Sunday, October 10, 2010

What a Ride

This weekend I competed in a unique "cyclocross" race know as Iron Cross. It is unique because it is much longer than a typical 45 minute to one hour cross race and is also one big loop rather than a multiple lap event. The race actually does start/finish on a real grass cross course with barriers and cross course making tape and all, but that is the only thing it has similar to a standard cross race. After leaving the starting area, the course uses a combination of single track trails, hiking trails, paved roads, gravel roads and rough fire roads to complete the large loop around Michaux State Forest. This variety makes for very interesting and challenging 62 mile race course.

I haven't done this race in quite a while because I have concentrated more on doing typical cross races for the past few years, but I decided it would be fun to give IC a try again this year. The course is definitely a lot more cross bike friendly than it was the first time I did the race and I would certainly say that a cross bike is the fastest bike choice overall, but certain rocky and technical sections on this course definitely had me second guessing the use of a cross bike over a mtb.

When I first decided to do this race a few weeks back, I had initially planned to use My Salsa Mamasita at the race because of the old memories I had of doing this race. But, after talking with others doing the race this year and reading on the Iron Cross Website that the use of a MTB is kind of discouraged (though they are allowed in the race), I decided to use my Salsa Ti La Cruz instead. Additionally, since I have been riding my La Cruz more than my Mamasita lately, I figured the Ti La Cruz would probably feel better to me anyway.

The beginning part of the race was going just as I had hoped and my Ti La Cruz was riding beautifully. I almost forgot it was a cross bike because it had such a smooth and predictable ride quality to it even on the technical sections of the course. The race started well for me when I was able to get away with four other riders on the first big gravel road climb. From this point, we all pretty much stuck together until the long and steep Wigwam run-up. Basically, Wigwam is probably a mile long hiking trail going straight up to a ridge top. I shouldered my Ti La Cruz at the bottom of the long hike/run and by the top had put myself into first place overall. I was eventually caught by two other riders behind me on the gravel fireroads after Wigwam and we joined forces to work together. I couldn't see anyone else behind us and things were looking good. After a fairly technical section of trail past checkpoint two, one of the riders in our group of three lost contact with us. At this point, we had about about 40 miles of the race completed and just over 20 miles to go. I was feeling very confident with my ride and thought at this point that I might be able to take the win.

Unfortunately, my good ride soon came to an early end when I got a flat rear tire on a fast gravel road descent. I rushed to do a quick tire change and was back on my bike before another rider was able to pass me. I rode for about 200 yards and my rear tire blew out again. I wasn't sure what caused the tube to go so quickly, so I looked and felt the tire more closely on this second repair. I then tried to fill the tube with my CO2, but my tube value was too short to allow a compete air fill. I actually had to walk for a short while before another rider offered to give me a CO2 to use. This second fill gave me enough air to get me into checkpoint 3. I wasn't comfortable with the low amount of air in my tire because I knew more technical sections were up ahead, so I used a pump at the checkpoint to fill me tire to a higher pressure. I also picked up another tube and CO2 canister just in case I got another flat.

Well, my "just in case" was about a mile up the hill from checkpoint 3 when my rear tire blew out again. I immediately did my third tire change of the day and was about to put the wheel back on my bike when the tube/tire blew up in my hand. Completely frustrated and with no other options for repair, I rode my flat tire bike back down the hill to checkpoint 3 to do my fourth tire repair of the day. During my ride back to the checkpoint, I started to think that maybe I should just get a ride back to the starting area rather than continue with the race, but I instead decided that it would be better to make the most of the beautiful day and trails by continuing to ride the course. Luckily, the guys at the checkpoint had a spare tire and tube there for me to use and get me on my way again.

Of course after doing this many tire repairs, I was pretty far behind and out of contention for a good finish. I continued riding hard anyway, though, to get in a good workout and because I was having so much fun out on the course. By the time I came into the finish, I had managed to put myself into the top 40 overall out of 240 riders or so. I was pretty happy with this finish after having the issues that I did and was also very happy with how well my Salsa rode over the diverse conditions out on the course.

Interestingly enough, I found out after finishing Iron Cross that I will be racing on Stan's NoTubes Wheels for the remainder of this cross season and for 2011. I bet if I would have had a pair of the new ZTR Alpha 340 Rims set-up with tubeless cross tires for this race, I probably would not have had the tire issues that I did. Oh well, I guess this means I will have to try my luck at Iron Cross again next year with the Salsa Ti La Cruz and a pair of tubeless Stan's Wheels.

Happy Trails, Gerry

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A homecoming of sorts

Well, I finally had a chance to put my Salsa Ti La Cruz to the test this weekend. On Saturday, I did the APCXS Waynesburg Cyclocross Race and on Sunday, I did the Month of Mud Grove City Cross Race. Both events were a lot of fun and it felt great to finally test out my cross legs again. It was also nice to not have to travel any great distance to get to these races.

On Saturday I decided it would be fun to try doing two cyclocross races at the Waynesburg Race. With the race promoter, JR, offering a registration fee of only ten dollars for each additional race entered, it was hard to pass up doing two races, especially when there was a single speed category available. Interestingly enough, I did not have a great start for my first race of the day in the single speed event. I was totally unprepared for the starting whistle to go off and because of this ended up going into the first turn near the back of the pack. I did a few hard efforts and by the middle of the lap I had worked myself up through the back half of the pack. I then came out of a turn and started to sprint to try to make up some more time. When I made this attack, my chain popped off my front chainring and I was forced to get off my bike and take off my rear wheel to get my chain back onto my single speed bike. By the time I did this, I was at the back of the 50 or so person pack again and knew that I would have a lot of work to do if I want to finish well. I was hoping for an easy race, so that I would be able to save some energy for the elite race later in the afternoon. I considered pulling out of the single speed race at this point to conserve my energy for the later race, but decided I would do a couple of real hard laps to see what happened.

In about two laps, I was able to work my way completely through the pack and catch the race leader and my teammate JPOK. I then figured I would ride with him for a few laps to recover and see how things developed. I started to feel okay again and started thinking that if I drop my chain again it would be nice to have some time to fix it, so I did some accelerations to get away on my own. My gap stuck and it was a good thing I decided to get away on my own because with three laps to go my chain popped off again. I lost a little time putting it back on my bike, but I was able to hold on to my nice lead and take the single speed win.

After the single speed race, I ate, relaxed and prepared myself for the elite race. I definitely used a lot more energy than I wanted in the single speed race, so I knew my second race of the day was going to hurt. Additionally, the field had a good group of fast riders to compete against that I knew would make the race super hard. For the second time of the day, I had another bad start. This forced me to hard, so I could work my way through the pack to get towards the front of the race. Unfortunately, by the time I got towars the front of the pack, the lead group was clear. To make matter worse, my legs felt slow and heavy and it took a few laps for them to feel like they wanted to pedal again. Eventually, I was able to get into a flow and was able to work myself up to fifth place, which was the last money spot in the race. I was stuck in this position for about half of the race and was basically in no man’s land doing an individual time trial. I stayed consistent for the remainder of the race, though, and was able to hold on to finish fifth on the fast, dry cross course.

The second day of racing at the Grove City Month of Mud race was anything but fast and dry. It started raining on Saturday Night and continued for us during the race. I was happy with my racing from the day before and thought for sure I would be one of the main contenders at the muddy GC Race. But, once the race started and the speed picked up, I knew pretty quickly that I was asking more from my legs than they were willing to give. I am not sure if it was the cold, wet weather of the day or my two races from the day prior, or a combination of both, but I could not get them to go fast. It was hard for me to watch the lead group of racers ride away and know that I was going to have to ride hard all alone again for a second day. I accepted this fate, though, and suffered for an hour, basically on my own, to finish in the top ten.

Win or not, it is always fun for me to go back to the Grove City M.O.M. race. Back in the mid 1990’s, when I owned a bicycle shop in Grove City, I did a lot of my mtb training at this park because it was so convenient. After riding in the park for a year or so, I thought it would be a cool place to put on a race. I think it was in 1995 that I was able to organize a Month of Mud Race at the park with the help of Gary Bywaters. Back in those days it was definitely more of a mtb race than a cross race, but some of the same trails are still used for the race held there now. I didn’t grow up in Grove City and only lived there for a few years total, but it still feels good to go back to place once called home.

Happy Trails, Gerry

Thanks to Benjamin Stephens for the photo.