Monday, December 5, 2011

I tried 'cross. I wasn't very good.

After wrapping up the season in style at the Univest Grand Prix way back in mid-september, I flew back to Fort Collins and kicked off my first off-season as a non-student.  I went eleven days without touching a bike.  While most of my time was spent sleeping or eating, I did at least attempt to keep from getting fat.

With the fantastic weather, I took Gizmo hiking a couple of times.  By the end of the 3-hour hikes (which actually included a fair bit of trail running) I wanted to collapse and just lay there in the dirt contemplating my decision to be a pro in a low-impact sport.  My hips, knees, and ankles hated me and would hurt for days. I hurt as much from a hike as I did the day after US Pro Crit.... Gizmo seemed unaware of the agony I was in, as he ran even faster downhill.

I've also been running a bit.  Yeah, I'm even less excited about that than it seems.  Although, it turns out running is much more enjoyable less miserable when you have a running companion that is well heeled and running shoes that fit properly.  Who knew?  I can now run 3 miles without my joints complaining, so I guess that's good.

When it came time to start riding bikes again--just so I wouldn't forget how--I was in a pickle.  I certainly didn't want to ride on the road, because I'd just burn out.  My mountain-bike was broken and in Texas. The Colorado cyclocross season was in full swing, and here it's even bigger than road racing.  Only, I didn't have a bike for it.  Ah, sponsors.... Orbea and KBS-OH hooked me up with a bike that's better than I am.

For the uninformed, cyclocross is a special sport.  Basically, it's a road bike that's been modified for tire clearance and has a pair of knobby tires.  Then you race around in a field with various obstacles that force you to get off and run or to have some good bike skillz.  And as a bonus, half of the races are muddy slop-fests.

At least I'd be easing into this new sport, though, right?  Well, not really.  My first race would be the US Gran Prix in Fort Collins, an event that brings the top 'cross racers from the around the country and some international racers as well.  And because my road license says 'PRO', I get to race with the big boys.  So I needed some practice.  I built a set of barriers to work on my dismount and remount skills and it didn't go so hot.  Here are my tips if you ever find yourself in such a position (learned by yours truly in 15 minutes):

1)  Drive to the park where you will be practicing.  Although your homemade barriers may not seem that heavy now, they will be a mile down the road.
2) Don't rush the dismount when you are trying to pick up the pace through the barriers, or you might drive the pedal into the back of your right calf while running, giving you a nice bruise and launching the bike into the air out of your control.  Which brings me to 3).
3) Don't practice anywhere near the sidewalk, because when 2) happens, it might land on the sidewalk and bend your 5 minute old derailleur hanger.  Luckily it was minor and easily bent back later.
4) Finish the tubeless conversion on BOTH wheels first, because regardless how soft and fluffy the grass looks, there are evil thorns and you will flat the one without sealant.  Which brings me to 5).
5)  If you insist on practicing without sealant and did not do 1), make sure to have your cell with you to call your roommate so you don't have to walk a bike and 2 barriers all the way home in your cycling shoes when 4) happens.

Consider yourself learned.

Disclaimer:  To the photographers whose photos I've stolen, I apologize.  I don't have money to buy photos, so please accept my advertising on your behalf.  If this is not satisfactory, let me know and I'll remove them.

The races went about as expected.... I completed half the race before getting pulled in the nearly-freezing drizzly mud pit with the wrong tires.  I had fun, though, and even made a dollar!  And I only crashed twice!  The second one was an awesome crash, I hooked a fencepost and slid sideways for 30 feet down the hill in the mud.

Pausing to stuff my hard-earned dollar down my jersey
The aftermath

My skills slowly got better as I remembered my BMX and MTB heritage, but my legs had left me long ago for the season and I was intent on not training.  The good news is that Ian was in the same boat and we started every race together at the back, so every race became a battle between the two of us.  I ended up winning the series 3-2, so I'll proudly hang my hat on that one.

To sharpen my skills, I did a practice race here in Fort Collins.  The gracious host thought we could make use of his land, so a short series was held in his big back yard.  Shane, we're doing this someday when we have enough land between our neighboring houses to do it.  But ours will also include dirt jumps and such.

And here's video of us racing on it (I'm wearing Ian's helmet cam):

And here's a 20 minute video from another race. Again, I'm wearing the helmet cam, and Ian crashed in front of me twice.  Lotta fun!

And here's more random pics of me being a mediocre P/1/2 'cross racer:

incognito at an ACA race...muahahaha

those stairs sucked something aweful!

Who knows, maybe next year I'll actually have some fitness left over when 'cross season rolls around?