When: Sunday, 12/16, 9:00AM
Race: Men's Cat. 4
Who: Konrad (3rd), Power Paul Ruggiero (11th)
Paul, Ian and I made the long trek to Irvine, near Verizon Amphitheater, for the Cat. 4 Cyclocross race at Camp James. We were greeted with sunny skies, cold temps, frost on the grass, and a crazy fun CX course that had a bit of everything. Our race was first with Cat. 4's and 55 mixed together. The starting field was about 25 deep, ~20 Cat. 4's and the rest 55 . Paul and I raced in this one and the Men's 3/4, Ian waited for the Men's 3/4 race a bit later.
The whole course was roughly 1.8 miles long with the longest straigh mmmmaybe 300 yards. It wound all over the place and was marked by hundreds of yards of yellow caution tape. About half or more on grass, a bit on hard pack dirt (the infield of a baseball diamond!!!), some runs on asphalt, lots of hairpins, and some gnasty off-camber 180's around trees that obliged the rider to negotiate the turns whilst also dealing with dirt and roots. Part of the course was in a kind of kids camp/amusement park so it felt like we were racing in kind of a second tier Disneyland backlot. Totally crazy.
In terms of dismounting, there was one short run up that got steeper with each passing lap (ok, maybe it just felt that way), a knee-buckling run through soft sand, and a triple barrier section. The barriers were right next to the expo/announcer so stacking it there would result in a lifetime of shame.
Ian's advice was to absolutely crank the first lap and stay near the front because catching up is really hard and passing opportunities are limited and require a fair bit of energy. Also, the start is a DEAD SPRINT to Turns 1 and 2 which were 180's full of roots and opps for people to crash and hold you up. Better to be in front.
I was 3rd through the first turns and took the lead about 1/3 of the way thru the lap. Stayed at the front for Lap 1 and then settled into a pack of four other guys. Actually drafted a bit and found that while the other riders had more strength in the straights, the overall technical skillz of the riders was pretty low and I could make up time in the corners and dismounts/obstacles.
The hardest part? We were absolutely red-lining from the get go. After Lap 2, I was pretty gassed and began to lose the strongest three riders on the straights. Lap 3 and the lead group of three were putting out too much power for my December legs. By now, we were "on cards" with just 2 laps to go (only a five lap race, thank god), and one other guy and I were dropped slowly. I even fell off him by about 15-20 seconds and just tried to stay consistent and smooth.
One of the best parts of CX races is that the course is serpentine, winding back on itself numerous times, allowing you to not only see the riders ahead but also the riders behind. I was able to see Paul working hard and we could cheer each other on which was nice. He looked strong the whole race and it gave me a lot of energy to know I had a teammate in the mix. It is SUPER spectator friendly so if you have a chance to go watch the upcoming races...do it.
With one lap to go, I was trying to saty ahead of a Velocity guy behind me and trying to catch the Team Bearclaw guy ahead of me. I had whittled him down to about a 10 second advanage with half a lap to go but simply didn't have the pop in my legs to make a real effort to track him down. Once that battle was lost, I settled in for fifth in the heat knowing that I had a decent cushion. With the final straight to go, I sat up and tried to bring my HR down. Pure Z4 hell. It was like the last two laps of a crit...for 35 minutes instead of two. I crossed the line completely shattered.
I thought I was going to get 5th but it turns out that two of the guys were 55 and I ended up on the Podium in 3rd. Paul brought it home for 11th.
Possibly the most fun I've ever had on a bike. Even the searing pain in my lungs and legs was salved by the monster smiles on Paul and Ian's faces. Against better judgement, I signed up for the Men's 3/4 race two hours later. Maybe a big mistake...But that's Ian's report ;^)
EVEN IF YOU HAVE TO BORROW A MOUNTAIN BIKE...DO A CROSS RACE BEFORE THE SEASON IS DONE. YOU W.I.L.L. N.O.T REGRET IT!!!