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Crazy Bearded Guy sighting in Yew’ston-Houston CX weekend

December 7, 2009

It’s funny how things can change in the course of a week. Following a pretty bad race in Dallas last Saturday that had me swearing off cyclocross for the remainder of the season, yours truly had a change of heart come Friday night. Weather conditions seemed too perfect for cyclocross racing to pass up two proven race courses that I had a blast on last year, so early Saturday morning Colleen and I took the short 3 hour jaunt to Memorial park next to downtown Houston.

Indeed, the forces of nature had conspired to give Texans the closest conditions to true cyclocross racing that we could hope for, in the balmy humid city of Houston, of all places. A strong norther’ combined with generous gulf moisture on Friday to dump as much as 6 inches of snow in some suburbs of the city. The park itself only got 1-2”, but there actually was a little bit of snow on the course when we got there, and yes, it was still pretty dang cold. This year’s course featured a muddy creek crossing with a nasty, slippery run-up on the other side. Of course, what crosses the creek once, must cross it again. At first the second crossing was ridable, if you were good enough, but after a while, it was a pure slopfest that demanded dismounting and sludging. The ensuing 30 yards up to the barriers was also a field of energy sucking muck, just to dismount again, and then remount up a slight incline. You then had maybe another 100 yards of flats to recover before another runup. This one was rideable by the stronger riders…unless you were on a singlespeed.

Yes, undeterred by last week’s crummy performance on the beloved IRO singlespeed, I again brought it along after making a few tweaks during the week to shave some weight and decrease rolling resistance with some skinnier tires, setup tubeless. The tubeless setup was untested and had me a bit worried. Luckily, I was the only one in the singlespeed category to go off in the morning, so this would be a good opportunity to test it out. They started me with the women and Men’s 4. I had no obligation to compete with the 4’s, but I wanted to give the setup a good test before racing the open category, plus someone incorrectly told me that this was the Men’s ¾ category and I thought it would be even more fun to see how I stacked up against my old category, so I pushed this first race pretty dang hard. I felt pretty good annihilating everyone out there until I figured out it was the Men’s 4, not the 3/4 . Oh well, I still beat 30 other guys with one gear. It would be good confidence to take into the open race.

It wore off a bit as I toed the line against the open category racers. That early morning race in the cold had seared my lungs, I hadn’t had anything good to eat since 7am, and felt really thirsty. I could tell I wouldn’t be in contention for top 10, but at least I felt I could hang in there til the end and beat a few people. I was also looking forward to a beer feed around minute 50 (of 60) I instructed Colleen to give if I were still in the race at that point. I was able to hang with the main group for lap 1, and then a middle group for a few more laps, but then fell back to the rear on my own for the rest of the race. I was still ahead of about 6 racers, so I didn’t let up. Come the bell lap, I was still in it, and Colleen delivered the beer feed in textbook fashion. That cup of St. Arnold’s didn’t last long.

My thirst was quenched, but now I had a new problem: burping and leg cramps. Just keep pushing. Finish. Excellent. 18 of 24. Not pretty, but a moral victory nonetheless. Here I was a tired and hungry guy from an earlier hard race, pushing just one gear, on a steel bike not even designed for this stuff, lining up with the fastest guys in Texas. I’ll take it.

It was time to go to our hotel, a gem of a place we randomly found last year while searching for a cheap and safe place to stay close to the Sunday venue. After settling in, we commenced in cleaning our muddy shoes, pedals, and clothes, thus turning the stark white bathroom into a gritty and dirty brown. Still starving from lack of food and an excess of racing, we walked over to an adjacent Tex Mex restaurant to refuel. Upon returning to the room, we continued cleaning clothing and bikes while watching the Crimson Tide destroy the Florida gators to claim the SEC championship game. Come 7pm, it was time to watch the Horns take on Nebraska for the Big XII title. What a heartthrobbing game that turned out to be! A 46 yard field goal narrowly clearing the left stay as time expired to win 13-12. Texas needed quite a bit of luck to pull that one off, but they found a way. Major props to the Cornhusker defense! A victory against that team is never easy and never by that much.

Sunday morning brought a crappy continental breakfast and a quick trip over to Mason Park for the Bikesport CX. It was on this fabled course that I won my first CX race and the single speed found a permanent home in Caveman’s stable one year ago. I made the decision to race the ¾ in lieu of the open category this very day. Blasphemy, I know, but I was influenced by a few factors: a lackluster finish the day before in the open, a sense that the ¾ category is stronger this year than last, a $100 payout for 1st place (very nice when you are unemployed), and just the fact that racing with people closer to your ability is more fun.

There was again a SS category and this time I had one competitor. They started us with the women 3/4 , a few minutes back of the masters 40+ and 50+. I planned to sit this one in to save more for the later race, and I pretty much did. The other singlespeeder had the same intentions and finishing ahead of him wasn’t that hard.

Come the ¾ race, I again wasn’t feeling 100%, and wasn’t confident I could compete for 1st place, but I felt a top 5 would still be nice. I was sitting back around 8th on the first lap, 4th on the second lap, then caught up to 1st on the third. I feel that the ¾ race starts out about as fast as the open category, one of the main differences is that in the open race, they keep the pace going. Seeing as how the leaders in this ¾ race were tired already, I capitalized and made the decision to ramp it up hard and build a gap. The gap grew more each lap as I was relentless through the multitude of 180 degree turns, a small field of muddy grass, barriers, and the slick run-up. Right as I got the signal from the refs that I had two laps to go, I noticed my tires were getting a bit soft. I was riding them hard, and evidently they were burping air each time I remounted or hit a root hard. Fearing that I might roll the tires off on any sharp turns, I had to let up a bit and let that gap shrink. I was also starting to cramp, quite painfully in my right quad. I was really scared of tire and muscle failure on the last lap, but stayed calm and focused and nailed everything I needed to. Everything held together, and the $100 payout was mine.

Yes, in hindsight, I feel like a sandbagger, and for sure that will probably be the last ¾ race I ever do, however, I feel the decision was justified that day. After all, I gave the other racers a decent handicap with my choice of machine, and I only ended up crossing the line 10-15 seconds ahead of 2nd.

As of today, there is a new machine on the way that might very well be the last cyclocross bike I ever buy. While not anything like a fancy Blue Norcross, Ridley X-Night, Kona Major Jake, or Redline Conquest Team that are popular among top end racers, it will be at the same level. I will not drop any hints (except that it doesn’t have gears-of course!) until it comes in and gets built up, but it is a beauty. The IRO did a nice transitional job, but it’s limitations become more and more apparent every time I race it. This new rig should inspire all the confidence I need to return to the Open category and compete well there.

Thanks for reading, stay warm out there.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. December 11, 2009 3:22 pm

    Excellent article, good looking weblog, added it to my favs.

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