2015 Cascade Cross #2 Bellingham BMX Cyclocross Race Report

When I heard the torrential downpour early in the dark hours of the AM I thought we were going to be dealing with the derailleur eating mud fest we have seen a few times at this venue. Course conditions turned out really well, all things considered.

There was only one section that seemed to want to grab your wheel like velco, but once you powered out of that, it was back onto the turf.

Mercifully the turf was not nearly as bumpy as it has been on the last few weekends at other courses.

While there was not much rain during the morning and early afternoon races, there was plenty of wind. One team tent attempted to take flight and our own tent took some damage.

My race went off at some time after 11:30. The previous week I had come down with a pretty bad cold on Monday and spent the week trying to recover. I was feeling pretty good, but not at 100%.

My plan was to find a wheel to follow and do everything possible to stay on it for the first lap.

I was able to keep to this up until the stair run up, even though I was running into the red. When I went to remount after the stairs my leg, as I was throwing it over the saddle, hit one of the guys who was apparently too close behind me.

I ended up landing on my rear wheel. I had to reset and remount. By the time I did that the rest of the field was 50 meters up the course. I tried to claw back on but just did not have the engine.

During the rest of the lap I found that my rear tire felt exceptionally low. I run tubeless, so I was confident that it was not a puncture. I may have burped air when landing on the rear tire during the flubbed remount.

During the second lap, after I had already been lapped, I stopped at a place on the course that was near the team tent. I grabbed my pump and aired up the rear tire. Ended up riding five laps. I had considered just dropping out, but DFL > DNF > DNS.

 

Music used in recap video:

2015 MFG #3 Brian Tracey Experience Race Report

Sun rising over the clouds at Silver Lake

The morning started out quite nice with the sun rising above the clouds over Silver Lake. Tents were going up in the quiet of the morning as people woke up to realize they were doing a bike race today on one of the harder courses in the series.

It turns out the course may have been slightly easier than in years past. For example, last year there was a series of hairpin turns through the grass before heading up the hill towards the water tower.

In other years there was a set of barriers in the middle of a sand pit, just before a right hand turn uphill.

There was none of those shenanigans this year. The run up was rideable in warmup, and nearly rideable in the race. On the first lap I made it nearly to the top before stalling out. In the rest of the laps I did what everyone else did and ran it.

My strategy for the day was to stick to the standard plan: go hard on the first lap, settle in for the middle laps, and hammer the last lap. That tended to work out okay as I managed 8th of 20 in the Clydesdales (with 9 DNFs) but I may have been able to do a little better if I had chosen better moves to go with other riders.

I’m working on the strategy of picking one guy that seems at about my ability and following him through the race. I’ll need to modify that and try to watch what’s going on further ahead. In this race, by just following the guy in front of me we let a gap get too large and lost any chance of being with the front group.

Although, with 9 DNFs out of 20 dudes, maybe we were the front group and everyone else didn’t get the chance to finish.

Music used in the video:

2015 Woolley Cross – Cascade Cross #1

We actually had a little bit of rain on race day!

It wasn’t enough to generate any mud, but at least I got to experience a few sprinkles while out on course.

The day started off with another women’s specific clinic run by the Washington Women of Cross. Dawn attending this as her second clinic and was able to absorb a bit more knowledge on tire pressure, tread, cornering and some other CX skills. They’re doing a great job of growing the sport among local women and I’m glad to see it!

As far as the race itself goes, I heard a lot of positive comments out there. We had a few people who were on their first cyclocross race and this was a good experience for them.

While we had a serious runup over tree roots, there were no traditional barriers that required dismounting or remounting. The biggest challenge (at least for me) was the long stretches over the still bumpy grass. Some short sections got smoothed out by racers, but it was still pretty bone jarring.

Given my experience at the last race (South Sound Super Prestige) where I kind of blew up early and had a hard time sprinting at the end, I was going to take a different approach at this race.

The plan was to keep an eye on my heart rate and make sure I didn’t get into a zone where I would not get a chance to recover. So rather than blasting out the gate at the start I kept my cool while people passed me.

This seemed to work out fine until we made it to the run up. Normally this would be a good feature for me as I can power up the hill and get back on pretty quick (usually). In this case I totally flubbed the remount. Instead of getting back on smoothly and heading forward, I ended up stopping all momentum while jumping on and ran into some bushes.

Getting myself sorted out and back on course cost me several places and got me out of the “flow”. My HR shot up. Rather than blowing myself up to catch back on I focused on not letting my HR get too high and was going to try and slowly ride myself back on.

Turns out the rest of the field was totally not in with that game plan.

When we got to a relatively smooth and straight stretch they all took off while I focused on keeping calm. By the end of that sector they were all gone.

I didn’t really give up at that point, but it gets harder to justify going into the red when you’re so far off and have little chance of catching on. So I saved my legs for next weekend and rode hard, but didn’t turn myself inside out. I still managed to catch one guy before we both got lapped.

The friends, family, and other race fans were all out doing a great job of cheering, heckling and providing the beer & bacon handups.

Music used in this report video:

2015 MFG #2 South Sound Super Prestige Race Report

MFG keeping production values high with their running commentary.

Last minute prep for the South Sound Super Prestige began the night before. I stayed at Shawn’s place, a friend and teammate, even though wasn’t going to be able to race the next day. His place is about two hours closer than mine to Lakewood. It’s a good chance to visit and save a bunch of time in the morning. The idea being that I would be better rested and prepared for the next day’s event.

My intention that night was to just have one beer with dinner. Turns out beers went down before dinner started being made. So out came the wine.

A little wine while making dinner.

A bit more wine during dinner.

Even more wine and conversation after dinner.

Before I realized it, it was 10:30 pm and the two of us had emptied two bottles of wine. This was probably not the best prep for a race I’ve ever done.

Waking up at 6:00 am the next morning I had a bit of a headache and a tad dehydrated. Not too bad, all things considered. I guess that’s one upside to being a Clydesdale: more body mass to metabolize alcohol.

Starting off the Clydesdale race at 10:30 with mild alcohol poisoning, I was ready to be done by the second lap. The climb to the top of the water tower hill was the most obvious challenging feature of the course. However the less obvious and more challenging feature was the long stretches through bumpy turf.

“Bumpy” is not really a very complete description of this turf. The moon is “bumpy”. Gravel roads are “bumpy”. This was more like being the rattle shaken around inside of a spray can. Roughly a quarter of each lap was spent enduring this uniquely sapping experience.

After getting out of the “turf of purgatory” you would hit the start/finish stretch. This is normally where you would try to recover or sprint the finish. In my case it felt like just a little bit of relief after the constant pounding. After getting off the pavement you have some time spent on some less bumpy – merely washboard – section of turf before heading through some trees and towards the climb up to the water tower.

Being a Clydesdale (200+ lbs) I was surprised at how many people I could catch and pass on this climb. It’s relatively short, about a minute and a half, so my strategy was to apply as much power as possible, climbing out of the saddle most of the way. By the top I would be crushed, but there was a convenient downhill section to allow a bit of recovery.

After getting back down to the bottom of the hill we had a bit of double track, then into the turf of purgatory, starting with a set of double barriers.

After the barriers you settle in for the long stretch of bobble-head training. I understand the secret to riding this kind of terrain is to use a lower cadence and apply more power. For me that worked up to a point. By the time we got back around to the paved finishing straight my legs and cardio were pretty cooked.

Regardless, by the last lap I still had delusions of glory in the possibility of being able to outsprint two of my Clydesdale competitors.

I caught the pair near the barriers and formulated a plan to sit in until the final paved section. I modified that when it appeared Guy #1 was pulling away from Guy #2. I didn’t like seeing the gap grow, so I accelerated and got in behind Guy #1.

Everything went to plan until we got back on pavement. Guy #1 and I both started accelerating when suddenly Guy #2 came flying by me. He went past Guy #1, who took up chase.

They both pulled away from me despite my fully going into the red zone. I nearly collapsed after the finish.

I blame the bottle of wine.

Music used in the highlight video:

2015 Lake Sammamish GP Race Report

This was another day that had the potential to be a nice day out for the family, or to be the cyclocross version of trench warfare.

We left Bellingham at about 5:45 am to head south to Lake Sammamish. The kids were loaded in and they were already started on some “screen time”. Hey, you do what you need to do. Team gear filled the back of our Sienna.

The nice thing about being on the road that early in the morning is you get to see the sky lighten up. We didn’t really get to catch the sunrise since it was overcast.

Getting closer to Seattle we noticed the clouds get darker and some sprinkling rain start to come down. It seems this could have gone either way – clearing up or downpour.

For the sake of my kids, I’m glad it went towards the clearing up direction. Even though we have gone “all out” on having a team tent this season, it’s still nice to have the option of having the kids go out and use the play area without complaining about it too much.

My wife Dawn has started racing this season in the Beginner Women category and is having a good time with it. Her race went off in the first group of the morning. The kids and I got around to different parts of the course to cheer her on and take photos.

The youth racers went off just ahead of the women. This gave me the chance to cheer on the next generation of racers, both boys and girls, as they made their way around the course. One of the more inspirational moments was watching the smaller kids heave their bikes over the double set of barriers. Imagine having to heave your bike over a barrier that is 1/3 your height, then climbing over it yourself!

These kids were not about to give up and there was quite a crowd there to cheer them on. It really looks like these kids have caught the CX bug we’ll see them racing for years to come. There were some determined young ladies in that group I see as a continuing force to be reckoned with.

Just as Dawn’s race was finishing up my group was already staged at the start. This year I’m racing Clydesdales, which up until this race I was having mixed feelings about. I’m one for sticking to “officialness” in a lot of cases and it kind of felt like the Clyde’s was sort of “made up”.

I appreciate the effort to have something for us burlier guys, but it still felt like a patronizing effort.

That was until I actually raced in the category.

Clydesdale is no joke!

In other years, and in other events, I would race in the Cat 4 Master’s 45+. The winner’s time in the Clyde’s was 1:19 faster than the winner in that group! And while I managed to pull off 9th place (of 20 – barely top 50%), my time would have put me 30th of 69 in Cat 4 Master’s 45+.

So while my percent finish may not be as strong in the smaller field, there is something to be said for racing against a smaller field. Also, since these guys turn out to be really strong riders it might be even better preparation for me to go up through the “traditional” categories as I get more tuned to racing cyclocross.

Check out the video (above) for more detailed course description and experience.

Music in the video used under Creative Commons license:

Labor Day Cyclocross Championships 2015

The inaugural setup of the Pints & Cowbells team tent.

On the drive down to JBLM I was having second thoughts about my tire choice for the day.

I’ve been set up with file treads for dry conditions and was considering switching over to something more aggressive. The rains over the last week had me thinking I should account for terrain that might not be so hard packed. Through a combination of not really wanting to change tires the day before a race and assurances from teammates “it will be fine” I kept the file treads.

As we hit rain squalls driving down I-5 I began thinking the file treads might not be the best choice. But the time we got there (at about 7:30 am) and set up the team tent the rain had stopped and clouds looked less menacing.

On the course pre-ride I could tell the tire choice would be fine. There were no big muddy climbs and there were several sections that were either dirt road, gravel road, or hard pack soil. Other parts of the course were routed though large trees, with plenty of tight corners to keep it interesting. The soil in these sections was a bit looser, but easy to get through with half decent handling skills.

There was one barrier to get over that forced a hill run up on the opposite side.

I ended up racing in the Cat 4 Masters 45+ since there was no Clydesdale option and I didn’t feel like getting crushed by the Cat 3’s.

I had decent start, and was conscious of not putting myself on the front and burning too much energy too early. I was passed by a fair number of racers in the first couple of minutes, but navigated around them later as they blew up.

I found I was able to gain on those in front of me by concentrating on keeping a low cadence and applying more power. Then when the tight corners came I would take turns passing and getting passed by other racers. Counter-intuitively, to me anyway, I was stronger on the “fast” sections than in the tight technical sections. It felt a lot like a diesel coming up to speed. My RPM’s would get up past 75-80 and I would shift up. Cadence would creep up again and I would shift up again. There were two or three sections where I could play that game and make gains.

In the end, I finished 18 out of 30. Still not that top 50% I’ve been chasing, but not bad for a race I have not really been targeting.

A big shoutout to the organizers for the Labor Day Cylcocross Championships for putting on a great event. It was a nice venue and the gear I got set up for the team tent made it even more fun for our group.

WWCX Festival 2015 Highlights

Dawn gunning it in the Mom's Race

The first cyclocross race of the season took place at St. Edwards Park (Kenmore, WA) in the form of the Washington Women of Cyclocross Festival.

This women focused event is a terrific introduction to cyclocross. In the past year or so I’ve seen many promoters and prominent racers voice enthusiastic support for bringing more women to cyclocross. At the elite level, more US races are offering equal payouts to the men’s and women’s fields. Until recent discussion about the pay discrepancies, I didn’t even think that there would have been a pay gap.

Having an event like this helps grow the sport and will help bring more voices to the call for more racing opportunities and equality for women. And if you get a chance to see the elite women race, be sure to catch it. You will find a lot of people saying the women racing is some of the best they’ve seen!

The day at St. Edwards started with a cyclocross clinic geared toward beginners. This was a great start as there were a lot of new racers there on the day. The clinic started off with discussions of tire pressure, then moved into the importance of dismounts and remounts.

The beginners race was one of the first to go off and it looked like everyone was having a good time and rising to the challenge. Having the friendly and competent instruction earlier in the day from accomplished women CX racers seemed to be big confidence booster for a lot of the women.

Although this day was all about the women racers, there was one all-inclusive men’s race. This field included all abilities, ages and a variety of equipment choices.

The race starts progressed throughout the morning much as any other race day. The lower categories and less experienced races taking the early starts and the higher categories schedule for the afternoon.

Plans went a bit off the rails though when the wind picked up.

It was windy around mid-morning, with a few tents getting moved about, but with no real damage. Not long after that though, the wind really started kicking in.

Looking around at the team tents you could see canopies coming off the frames and teams grabbing onto tent rails to keep them from blowing away. A few tents getting tied down to their attendant vehicles, but even those tents were still getting squirrelly.

The final blow that ended up in cancellation for the remainder of the day’s racing came about with large, tree size branches falling down on the course and nearly onto the crowd at the beer garden. This was at around noon, and you could see groups of people hastily taking down team tents and working to salvage course tape blowing streamers in the wind.

All in all, it was a good morning of racing and a memorable introduction to cyclocross racing for many new women racers. The unfortunate weather circumstances were surely disappointing for those who were set to go in the afternoon races. It’s just that much more anticipation to get the first race of the season under the belt!

2014 Cascade Cross #2 Bellingham BMX #2 Race Report

October 25th, 2014

The race this day was a lot different from the last one. Last time we ran this course it was dry and there was just enough moisture to make it nice and tacky.

Today the rain made parts of the course into a derailleur eating soup. As it turns out, derailleur eating soup is not my ideal racing conditions. It’s not that I don’t like mud per se, it’s just that it seems to be more of a drag on my racing than on other racers.

With that in mind, I was prepared to suffer through the race but a mishap at the start put me even further behind than I would have been ohterwise.

I was lucky enough to get a first row callup. Apparently attendance at previous races counts because it sure wasn’t based on my stallar results. It also helped that a lot of the people who whould have been called up ahead of me did not show up that day.

In general I can start out in a higher gear and power to the front in a start. This time I did not take into account the slight uphill on the grassy start. When the start horn went off I realized I was in the wrong gear when everyone else starting going by me.

So much for a front row start.

To add insult to injury a guy came up on my right just as the course narrowed. He cut me off, then crashed immediately in front of me. He was slow to get his bike out of the way so I had to back up to untangle my bike from his, then go around him.

The rest of the field was long gone ahead of me but I put in the effort to try and catch on. I caught up to the back by the time we hit the stair run up, but came unhitched again in the thick mud.

One thing to take away from this experience is brake adjustment. I tend to have my brake pads set close to the rim for the improved stopping power. This is great for dry courses, but as soon as there is any mud I get a lot of scraping between the rim and the pads.

It’s probably taken me way too long internalize this, but that scraping is the sound of watts being wasted. I can’t help but wonder if part of my struggles on wet courses is due at least in part to having power sucked away by muddy brake track being in close contact with the brakes.

That’s definitely something to work with in the last two races coming up in January.

Staci May and the Heckle Squad
Staci May and the Heckle Squad

I need to give a special shout out to Pints & Cowbells racing team member and Earl’s Bike Shop partner Staci May, along with her group of cheering hecklers. Even though I was out there riding on my own for most of the race I looked forward to them whooping it up and having a good time cheering on riders out in the singletrack woods.

Arlington Airport Race Report – Cross Revolution #2

This was my first time at the Arlington venue. It has been used previously for the state cyclocross championships so I figured it should be good course. However, it is also right next to an airport, so you wouldn’t expect too much in the way of elevation change. And there wasn’t.

This is a course with a lot of straight sections where, if you have the power and the engine, you can pull away from the crowd. If not, you watch as the crowd pulls away from you. The main terrain feature slowing it down is that the turf was rock hard and very bumpy, particularly on the finishing straight.

The course designers did put in some features to make it more interesting, such as the series of hairpin turns and taking us into a couple of short dirt sections, including a climb/run up. They threw in a sand mound, which managed to slow down the flow but was not a major factor.

Whatever down sides you might find here, the organizers made up for it by handing out bottles from Alaskan Brewing Co. at the finish.

2014 Cascade Cross #1 Bellingham BMX #1 Race Report

Last year when I raced at the Bellingham BMX venue it was a fairly miserable experience. The saturated ground created a particular kind of mud that loves to eat derailleurs. Fortunately I made it through that day without major mechanicals, but there were many who were not so lucky.

It left an impression on me.

I’m committed to supporting and racing the local Cascade Cross Series so it was with a little bit of trepidation that I signed up for the first race of the series that was going to be held at the same venue. The upshot is that it had been really dry in the weeks (months?) before the race.

There had been a little rain the week before the race date (October 4th) which actually made the course conditions ideal. I went out the night before to help the crew set up course tape and got my first look at the stair run up. The intention was to have them in the flavor of “Belgian” type stairs and I think it worked out pretty well.

The "Bellingham" Belgian Stairs
The “Bellingham” Belgian Stairs

Ryan Rickerts, the Cascade Cross promoter/builder/course designer, also had some sand trucked it so we could have a proper sand section this year.

The course additions plus the “seasoning” between last year and this one definitely made for some improvement.

Race day stayed dry and relatively warm, making for a pretty fast course. I started out hanging with the group (Master Men B 40+), but as the race went on I started drifting further back. I like having the opportunity for more race time but I’m going to have to improve my engine and bike handling to make the most of it.

Staci May of Earl's Bike Shop running the sand section.
Staci May of Earl’s Bike Shop running the sand section.

Overall it was a good time and Ryan had many requests to have another race there this season. He moved some venues around on the calendar and made it happen.

That second race was a totally different experience after it had been moistened from some steady rains in the days leading up to the race. That will be coming up in another report.