Monday, October 13, 2008

Race Report: Hawthorn Woods "Psychocross" 10/12/08

If you're able to write a detailed and accurate race report, you weren't racing hard enough. Unless you do what I do and collate the hazy memories of the race with known factors like the course itself into something that seems to make sense. But memories from the heat of exertion are terribly unreliable and even impartial observations are notoriously slippery (to wit: my calculation that I'd come in 6th, the immediately-posted result of 7th and the later, "official" result of 8th).
Be that as it may, here's my impressions of Sunday's race: It was hot, not beastly, but enough to sap some energy, and truly make one grateful for shade. In retrospect, arriving two and a half hours before the race, usually a very good idea, may have been a little, well, excessive. The course was the sort of thing that singlespeeders are supposed to dread: lots of asphalt and long runs on grass. One big big hill (a man-made tobogganing hill for the kids), which you hit 200 yards after the start, rode up and flew down, and then, just for kicks, you took a U-turn and dismounted for a barrier before heading back up to the top. I saw some people in earlier races try to ride the hill the second time up, but didn't see anyone try that in my race, but then again, I only myself and the three or four guys around me at any given point. Then you bombed down the hill again, trying to get clipped in before a whole bunch of grass and asphalt, probably a half-mile's worth, with a false flat and some very bumpy dry drainage thrown in for good measure. Then you (well, I at least) passed by your wife and daughter in the kids' playground, getting a much-needed boost in energy. An off-camber turn to the right led to a mud puddle and the only other barrier of the course, which then took you right through the center of the spectation and past the registration gazebo in an almost-terrifyingly narrow paved path with only yellow caution tape separating you from the...teeming hordes?, well, friends and families. A couple more turns took you into a mostly-dry drainage ditch around a reedy swamp. The mostly-dry came to an end when you crossed a nice sloppy mud pit and emerged onto another grassy field, which you circumnavigated for another half-mile, before a hairpin turn took you onto an asphalt path for 150 meters, a short (10m) patch of grass and a right turn onto the last 40m of asphalt leading to the finish.

My goals for this week were to start in the front row, stay in the top ten for the whole race, and not get used as a rabbit in any big flats and a lead-out man in the sprint. I fulfilled all of them.

I was first to gather for the start, and though the top ten series riders got call-ups to the line, only about five of them were racing this week so there was plenty or--well, enough-- space for me to start in the front row, all the way at the left wall. I got off the line reasonably well; there were no sharp (crashy) turns at the start, just the lead-in to and the climbing of the hill, which did wonders to string out the pack. I passed three or four people the first time up the hill (yes, that was the only time I passed anyone on the hill!), with my left crank creaking horribly. Note to self: tighten that sucker up, if it's still got any shape to the spindle holes. Then down, and back up, on foot this time, and I realized that my body really should be prepared for such cardiopulmonary abuse by regular training. Ah well. I'm in no way proud of my top of hill re-mounts. They were ugly hopping, hesitant affairs, but letting a heartbeat or two push some blood to my brain before bombing downhill and trying to get clipped back into the pedals before bouncing around the turn to the right (O God, let me not bounce around too much before my feet are equipped to absorb those impacts). And then...You mean I have to start pedalling again? Dude, I'm gonna hurl! This was the slowest part of the race for me. Lap 1 I worked it ok, getting passed and dropped by one guy (I think), Lap 2 I sat back and said Jeez, I need to let someone pass me and sit in behind him--and that worked, sort of--I got passed by an Illinois State rider whom I did later pass. Lap 3, I started to think the same thing and then realized, "wait, everybody else feels the same way I do." so I put the hammer down with all the vigor of an elderly sloth until the nausea subsided. For the first stretch of grass I managed to find someone to hang with on three of the four laps; on the last lap I'd been dropped by a group of three, and I'd just about given up on catching them when I heard, "Go Daddy! Go faster Daddy!" from Bat Junior and a firm "Head up! Back in the race!" from Dr. Fledermaus (have I mentioned that Dr. Fledermaus was a D-I varsity coxswain in college? When you're working to hard to think, she knows what to put in your head to make you tap that little bit more). On all the laps, I had good-to-stellar dismounts and remounts at the "spectators'" barrier (Thanks for the "Wow!" to whoever said that on Lap 4--I was especially proud of that one!). It helped me reel in the distance I'd lost on the asphalt. Same too with the mud puddle--three of four laps I passed someone in the mud (Ahh, the lessons of winter--snow--bike commuting: shift your weight back and never stop pedalling!).
Lap four had its own highlights: the family gave me the energy to think I could catch the group of three ahead of me, and the barrier and the mud put me in striking distance. I hammered across the grass and blew past the third of them, who'd bonked and sat up (or did we all lap him?). He apologized as I went by (we must have lapped him). Then onto the tail of that rider in the blue jersey. Why was that jersey so familiar? With a half mile (plus or minus), two doglegs and a hairpin to go, I caught him. I sat in for a second or two, but what's this? The other guy was getting away! The xXx rider who'd been in front of him by only a few bike lengths had thirty meters in the bag, and gaining! I passed blue-jersey and said, "Let's catch this guy!" There was some sort of affirmative noise--was its incoherence due to my ears' or his mouth's lack of oxygen?--and we took the hairpin together. But wait, was this too late to catch xXx, and worse, was I just leading out Blue? No time to think, just sprint sprint sprint!!! and finish, a length or two ahead of Blue.
We didn't catch xXx, but the bonus of the day? Blue was the fella who outsprinted me in Jackson Park. After I'd ridden out the finish, lain on the grass for a minute or two, and staggered to my feet, we had a smile and a handshake. This is a good rivalry!

Lessons learned? More air in the tires when there are such sharp turns on pavement. Some of them were pretty darn sketchy. Oh, yeah, and learn to turn sharply on pavement, period! Work on getting used to freewheeling again--I still don't feel as connected to the ride as I did on fixed. And I've got to be more aggressive in the corners like I was on fixed.

Photo Credit: Jeff Kao (thanks, Jeff!)

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