Cyclocross Race Report – Cross of the North 2018

Cross of the North 2018 -- strava screen of my race
Yeah, I "retasted" my OJ!

I kicked off the race day with the usual early start from a friend’s campground in Eagle River Wisconsin. The night before I was eating well and had a few more beers than normal (however, as with most tasks when I start my beer drinking earlier I end it earlier) and spent the evening with good friends.

Cross of the North 2018 — Good Morning Eagle River!

I got up put my bibs on and dressed over those in civvies and left the campground in the quiet darkness. I stopped in Eagle River for cash and a road breakfast complete with coffee and some OJ to fuel my race. Then I settled in on a mostly uneventful drive. Two yearling deer confused about what was the best thing to do flitted about the road and finally figured out the best course was to get off the road right fast. Fortunately, they did not endanger anyone’s safety and were spotted well in advance by the car I was trailing.

I arrived at Sunny Vale Park in Wausau Wisconsin a bit more than one hour in advance of my race time and shared some good morning vibes with the officials and Velogryphons as they were setting up. Heidi joked about how cyclocross racers arrive very early to their events in contrast to roadies who arrive at the last minute. I was able to register and get my onsite preparations going.

I got the bike out and put its front wheel on and then for the biggest challenge! Pinning my number on. My fellow Diablo Adam informed me the previous week to use a magazine to provide backing to pin the number onto the jersey and I had a Bicycling Magazine handy just for that purpose! I put the number on and the first victory of the day was the judges not complaining about me having my number on wrong! Do I get upgrade points for this?

So I took my pre-ride and began to create my plan for podium domination.

Sad to say it, the event is a sparsely attended race so just showing up means earning good series points. I was in the second of three starts but as it turns out they started us all together due to the small field. The start finally arrived marking the end of worrying and jitters.

Cross of the North 2018 — Off to the Races!

We got off to a start and the group strung out quite quickly. Three separate races the Master’s 4/5 35+, 45+, and 55+ all started together. I found myself at the tail of that string and passed up a couple of racers. Finally we arrived at the first course feature for some off-camber maze work. I handled it all well without incident. This section features some down and uphill turning and then ends up on a beach. The beach was ride-able and I kept off to the right where the water kept the sand packed. The exit to this beach featured a staircase with a high first step and then about four steps until you were back on the grass facing an uphill climb into a bit more off-camber work. I recalled how being clicked into the pedals is a luxury and that paid off!

As soon as one of my feet found a pedal I would be off. Eventually the other foot would catch up and sooner or later both feet would click in. I really can’t emphasize that enough, you need to start pedaling as soon as you can and worry about clicking in after you are moving. In fact after the beach feature I would not even try to get fully clicked in until at least after the initial off-camber climb.

Cross of the North 2018 — Featuring FEATURES!

The next feature was fun but I never fully mastered it. It was a sharp short climb after a power section and the immediate lead into the climb was a grass covered downhill track. Very quickly I learned if you hit the climb with some speed you did not need to pedal up it. However, I was unable to overcome my urge to downshift and found myself in the wrong gear at the top of the climb. The top was a left turn and the start of a long power section. I should have been geared higher.

The next few sections of the course were fun but unremarkable. The pine maze I started to get better at and they really do require a tight line. As the race developed banking was forming around the pines and I started to utilize that banking.

The pines opened up to some grass, asphalt, and more grass into the finish line. This was a power section and I gave my shifter a good workout here. So, there is one more feature to discuss and that was immediately after the finish line.

The park has a sand volleyball pit which also serves very nicely as a cyclocross sand pit. Last year I found I was able to ride this pit but this year the configuration was more challenging. The first leg was ride-able but tough as the sand was dry and deep. This leg led into a couple of turns and a double-barrier, again not a big deal we all can handle barriers. However, about 2-3 meters after the barriers was the second leg of the sandpit.

Even though I knew I was able to ride the pits I felt it would probably be better to dismount and run them and that is how I planed the race (I also planned an early dismount on the beach but I rode up to near the stairs on that feature). However, once the race was underway I generally attempted to ride them with mixed results (usually I was able to successfully ride them out).

Now, even though I was mostly riding the pits I don’t know if it paid off or not. In one trip through the pits, the guy I was duking it out with, ran the pits and I did not gain ground on him. It may have been more costly to ride that one out than to run it. Maybe I should have stuck with my original plan?

So, this was the routine for three laps and then the bell rang and I finished four laps.

Cross of the North 2018 — The Competition

When we started off I got in front of some guys but most of them caught me and passed me up. I did not let up or start going easy I kept going since it would have taken me passing up two people (one person gassing out early perhaps another with a mechanical) to get onto the podium. Eventually Devon (a Velogryphon) from the Master 35+ 4/5 came into my sights. I reasoned I had to keep doing what I was doing and that was to continue pushing hard in the power sections and make no mistakes in the technical sections.

I eventually caught Devon coming off of the beach. We traded leads off and on throughout the race. Each time I was trailing I kept my cool and kept working the same patterns. I started to get worried as Devon started to crack a gap on me but I noticed it closing again in the later sections of lap three. After the runup I was noticeably closer (still a good gap) and then by the time we arrived at the pine maze I was on his wheel and in the maze he made way for me. I exited the maze and started the power section with the usual application of power.

The bell rang and I flashed a Cheshire Cat grin to the judges and prepared for my final sand pit run and lap.

Again, I focused on mistake free racing, there is no sense in risking aggression as there was no one in my sights and only one racer in back of me. Occasionally I would try to glance back to see where Devon was but as I found out earlier taking your eyes off the track often leads to mistakes.

Eventually the finish line returned to my vision and I put on a sprint to the line. I crossed the line and Al advised me my race was over and I promptly exited the course.

At another point in the race another racer appeared in front of me. I started to push some power to catch him but I was unable to reduce the gap and I noticed despite my effort he was growing the gap. After the runup I never saw him again. The other thing I did see was someone walking their bike on the course, must have been a mechanical.

Cross of the North 2018 — Self Assessment

So, what did I do right? I developed a course plan of attack and I kept to it so-so. However, for the most part the breaks from the plan I developed were correct. I can do better there, but it was a good start that I was able to get a slow pre-ride in and thought about how I would approach the features.

I stuck to the things that were working. When Devon was growing a gap on me I remained tranquil and stuck to the plan. I did not panic and blow up or crash. Could that have gone wrong? Yeah, but I was confident I would get another chance at passing Devon.

I did try some other approaches when things were not working. Last year and most of this year I stuck to the same plan in the pines. That plan was wide turns and that had me almost always just missing the tape and slowing down. I finally focused on staying tight to the pines. Not only was it easier than I expected it helped me stay away from the tape.

Tire choie was also correct. Last weekend in Manitowoc I rode gravel tires (Donnelly Las 33 mm tires at 30 psi) and they were fine, but I wonder if I had my CX tires one if I would have been able to make the staircase climb? I was slipping out a bit in the off camber-sections with the CX tires I am sure I would have been crashing had I been on my gravel tires.

What could I have done better? I need to get more confident in the hole shot. I am still timid in the hole shot. I don’t think my fitness and weight are where they need to be to hold my position for much longer than the hole shot, but I just need to get comfortable doing this stuff in traffic. I’m confident I can race in traffic on the road and I just have to get this confidence in CX.

Dismounting and remounting proved to be a bit difficult too many times. Again I’m much improved here but at least once I did have difficulties getting underway again after the beach stairs exit.

Overall, I am satisfied with the race I had last Sunday.

Cross of the North 2018 — Ciao Sunnyvale Park!

I then found Adam warming up and chatted with him gave him my impressions of the course and he finished with a fourth place in his race. I changed and met up with John Lichtenberg who had a good laugh at the 10:30 am beer in my hands. I also provided him with course intel and he won his race.

I finished the beer got into my truck and journeyed back to Eagle River this time the featured wildlife was a turkey about 1’ off of my passenger side grill.

Good Stuff!

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