Monday, October 02, 2006

Wisconsin cyclocross weekend

Part I: Hudson

We headed out to Hudson, WI (just across the river from the Twin Cities) on the first of two Indian summer weekend days. Morgan needed a ride, so I was happy to have him along for his first cyclocross race. I figured he'd do well if he didn't have a mechanical and rode conservatively, and he ended up doing well in spite of mechanicals. The course was fairly technical, with tight turns, sand, one set of double barriers and one barrier before a short, steep runup. They made use of the park's natural features, which I'm always a fan of. After a wide grassy section we went into the technical parts, where there was little opportunity for passing for quite a while, so it was especially important to get a good start. Confusing at the start was Dag announcing there would be a neutral rollout, but we ended up racing from the gun, which led to some confusion, especially by Lynne and some of the other newbie women. I got a good warm-up in and was able to get the hole shot heading for the forested section. Unfortunately, they'd removed the course tape in a section to open up the pit area. This confused me momentarily and I headed straight into the pit, along with whomever was unfortunate enough to be following my wheel, including Morgan. By the time I figured it out the front group was past us, and I'd spend the rest of the race trying to get back up front. Once again I was able to pass people through some of the technical parts, especially the sand, but there was little opportunity otherwise, so the lead group quickly got away and I just rode my race. I waved to the birthday girl when she showed up to scope out the course. Toward the end I battled with a kick-@ss girl who passed me on the grassy section. I'd pass her in the sand and hold it through the rest of the technical parts, and she's pass me again in the grassy section. She aced the barriers each time too, so I couldn't pass her there. In the end I was finally able to keep my lead after the technical parts, but I have to give her credit for riding a great race.
Fil benefitted from my tour of the pit and took over the lead, and was able to keep it for a second place finish against a big field. Morgan took 4th, which is awesome for a first CX race, especially considering a mechanical and the pit stop! Lynne rode well and didn't crash and wasn't DFL, so she was happy with that, especially after her many crashes in practice. A crash would have been discouraging going into the Madison race. It was nice to have her and some fans cheering for me as I flew through the 2nd sand pit, even though I was lapping her. I'm also seeing that the B racers have the sweet advantage of being able to watch and see how people handle some of the technical parts, as well as an extra 15 minutes to move up through the field in case of a bad start. Of course that's an extra 15 minutes of suffering, but isn't that was CX is about?

Part II: Madison

I skipped the race in Orono to take Lynne to Madison to experience a gem of the midwest and do a coastal style cyclocross race. The season opener Madison race was put together by Renee Callaway and her Madcross team. There were 225 racers, five races plus a children's race, and 23 categories. They do an awesome job of promoting, getting sponsors and above all, encouraging new racers by including beginner categories, putting women together in their own field, breaking out age categories and giving away prizes from their many sponsors up to eight deep. Many, many people walked away with something, either prize money, merchandise, medals or raffle prizes. I won a pair of Oakley transitions sunglasses (just like Hincapie's, except black) in the raffle, and Lynne won a cool Badger Cross pint glass. They had a race announcer to keep the excitement high and the fans involved. The course was a fairly long journey through a prairie grass field, with gravel, off camber descents, a real runup, a volleyball sand pit (you had to cross over and come back), triple barriers and asphalt. During the pre-ride I thought there was too much grass, but it ended up being sweet relief from the technical parts and a good opportunity to the stronger racers to pass and keep things from getting bunched up. My only gripe (and that of many other racers) was the invisibility of the lap cards. I asked an official, who was clearly annoyed to be answering my question (apparently he was asked many times), and it turned out they were sitting on the ground(!) by the start/finish line. This is the first race where the lap cards weren't on a stand at eye level. I was wondering why people were flying past me at what turned out to be the end, which was frustrating because I had gas in the tank for another lap. Nevertheless, it was a fun course and I had a great time.
Lynne had a good time too, in spite of being so nervous at the beginning. She raced with the other women, so we had the chance to watch each other race, and she wasn't intimidated by having to race against men. There was an impressive turnout of women in her Cat 4 race, as well as in the later Cat 3 race, and in the Cat 1/2 race.
I rode this race well. I'm beginning to see that I ride the 2nd race of the weekend better, presumably because I've got my legs from the previous race. Looks like I may have to put in a short workout out Fridays to limber up for the Saturday race. My fitness was certainly coming around, as I was able to pass on the non-technical parts as well. We quickly settled in to me leading a group of chasers and trading placers with a couple other riders. The stronger riders were off of the front, never to be seen again, and I thought I was riding alone until the announcer kept annoucing that my group was coming through the start/finish. I had no chance to look back, but Lynne's photos showed a whole group behind me, whereas I thought I was just battling with a couple of riders. It was an great race, and I realized how much I miss the excitement of cowbells, race announcers and the whole spectacle of a big 'cross race. I encourage Minnesotans to hop over to Wisconsin and see what it's all about! Before the start of our race we all gave Renee a big hand for her hard work, which resulted in an awesome race!
Afterward we explored State Street in Madison, and we'd eaten in a great Indonesian restaurant the night before. It was a great day, and well worth the drive and stayover on Saturday night.