2013 NCCX Series, Week 9

For the third time this season, we’ve had a double race weekend.  Races 12 and 13 were scheduled on Saturday and Sunday, both in the Triad.  Saturday’s race was in Tanglewood Park in Winston-Salem and Sunday’s race was in Bur-Mil Park in Greensboro.  I’ll recap them one at a time.

Race #12 — Saturday, January 4, 2014 at Winston Salem, NC.

This is my third season to race cyclocross and my first race at this venue.  Tanglewood Park is a large park sprawling across beautiful rolling hills of central North Carolina.  If you were a roadie, this was a perfect race for you.  It is what some refer to as a power course.

The course consisted of very little climbing, very little cornering, very little in the way of technical elements, and lots of long straightaways.  At a distance of approximately 1.8 miles per lap, it was about average in length, however it had about half the normal amount of turns, resulting in a fast course. What turns there were were quick and non-technical.

Race 12 of the Series was our first time to race at Tanglewood.  A very fast power course.

Race 12 of the Series was our first time to race at Tanglewood. This was a roadie’s dream come true: a very fast power course.

This sort of course favored road racers who are accustomed to long sustained efforts as opposed to the sprint, corner, sprint, corner, dismount, remount, sprint, etc. of the typical cyclocross venue.  The lack of technical elements also favored roadies who typically struggle with the single track or tricky traction of the mountain bike-friendly courses.

At the starting line all the riders agreed to do a “parade lap” and go out at a very relaxed “group ride” like pace.  Partly because it was a two-race weekend, and partly because almost everyone in the single speed race were also racing another race that day, that one easy lap turned into two before a sprint final lap.

It was 32 degrees, sunny, and the wind was blowing hard.  Most of the ground was frozen, although there were a couple of slick muddy patches.  I had apparently not properly tightened my rear wheel skewer and the rear wheel shifted enough for me to throw the chain and lock the bike up in the middle of a right turn, tossing me over the handlebars.  By the time I got the chain back on and the wheel tightened, I was off the back and out of contention.

I finished the race and came into the pits and quickly changed shoes, took off my tights, changed numbers,and raced back to the line in time for the start of my age-bracket Cat 1/2/3 Masters race.  The whistle blew and we were immediately at redline.  No parade lap this time!  The race was uneventful, I had no mechanicals, and I managed to finish 5th place right behind Chuck Gillis who managed to stay one place ahead of me in the series points race.

Cold and slippery, this corner saw many riders on the ground or off their bikes carrying them.

Cold and slippery, this corner saw many riders on the ground or off their bikes carrying them.  Nothing quite like muddy, off-camber roots.

Race #13 — Sunday, January 5, 2014 at Greensboro, NC.

Bur-Mil Park is typically a good race for me because unlike Tanglewood, it has enough technical elements to allow my mountain bike skills to overcome my lack of roadie-like power.  The worse the conditions, the better I tend to do.  Last year I had my first podium finish at this venue with a second place finish and I was looking to do well this year.

Unlike Saturday’s race Sunday was 32 degrees and pouring rain.  The course was slick and muddy.  What was at best, a technical course was, given the conditions, a very technical course.  Except for having to ride in the rain and race soaking wet and freezing, I was happy.  The good news is everyone was equally miserable.

Because the weather was so bad, I considered not racing the first race.  I wasn’t wild about getting cold and wet, but I decided to use my single speed race to pre-ride the course and warm up and I was careful not to use up my legs for the age bracket race to immediately follow.

I needed a strong finish if I was going to challenge Chuck for second place in the series and this was my opportunity: a technical course and poor conditions.  Perfect.  The race started and I was in my element.  My monster-cross bike (a mountain bike with cyclocross tires) and my mountain bike experience gave me the edge over Chuck’s power.  Though I beat him into the first corner, he was able to call on his power and pass me soon after that.

The course was very slick and traction was sketchy at best.  Many riders were off their bikes navigating corners, but I was able to ride everything. It wasn’t long before my technical skills trumped Chuck’s power and I passed him and never looked back.  I ended up over a minute ahead of him in second place.  Chuck finished third.

From the left, me, Todd Thornton, and Chuck Gillis. We told Todd he should have brought his dog!

From the left: me, Todd Thornton, and Chuck Gillis. We told Todd he should have brought his dog!

Here are my numbers for any of you who care:

Saturday CX 1/2/3  Winston-Salem

  • Avg HR: 92 % of Max

  • Avg Power: 219 W

  • Max Avg Power (20 min): 227 W

Sunday CX 1/2/3  Greensboro

  • Avg HR: 95 % of Max

  • Avg Power: 250 W

  • Max Avg Power (20 min): 248 W

I felt absolutely terrible on Saturday, and my numbers bear that out.  I brought my bikes, but my legs just forgot to make the trip.  I soaked in a hot bath and took some anti-inflammatories Saturday night and slept in compression socks.  Sunday I felt like a different person.  If you look at the numbers you can see I was.

My finishes for Week 9 brought me to a decision.  There remained only one final weekend for the season finale at Asheville with races on both Saturday and Sunday.  I trailed Chuck Gillis by 40 points and was ahead of fourth place, Todd Thornton by 170 points.  It was time to do some math.  If I won both races (not likely) and Chuck was last in both, I could not catch him for second in the series.

By the same token, if I stayed home and skipped both races, I could not be caught by Todd in fourth place.  I was in a virtual lock for third and couldn’t possibly improve my standings.  Because it was a double race weekend and Asheville is 6 hours away, it would cost me over $400 in travel, lodging, food and entry fees. The only chance I had of capturing second was if Chuck was a no-show.

I decided to wait until I saw Chuck register before making my decision.  When he registered I decided to call it a season.  As it turned out, Chuck had two good races, and finished a strong second for the NCCX Series.  I finished third for the series and just yesterday received my upgrade to Cat 2 in cyclocross.  I don’t guess the upgrade will make much difference since I’m already racing 1s and 2s as a Cat 3, but I’m happy to have gotten the upgrade.

The NCCX Series Final Results.  I finished third in a very strong field.

The NCCX Series Final Results. I finished third in a very strong field.

All in all 2013-2014 was a great cyclocross season.  I made lots of new friends, had quite a few podium finishes in a field of very tough competition, I learned a lot, and I had a lot of fun.  I’m thinking seriously about taking a break from cross country mountain bike racing this year and instead seeing what this gravel racing deal is all about.  Stay tuned…