I have been acting like it is the off season. And it is. But, I can’t get enough of racing! I know my wife is about to throttle me after all this racing, but I’ve been riding the wave of the race’s afterglow all day since the race. It was really nice to be able to line up after a couple weeks off the bike (OK, in a moment of weakness, I went on an hour road ride without my power meter), with no stress. Only there to race and have fun. I had hung up my bike, and even taken my spare wheels off and put road tires on them for winter training. Unfortunately, I had to put my mud tires back on the spares before the race since I wasn’t sure what course conditions would be like.
The field was small, as expected, since the season is usually over by now. Traditionally the season has ended after Nationals, but Nationals will be a month later next time, so our season has been pre-emptively extended through January. However, the series prizes for Open Men is substantial ($2500 for the top 10 places), and the top riders in the region all made sure to be there to fight over the finale’s double points.
This was a new course for me, and I was impressed as I pre-rode. The course featured something for everyone. No barriers, 2-3 run ups (One was barely rideable for the fastest riders), a few off camber, bumpy sections, a fast and steep MTB style descent, part of the BMX bike park, and some long, very fast, very exposed, very straight sections of dirt path. I really wasn’t sure what to expect of myself with no training, and moderate soreness persisting after my attempt at ‘running’ two days before. We had gotten an inch of snow in Boulder the day before, but the area around Lyons High School seemed to have hardly any. The course was dry, and I put my wheels with mud tires in the pit.
I got my front row callup, and made sure to put it to use. The course’s most technical section (the MTB descents and tough run-ups) were very close to the start, and there wouldn’t be much passing, so I found my spot in third wheel. Allen Krughoff took the holeshot with newly crowned State CX Champion Brandon Dwight behind. Brandon seemed to be going easy on the gas, or possibly a little uncomfortable with his tires, and let a gap of a few seconds open up ahead of him.
The ‘right’ thing to do may have been to shut down the gap, so Allen couldn’t extend his lead so far. From my point of view, I haven’t been able to hang with the top local racers this season, so I stayed glued to his wheel. I don’t want to get the reputation of a wheel sucker (always drafting and not working or riding aggressively), but I was out of my league and stood to gain nothing by pinning the race back together. As we came through after the first lap I was still in third, but the gap to Allen had disappeared and Brandon took over the pacemaking. The top ten riders were all still riding within reach of each other in two groups.
As we crested the ‘top’ of the course (in this case literally the highest point, but all cyclocross courses have a ‘top’: the section where you go deep into the ‘red’, riding at an unsustainable pace and recovery must be found elsewhere on the course) I was finally split off the lead, and the two Boulder Cycle Sport riders were on their own. A few more strong riders (again, out of my league) came past, and I latched onto a wheel I thought I could hold, riding 7th on the course.
I was in a group of three, with Michael Robson and Chris Case. I heard the announcer (the excellent Larry Grossman, a cycling superfan and one of my favorites) say Robson had raced earlier, and I wasn’t surprised when he dropped off the pace. There were four laps remaining as Chris and I approached the barely rideable run-up, which he had been running a significant portion of. I could ride it, and knew it saved time and energy. I was leading, so figured it was as good a time as any to see if I could get rid of him.
Of additional importance, if I could finish ahead of him I would be 5th on the road, and with more than 20 entrants, I would be awarded one upgrade point to Cat 1 for 5th place. I rode the section smoothly, kept the power on, and had a sizeable gap when we reached the flats. He did not close it. I tried to ride smooth, fast, and smart. I could see the gap holding steady.
I was counting down the laps as I went, and was feeling the effort. I made a few small mistakes, tagging a solid, 4″ steel baseball backstop support with my shoulder and hand at one point. Chris was gaining, and wasn’t going to make it easy on me. He caught me on the ‘top’ of the course, and as we sped down the straight I took a moment to stretch, thinking the flats would be a poor place to attack, since I could easily catch his draft.
He took the opportunity to surprise me, and came by me quickly, clearly giving it everything he had. I responded in kind, and found myself on his wheel after a hard effort. On the next corner, I knew something was wrong when I felt my front wheel squirm.
I had rolled a tubeless off the rim before State after letting too much air out during a training ride. I knew it was too low, but all I had was a CO2 and didn’t want to waste it for 3 psi. I was trying to go easy, but it rolled off anyway. I rode home with my spare tube installed, and hadn’t remounted the tire, since I was lazy and out of sealant. Of course, this was my front tire with the tube, which was now squirming and going flat.
I had about two minutes left to race. I could even hear the hiss of the leak as the wheel spun. I looked back, and thankfully no one was in sight. I let Chris go and I focused on riding smooth and not crashing. It can be very easy to crash when your tires are changing quickly. Luckily the final section was a flat, nearly straight gravel path and I was able to ride on the rim despite have no air left in my front tire.
I wish I could have had the chance to race as hard as I could for my upgrade point, but I was kind of relieved to roll across the line a little less tired than I would have been otherwise. I made a few minutes to mingle, but had to leave pretty much right away, as I had to be at work about an hour after I crossed the finish line. A great finish to another great Boulder Cyclocross Series. Thanks to for putting on a great show, as always. Sorry I missed the Oskar Blues after party!
Note: I’ll be adding photos to this post as soon as I can find them.