05 December 2005

Illinois State CX Championship II

I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about yesterday's Illinois State Championship race. I mean, it was a vast improvement over last year, I preserved my spot in the Cup overall, and I managed to do a lot of the little things that make up a 'cross race right. But the big one -- my bike handling on sketchy turf -- got away, costing me the top-5 finish I was gunning for, and know that I'm capable of. And I made mistakes -- a lot of them -- that I just shouldn't be making.

Give me a year … give me a year on the dirt … give me a year to prep for 'cross …

We were hearing gloom-and-doom scenarios all last week in Chicago about the first "big" snowstorm rolling in on Saturday afternoon; instead, the north side of the city had maybe an inch coating the ground at Montrose Harbor. But it was cold, with starting temps in the mid-20s under clouds, and a biting wind that seemed to come from every direction. I had pretty good prep in the days leading up to the race, including an awesome practice barrier section on Saturday where I really felt like I was flying over the hurdles … of which there were none on Sunday!

I also picked up new clinchers for the trip to Nats, giving me at least some tire choice for Providence. Because of the snow, I decided to run them instead of my cushy Tufo tubulars or my overlarge Maxxis 35s -- I'm still not sure I made the right decision about the Tufos, but I don't think it cost me, either. I have an old set of Ksyriums that I run, and I threw on the Ritchey tires, 30 in front and 32 in the year, in anticipation of the slippery conditions but with the ability to slice through the snow …

Waking up race morning was weird -- we had only a 15-minute drive to the course, and a whole lot of time to kill. So I did my self-massage, drank my coffee, packed a boatload of extra clothes into my bag, and tried to relax. It was fun, and I alternated between listening to The Offspring's Greatest Hits (awesome album!) and watching taped OLN coverage of this year's Tour. Sort of felt like a "normal" Sunday?

We got there mega-early, and it was nice to already be dressed and ready to go. I started my course preview when Kim went to register me -- bib No. 1! -- and was pretty glad I had my knobbier tires. At this stage, before any of the races, the ground was bumpy and frozen-hard, with a layer of clean snow obscuring the lines. As I rolled slowly, getting a feel for the tough parts, I saw guys sliding all over the place … with my lack of handling skills, I figured the more grip, the better …

Chris Henning and I discussed the choice of Tufos or not as we previewed the tough, off-camber sections the crew had laid out. Because of Chicago Park District snow fencing cordoning off the local soccer pitches, the layout was somewhat limited -- but course designers made the most of it. A long straightaway, headwind start into a slick right-left-uphill-right buttonhook; drop down the embankment, bunnyhop the curb, and up the other side; short straight followed by a few twists through some trees to a left-hand, massively off-camber drop into an uphill-180, and down into an underpass tunnel; up the bank on the other side, which had zero traction; straight onto the edge of the beach (incidentally providing great lake views); loop-de-loop and turn on the sand, and straight back at the opposite embankment; another downhill, off-camber 180, with another 180 at the base; back through the tunnel, up the other side, and a looooong crosswind straight; two quick, slick rights and around the base of Cricket Hill; two hurdles means a dismount, and then it was run or ride, which was faster?; and then, THEN, the "Zig-Zag of Death," an off-camber, roped-off descent of the north face of the hill that had our rear ends sliding all over the place. A short straight at the base, a few turns through the trees, and another 180 took us back to the finish line …

It was enough to make your head spin!

I hit the trainer for the last of my warmup, and then got ready and tried to stay warm. We had an OK field, 15 guys, with most of the top Chicago-area racers there. David Sachs and Bobby Williamson were locked in a death match for the top spot in the Cup; Lou has been flying since missing the last Joliet race; John Gatto and I were fighting for 5th overall in the Cup; National Track qualifier Chris Mosk was there; Andy joined the As for his third-ever 'cross race; and the rest were there to play spoiler or die trying. We got our final instructions, and the whistle blew …

… AND I HAD A GOOD START!

Not spectacular, but as the first three guys took off, with Lou chasing, I was right there in 5th, not far behind … until we hit the consecutive off-camber stuff before the beach, and I was fighting to stay upright. Me and an Alberto's rider were in 5th and 6th, and when I dropped my chain into my spokes after coming off the beach, he grabbed the advantage and took off chasing. We had enough of an advantage that I was all alone, and I set off in pursuit.

For the next couple of laps, I would inch closer to him on the straights, while he would move away on the slick. Especially on Cricket Hill, where we would hit the barriers in tandem and equally crest, I was losing precious time and energy as he moved faster through the Zig Zag and I was chasing into the wind afterward. On one lap, I blew any advantage I had, as I made mistake after mistake, screwing up every single technical section in quick succession. It was all I could do to calm down and get it back in control … just as Alberto's guy had a mechanical!

Meanwhile, the sun had come out, turning the slick into pure mud, and behind us J.D. from Turin and John Gatto were closing the gap. About halfway through the race they joined up and we formed a group of four: I could hear J.D. before I saw them, telling Gatto to keep pedaling up the embankments … I decided to rest up, and settled into fourth, losing the wheel a bit in the mud and ice and catching up on the straight. All was well until J.D. slid out down the second embankment, forcing me to stop and track-stand in the muck at the base, fighting to get going again …

That was it, and although I caught up to the Alberto's guy again due to his repeated bike changes, I was using too much energy just to try to keep pace, and was unable to take an advantage. Gatto rode away, finishing in that top-5 place I wanted, and by the end my legs were starting to lose power and the Alberto's rode away to take 6th. I finished in the money, 7th place, knowing that I have a lot to work on next year …

So I'm of two minds. Considering that I wasn't going to take this 'cross season seriously, and considering how awful last year's race at Montrose was, I'm happy. But I'm far from satisfied, and will most definitely be shooting for that podium in 12 months …

FOUR DAYS TO NATZ!!!!!!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tough race. With the long flat sections into the wind there was no way to recover before hitting the tech stuff. I kept getting gapped thru the leaf section past the tunnel coming out of the beach.

I looked around a bit before the start of your race to see if you wanted my front wheel with the Muds but didn’t see you. Sorry about that. What Ritchey were you running- the ones with the file tread? Anyway you’re more than welcome to borrow my mud for nats. I only have one though.

GOOD LUCK!

Chris H.