Friday, October 26, 2007

Carpenter Park Race

(photo by Carolyn)
After hosting 79 of us in the Cat 4 race in Jackson Park four weeks ago, the Chicago Cyclocross Cup committee decided to split the men’s 4 into an “A” and “B” race. Since this was my first year racing cross, I qualified for “B”, but I decided to race “A” for no other reason than stubbornness. Or maybe it was pride. Either way I get to lower my expectations of grandeur.

On the drive to the race, I got a call from Barry who had raced the Masters 40+ that morning. He warned me that this was going to be a lot more difficult than Jackson Park, telling me tales of ravines I would have to jump across and about the sand pit where just yesterday they held a monster truck competition. I gritted my teeth and drove on.

As soon as I arrived, I could tell that this was going to be a different experience than racing the Trash Dash the previous day. The park was beautiful and there was music playing, giving this race a festive, party-like atmosphere. Unlike the gritty prelude-to-pain of the previous day, today was inviting in the same way a bear seems to smile at you before the mauling.

On the way to the bandstand where I would sign in, I ran into another Alberto’s rider, Debbie, who had been tearing up the Cat 4 races and had just upgraded and raced 1/2/3 where she took 5th. She wished me luck.

A quick ride around the perimeter of the course showed me just what I had signed up for. This was going to be far more challenging than either Jackson Park or Whitewater. In addition to the sand pit, there were other added attractions like the two small ravines. The first had a barrier in front of it and required a dismount and carry/jump across while the other was more of a deep “V” and could be ridden (more on that later). There was a double barrier into a climb up a short steep hill and then around you go to ride up and down that same hill.

I took a few easy laps around the park on the road to warm up and met up with Franco, a strong Masters rider that I’ve ridden with on the occasional weekday morning. Knowing I was new at this, he passed on some words of advice that wound up saving me some time. First, he showed me that on the first ravine that it was better to carry (or roll) the bike around the tree so the remount can be done on ground that was flat or slightly downward sloping. If you remount too soon, it’s on an uphill and you lose time. During the race, I actually passed two guys on two separate laps this way. Franco also made sure I knew proper shoulder carry form and that I shouldn’t try to ride the sand pit. I thanked him and continued on my warm up.

I couldn’t resist snapping a few pictures, but time was short so it was just a few shots of the sand pit before returning the camera to the car and making my way over to where the riders were lining up by the start line. After the Cat 1/2s were done they let us onto the course and we lined up at the start. At this point, I could either keep my position in the front line, or preride the course and wind up in the back. This was bad decision #1. The lap would have given me some much-needed practice on the course and saved me the embarrassment of starting up front and having nearly everyone pass me long before the first barrier.

A few final announcements and the race was on. It was a fast start and I fell through the pack like a salmon coming up lame halfway upstream. One advantage of this was that by the time I reached the first barrier, I had plenty of room to clear it. Hey look, one bike, no waiting.

My first near-crash-experience was with the crossing of the “V” ravine. All the racing before me had carved two deep channels across it and I saw that the 1/2 racers were able to ride into it, lift their front wheel and ride out at a pretty good clip. Thinking I could duplicate their skill was bad decision #2 and I hit the opposite side hard, but kept the bike upright and was able to continue on. I diagnosed the problem as not enough wheelie and vowed to do better the next time around. My next challenge was the sand pit which I cleared beautifully. Remount the bike, zoom around the curve, downshift, accelerate up the hill click down three cogs to continue to accelerate down the hill and I was feeling good.

On the next lap, I attempted to ride through the “V” ravine again. This was bad decision #3 and my unpracticed wheelie skills resulted in a crash and a dropped chain, but no damage to either man (alleged) or machine. Dismount, replace chain, remount and go. Second crossing of the sand pit was a little harder, but I was still looking good. Around the tree, up over the hill and down and I began to get into a rhythm.

With a little time to think before the next barrier, I decided to carry the bike across the “V” ravine this lap. OK. Dismount, jump, run, remount and ride. Hey, I thought, maybe my problem was I was going too fast. Yeah. That’s it. Ooops, coming up fast, brake, turn into the “V” ravine, shift my weight back and voila! Success. Now I’m racing. Now I’m thinking. Here comes the sand. Dismount, shoulder carry and I’m through. A little slower, but my skills feel good. Around the tree and…that’s funny...I’m on the ground. Never mind. Get up remount, over the hill and go. I figure that I must have caught my pedal on the ground sloping away from the tree. I must not have had enough clearance (Clarence). Roger that, Roger.

Around again and it’s a clean lap. No hits, decent runs and no errors. I’m just getting slower (and Leon is getting larger). The sand is getting deeper and I pass a guy who makes the identical error on that turn around the tree that I did. I clear the hill and pass the band stand and, the race is over. All this time that I was concentrating on what’s coming up I never thought to look to see how many laps were left. I thought there might have been one more, but I’m cooked. I gratefully pull over to the side get off the bike and gracefully drop to the ground and lay there on my back spread eagled and breathing hard. I open my eyes to an Alberto’s jersey asking me how I felt. I managed a “Next time, Lucy, don’t take the football away.”

Erik wound up coming in just ahead of me. I placed 35 out of 45. Of course, I raced the day before, so I was pretty tired going in.

I cleaned up, changed, put the bike on the car and headed home with one thought on my mind. Can salmon really pull up lame?

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