I arrived on the day of the race with plenty of time to spare. Overall I was well prepared with the exception of only having time to shave one leg, as I was interrupted during my morning shower by an emergency call at 6am before leaving work for the airport at 7. I unpacked and rebuilt my bike and took a quick nap.
I knew the Cat 1/2/3 race was going to be hot, but I still under estimated after last year’s cool temperatures and unseasonal rain. As I was preparing to leave for the race is was pushing 100F. My plan had been to ride the seven miles to the venue as I had last year, but the route is slightly uphill with heavy traffic, no shade, and no bike lane. At the last second I used Google Maps public transportation feature to quickly find the nearest public bus route. I don’t race well in the heat and wanted to take every step possible to stay cool.
I went out and bought a 10 pound bag of ice. I filled each of my three bottles with as much ice as they could take, and then filled a gallon ziploc with as much as it would hold to take with me.
I felt a bit strange riding the bus with an interesting mixture of urban folks and elderly gamblers, but I was happy to not be one of the riders I saw sweating bullets in the heat dodging traffic. I arrived at the race just in time to pick up my number and take a couple laps of the course.
I had also brought a water bottle cage with me. I knew the CrossVegas course would be similar to prior years, the bottle wouldn’t get in the way if I didn’t have to shoulder my bike. I also made a literal “ice sock” with ice stuffed into one of my team socks in the back of my skinsuit. I’ve seen pantyhose recommended for this but the sock seemed to work well enough. Next time I may use less ice or safety pin the sock to the top of my skinsuit, as it jostled loose when I was running later in the race.
At the start line I was surprised to see almost no bottle cages. Taking a feed is now officially allowed in cyclocross, but you must enter the pit area and can only take a feed in the pit. (Yes, technically a beer handup can get you disqualified from a UCI cyclocross race.) Later in the Elite race when temperatures had dropped 20 degrees and the sun had set, I saw at least half the racers with bottles on their bikes.
During warmup I had selected a pretty high tire pressure, around 32 psi. High tire pressure can decrease traction on some surfaces, but deep grass tends to be soft on its own and there is plenty for the tires to bite into. Before the Elite race, I saw a Fidea rider pump his tires (also Dugast Typhoons) to over 35 psi, although he may have been planning on letting out more air as he continued to preview the course.
At the start line I had time to chat with the other racers. The start order was based on USAC National Rank and I was called to the line first as the highest ranked rider. A few top riders had applied for upgrades and a few had not. I understand where both are coming from. Racing your guts out to not be lapped and pulled from the Elite race doesn’t sound like fun to some people. Personally, I feel that if I can finish on the lead lap and not get in the way of the truly elite guys racing for a living, then I want to race.
The course uses a short, non-technical parade loop to give riders a chance to position themselves before the course gets twisty enough to force riders single-file. This makes the race very, very fast at the start. Since riders potentially can sprint from the back and make up significant ground, the riders at the front need to ride very quickly to prevent being overtaken and losing their good start position.
I stupidly paid attention the the official’s call of “15 seconds” to start (this generally isn’t an accurate statement). Usually I watch the official with the whistle intently, as you can see when they’re getting ready to blow it. It can be counter intuitive to be looking over your shoulder at the start of the race, but there isn’t much to see in front of you, if you think about it. This race used a red and green light rather than a whistle. The light turned green and I instantly found myself losing position and settled for around sixth wheel.
Luckily there were a couple guys willing to ride really hard at the front, so I didn’t find myself losing any more ground than that. The grass was fresh, and very deep for our race. Some of the racing line was a little beaten down, but anything at the edges of the course was amazingly tough to ride through so I was happy to follow wheels and conserve.
The pro race is incredibly fast, and has been referred to as a grass crit. The speeds are high enough for drafting and make for a tactical race. I wasn’t sure if our race would play out the same way, but the deep grass and slower speeds were likely to diminish the role of drafting.
By the start of the second lap, I was in the lead group of about six riders. Our race was to be a short 40 minutes so I started to look for my opportunity to thin the group. In road racing the optimal position is at the back of a small group, but in cyclocross it is at the front when it is technical, and second wheel if you’re drafting. I was in second position when the lead rider slowed more than necessary for a tough corner.
I felt the buzz of tire tread as the rider behind me clipped my rear wheel. I took a moment to asses and decided it was time to attack. It was early in the race but I’m generally good over longer efforts so I put all my chips on the table. I made sure to ride as hard as I could to establish my lead and dissuade the chasers behind.
There were four dismounts on course. One was a set of ‘full’ (yet slightly shorter than some) barriers. I’m not quite able to bunnyhop a full barrier so I was running these. The other barriers were the 1/2 height type, with some set too steep or close together to ride, but I had been able to ride the set behind the pit during warmup. I rolled the dice and rode this section. I was risking a bobble, but now was the opportunity to gain some time.
The third lap went well and I saw my 10 second lead holding steady with a group of three chasers splintering behind. But I could feel the last lap was going to be tough. The heat was getting to me and my legs were threatening to cramp when I was off the bike. My heart rate had been sky high the entire race. In three years of data from almost every ride and race, this is easily the highest average HR I’ve seen over 30 minutes by a wide margin (probably 5 bpm higher than I’ve ever seen). I was going into uncharted territory and I just needed to hang on for another eight minutes.
I tried to ride at 95% effort, carefully watching the gap to the rider behind. That way I could feel like I had a little reserve to increase the pace if he started to close the gap. Although the gap did close slightly, I never felt threatened and had plenty of time to savor my victory.
Not only had I won the race, but I’d done it in convincing fashion. Soon after crossing the line I rode past the promotor of the race. He shook my hand and said “Good Job. I’ll see that you get into the race next year”.