Monday, October 13, 2014

Race Report: Cross of the North

By Kirk Groves (@LSVLKirk)

The guys that put on the Cross of the North do it right. As I was setting up the Foxtrot tent they came over to thank us for coming. At least 2 other times they came by just to check in and make sure a good time was being had by all. Seriously, these guys put a lot of effort into their races and it's awesome.

Compared to States a couple years back, they've really dialed their course in Loveland. The major change was to incorporate a large drainage area on the east of the property. Imagine the Bowl of Death (Louisville Rec Center) but about half as deep and with more gradually sloping sides. This weekend there was a big nasty mud bog down by the bike pit courtesy of the Thursday rain. The soil is greasy/slick when wet and super sticky -- it cakes on your frame. Other course features include railroad ties - singles, doubles and a triple. I didn't see anyone ride the triples, the spacing was too close. I considered yelling "JPow would ride it!" to the open men, but didn't. I got over the doubles during warm-up but weighing risk/reward it was an easy decision for me to run them. I imagined cartwheeling over them at race speed in an oxygen deprived state. I rode the singles no problem. There was also plenty of off-camber, a steep descent and some bumps/ramps you'd expect to find on a pump track. They rented Bobcats to smooth out bumpy sections - sweet.

I raced both Friday evening and Sunday afternoon. Speaking of Friday evening, my favorite aspect of the weekend was racing under the lights. My group went off at 6:30, just about sunset. As the race progressed the lighting changed from dusk to dark. They lit the course with 8-10 large industrial light towers like these...

It was well-lit and safe but as the race progressed you couldn't make out near as much detail on the course - remembering where the line I wanted was located was key.

Both my kids came to the Friday evening race. I threw a jacket I'd worn during warm-up over to them after I'd been called up. The temperature was in the high-50's at race start and I raced in shorts and a short-sleeve jersey, perfect for me, although plenty of people were wearing arm and leg warmers. A group of 19 Senior 3s started approximately a minute before my group, 26 racers in the 35/3s. I was last to slot into the second row - nice. After the whistle I easily moved into 4th before the first bottleneck - great start! I was in 5th after two laps. I was a hurting unit but I couldn't help but laugh every time I rode by my kids. Their favorite heckle is, "Come on Dad, Grandma is faster than you!" but they have plenty of others. The course on Friday had us going through the mud bog at speed -- good stuff! The bog got progressively worse as the race went on. There was also a second mud section with a 90 degree corner, also near the pit, that was gnarly. I was able to consistently make it through the mud except when someone in front of me would bobble, which happened once in each section. I'd borrowed JD's brand new Raleigh cross bike to have in the pit - jealous! While my bike was heavy and caked with mud, it continued to brake and shift well all race, so I didn't make a bike change. Look for a equipment review soon of Shimano Di2 shifters & hydraulic disc brakes. Here's the short version - amazeballs! If I had someone in the pit to hand me a bike I probably would switched bikes. Besides getting a clean bike without 5 lbs of mud, I would have avoided the worst of the bog once, making the bike change time neutral. As it was, I would have had to find and get JD's B bike from the rack. I decided it wasn't worth it.

I lost a position here and there but I was okay with it - I knew I was going as hard as I possibly could and I had absolutely nothing more to give. I tried to hold the wheels of the guys passing me for as long as possible. As I saw two-to-go I was in the middle of a group of maybe 5 guys all within 10 seconds of each other, still some places up for grabs. I knew it was going to be a strong result for me, it was time to find out how good. I gained a place and lost a place and was fighting to hold off some guys late in the lap. Two turns from the finishing straight I was passed by the leader of the SM 3s. Dude was FLYING -- he passed me like I was standing still, seriously he was a blur. He's an insanely fast junior who has raced Open in previous years but decided to race 3s this weekend to kick off his 2014 season. He won the 3s race all three days. A cynic would say he's a sandbagger and should go back to racing open and pick on people his own speed. Since I'd been lapped, even though it wasn't by someone in my 35/3 group, my race was over as I crossed the line. I ended up 9th or 10th, my best result in the 35/3s (preliminary results had me at 10th, I got an email saying 9th but online it's showing 10th again). I know it cost Cross of the North a ton to rent the lights (I heard $2500) but it was very cool!

The downside of racing in the mud is cleaning up afterwards - I spent 2+ hours Saturday cleaning bike, shoes, etc. Here's a shot of the bikes, mine in front - JD's in back is much cleaner as I'd only ridden it in warm-ups and to/from the pit:

I'd worn my backup shoes to warm-up and switched to clean shoes right before the start. These are the shoes I raced in - you can see a hint of the cleats if you squint:

Sunday, I headed back up to Loveland with my daughter Ellie. I arrived in time to catch all but Jon's first lap... Fear the beard!

I setup the Foxtrot tent right along the course, next to Rapid Racing. If you don't know Carl and Kristal Boni, introduce yourself -- they're great people. Rapid Racing is also affiliated with Foxtrot Wheels and have the logo on their shoulder of their kit, so they're obviously awesome. I think it'd be great to merge Foxtrot Racing with Rapid Racing to gain some numbers. It was very windy on Sunday and we had to take the tent down after a while to keep it from blowing down, but we were able to fly the Foxtrot emblem for a couple hours.

Despite not racing this weekend, Andy arrived in time to work the pit for Jon. He was then a huge help to me as I was getting ready. Andy graciously helped me dial tire pressure, test mount my backup wheels (new calipers), clean my bike after warm-up, etc. All small but important tasks. With Andy pitching in, I was able to focus on my warm-up -- muchas gracias Andy!

Brad (a.k.a. Ox) was racing as well and he brought along his better half, Claire. Brad rebuilt his bike with gears instead of trying to race a singlespeed in the 3s -- watch out! The fields on Sunday were about the same size as Friday evening, 19 SM 3s and 28 MM35/3s, both smaller than usual fields -- too bad, it was worth the drive up from Denver/Boulder to Loveland IMHO. I dropped a jacket and leg warmers once I was in the starting grid and raced in the new skinsuit - perfect for 50ish and windy.

A harbinger of things to come, I had my worst start since, well, ever... and it was from the third row so I had no margin for error. I must have missed clicking into my pedal at least four times, maybe 5. Once clicked in, it was time to put the awful start behind me mentally and move up to where I wanted to be. During an early lap I saw JD and his son Bauer on the course and tried to say hi, but I'm sure what came out was closer to an unintelligible grunt. By Andy's count, I'd made it up to 11th as I rode by the the pit the second time on the 2nd lap. I'd dug deep to make my way up after the poor start but I was back within striking distance of my goal for the day, another top-10.

Approaching the run-up the third time the guy immediately in front of me was fading fast and a gap was growing in front of him. I needed to get ahead of him before the technical section after the run-up. I made a pass attempt in a tight 180 degree corner, he took a whacky line and I had to dab a foot and check my speed. No biggie, I'd still get him on the run-up. I started back up again to learn I'd rolled my front tubular - NOOOOO!!!!! It wasn't completely off the rim like at the Boulder Cup, just a 10" section. Rider after rider passed me - losing hard fought spots has to be one of the worst feelings in a cross race. I fought off the strong urge to call it a day, step outside the tape and walk back to the car with my head hung low. I got the tire back on the rim and rode to the pit. The most technically challenging sections of the course were between me and the pit (steep descent, fast corners, off-camber sections) and I didn't take any chances with a loose tire. I hollered to Andy as I was approaching the pit and he quickly changed the wheel for me. If wasn't in DFL after stopping to get the tire back on the rim, I definitely was now. At this point I was in No Man's Land. Going into the race I'd wanted to draft in the most exposed sections to conserve energy. I was solo, so needless to say there wasn't any drafting. More importantly, there weren't racers behind to push me or in front of me to act as a carrot. A dirt TT isn't near as much fun as 'racing' cross. To stay motivated and focused I went into positive "self-talk" mode. I kept repeating my favorite phrases over and over in my head, "ride hard now so you'll be faster next race", "ride smooth, ride fast", "chase one guy, pass him and do it again", "good lines, clean corners", etc.

Just as I was about to get on the back of a group of 3 racers I dropped my chain. I didn't set my bike down softly at the top of the run-up and it bounced off. A self-inflicted wound, the worst kind, dang it. The chain was jammed between the crank and the chain stay. I got it cleared and was back in chase mode in about 10-15 seconds, time to regroup again.

As I passed the pit the final time Andy made a comment about leaving it all out on the course. While obvious, it resonated with me. It was just what I needed to hear and I found it incredibly motivating. I caught and passed two guys before the finishing straight and I'd moved on to the wheel of a 3rd guy. I beat the 3rd guy in a sprint for the line. Even after my furious finish I ended up 19th - ugh, not what I'd planned for the day. Ellie and I stuck around and watched the women's race. It was won by Georgia Gould (5 time National Champ and Bronze medal winner in the Olympics - all on the MTB) but she was challenged the entire race by a junior from Utah (racing age 13), Katie Clouse, seriously impressive!!! We watched the first couple laps of the men's open race and then hit the road. My Sunday result wasn't what I'd hoped for but it was still a heck of a lot of fun. Next up for me, Valmont on Sunday!

Thanks for reading, Kirk

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