Saturday was my first ever cyclocross race. Ordinarily, I would spend this time of year riding my mountain bike for fun, not racing. But Daren has been pretty adamant that I race cross this year. When we were watching the Tour of Utah prologue, we bumped into Mike K. from Church of the Big Ring. Mike asked me if I was racing cross this year. Daren answered yes before I could say a word. So that’s what I’m doing. And Daren has come through in a huge way to make sure I’m as prepared as possible.
Saturday I somewhat self-consciously lined up with the 35B field. I was self-conscious about racing B because a lot of the guys I race with on the road race A. But considering I’ve never done this before, and it’s better to learn how to race from the front of the pack than the back, I figured I was OK to throw down in B initially. And 35B is even OK, because, well, I’m over 35. If I had any doubts about whether this was acceptable, they were assuaged when I saw Andre from Canyon also lining up in our group.
Since I didn’t know what I was doing, didn’t even know how to pace myself, and didn’t get a good position on the start line (I counted 35 starters, about 30 of whom got there and staked out the good spots before I did), I lined up right behind Andre and figured I’d follow his wheel and see how things went from there.
Andre was the first guy to the top of the paved hill we started on. I did such a good job following him that you can just make out the white and blue of my helmet and my left foot behind him (440) in the picture above.
In hindsight, I followed him too well. Once we got onto the dirt, I could have gone faster, potentially off the front, potentially getting a gap on some of the chasers. But I didn’t. And there were guys that stuck my wheel for the whole of the first lap.
Turns out, two of these guys could climb well, because as soon as we got to the pavement to start lap 2, they came around. I passed Andre and started the dirt of lap 2 in third. I kept them in sight for most of that lap, but the separation between one and two and between two and me increased as we rode through the singletrack.
Then on the climb starting lap 3, I got passed by two other guys. I was now in 5th, off the podium. And there was no particular problem spot on the course where I was losing time, either. I lost time on the climb, I lost time in the dirt. The only place I managed to gain any ground was in the sand in the arena.
On the runup of lap 4, Mark F. from RMCC was right on my wheel. My only cross knowledge comes from two clinics and watching videos online, but I remember Art and Ali talking about using your bike to make yourself wide on the runups to avoid being passed. So that’s what I did. It sort of worked, as he had a hard time getting around me. But then I botched the remount and he went right on by. I was now in sixth.
I spent the fifth and final lap with guys in Contender and RMCC kits tantalizingly close, and since these were the teams of people who had passed me, I worked to bring them back. As I got around them, I realized these were Masters 45 racers that I was catching, and their 35B teammates—the people I was actually racing against—were still up ahead.
As we got to the road, Tim W. caught me and asked if this was the finish. I said it was, and he accelerated away from me. Tim’s a better climber than me, but I knew I could outkick him at the end. Which is why he accelerated early, and why I did my best to match the acceleration and keep him in sight. As we got closer to the line, he looked back, saw I was still there, and said “I went too early, didn’t I.”
I said “yep.” And sprinted for the line.
Daren crushed it in the 45 race, getting off to an early lead…
…and holding it for the duration. Nice to have a coach that knows what he’s doing out there.
Annie smoked the Women’s C field and got her first win.
Steve and Mike endured crashes and flat tires in the B race. I thought Steve might come away frustrated, but he loved it and is looking forward to going back. He’s also looking forward to the more roadie-friendly courses on the calendar.
Rick suffered a crash on the first lap that made his bike all but unrideable. Adam, in his second ever cross race, started towards the back and gradually picked guys off as he went, finishing 11th. Alex K. also finished 11th in his race, with JDub right behind him. Eber battled back from a mechanical to finish in the thick part of the pack. But I didn’t get to watch much of it because I was warming up for my race. Alex stuck around and gave me water handups and encouragement while JDub snapped photos.
Tanner, who has struggled to find training time in his first year of college, finished 9th in the A race and had held steady in the top 5 for most of it, only to fade a little at the end. He’ll be riding into form, not out of it, so that’s a good sign. Bart blew everyone away, winning the A race decisively. He’ll be scary this season, considering he’s also riding into form after not much MTB this summer.
And I have to mention Sunday’s Raleigh Cross race, which Cody from Ski Utah won in dramatic fashion. Steve and I have raced with Cody on the road a lot, having come up through the 4s together, and he’s always right there in the mix. But this was the first time he’s won a bike race, ever, so I’m super stoked, and so is he.
Speaking of riding into and out of form, I decided after the race to take a week off the bike. I’ll pay for it in the next couple races, but I’ve been racing on the road since March with only one week off. I felt some fatigue on Saturday, and it’s going to get worse rather than better if I don’t do something about it. Hopefully some recovery time will have me ready to peak at the late season races. We’ll see.
The real question I had after the race, though, is who are these people, and where did they come from? I know a lot of the road racers in Utah. I’m close enough to the MTB scene to know a lot of the players there as well. I didn’t know any of the five guys who beat me Saturday, and I probably only knew five of the guys in my field total. Same for the B race and pretty much every other field. I’m not so much surprised that there are people who just show up to race cross. It’s fun. I can see why it’s more appealing to some than other racing. But that they just show up for cross and then proceed to open a can of whoop ass on everyone else—everyone else who’s been training and racing all summer—is the surprising part. It’s a whole new set of racers I’ve got to try and figure out how to beat.