Friday, October 16, 2009

My first cyclocross race

For the past couple of years I've been "encouraged" by several of my friends to give cyclocross a try. My first thought was "That's a great way to get injured!", what with my lame bike handling skills. As I thought about it more, I became more and more intrigued with the idea and my fear level diminished.

So, last winter I decided to take a cheapskate approach to entry to the sport. I had this old hard tail mountain bike in the garage, demoted from commuter vehicle to taking up space. My second thought was: How can I make this harder for myself? Ah ha, I'll convert the bike to a single speed!

Charlie helped me by suggesting gearing that I could use and by being encouraging. Over the winter I removed all the components from the bike, bought the parts I needed, and made the conversion. This was challenge enough for me as I'm not what you'd call "handy". Here's the final result.

I did nothing over the summer with the conversion. As fall rolled around the only remaining item was tires. Again, Charlie to the rescue. He suggested a lot of options and I chose Vredestein "Tiger Claws". How could I go wrong with tires called "Tiger Claws". During the tire process I found that the rear wheel needed to be replaced. One new wheel later I was ready to go.

Once again Charlie to the rescue. He took me under his wing again, taking me to practice sessions at lower Woodland Park and a Wednesday night session at Marymoor Park. After several of these Tuesday sessions I was ready to give "racing" a try. With my skill level and the speed achievable with my bike racing is a loose way to describe my progress around a course.

Seattle Cyclocross sponsors an entire race series all through the fall. My first race was Beverly Park. As a side note, for those of you who aren't acquainted with cyclocross, the courses tend to be contrived. There are lots of tight turns around trees and/or artificial barriers, at least one run-up where you have to dismount and carry your bike up a hill, and at least one barrier where you must dismount and run over the barrier with your bike. Beverly Park had all of this plus a spooky (for me), steep descent and a weird, uphill, off-camber, S-shaped turn. I walked/ran both of these.

My only goal was to finish in one piece.

Charlie picked me up on Sunday morning for the drive to the race venue. We arrived plenty early, got signed in, and were able to ride a practice lap. The temperature was low and the sun was out.

We started in the infield of a track and within 200 yards were faced with the run-up. I was in the CAT4 55+ men. All the CAT4 men less than 50 started ahead of us and the CAT4 women behind us. It was quite a scene as the riders charged ahead and streamed up the run-up, carrying their bikes.

The first group was off and a minute later we were, as well. There was a barrier at the foot of the run-up to force a dismount. I felt reasonably smooth with my dismount and chugged up the hill. By the time I was a quarter way around the course the first women passed me. Soon I was totally surrounded by women and had lost sight of all the other men. Alexie went by me soon after with an encouraging call.

After the upper section we had the weird S-shaped hill; I walked it. On my third lap I crashed here during my dismount. Shortly after this we were sent down the descent hill which I also walked. This was a real time loser because the descent was followed immediately by an ascent which I then had to run up. Finally several circuitous laps around the track and back to the run-up.

On my third lap I dropped my chain just after the run-up and had to spend time getting it back on. By the time I got back to the track I was starting to overtake a few other men who were pooping out. This chain drop took enough time that I didn't get out on a 4th lap.

Next time.

I met my goal of finishing uninjured; my crash resulted in only a minor elbow abrasion and a sore ankle and shin. All survivable and rapidly healable.

My friends are right, it is fun. And now I've got another sport for the interim season after triathlons are done.

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