I won’t go into crazy detail here about either of the two races I completed last weekend, however they were both a blast. As my first real Cyclocross style race other than Kettle Cross, I think things went quite well. I learned a ton about racing tactics, pacing, and bike handling in the weekend. I competed in School Of Cross on Saturday and Hop N Hurl on Sunday
Since I am still a Cat 5 Road Racer, I was placed into the most beginner category of Cyclocross racing, “Sport”. Despite shifting my focus back to running and having not ridden either my road or cross bike at all in the past month, I still did quite well and felt stronger than many of my competitors in both races. My downfall was definitely being timid in the beginning of both races due to my lack of experience with steep descents, single track, and technical cornering. I plan on getting at least two more cross races in this season and plan on spending a lot more time on the cross bike before the start of next season to help get used to technical riding.
In hindsight, establishing a good starting position out of the opening sprint is super key, even more so than in Crit racing. If you aren’t in the top 10, you end up bottlenecked behingd 20 to 30 racers who are both slower and less proficient in the corners. I estimate that the leaders gain 2-3 seconds on you through every corner in the opening lap. I made the mistake in both races starting deep behind the leaders. I estimate about 30 back in both races. After things finally spread out, I managed to climb about 15 or so spots in both races. I definitely made a ton of ground up over the barriers and sand pits as most of the other riders don’t have the top end running speed that I am capable of. But in the end, you can only pass/catch so many people in 40 minutes when you’ve given the top 20 riders a minute head start in the first lap.
Next year I definitely intend on racing a full cross season with intentions of upgrading to “Expert” which is always easier said than done. I think I will have some added fitness as well as bike handling abilities. Right now I am back to building base for next year so I can start hard in March and hopefully cycle consistently all the way to November with a few small breaks in the middle.
I am quite happy with both races, I maintained a pretty high threshold for both races and felt like my legs were completely shot at the conclusion of both races meaning I was working hard enough. I would have finished in approximately 11th place in Hop N Hurl had I not kicked my chain off the little ring when I was hurling over the barricades. Oh well!
Well, I woke up Football sore this morning after competing at the Kettle Cross race yesterday. As in I felt like I got ran over by a linebacker from my football days. I competed in the 74km Enduro or “Full Kettle” distance, and let me tell you, it was quite the test on a Cyclocross bike, the preferred steed of racers yesterday. The race consisted of two 37km laps.
I pre-road the course once so I kind of new what I was getting myself into. While not super technical, there were at least a couple of sections where if you weren’t being careful, you could do some major damage. As well, there was only really two major climbs however the course was littered with little rollers which really takes a toll on the body, especially when there are rocks, roots, mud, and other things working to kill your momentum. Even on the smoothest parts of the trail, you get thrown around pretty well. This also makes eating very challenging. All things, I well cover below.
Any ways, Fiera Race Team, the awesome people who organized this fine race, were super worried about not having enough competitors to make the race go(~75). Well on race day, we had a mass start across all 3 of the race distances comprising about 175 cyclists which was pretty crazy, and awesome to see riders from all over Alberta and Saskatchewan come out for the first race of its kind! Fortunately the 1st kilometer was neutral under a pace bike which helped spread the pack out a bit without letting things get too crazy.
After the gun went off I didn’t try anything too silly. I knew it was going to be a long race and I didn’t really want to do anything that could jeopardize finishing such as crashing out in the first lap, or absolutely burying myself to make up one or two bike positions early in the race when it didn’t really matter. I went out a bit hard with the early race excitement, maintaining a heart rate of about 175 for the first 15 kilometres, and then 170bpm for the entirety of the first lap. This showed as my first split was approximately 1hr 31mins for the first lap. Throughout the first lap I focused on two things. First, I tried to avoid going anaerobic as much as possible. As soon as I felt a lot of lactate building I tried to back off. I also really focused on carrying momentum as well as I could, that meant really spinning out on down hills so that my momentum would carry me as much as possible over the little hills that would follow them. This worked well as I spared having to throw down high wattage on the hills climbs and avoided heart rate spikes. Moreover, maintaining a bit more consistency in effort allowed me to save energy on the hills when it would get bunched up, and then pass other riders who’d lost all of their momentum going up the hills.
By the time I finished the 1st lap, I was starting to hurt pretty good. My back, arms, and ass were all super sore and I hadn’t consumed any calories which was a massive mistake. I could either sit down and save my legs, or stand up and save my back. I chose saving the back as it was affecting me the most. I brought a ton of food with me but with how bumpy the course was, it was almost impossible to eat on the move. Next year I plan on doing a couple of things differently. First, I will really load up on food before the race so that I can coast for as long as possible. Secondly, I will load my hydration pack up with juice of some kind instead of just water so that every time I drink I get some much needed fuel. I am also going to look into bringing foods that I can throw in my jersey pockets that won’t melt such as Swedish Berries(thanks Josh!). Any who, by about 5km into the second lap I was bonking pretty good. I finally stopped at around 7km and pounded a power gel and a chocolate bar. I did the same at 12km, and then stopped at the aid station for oranges and cookies at 21km. By about 25km’s in I hit my second wind from restoring my blood sugar level and was able to ride hard again. I caught and dropped a couple of people which was a good confidence boost as well.
At about 29km in, I came across the mud trench that I successfully traversed in the first lap. This time I hit it doing about 35km/h and tried to hop it. I cleared it no problem, but landed not totally balanced and in a bit of a slick spot. Needless to say my bike slid out and I smacked the ground pretty hard. Once I came to a stop I noticed that my sun glasses exploded and were now garbage. I got up, and first did a once over of the bike to make sure the shifters and breaks still worked, then ran a quick diagnostic on the body which was also fine (indeed the correct order of importance when racing). I will admit that this got my adrenaline going again which helped hide some of the other muscle fatigue and back pain for the rest of the race. The last 8km’s were pretty uneventful, I rode tempo as best I could without the legs totally seizing up and finished with a time of 3hr 26 minutes and an average heart rate of 164bpm including the 5 minutes or so of stopped time I took. Strava: http://app.strava.com/rides/21468116.
Overall I was pretty happy with my day. It was my first ever Cyclocross style race so I didn’t have super high expectations. I came in under 3hr 3omins which was what I considered my acceptable cut off. Next year I totally plan on doing this race again except with a goal time of under 3:15.
As a side note, I feel like I have reached the upper limit for my cycling legs this year after putting over 5000km of riding in this year between commuting, road, and cross and haven’t road very consistently since the Kelowna Apple with school starting and my switch over to run training. I plan to do the upcoming cross races, but am not going to train very extensively for them other than fitting in a mid week ride every once and a while to maintain my bike handling skills.