Friday, October 28, 2011

Two Days in Dublin – Ohio State Cyclocross Championships, 2011

Last weekend was THEE weekend to be in Central Ohio if you’re a cyclocrosser, bike geek who likes to get a bit dirty or just a spectator who enjoys good, hard racing.  Being that I am a budding middle-aged cyclocrosser and a bike geek, guess where I was?  Yup.  In Dublin, Ohio at the Ohio State Cyclocross Championships. Two days of bike abuse and self-imposed leg-pain-laden hypoxia. Sounds grand, right?
Actually it was. After so many years of the State Championship being held at John Bryan State Park in Yellowsprings, OH it was moved to Dublin (a suburb of Columbus if you’re not from the area) as well as moved up about a month on the calendar. I think it was a good move as Dublin is a much more central location. There are also hotels and restaurants and all such amenities much much closer to the track making it better for people who are traveling from out of town and spending a night or two. The Championship races were also spread out to two days. This I think helped spread out the age group races to be more in line with Nationals although I am not certain. The results I believe were a well-attended, well-run event. I certainly hope to see it repeat next year. Thanks go to Ohio Cycling, the City of Dublin, all the crew who stepped in and stepped up as well as all the sponsors. It was a genuine first-class event. 

Surveying the course with the world-renown Mark Farmer
Photo copyright 2011 Chris Freter 
The course was what seems to my inexperienced mind a mid-length course. Which was, as seems to be the case for us, mostly in the grass. I don’t know how long it really was. Long enough, to my legs. It certainly was a pretty flat course but that did not make it easy. If there was a slight edge of a hill, culvert or slope it was used. We had a sand pit! Not often there’s a sand pit to slow us down and test our bike-handling skills. Steps were built into the course, too. Hop off, run up, remount! And to add another edge to slow things down was mud. Yes, it had rained several days prior to this event. So it certain low-lying areas retained water. What I thought of when cleaning off the bikes later: Didn’t ancient peoples make bricks out of compacted grass and mud? And what did we just compact on our bicycles?
But that came later. The first race for us was the first race on Saturday, a Cat 3-4 non-championship race. I know, to those who aren’t regular cyclist, you’ve heard me describe the different groups as “C”, “B” & “A”. Now I’m talking Category (or Cat for short) “3”, “4”, “2”, “1”… what? Let’s say that A)I’m not in charge of how these groups are labeled, and II) The smaller the number or letter, the better grade of athlete. Cat 1 is equivalent to the A group, and down the line. Being a non-championship race also meant there was no state medals on the line, so the winners were free to go for prizes. Which also mean sandbaggers galore. Which in turn mean Jovid wasn’t going to have much of a chance at getting to the front. So it goes. After the first lap Jovid seemed content to hang out at the back with Ben Ross. Jovid made a friend and rode his bike around. He did alright and hey, all is good in the world.

Jovid and Emily looking at all the mud that belongs on the race course.

Before Jovid’s race most of the race course that wasn’t barriers or stairs was rideable. But the increased traffic just made the ground rutted up, fill with water and get much muddier. During a pre-race warm-up lap I found that out the hard way. On my first pass through a sketchy muddy tight left handed turn I found that while most people were trying to stay close to the inside of the corner they were getting bogged down. If I took the corner wide I could get through the corner faster. Good to know for the race. But on my second pass through this corner on the pre-ride I endo-ed in spectacular fashion. Slow-motion ass-over-tea kettle plop into the muck. Not the way I wanted to start the day *but* better to get it out of the way before the race. Dig the bike out of the mud, wash it off real quick, straighten up the handlebars and go get ready. I also adjusted the race plan to run that section instead of trying to ride it. Better muddy feet with some forward momentum than risking a complete halt.
My race on Saturday was the Men’s 45-49, which is odd given that I’m only 44 this year. Another thing that I can’t quite explain right now. C’est la vie. Now this is the State Champion race for this age group only, not broken out into what class or Cat you are. Which mean that some of the guys in my age group were “Former National Champ this” or “Former World Champ that”. Crap. And yesterday I was thinking I had a chance since the age groups were broken into five year intervals. OK, all I can do is run my race the best I can. Which for the most part went pretty well. I had a decent starting spot, slid backwards at the start and just rode it out as the first 1/3 lap was everyone locked together. Not much room to maneuver.  We get to the barriers and things stretch out a bit, I’m able to move up a tick and the race is on. There were some good battles and slowly I was able to make my way past a few gentlemen. I also chopped Chris Freter in one corner – I’m sorry Chris. I did apologize to Chris during the race as well. From there our plan was to reel in the two men in front of us which I eventually did but Chris couldn’t stay with me. Dang. The last guy I got past on the last third of the last lap and when I went I thought I had a comfortable gap on him. But right before the end he made a great effort and closed that gap on me. Then it was a straight up sprint to the finish. I think I barely managed to hold on to the lead in our little battle but I’m not certain as it turned out we were in different age groups and scored differently. Nonetheless it was a good hard race and  didn’t leave anything on the table. And muddy – I was definitely muddy. I left with a 14th place finish for my age group. Not where I wanted to be. I had honestly hoped to place higher. But taking all factors into consideration I am content with my finish but not happy.

See Mom, I go fast!
Photo copyright 2011 Chris Freter 

Day Two brought the general Category races, so I was going to race in the Cat 4 group. A category where I thought I was going to be semi-competitive but guys who didn’t have enough points with USA Cycling or who normally race a different discipline automatically got bumped down to Cat 4. Forced sandbagging as it were. Well, same thing as yesterday it seemed. So it goes. Then I got the first call-up. What?!?!? That can’t be right. But I’ve got to make the most of it. I launched at the whistle trying to keep my heart rate from doing the usual zero-2,756 bpm that seems to happen at starts. As will happen guys started sliding past me on the first half of a lap, and then as I start to settle into race pace my rear tire folds over in a tight corner and I loose most of the air. Luckily I was close to the pits AND luckily I had brought Jovid’s bike as a back-up. Catie wasn’t sure what to expect as we hadn’t rehearsed this move let alone even talk about it. But she was great. Held the bike up as I rode in, dropped the main bike, two steps, grab Jovid’s bike and I’m gone. I lost a couple of positions but still pretty fast change. The race is going well and I’m racing a bit above my head trying to gain ground and just as I had gotten past Mark and Dominic I bite the dust on a short steep drop into a small loop. Scramble, get up and go and … crap. The handlebars are pointed in the wrong direction. I get to the short paved section to get off the bike and straighten the bars and as I try to stand I feel like I’m going to pass out. Honestly I was trying to not hit the deck. I was about to call it and Catie kept urging me on. And I wasn’t dead so, according to our motto, I had to keep going. Two and a half more laps of trying to gain ground I lost and I couldn’t do it. I slowly made time on Ben, putting in small sprints when I could and trying to make up time in the running sections but we were too evenly matched to gain much.

Shortly before I crashed. This shot makes me look much better that I was.
Photo copyright 2011 Chris Freter 

All poise, no giddyup
Lessons learned this past weekend: I have got to work on my starts. I have to put in some of that dreaded interval training so when I put in a hard effort to open a gap on someone I can make it stick. And I had to rework my racing wheel/tire setup. Well, that one is easy enough.
Onwards and upwards, tomorrow is Uncle Steve’s Halloween race which has not been my focus as a race I planned on doing well at so it’ll be more relaxed.  Hope you have a good weekend as well. Thanks for reading.

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