Many local cyclocross venues come and go over the years. It can be hard to maintain positive relations when hundreds of shaved legged cyclists invade a public space and ride all over the landscaping, I suppose. The Xilinx race has been happening in some form or another for years and has become the favorite of many racers. It also hosted a large national level race (in deplorable conditions) a couple years back. The tech company that owns the campus allows a couple races per year and has some great terrain.
This race’s course used what has become the standard layout, although it was slightly less technical than it has been in the past. There were two barrier dismounts per lap. One set followed a flat corner and a very bumpy approach, the other was in a tight section of trees with a steep, loose, slow speed dismount and a very short section to remount before a ditch. The infamous made another appearance, although the approach side had been filled with dirt. The sand pits used in recent years were avoided somewhat, and the far side of the course was quite firm and fast. There were a lot of minor technical obstacles including a (padded) curb hop, sharp transition up a flagstone bridge, some off-cameber, and lots of loose, dusty corners.
I had a really busy night at work and hadn’t gotten much sleep the previous two nights. Combined with my relatively high training load for the week (I rode Tue, Wed, and Thu for the first time in weeks) I wasn’t expecting to go too fast for this race. It was also over 80 degress and often I don’t do as well in the heat.
I got called to the line second behind Allen Krughoff, who finished second at the first race in the series. The start featured a solid quarter mile of uphill pavement and the pace was furious. After leaving the pavement the course quickly funneled into a tight technical section, so I wanted to be sure to make the lead group. I settled in to about 6th wheel since I didn’t expect the race to break up with all the flat, fast seconds on the lower parts of the course.
I was a touch further back than I wanted to be and found myself behind a rider drifting wide in the corners and losing touch with the lead group. After about the third time this happened, he was nice enough to motion me past as he gave me an extra few seconds before he regained the proper line so I could pass. Luckily there was some negative racing in the front group of about seven, so I easily regained contact as we finished the first lap.
Allen Krughoff was setting the somewhat slow pace at the front of the group, hoping his teammate Brandon Dwight could catch the lead group. I decided to attack the group on pavement at the top of the course. The following section was semi-technical s-turns down the gentle hill, so I thought I may be able to extend my lead, and might take a fast rider with me. In the end I was off alone and I eased off. By the end of the second lap, I had been caught.
Brady Kappius wasted no time and put in a searing attack up the paved climb. I took to the front and we caught him after the technical section when we reached the next stretch of pavement where I had attacked earlier. I decided I had good position and timing, so I came by him with a good bit of speed and I was off on my own again. The gap was 5-10 seconds when I reached the bottom of the course, with the chase group now 5 or so riders.
A few armchair coaches/friends/spectators were yelling at me to take it easy and ‘ride smart’ at this point. It is a perfectly fair consideration, but in this case my move paid off big time when the chase group took themselves out on a fast section of the course. I don’t know what happened, but in the end there was a flat tire, some road rash, torn course tape, and the gap ballooned to 30 seconds.
Positioning in cyclocross is actually similar to road racing. You don’t want to be at the front unless you have reason to be working in the wind, but every person you’re riding behind adds to the risk of getting slowed down by the person in front of you. (also consider drafting at 20 mph off road, with narrow trails, bumps, and rocks.) Second wheel is best, but riding at the front or attacking the group means you’re taking the risk of crashing into your own hands.
This time I got lucky and the rest of the race was pretty straightforward. The gap was big enough that if I could really get into my own rhythm. When riders are close by you can see the gap dwindle after taking a corner poorly and it can be a hard game mentally. From a few spectators giving me time gaps, and from watching Allen (now chasing alone) when the course looped back on itself, I could tell the gap was holding steady and it was my race to lose.
The now 20 second time gap could easily be erased by a big crash or fatigue, but as the finish line drew closer, 20 seconds started to look increasingly insurmountable and I knew I would win. It was a huge victory for me to put my arms in the air as I crossed the line.
I technically won two races on the road this season, but neither were a ‘open class’ (all comers) mass start race, and one was a training race. This is my first true win and I am ecstatic to have earned it! A lot of hard work, focus, and dedication has really started to pay off and I can’t wait for the rest of the season.