(part 1 of a 3 part series)
Another season has come and gone for me. I now find myself firmly planting on the couch after work taking in those coveted days, maybe even weeks, off the bike. As a “roadie” the fall was a time to enjoy the bike to the fullest. Take the long rides that were limited by a rigorous training and racing schedule. Find that symbiosis between me and the bike that is far too elusive while thinking of podiums and glory; that is my fall riding mantra. Some of the most beautiful riding to be had exists only a handful of miles outside of Cincinnati. Add in the camaraderie of teammates, non-teammates, and enemies on the race circuit, multiply by the sights and smells of changing seasons, and you have a grand equation. All this that I wax with mediocre poeticism about was sacrificed to a large degree this year. Why you will likely ask, re-reading the above paragraph for some hint you missed the first time. Well read ahead, not back, because the answer is cyclocross!
2010 was all about the road bike. Funny since a cyclocross bike is practically the same thing, with only modified tyres, brakes, and perhaps smalle geometry changes. The big difference of course lies in the terrain and conditions under which that bike is ridden. Despite encouragement from many people I shunned the cyclocross scene, only spectating 2 or 3 races, and even then never knocking back beers and shouting at racers I did not know, truly missing the point of heckling. Mounting a bike, dismounting, running barriers, and being covered in mud seemed like the last thing I wanted to do with a bike under me. Then came 2011 . . .
A rough road season, some much needed pleasure riding, and solid racing to close out the summer left me confident and capable. There are always times where we have to open wide and insert a foot, tasting our own hypocrisy. A few minutes to remove the fenders from my Surly Cross Check commuter, some borrowed Challenge Grifo tyres, and I was ready to get rad!
Learning How To Barrier Jump
My first race came the day after my final road race of the year. The Lionheart Cyclocross, located at Kingswood Golf Course is our local season opener here in the Ohio Valley, and has plenty of options from the complete cross newbie, to full hour elite racing. Thanks to James O’Laughlin from Team Hungry, I had solid tyres, and a challenge to skip past “Beginners” and “Men’s C” races. It was either B’s or go home. And so I set out, in a foreign land where traction and staying upright mean everything, made ever harder when you are turning yourself inside out for 40 minutes. Somewhere between the excitement, beginner’s luck, and lasting road season fitness, I finished a promising 8th place. More important than the result was the stirring inside. One race wasn’t enough. I wanted more CX racing in my life, more rad getting, and now was the time to get after it.
They said the sprint was at the start!
I spent a couple of weeks doing some of the aforementioned fall riding. Peppered with the occasional skills training sessions my preparation for the next pair of local races was going well. Traveling 2+ hours in each direction did not seem appetizing this early into the experiment but spending 2 days racing in my hometown(s) of Dayton and Yellow Springs was not to be missed. With the addition of Mike “#1″ Schena giving cross his first go, it was as they say . . . ON!
Gearfest CX and John Bryan Cyclocross Classic
The 4th and 5th stops of the OVCX: Gearfest CX and the John Bryan Cyclocross Classic pair well together, with the first being a fast flat course, some technical sections, but nothing an amateur to strike fear into an amateur. The latter however has a reputation, and deservedly so. With long false flats, fast gravel and tarmac, and faster still single-track through John Bryan State Park, I took heed to the warnings of using energy wisely. Gearfest was an effort in patience. Finding long open spaces where I could utilize strength and fitness to make passes required patience. I was 3 races behind in the series points so a 3rd row call-up combined with terrible starting capability meant I was well behind other cat 4 men and juniors. Patience also when choosing the attack the ground with my hips, shoulders, and even face . . . “you will crash, A LOT” . . . the wise words of a fellow friend and racer rang true for me. But the mistakes were less than the previous race and I finished 8th again, this time much closer to those in front of me. Sunday at John Bryan, the difficulty played to my advantage. While others faded, my confidence bolstered. As all racing is as much of a mental battle as it is physical, it was not long before I found my groove and the front of the race. Heading into the last lap I felt secure in 1st. But a moment of inattention and I was OFF the bike at a time when I should have been securely ON the bike. The single track in the woods was tricky and with that I was left to chase my passer and claim 2nd for the day. It is always hard when you lose, every racer will agree. But to have some level of success my 3rd race into a new sporting season was promising and put the weekend in a celebratory light.
Mike learns about barriers
A new appreciation for Fall
Gun Club Cyclocross
This race will always be memorable for me. I was getting increasingly prepared for races, and pre-riding the course seemed like some of the best prep work a racer could do. Even better, why not volunteer to help create the course, be part of the organic mess that turns into a successful event? And so I spent the day before the race staking, taping, sawing, moving sand, and taking it all in. By midday the semi complete laps were calling my name. I was able to find lines, test speeds, identify hazard areas for my skill level, and practice areas that would prevent race day challenges.
On race day I was happy to see all of my fellow enthusiasts enjoying what I had helped to create. It was a different type of victory, one that will not be reported on USAC, but will not fade in importance after the year is through. When my race was announced, and call-ups began I took my by now usual place in the 3rd row. Despite good results from weeks past, it was not quite enough to move up a row. That illustrious first row call-up would perhaps one day be mine . . . At the gun (and yes a real gun, maybe UCI legal?) I found myself boxed in. I knew the early part of the course would be suitable to my strengths and deft maneuvering was required. As the pack hit the sand, barriers and technical turns my position was steadily improving. Venturing into the woods was the true gem of this course. It was like being in a video game, a painful, lactate inducing, video game. But by the end of lap 2 I was in 2nd. Or was that 3rd . . . ? The screams from friends and Stepfanie, my loud and steadfast cheerleader, were barely discernible amongst the heavy breathing and raucous crowd. Turns out it was in fact 3rd as I finished securely on the podium behind a local junior phenom, and dark horse of a racer I did not even know was on the 1st row. As fun as the course was, it did not lend well to keeping track of anyone ahead of you, constantly weaving, changing direction and terrain. Pictures would be wonderful but why not watch this video a talented local media artist and bike racer made.
Gun Club Cyclocross: OVCX 2011
by Alex Steinker of Team Hungry
The season continues in part 2 . . .
Ohio Valley Cyclocross: A first-rate cyclocross series
Jeffrey Jakucyk: a premium photographer