2013 NCCX Series, Week 8

Week number eight of the North Carolina Cyclocross series took us to Hendersonville, North Carolina for the only UCI race of the series.  Because it was a UCI race the turnout was larger than normal.  In fact it was the US Grand Prix race as well as the next to the last race in the UCI cyclocross series.  What made it even more important is that in the Pro field, the top three ranked riders were all within a few points.

Fans heckle us at the top of “the wall” which was essentially unrideable after the 4/5 race. Even the pros had to get off and push their bikes up the wall.

Sunday’s pro race had over 48 riders registered when a normal pro field is 20 or so riders.  All the fields were deep.  Laura Rice of Henderson County Parks and Recreation, which hosts the event each year, said there were 331 finishers on Saturday, and 330 finishers on Sunday.  When you consider that only 34 finished (or 70% of the pro field) it tells you all you need to know about this race.

One Cat 2 racer put it like this: “Sunday was the least fun I’ve ever had on a bike.” And that was coming from someone who has raced hundreds of races, from road, to mountain bike, to cyclocross.  In short, the misery index was high.  I’ve raced a couple of hundred races — mountain bike cross country, endurance, and cyclocross — and this was by far the most miserable.

This stuff is what’s affectionately known as “peanut butter mud”. Gee, I wonder why? Just thick enough to stick to the bike.

Why, exactly, was it so miserable?  Well, Saturdays races were both in steady rain (it rained an inch on Saturday) with an average race temperature of a subfreezing 31.1 degrees.  The rain was coming down so hard that the course couldn’t drain.  Much of the course was under 1-2 inches of rain, and there was one dip that was over the crankset, probably 12-14” deep.

Sunday, although a balmy 41.0 degree average, was pedaling through thick, peanut butter mud. It was all you could do to keep your bike upright, and every pedal stroke was an effort and resulted in only a fraction of the forward motion you would normally expect, because your tire was spinning.  Much of the course was so slippery you had to dismount and carry your bike.

This 200 meter climb was covered in slimy clay. You couldn’t ride it and if you didn’t pick your bike up and carry it, the wheels would plaster themselves to the fork and rear triangle.

Of the roughly 3.3 km (or 2.0 mile) course, a fourth was hike-a-bike and unrideable, and the other three-fourths required two to three times the normal effort to just go half the usual speed.  Just minor effort found your back wheel going sideways.  In short, it was simply miserable.  Were it not for a tight points race in many of the classes, most of the riders would have simply skipped the race because of the conditions.

But because points were close, we raced, although I opted to skip the single speed race on Sunday since I was not in the running in the points race.  Still, the one Grand Masters 1/2/3 race was more than enough for me.  I’ve never been happier to finish a race.

This was very typical of the entire 2.0 mile lap. We trashed that park!

I have one of the lightest bikes on the field and I imagine by the end of lap one my bike weighed well over 30 pounds (or twice its normal weight) simply due to all the mud collecting in every nook and cranny.  And mud took its toll on the field.  There were broken derailleurs, clogged cantilever brakes, and problems trying to keep the chain on the front sprocket.

A full 30% of the pro field didn’t even finish the race and many of them had spare bikes they were switching out every half a lap while their pit crew pressure washed the muddy bike in preparation for the rider’s next pass through the pits.  Those not fortunate enough to have factory sponsorship and full pit crews,  had to ride at a huge disadvantage on bikes that were so muddy the wheels would hardly turn.

Even the spectators had to slog through mud.  It was a mess.

Even the spectators had to slog through mud. It was a mess.

I wish I had some profound insights from the race.  I have only one.  If you are close in the points race, you have to suck it up and do the miserable races whether you feel like it or not.  That’s what I did.  Okay, maybe a couple of other insights:  Disc brakes were a real plus, particularly on Sunday.  Running a “one by” setup (a single chainring up front) was a huge advantage.  Fortunately, I had both.

At the end of the weekend, I was only able to get a seventh place on Saturday and a fourth on Sunday. Still, it was enough to keep me solidly in third place for the series with only two more weekends and four races.  I had to wash my bikes twice to get rid of all the mud.  My rear derailleur jockey wheels were completely destroyed as a result of the super muddy conditions, and brakes probably lost a half life in a single weekend.  Hopefully the rest of the season will be better conditions.

Nearly 200 points ahead of 4th place and only 38 points behind 2nd. Yeah baby!

Here are my numbers for any of you who care:

Sunday CX 1/2/3

  • Avg HR: 91 % of Max

  • Avg Power: 209 W

  • Max Avg Power (20 min): 217 W

Saturday CX 1/2/3

  • Avg HR: 93 % of Max

  • Avg Power: 212 W

  • Max Avg Power (20 min): 213 W

Saturday Single Speed

  • Avg HR: 96 % of Max

  • Avg Power: 257 W

  • Max Avg Power (20 min): 239 W

A few observations: Again, my single speed race had significantly higher average power numbers.  I don’t know if that is because you have to work harder or if I just perform better on the single speed bike.  Part of it might have been course conditions since the course steadily got worse and worse.  My average heart rate is staying above threshold for the entire race, although it decreased with each race.

We are off for Christmas and won’t race again until the first weekend of the new year.  Then it will be Saturday in Winston-Salem and Sunday in Greensboro.  Hopefully I’ll get some rest and manage to somehow keep the weight off over the next two weeks.  For all my friends and racing buddies who are reading this race report, I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year.