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CX WORLDS 2013

 

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This is a small attempt to convey an amazing and action-packed cycling trip to CX Masters World Championships in Louisville, KY.  Instead of bumming around in a hotel room with a teammate (there is nothing wrong with that!) we were super-fortunate to be able to stay with my father-in-law and his wife; we had our own beds, family around, coffee and a kitchen available whenever we wanted.  We shipped gear like a pop-up tent and other essentials and didn’t even need to wash our clothes in a bathtub!  It was glorious, and made us feel like we were racing at home, not 2000 miles away.  Some photos are here: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjDZfa8F

Sunday 1/27

It was impossible to believe this day had finally arrived.  For the uninitiated, packing for a cyclocross race is

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Louisville welcomes us

infinitely more complicated than road racing because the environment necessitates more changes of clothes than a runway model.  Dressing for a course recon, a warmup and then the race in wet, muddy and/or cold conditions requires a small mountain of base layers (wool, wind block, thermal, short/long sleeve), accessories (wool socks, thick socks, wind socks, leg warmers, shoe covers), and outer layers like warmup jackets, pants, and this doesn’t even cover post-race!  And that doesn’t even cover trying to cram two bikes, 4 carbon wheels, spare tubulars, tools, and other race essentials into a soft-sided bicycle case.  By the time I finished, I had a 65 lb bike case (thankfully with wheels!) and a large roller bag full of lycra.  All told, I think I was entrusting over $12k worth of gear to Southwest all of which could not be replaced if it went wayward.  Both Murray and I watched over our bikes until they were escorted over to the oversize baggage security check.

Our flights were uneventful except for one unfortunate observation: the unloading of luggage.  As luck would have it, we were positioned directly underneath the hatch, and watched as my bike big rolled down, and was summarily tossed into the luggage trailer.  Thankfully its girth and weight worked in my favor as he didn’t HUCK it like the smaller bags, but it still gave us both pause.  But recognizing the futility of worry, we accepted our fates and just prayed they made it to our connecting plane.

Our first night "sleep aid"

Our first night “sleep aid”

We arrived late evening in Louisville, and Murray attempted to take a Rabobank bike instead of one of his.  It was the first time ever I have seen luggage confusion with bikes as there was an endless parade of national and international bike racers descending on Louisville.  The heart started beating faster as we realized this year-long dream of competing was about to be realized.  I was amped until way past midnight but thankfully my father-in-law opened the liquor cabinet and gave us our first introduction to Kentucky Bourbon.  After braving what I was sure to be a permanent scorch on my esophagus, I easily drifted off to bed.

Monday 1/29

Our only “down” day consisted of driving up to Cincinnati to pick up Matty and Cami who had the pleasure of an unexpected overnight stay in Chicago when weather prevented them from catching their connection.  After retrieving them, we put our bikes together and had just enough time before dark to walk the Masters course before it was officially open for pre-riding on Tuesday morning.  While there was still much work to be done lining the course, the old golf course looked ready for riding.  I became more and more excited as we scoped out the lines consisting mainly of grass with a healthy number of twists, turns, runs through sandpits, two major run ups and a sweet off-camber traverse S turn near the finish.  While it was mostly flat and wide, the course had many turns and bumps that would favor our technical talents and always provide an alternative passing line.  We both left with smiles on our face and went and picked up our numbers at the race hotel.  I could not wait to ride the course the next morning.

Tuesday 1/30: Pre-ride

Murray and I set out early with all of our gear to setup at the course.  We ended up with a spot right next to my old friend Ian Moore, who I grew up with and rode bikes together in the early 90s.  He had long since moved to Texas and opened a shop, but cross worlds brought us back together which was great.

Air in the tires and off we went.  The course did not disappoint, it was a challenging and well-constructed route, and I knew it was going to be hard.  That said, it was 55 degrees outside, and forecast was for rain all night, with a rapid cooling back down to low teens in the next two days.  Because the golf course was low-lying and built next to a levee in the flood plain of the river, we all knew it was going to change dramatically after you add some rain.  And boy did it.

tornado

Early morning tornado alert…in January?!?

 

Tuesday was most notable for the bizarre early morning tornado alerts that came ringing at 4:30am.  That’s right, a tornado alert, in January!!  Murray was freaking out because 1) he’d never heard the sirens before and 2) nobody else in the house was stirring.  I figured we were already in the basement, and had weathered several of these alerts while in Ohio, so I just stayed in bed and tried to sleep.  What I didn’t realize was that everyone upstairs had humidifiers on that muffled the sirens and they were not aware of the situation.  I also discovered that apparently iOS has built in alerts for these things, as my phone was muted and on DND mode, but suddenly started blaring moments after I heard the sirens.  Who knew?

 

Wednesday 1/31: Qualification Heats

Just a bit wet...

And then the rain came…

Unlike Nationals, Masters Worlds did not use your USAC points to seed you since there is no way to account for these point systems internationally.  So basically they take all the entrants for any age bracket, run them through a series of heats, and fill the 80 person final with the fastest riders from all the heats.  So not only did it determine whether or not you qualify for the finals, it determined the all-important start line position in the grid.  A bad showing in the heats wasn’t necessarily the end of the road as they had a consolation race that the top few racers could qualify from, it would guarantee a terrible start position.

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Murray leading his heat

Start order for the preliminaries was done by random drawing as you show up to registration.  There were 120 some odd racers registered in my 40-44 block, and I pulled number 35.  I was totally bummed as I assumed they were filling heats sequentially.  In other words, 1-40 heat 1, 40-80 heat 2, etc.  However they were distributing numbers across the heats, so number 1 went to heat 1, number 2 to heat 2, number 3 to heat 3, and so on.  So that put me at the very end of the second row, which was much better news!  Secretly I had been very afraid of even being able to qualify as only 70 of the 120 guys would advance past the preliminary heats.  With 40 guys, I couldn’t place lower than 25th and I wasn’t sure I was strong enough to do that.

Sitting on the line, I shuffled about nervously to stay limber and keep my warmup in my legs.  The course was completely flooded and I had watched the 45s slog their way through it in slow motion.  Guys I *knew* were fast were turning 12+ minute laps and I knew this would be a really challenge for me.  No hiding behind technical skills, no coasting or micro-rests on some downhills, nothing.  In the words of one racer, it was “going to be a tractor pull.”  Exactly what would reveal my lack of fitness.  But I figured I could suffer my way through 2 measely laps, right?  30 seconds to go, I look down at my HR and see 130 bpm and I’m not even moving yet.  Excitement, nervous energy and fear of the first minute wash over me and I just wait for the whistle.

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Matty demonstrates the depth of the puddles out on the course

I watched as two guys blew their clip in and I was momentarily boxed.  No matter, because  50m from the start was a giant puddle that wreaked chaos and water sprayed several feet in the air as we plowed through it like giant ships parting the ocean waves.  Riders were shoving and pushing their way forward and fighting for a single line in a rather wide lane.   I looked for gaps and squeezed through every location I could as my wheels slid every which way even when riding in a straight line.  Within a minute, I could see I was going to be no match for the powerful guys that seemed to have a few extra gears in the mud.  I only touched my brakes when people got in the way, because otherwise I was moving too slowly to ever need to scrub speed.

 

Through the first pit I was steadily moving up and feeling ok, but I knew I was deep in the red, but told myself I just had to go as hard as I possibly could and hope to last the 2 laps.  While I had initially even worried I’d be able to qualify at all, I quickly moved up into the top 10 riders and just focused on trying to hold that and make charging riders behind me take less desirable lines to pass me.  This worked great until the first run up.  The hill literally looked as though a stampede of wild horses had climbed it before us.  The holes were so deep I was reduced to stumbling up it instead of running, because placing my feet was so difficult.  I felt like I was walking and some guy gasping like he was going to die came charging right across me in an attempt to cut the corner as sharply as possible.  Lame move to chop me, but I simply hopped back on the bike and hit the 3? inch deep mud on the top of the levee and wondered if I should run instead of ride.  I thanked the rider for plowing a rut that I could follow and passed him once we hit the next corner.  By this time, I was seriously starting to hurt and a fleeting thought crossed my mind….”how the hell will I do this for 50 minutes on Friday when I haven’t even made it one lap??!?”  Just as soon as the thought came I slammed the door on the negative feelings and focused on breathing without swallowing too much muddy water.

 

Lap 2 was a blur for me, but I heard call outs from supporters that I was in 8th place.  The lactic acid was taking over my entire body and my battery indicator on my legs went from yellow to red to flashing red.  I desperately tried to scramble my way up the run up again, and two guys came around me.  That just pissed me off.  My inner demon said “f&ck that, pass those guys!” and so I came in hot around the last two corners, took a more challenging but shorter line, and passed them both.  As I hit the final straight to the finish line, I tried to fire the after burners, which lit for about .3 seconds and then sputtered out.  One guy came charging past me with 10m to go and I ended up 9th.  Must improve my sprint this year, its annoying to always lose them.

I came across the line and thought that may have been the hardest 25 minutes of racing I had ever done.  My mouth tasted like dirt and my son was so nice to tell me “Daddy why don’t you get all that dirt out of your teeth??”  I turned and looked at him, with many less-than-fatherly retorts ready to roll out, when my wife saved his skinny little butt by saying “Matty leave Daddy alone, he just finished racing.”  Amen my dear.  We all celebrated Murray’s 1st place in his heat, washed our bikes off, and headed back to the house for some R&R.  I don’t even remember what we did with the rest of the day, but I did take a short leg-spinout ride sometime in the afternoon before the weather went from rain to snow and we went from tropical tornado weather to freezing winter snow and ice.  Lovely.  We picked up Tom at the airport and the bourbon drinking commenced.

Thursday February 1st

Nothing too exciting happened on our rest day.  We went to the race course for the 55+ Masters race and saw Henry Kramer win some rainbow stripes.  The course looked muddier than the day before as the standing water was giving way to thick mud.  Any rider who didn’t have a B bike was coming to the end of the race with an enormous amount of mud on their bikes that clearly would prevent them from being competitive.  The pits were working feverishly to clean the lead bikes but they were circling the course even slower than the day before.  My only hope was the plummeting temperatures could freeze the ground entirely, giving me a better chance of rolling over the hard ground instead of the soft mud.  We spent the rest of the day riding a little and we encountered Jonathan Page motor-pacing resplendent in his new Stars and Stripes outfit from nationals.  While Murray and I rode, Tom and Cami did a few stops on the local bourbon tour of Maker’s Mark and came back with several treasures they had hand-dipped and sampled.  More drinking ensued except for Murray and I who hit several sporting goods stores and other locations for warmer gloves, base layers, and anything else we thought we would need to race in the 10 degree weather forecast for the races on Friday.

Friday February 2nd

The weather certainly disappoint.  We had fresh snow on the ground and a nippy single digit temperature that made me wonder if I could put every piece of clothing I had with me on.  All kidding aside, I had never ridden in temperatures this cold, and the course was rapidly thawing under the wheels of the riders racing ahead of us.  So not only was it cold, we’d have splashing puddles of mud to contend with.  We stayed at the house as long as we could trying to stay warm and distract ourselves from the endless worries about the race ahead.  Should I wear this layer or that?  should I wear booties?  Cover my face in vaseline?  What will I do to keep my fingers from freezing?  Eventually I went with a rather aggressive plan–embrocation from my toes to my quads, covering my feet and lower legs completely.  I repeated for my hands and forearms, hoping to keep some blood flowing there.  two baselayers and a thermal skinsuit followed, with leg warmers, wool socks, wind blocking socks and my shoes.  Head, ears and neck were covered and I went for it.

This time around I was starting on the 4th row, which made for more start line madness.  Guys were locking horns and pushing every which way, even in places that it didn’t matter.  I kept diving into different lines and focused on passing everywhere I possibly could.  Brian Finnerty was next to me and we both jumped through each hole that opened up, but after only a few minutes, I knew this pace was going to be impossible to hold for very long.  Even still, I figured I better work my way up as far as possible and force others to pass me than lose time sitting behind and waiting to go around slower riders.  The mud was the most challenging I had ever ridden and everything else was still frozen and just grabbed your wheels.  My first pass through the mud-wrestling “pit” I knew I was going to need a bike every half lap.  Sadly, the promotors had left their power washers out over night and they were frozen solid.  Thus my valiant pit crew of Tom Feix and James Keddie were reduced to using stone tools on my bike–a tent stake to chisel ice from the frame and brakes, and wd-40 to keep the chain from freezing up.  Somehow they returned a functional bike to me every 6 minutes but I have no idea how the heck they did that.  I definitely would not have finished the race without their amazing efforts.

The rest of the race went by as an agonizing battle of mind over body.  Every part of my body was filled with lactic acid and my legs just refused to do any work.  But every part of the course was packed with cheering fans from N. Cal, my family, and especially my son who would run up next to me and absolutely scream his head off as he ran faster than I could ride through several sections of the course. Those cheers were all that penetrated the haze of pain and I focused on trying to keep my gaze more than 2 feet ahead of my front wheel.  I slowly slipped back in the standings on the last 2 laps until I was finally ready to hit the finishing straight when disaster struck.  Suddenly my rear wheel stopped turning, my pedals started freewheeling and I heard the terrible sound of my derailleur hitting my spokes.  I immediately hopped off the bike in the hopes of saving my rear wheel and ran through the creek crossing.  As I shouldered the bike, I saw my derailleur hanging worthlessly from a mangled piece of derailleur housing, and I knew I was going to run my bike across the line.  Along the way, my rear wheel started bouncing around and I tried to hold it with my spare hand, but finally gave up and it literally fell off my bike as I hit the finishing stretch.  I ran for everything I was worth determined NOT to get passed in this last section of the course.  I stumbled across the line and almost passed out, but I’d made it and finished the damn race.  I was elated to have done it, and then immediately started realizing I couldn’t feel any extremities and I couldn’t even form complete thoughts.  I went to retrieve my wheel and received a bunch of congratulations from family and friends as I went back to the tent to get changed.  We’d done it, and while I wasn’t pleased with my result per say, I had exceeded my pre-race goal of top 30, but fallen short of the top 15 I really wanted.  21st was my final resting place and I couldn’t complain.

Post race we tried to clean up and warm up, but I just couldn’t get my body to kick back on.  I was freezing and desperately out of energy, which wasn’t helped by looking at the carnage of Murray’s and my bikes.  We spent a good hour trying to remove all 8 wheels which, along with everything else, had frozen in place.  It was a total mess.  We both wished for the first time in our lives for a mechanic to simply take care of this so we could load up, drive home, and pass out.  It was a mess we knew we’d have to sort out later and just struggled to clean up, take down the tent, and get our asses out of there.

Friday night

Friday night was a great Northern California cross party where we celebrated 3 newly crowned champs, Karen Brehms, Don Myrah and Henry Kramer.  When other competitors told their stories of racing woe for that day, I felt a little better to simply have made it.  It provided me even more motivation to bring back to Nationals in 2014, and Murray and I started talking about doing this again in 2014 in Holland.  I never thought I’d be saying I’d be up for another one of these, especially outside the US, but I have a score to settle, and would like to see myself coming to the race prepared and fit.  My favorite memory from Friday was a jubilant toast and hug from Clark where he said “Your battle was simply getting here!” and that summed up my feelings exactly.  I’m ready to hang up the cross bike carnage for a few weeks, but I have no doubt I will be even more committed to cross in the season to come.  Its a journey and I couldn’t have done it without the support of my wife Cami, my early morning training partner Murray, Clark Natwick’s unwavering search of solutions to get me through the setbacks I faced all season.  Sitting out most of the season and cheering for others would not have been possible without the positive support and commiseration of my PV teammates.  I thank you all!

Thanks for reading!