Last year I decided to venture into the world of Cyclocross. Here in Alabama we have Brent Marshall’s maniacal “Bamacross” which is fun but oh so very painful. I never knew I could love a sport more than cyclocross, if you had to put a gun to my head and make me choose, I’d pick it over any form of biking, including endurance rides.
Cyclocross is the exact and utter opposite of endurance which is one reason I enjoy it, it breaks up the monotony. It’s also an excuse to get out on a Sunday and bike in the mud, rain and hellish conditions that the winter Season has to offer (and if you know me at all, you know how much I hate cold weather…and that’s starting with the temperature at 58 degrees).
Last year, I started cyclocross in mid-season and came into the race full of myself thinking I’d certainly do well. I did do well, well enough to get my carcass across the finish line and earn last place (or DFL) in the Category 4 class.
The first race had my heart and lungs about to explode out of my chest and I got quite humbled after that. I also got to see just how punished I could be by other racers who not only beat me, but some even lapped me.
Despite the punishment, I wanted more and started to train harder just to have a chance to compete. Each time I thought I’d gained some level of competition, I’d get my ass collectively handed to me at the next cross race.
By the last race of the season I’d become a new person and not one with the mentality of “oh look how super powerful I am” but just in awe of the regular cyclocross racers and their fitness level. I wanted that, I wanted to be that kind of rider – one that could sustain some major painage but keep on hammering.
All spring and winter long I trained for the TNGA (which will ultimately lead up to the TourDivide) and focused primarily on endurance. I’d do some interval work but it was mainly slow twitch muscles for extended hours at a time. I learned how to keep my body from going anaeorobic while climbing hills and I learned how to develop my legs to sustain hours of spinning at a time. One thing that kept me going was the promise of cyclocross season around the corner and I’d get to change things up (sometimes endurance training gets mighty boring and monotonous).
This was a goal, or a carrot if you will. I do this a lot in endurance runs – I’ll make small goals for myself to get to the next leg of things. One trick I’d considered doing on the Tour Divide was to mail packages to myself at different towns along the way. That way I could have a fresh set of clothes and it’d be a motivator just to get the next stop (or state). Cyclocross is sort of like this for me as I knew if I could just get through the TNGA, a season of fun was just around the corner, and here it is. And it is good.
Bamacross opened up it’s 2012 season last weekend and I was so excited I couldn’t stand it. It was going to rain and the course was going to be nuts but I couldn’t be any more excited. My goal was to move up the ranks in the Category 4 class from DFL to at least middle to front of the pack. I made up my mind that if I came in the front of the pack or somehow made it on a podium, I would move up to Category 3.
Our race started and I found myself square in the middle of the pack. My coach had told me to go hard but not as hard as I do during my internval training (generally I’m about to throw up from doing interval work during the week from what he puts my body through). I found myself having to back off a bit because I was behind some riders and I was having trouble getting around them however towards the end of the first lap there was a flat straight away where I’d go into a full sprint and pass people. It worked and I was starting to move up the ranks.
In the five laps we had I continued to try to take a new position on the flat straight away, I’d gotten up to the front of the pack and still had energy left. I was working hard at trying to recover after the sprint and saving for the last push to try to get to the front of the pack. As we weaved back and forth through the final and fifth lap I was swapping places with another guy named Scott. I had planned that on the straight I’d sprint and sprint all the way to the finish line so I backed off a little bit and started to recover. There was a ditch right before the straight away, I had cleared it four times previously and didn’t think anything of it as I was coming into my fifth run in with it. I started to rev up my cadence and upped my speed. I hit the ditch and then slammed it into a high gear starting my sprint.
My legs felt great and I had plenty of energy to handle this which didn’t really answer the question why I was getting passed and the guy Scott, of who I was going to catch and pass on this final sprint, was getting further and further away. I heard a whirring sound and looked down to see my front tire had flatted. I had a 100 yards left in a sprint and at most, I could putter along.
I got passed several times pushing me back to 15th place but that still kept me square in the middle of the pack. So my goal was obtained and despite the flat tire.
My friend Ben let me borrow his single speed cross bike. It was near identical of my geared bike so I figured there’d not be a problem. I’m a recent fan of single speed and love it. By the time the single speed race was starting, the rain was heavy and the track was completely destroyed with it being nothing but mud slush.
Getting to know a bike is probably wise as I’d only ridden this single speed for about 20 minutes beforehand. Not smart. As we started our race, I almost crashed into the barriers as the brakes were a lot different than on my geared cross bike. To make matters worse, the brake/hood was slipping on the left side so I had absolutely no power to climb or surge. So it was five laps of hellish sloshing through the mud. Needless to say, I got my ass handed to me and came in last.
A lot of fun, in fact it’s been 5 days since the race and I’m thinking about how much fun I had. My wife was there taking pictures and rooting me on, my buddies all came out to heckle the racers and I got to be with the cyclocross family again which is a culmination of roadies and mountain bikers sharing a fun sunday on a muddy track.
When I was packing up everything and getting ready to leave, I talked to our race director about my race, the mechanicals and with his empathetic passionate tiny heart, Brent said “I really don’t care. But did you have fun?”
I did. I had fun. And that’s what cycling is all about, right? Having Fun
See you guys on Oct 14 for the next Cyclocross race.