Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Carpenters Park Cyclocross Race

After having to miss the third race of the season (which I heard was another rousing success) I was ready to race Carpentersville. This will be the first time I will have raced in the same race three years in a row and I was hoping the experience would help. I also remembered that Carpentersville was one of my favorite races of the Chicago Cross Cup. Great venue, technical course layout and a variety of obstacles.

I carpooled with Paul again and we got to the park early, around 8:00. It was 33 degrees and there was frost on the grass when we got there. Still, it was sunny and beautiful out. They were still putting the finishing touches on the course as we took the bikes off the car and got ready.

2009 Chicago Cross Cup Race #4

Another thing I like about Carpenters Park is that it is secluded from high traffic roads and it's easy to warm up by riding some easy laps on the road around the park. With the leaves changing on the trees and the morning light, I couldn't resist taking this shot.

2009 Chicago Cross Cup Race #4

Registration opened at 8:30. We got our numbers and prerode the course. It was similar to previous years, but improved in subtle and significant ways. This year the course started on the road in place of the U-turn they had last year (which I didn't like). The hole shot is pretty long and the actual first turns weren't that sharp although it tightened up into some off camber turns. This led to the first barrier with the added bonus of a jump into and out of a sandy dry creek bed. Some more turns and a straightaway leading to the sand. Two years ago, it was a sharp left turn right turn into the sand forcing all but the strongest riders to dismount and run. Last year, there was enough room for me to accelerate and ride through the sand. This year, it was a U-shaped path through the sand. If you wanted to ride it, you were going to have to be strong and maintain your balance and control. During the race, some riders did ride all the way through. I ran it each lap while a number of riders rode part of the way, some intentionally and some not.

2009 Chicago Cross Cup Race #4

Our race started at 9:30. I was in the middle of another pre-ride lap when I checked my watch and saw that it was 9:24 and I had to get moving. I was quite warmed up by now and the sun was out when I lined up at the start. I took off my jacket and felt really warm--too warm, even. I began to reconsider my balaclava (one does these things). Seeing that I was the only one there with my ears covered, but having no time to return to the car for a headband, I made the decision to take it off and go without. This made my helmet slightly loose, but at least I wouldn't spontaneously combust during the race.

And we were off. I hit it hard and, as usual, lost a lot of ground to the stronger riders into the first turn. Several riders took some risks in the first turns, but I stayed up and no one went down around me. I passed a few riders after the barrier with a fast clean remount, but I was still with riders that were eventually going to pass me. Well, there are 43 minutes to go and lots of racing to do.

My first lap into the sand, I had trouble unclipping and lost my balance. Seeing that I was going to fall and there was no way to catch myself, I dropped the bike and jumped over it into a shoulder roll in the sand for a nice soft landing. I got up grabbed the bike and continued around. This turned out to be the only time I fell in the race. I did miss one turn late in the race which may have cost me one place, but otherwise, I raced clean (skillz-wise).

After a straight section and some turns around the trees we come up to a set of triple barriers and more turns through the trees. Then another straight section led into a turn and an off camber climb up the hill and down into a corkscrew. I'm getting better at these, but still have to learn to carry more speed through the turns and trust the bike to maintain traction. Out of the corkscrew, speed up and ride over the hill. After the hill, something new--a series of six humps to ride over.

2009 Chicago Cross Cup Race #4

I'm told that a skilled, practiced BMX rider (three things I am not) can enter this obstacle and, without pedaling, just using balance and weight shifting, can exit faster than entering. I was content not to fall and to carry most of my momentum through it. You'll be happy to learn that I did just that, although it did beat my body up a bit.

Now it's the home stretch with some more straight sections and gentle turns. There was a gully to cross, which one could do slowly at the correct angle. Still, some racers dismounted and carried through. Then it was one last U-turn onto the asphalt and about 100 yards to the finish line.

The laps were long and hard (but fun, I keep telling myself that). By the second lap I had pretty much settled into the bottom quartile. I was in a group of four including Paul and we were trading positions depending on who cleaned an obstacle best or who misjudged a turn or who had the best legs on the straight sections.

At the end of the third lap, I remembered to check to see how many laps we had left. Two. @#$%! I don't have the legs for two more laps. One was going to be hard enough, but two was going to take a loooong time.

Oh well, settle in, get your rhythm back and make sure you take the turns and obstacles cleanly and before you know it the race will be just some great memories.

As I entered the corkscrew I heard someone call out "leaders coming!" This was great news because when they pass me it means that this will be my last lap. With this new information, I started to pedal harder (not that it generated any additional measurable speed). I got passed on the way up the hill and set my sights on trying to catch up and pass Paul and the other two racers. As I entered a turn I saw the race leader fall as he crossed the gully just ahead of Paul. "Get up damnit! I don't have anything left for another lap!" I thought (do you put your thoughts in quotes?). He got up fast and kept his lead. I crossed the gully and passed one of my small target group, but Paul still had me by about 40 feet. I took the U-turn onto the asphalt carefully (remember muddy tires+asphalt+too much speed=fall on a hard surface) and then hit the gas with everything I had left. It was Glencoe all over again, but this time I had a lot of ground to make up. I was hoping that Paul either wasn't expecting me or didn't have a sprint in him, but it didn't matter. I didn't have enough time or distance to pass him. I probably got within 10 feet which is a victory in itself (yeah, yeah, I know).

Result: 36th out of 45 (not counting the two that DNS). I tell myself that this is a good result for me. Heck, I'm nearly the oldest guy in the 40+ group as if that matters at all.


  1. Great job Frank! I remember getting passed by your teammate in the 50+, Tom Shafer, and I wasn't as lucky, holding off my group's leaders and getting that final lap to do on my own while the women warmed up behind me. And no, your own thoughts don't get quotation marks.

  2. But I was yelling those thoughts in my head. They felt like they needed quotation marks.