Sunday, October 19, 2014

2014 Cyclo X - Valmont Race Report

By Kirk Groves (@LSVLKirk)

After tires issues in two races (Boulder Cup & Cross of the North Day 3) and another race where I was caught behind someone else's wreck during the first lap (Xilinx), I'm tired of pondering 'what-if.' I was eager to put together a solid race beginning to end and see what I was capable of sans misfortune.

With a good week of training under my belt, I raced Cyclo-X Valmont this past Sunday. I arrived at 8 to cheer on Adam on in his very first cross race. Adam, you looked highly competent and capable... Good work!  I also had an ulterior motive for showing up at 8 when I wasn't racing until 1:45. Besides wanting to get in an early recon lap, I needed some assistance repairing my bike. Saturday I bent a derailleur hanger, tweaked a chain and exploded the cage of a Di2 rear derailleur - OUCH! I had the parts (hanger, chain and a derailleur borrowed from my girlfriend's bike), but I don't have have a derailleur hanger alignment tool. The dropout in my frame is rather poorly aligned -- just bolting on a new hanger simply wasn't a workable option. Upon installation of a hanger it's way off -- it requires finesse to align it when measuring vertically (12 o'clock vs. 6 with the tool) and even more so horizontally (9 o'clock versus 3). With the shop closed on Sunday, my fallback plan was to ask Shimano neutral support to align the hanger and I'd do the rest. Not only did the Shimano mechanic align the hanger for me, he finished the job and gave me a completely dialed bike. I offered him a tip but he said he couldn't accept it. My profuse thanks felt wholly inadequate. 

Relaxed and at ease with my bike running well again, I returned home to eat my pre-race meal and pack up for the race. I was back at Valmont around 11:30 and setup the Foxtrot team tent in the grass by the podium. Without Limits setup a fast course that I thought would suit me well.  It included both Belgian and 5280' Stairs, both sand/gravels pits, some bumpy corners in the glades section and a big power stretch -- from the glades, around the pond, by the pit, by the house, by the dirt jump, a 180 into the start/finishing straight, up Jailbreak Hill and across the mesa. I wasn't the least bit sad the course excluded the steep climbs up the front of the Mesa we've seen at Nats and the Boulder Cup. 

Also racing on Sunday were Dave and Greg. Jon, Jeremy and Adam were there to provide moral support. After getting in a warm-up, upon arrival at staging I was initially a bit taken back by the size of the group -- 68 in the 35/3s, easily the largest 35/3 field of the season so far. I received a 5th row call-up and was in the center. I knew I needed a good start but I reassured myself there was plenty of time to move up, especially on Jailbreak and on top of the mesa.  I set my highest 60 second average power of the year, and hooked on the back of the lead group by the first chokepoint -- the sandpit on the top of the mesa immediately followed by a 180 and down Espresso. 

It seemed like I was in a group of 5-8 guys the entire race. I was racing my race - making opportune passes and focusing on clean and fast lines. Other than a slight lull in lap 3 after the bottom sandpit through the glades, the pace was steady.

A couple highlights:
* Shaking my head at just how loud Jeremy was cheering
* Making a move up Jailbreak the 5th time (of 6) and passing four guys
* Gaining a position on the 5280 Stairs twice
* A nifty high-speed, off-camber pass down Espresso
* Single finger braking and knowing I had an advantage coming into high-speed corners

On the final lap I was 2nd in a group of 5 guys spread across roughly 5 seconds. I was confident I could hold off the guys behind me and I was trying to gain one more final spot. It was obvious the guy in front of me was strong. I thought I might have a chance to get around him in a technical section. I almost got him in the glades, he gapped me on the power stretch but I'd closed the gap down as crossed the bridge and made a turn. I tried to get around him by taking a line I had scouted out before pre-race by the dirt jumps, he held me off again. I was right on his wheel around the final corner. He opened up his sprint and quickly gapped me. No way I was getting around him, I made him earn it. I gave it one last push to secure my spot and keep the chasers at bay. I ended up in 10th. The winner was just 59 seconds ahead of me which gives me confidence that my form is coming around.

We did six laps and my lap times were consistent and reflect the 3rd lap lull I felt:  7:417:367:477:39 and 7:38; 46:04.39. I'm pleased with my performance and I enjoy not asking, 'what if?'

I'm not going to bore you with the details but this results had lowered my USAC Cycling ranking by 10 points (lower is better). Call-ups are based on rankings, so it's actually quite important.

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