, there were a lot of flats. Most common tubular: Tufo Cubus. Clincher: Racing Ralphs. We rode the Challenge Fango 34 -- it had great traction (until Linda flatted the front!)

* Clothing: If you look in the Gallery above, you'll notice that I'm wearing what looks like Hammer shorts with my Webcor jersey. No I'm not riding for Hammer -- this is Voler's new thermal skinsuit and I only have it in this pattern. It works great!! (You can order one for next season in your order--or we have them on Velowear now). Gloves were another matter. I went to REI and got their best with fingers, used warmers and still froze. (I had frostbite as a kid, so maybe that's it). Interestingly some of the Elites rode gloveless at 32 degrees! For me, next year it's bar ends and mittens.

* As I've mentioned before Cross Nationals is where all the categories participate -- juniors, elites, masters, collegiates. I love the mix. Monday morning after the racing Linda and I were sitting around breakfast in the Ameritel with Jonathan Page (3rd in the Elites in a tough race), a junior from SoCal and his dad, a masters rider. You wouldn't find that at any other Nats.

* Cross brings out the spectators. There were probably 10,000 for the Elite men's race, crowding the course. And of course there were the costumes, the drummers, the dollar bills in beer cans, the guys trying to get the racers to take a drink of their PBR, etc. It's almost as annoying as the crowd at the TdFrance. .

* Bend went all out to welcome the event. People stopped us on the street. Everyone is a cross fan, which is kind of weird. Well, Bend is that kind of place. We'll be coming back next year.

1 comment:

  1. "There were probably 10,000 for the Elite men's race, crowding the course."

    Bob Woodward says 5,000. That sounds more realistic. I don't think any event in Bend has ever drawn 10,000 spectators.


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