Sunday, October 17, 2010

Almonte Cyclocross #1: A Tyro Perspective

I just completed my first ever full cyclocross race and I thought I would share my experience. First off, I had an absolute blast. Second, it hurt. Hard. Third, I will definitely do it again.

My first taste of the sport was two weeks ago when paired with Matt in the Madison event. While we won that event (in no small part due to Matt's superb form), I wasn't expecting any miracles for my first full race. My goals were to finish, not wipe out any competitors due to my poor technique, and not get lapped (in that order). After a quick preview of the course, I realized that the Brittania Madison course was for novices as compared to this one. The Almonte course consisted of many more off-camber corners, 3 good climbs per lap, and a lot of very greasy mud. After crashing twice in warm-up at half speed, my goals began to look less attainable. (Plus it was very un-PRO to roll to the start already dressed in mud.)

At the start, I recounted recent advice: "Don't go out too hard," and "Pacing is key." I was left a bit confused as most writing on cyclocross suggests a hard start to get the hole-shot so as not to get held up in traffic. Luckily, I was surrounded by more experienced Tall-Tree-ers David, Jamie, Jim, Brad and Pascal. If I could stay with this group, I would be doing well. Before long, we were completing the opening laps on the shale running track. I slotted in behind David who was a little behind Jim and Jamie. I didn't think the pace was that difficult, but I was reminded of the advice above. In what would be a recurring theme, I became unhitched from David's wheel in the very muddy and rooted uphill section in the bushes.After becoming bogged down at the beginning corner, I ran the entire hill as I assumed this would be faster than trying to restart. While I didn't lose too much ground, the uphill sprint left me gasping for air at the top. Not good-- I would try a different strategy every lap. (I actually cleared the section once!) By midway through the first lap, things had shaken out quite a bit and there was minimal traffic. Following David's wheel was great. I appreciated his smoothness as I would have to rise out of the saddle after every corner to catch up. Slowly, we picked off a few riders that had started with a quicker pace. This included BMX Jim who seemed to be troubled by a rear flat tire. (Post-race report would reveal that this wasn't true-- it just felt heavy from mud!) I felt great as the third lap began and actually passed David and began to make up some ground on Jamie ahead. I was just about to catch him by the beginning of the fourth lap when I fell at the top of the course, just after the snow obstacle and muddy hairpin. I'm still not sure if I touched the brakes while cornering, or leaned too hard, but I ended up with a full-on mud treatment on my right leg that many women would pay good money for at the spa. As I struggled up and pointed my bike down the hill, I realized I had dropped the chain with the fall, so at the bottom I was off my bike again Andy Schleck-style. Once I got motoring, I saw Jamie and David cresting the next hill in the distance. They were certainly gone. I gave chase, but by the bell lap, it was clear that my energy was dwindling. I limped around the course for the last time and collapsed in a heap a few metres after the finish line.

In the end I was 10th in the Masters A category and 21st overall. Jamie finished 24 seconds and 2 places ahead of me and David was a further 14 seconds and a place ahead of him. Both had excellent last laps. At the finish, my three goals had been met: I finished, I didn't take anyone down (correct me if I'm wrong), and I didn't get lapped. (This last goal was probably fulfilled due to the absence of many of the top 'crossers as well as the longer laps in Almonte.)

As for the big picture, it was an excellent day. The weather was great and the course was certainly challenging for all. Tall Tree had some superb results. Neil was a close second in the Senior Mens category (second!) and Rob and Rodd were second and fourth respectively in the Masters A division. Trish (an honorary Tall Tree member?) had a very excellent race to win the Womens race (and beat most of the men too) while Anna took second place while remaining on the lead lap. Mike looked like he was working hard in achieving a fourth place in the Masters B race. Jim and Pascal both left it all on the course as well. (By the way, Pascal's blue Rover was certainly the nicest bike in all of Almonte today.) Hopefully another club member will share their experience as suffering and the human condition bring us all closer together. Or something like that.


Matt Surch said...

Nicely done Todd! Almonte is always the most challenging venue, so with greasy mud in the mix, I think you guys had the classic cross experience on Sunday. Funny, your posture post race sounds just like what I do every time I race there. There always tends to be a hard finishing section.

The pacing is something that takes time to figure out. Some people can go hard off the start, but know exactly when to back off to keep from blowing up. Others just don't respond well to starting hard, and have to ramp up. If you try different approaches, you'll figure out what generally works. Depends on the course, as some will have lots of recovery after a relatively short opening section, so it would probably be best to go hard on one like that. This is one of the fun things about cross, trying different strategies every weekend and learning along the way.

Pascii said...
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Madmountainmike said...

Great report Todd - was fun to watch the three of you close together - you guys were flying !