Cyclocross: si’-klo-kros n 1. cycling race involving off-road riding skills and barrier obstacles. 2. the most sadistic among cycling sports. 3. Pure evil.
I decided it was time to start racing again, not because I’m in shape, but because I need a boost and motivator to resume training to get back in shape. So what better way than a marathon MTB race followed a day later by a cyclocross race. Yeah, Jill doesn’t mistake me for being too smart either.
I chose the wrong tires for the marathon. Lightweight tires and the rockiest course known to mankind makes for a poor combination. I flatted out at the half-way mark in the marathon. It’s just as well…I had only just recently realized I had to race CX cat 2 (as opposed to 4) due to my NORBA semi-pro card.
The ‘cross race was 55 minutes. Not too bad, I thought. Yesterday’s race was 1:30a nd I’d been doing some training in the 2-3 hour range. No sweat. I had my new ‘cross bike, a CX frame from Trisports.com that I loaded with SRAM Force and Reynolds carbon. New Michelin CX Jet tires on the Reynolds Solitude wheels and I’m all set. Truth be told I got the CX bike for commuting to work. It works great for that, but I decided to take off the rack for the race.
Cyclocross is a different animal. For one, it’s on grass. Or dirt. Or mud. And you’re on a road bike. Sorta. Second, it’s a good opportunity to bring all the local MTB and roadie pros and elite standouts together for one race. Third, there are obstacles you must get off, run with your bike on your shoulder, and get back on, all while maintaining forward momentum. I thought that as a triathlete I can run and I can ride, so this can’t be too bad. Little did I know that the course was to be lined with pockets of pain you must ride through.
At the start, I stayed with the main group for a short bit, before being dropped like a ProTour rider with EPO track marks. The blistering pace made me see stars, and my lungs and quads began searing as if on a BBQ spit. When I came back around I was glad the warm-up lap was over.
The race started in a narrow alley of cones, just shy of a 180-degree turn and a set of barriers. It was as if they designed the racers to start out in a mass gaggle, accelerating headlong into certain treachery with near deadly consequences. Then it dawned on me…they did. Then we raced in the grass to the first series of climb-sharp corner-descend-off camber sharp turn-barrier-run up the hill-sharp corner-accelerate like your life depended on it-ease off and let your heart catch up. There was a mild reprieve…for me. The rest of the pack continued to accelerate and I was dropped. Then came the next series of climb-descend-rinse-repeat. A discovered two phenomenon with CX: 1) the hills look to be only mildly steep and a few meters tall from the staging area, but are snow-covered and clouded mountains steep enough for ropes and 22-34 gearing when you get to them on the bike; and 2) the barriers get taller each lap, culminating in a leap that Carl Lewis would be proud of to clear by lap 12.
As I got so far behind I could barely see the main pack, I took inventory. My quads were toasted, my lungs searing, my back was seizing, and my heart rate was in the range that I’d never before seen. This was only a 55 minute race, and based on my being covered in sweat, out of energy, on the verge of a bonk that will last a week and being in more pain than after USAF prisoner of war training, I must be at 40-45 minutes by now and nearing the end. I looked at my watch. I’d been going for 4:32. It’s going to be a long day.
I finished. I got lapped by the top 6, but I finished. I ended up 12 out of 18. Not bad for an out-of-shape fish out of water triathlete recovering from injury. And I learned an important lesson: cyclocross is a brutal, masochistic, evil, painful, ugly sport. And I love it! (I’m already sign up for the next one!)