Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Lan Oak Park Cross Race

I got a late start so I didn't race the 40+ Masters race as planned. I would have liked to see how this strategy played out. Would gaining familiarity with the course compensate for the energy expenditure of a 45 minute race? My guess is no, it wouldn't, at least not for this course. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Getting to the race was easy. With the work on the Dan Ryan nearly complete and light Sunday morning traffic, I got there in about an hour. I arrived during the women's 1-2-3 race and got a chance to take a few pictures and take a ride around the park. As soon as it ended, I jumped on the course and got in two laps to check it out.

It was obvious even to my rookie eyes that this was going to be a fast course. There were no really sharp turns, one single barrier and one triple barrier section, two roundabouts on asphalt and a long sand pit. One of the roundabouts was made interesting with tree roots pushing up the tarmac and some leaf cover, although this was more visual scare than actual problem.

I was advised to carry the bike through the sand pit and I noticed that many of the Pro 1-2 and Cat 3 men did just that. During my preride, I decided to try to ride through it figuring I had nothing to lose. My first attempt was nearly perfect and gave me what turned out to be a false sense of confidence (note foreshadowing). On my second attempt, I nearly collided with three riders who were carrying their bikes, so I had to dismount. OK. Even though I won't be able to steer through the sand, I'm going to have to find a way not to hit someone in the sand. This just might get interesting.

I finished warming up by doing laps around the park. Took a few photos of the men's race and had some last minute water and a gel (yummm...banana flavor). 42 of us lined up at the start and after the usual announcements we were off. I got a better start than usual, but it wasn't long before I found myself in the back third of the field. If I'm going to do better next year in this series, I'm going to have to work on my fitness and power. For now, I'm going to take pride in little victories like passing a rider, or taking the barriers cleanly or not coming in DFL.

My first attempt at the sand pit was a stunning success. Not only did I ride clean through it, but I passed 3 guys in the process. My second attempt wasn't quite as good. And, wouldn't you know it, someone photographed the whole thing:

On the next lap, I wasn't going to make the same mistake, so I made a different one. I came into the sand fast, lifted my front wheel on the entry and gave it all I had. I exited the sand pit so quickly and was so surprised and happy with the effort that I wasn't paying full attention to where I was heading and I nearly missed the jog left around the tree and had to hit the brakes hard to avoid a collision. I'm not sure if the guy behind me was amused or pissed (or both), but no matter, I'm two for three in the sand. Another small victory.

In the second half of the race I was one for three in the sand. In retrospect, I realize that my main problem was that I needed to keep my weight further back so my front wheel didn't dig in. I'll try to remember that for next year.

On my last lap, I marked one rider that I might be able to pass. As I entered the sand trap, I was gaining on him (he carried his bike), but I had to dismount near the end and he exited with a few bike lengths on me. He had a little trouble with the left turn after the jog around the tree and I got on his wheel. As we rounded the backstop fence the course opens up into what is mostly a straight section into a gentle turn to the finish. With about 200 yards to go, I jumped out of the saddle and sprinted around him. As I passed him, I heard him say: "Oh, just go ahead". He was more cooked than I was. Another small victory.

I took 31st place. Not as good as I had hoped, but a decent effort. Montrose Park is the next Chicross Cup race on the 9th, but I might do the Wisconsin race the week before. Yeah, I'm hooked.

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