Saturday, October 17, 2015: It was chilly, but not too bad. I debated what to wear because I knew I wouldn’t want to stop and shed any layers during the race. However, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It was my first cyclocross event and I wasn’t sure how this whole thing was going to turn out.
It seemed like the sun was starting to warm things up, so I stripped down to a jersey and shorts. My long ski socks hinted at the fall weather, and I quickly got so cold that I started shivering. Hopefully the race would start quickly and I could warm up a little.
As a mountain biker who does mostly non-USA Cycling events, the procedures and rules are all very interesting to me. I’m used to just lining up to race in a first-come, first serve fashion, but the race began with “call-ups”. Riders were called up to the line based on their rankings. I thought it was pretty cool that you had to earn your spot on the line. Of course, since I had never done a CX race and I didn’t pre-register, I was towards the back.
I was in good company though. I lined up next to Ben Ortt, the Ohio and WV mountain bike champion – this was my first hint that this race was not going to be a cake walk. Ben is freakin’ fast. Spoiler alert: Ben only got second. That’s how fast the Masters 35+ division was.
Our starting group included Masters 35+, 45+, 55+, 65+, 75+, 85+, a 93-year-old woman in a wheelchair, as well as singlespeed men and women. With about 40 racers ready to go it was a larger group than I am used to starting with in my mountain bike events.
Two notable starters in the pack, at least when it comes to my own biking adventures, were my mountain bike nemesis, Chris Knapp, and my teammate, Kunihiko Tanuma, the 2015 OMBC Sport Masters champion. I had just beaten Chris at the OMBC championships and I know that he was hungry for revenge. Kunihiko had not raced me directly at the Mohican championship, but he did cross the line with a better time than I did. These men were both on my radar. It was time to mix it up.
When the race started, the guy in front of me stumbled and I was forced to pause while all the riders behind me shot past. Hmmm… I’d better work on that ranking for a better call-up.
The race started on pavement going uphill and once I got going I had no problem keeping up with the guys around me. I had no idea how to pace myself or what the etiquette was for passing or turning. I played it safe because I didn’t want to make anyone angry or cause a crash. I’d say I passed more people than passed me on the first lap.
I was on a mountain bike, while about 2/3 to 3/4 of the guys were on their cross bikes. On one downhill section everyone took the smoother left-hand side of the trail, while I bombed down the right-side on my mountain bike where it was rough and covered in orange spray-painted roots. This helped me pass a couple of guys. I’m not sure if my larger mountain bike tires slowed me down a lot, but there was nothing on the course that felt very technical compared to what I was used to. Fast, smooth cornering and quick acceleration out of the turns seemed like they were the most important skills.
Each lap was about 1.7 miles in length and I ended up doing 6 laps. Twice during the lap there were barriers that forced people to hop off their bikes and run them up hills. I knew that this was part of cyclocross, but I honestly was expecting more running the way people talked about it. I was able to keep moving during my dismount and I felt like I was able to keep up with the more experienced CX racers in this aspect of the race. This is a skill that I use in my mountain bike races, so it didn’t feel that foreign to me. I actually passed several people hopping over the barriers throughout the race.
Once the field spread out and we settled into the race, I realized that Chris and Kunihiko were in front of me. I made it my goal to stick with Kunihiko, who is a good at pacing, with the thought that Knapp usually goes out hot on the starts and fades a little as the race progresses. I thought if I stayed with Kunihiko that eventually we would reel Knapp in since he was a little further ahead.
I wasn’t sure how hard to push myself. I knew that I could pedal harder, but wasn’t sure how long I could sustain it. On laps 3 and 4, I passed Kunihiko during the lap, but when it came to the paved uphill at the end of the lap he flew by me each time. Not sure if it was a smart strategy, but I was holding back my effort on the road because I didn’t want to blow myself up and not be able to recover when the course got twisted and grassy. But, maybe that’s when I should have been recovering. The whole time Knapp stayed in front of me. I could see him on the switchbacks in the field and I patiently waited for him to fade.
On the second to last lap, I passed Kunihiko one last time. Because I had been saving energy I felt good about my chances of staying ahead of him. However, Knapp was still going strong. He didn’t seem like he was going to slow down. My only chance was to attack. I was pretty sure that I could go all out for a whole lap, so when I reached my final lap I put the hammer down. I stood and pushed hard up every hill, mashed the pedals in the straight aways and I tried to fly out of the turns. He seemed like he was getting a little closer. There was a chance I could catch him.
He knew I was in hot pursuit though, so he was leaving it all on the course. I politely asked for him to wait for me on one of the switchbacks, but he declined my invitation.
Suddenly, half way through the lap, a singlespeeder on a CX bike passed me. I was surprised because I was going pretty fast at this point. But, after he passed me, he slowed down. He cut me off in a few of the turns and I quickly lost some of my flow and technical mojo. This was not good. I was safely ahead of Kunihiko, but I couldn’t catch Knapp at this new slower pace. I had to pass. When we reached the final barrier, I jumped off my bike, hoisted it into the air, dug deep and ran past the singlespeeder. My lungs felt like they were going to burst out of my chest. I sprinted through the final turns and when I reached the final, uphill road section to the finish I could see Chris standing on his pedals sprinting to the line. I mimicked his effort, but it was too late. He had held me off and beat me by 10 seconds. My nemesis had won. Curses.
I need a rematch.
When I reflect on the race, I definitely want to do it again. I like the smaller course and the intense competition. You always have your eye on your competitors and that keeps your head in the race. Its fun having the folks standing along the sideline cheering for (or against) you and your competitors. There is definitely a fun sense of humor in their jeers. I also like the points system that they use for ranking. I would like to do a few more races and see where my score ends up.
Compared to mountain biking, I do miss some of the technical aspects that you get in a good MTB course. I would love to see other CX courses and how they compare to this? Harder? Easier? More or less climbing? Faster? Slower? What makes a great cyclocross course?
I’m not sure if I can hit another race this fall because of scheduling conflicts, but I will definitely be back for more. I am eyeing the Cap City race on November 14th & 15th though, so maybe you will see me there.
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- 7th of 8 in the Masters 35+ division
- 10.18 miles
- 6 laps
- Average Speed 13.5 mph
- Max Speed 24.4 mph
- Elevation Gain 1024 feet
- Average Power 260 Watts
- Normalized Power 289 Watts
- Maximum Power 1050 Watts
- Work 705 Kilojoules
- Average Temperature 46.1 degrees F
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