Saturday, January 21, 2012

Nationals Road Trip Report


In 2010, Nationals were in Bend, and I had three great reasons not to go:

1) Bend is a plane flight away, and I hate flying with bikes and renting cars and all that crap.
2) My racing age was 29, so the only race I could do at Nats was the Elite Men's race.
3) Nationals was on the same day as THE BEST RACE IN THE WORLD.

Well, wouldn't you know it, all three of these reasons were off the table for the 2011/12 season, so I made the decision waaaay back in September to drive to Nationals in Madison in January, because it would be crazy hardcore snow/ice cross and that sounded RAD.

Through twitter chatter, and Meg/Steve being way too excited, I ended up heading out a week early to race the Chicago Cross Cup New Year's Resolution UCI races before Nats... giving me a four-race cx road trip in January! Awesome?

The tardiness of this blog entry should probably tell you how fast I rode, but that's not to say there was nothing to talk about.

CCC NYR Day 1

One thing I failed to anticipate was that when you leave New England, the number of mediocre Cat 2's (aka "dudes my speed") in a UCI race drops precipitously, because scrubs in Chicago don't buy a UCI license for JUST ONE RACE. The field was shallow but STACKED, headlined by Trebon and Powers, who went on to get first and second the next weekend...



I drew a crappy start spot, but with tractor-pull conditions on the course I wasn't really worried. I decided to start steady (aka slow) and just ride into the best TT I could manage before getting lapped. The turns on the course were ludicrously easy, but that didn't stop me from blowing the tape on the first one and going straight out the back. I chased back on, nearly blew the tape again, and went off the back again. All in the first minute of racing.

LUCKILY it didn't matter, because, you know, mud slogging and all that. So I slogged my little face off for the next 40 minutes, passed like 15 dudes, and then got aggressively 80-percented by some officials that were a little too stoked to apply some UCI justice to the field, which was down to all of 20 dudes at that point, and that was that! Given the abuse that my bike was receiving, and my lack of a pit bike, I wasn't actually as cranky about it as that last paragraph makes it seem.

I ended up 19th, my best UCI placing of the year, but 34 starters will do that for ya...

CCC NYR Day 2

After getting my ass kicked around the middle/back of elite UCI races for the last 3 years, I decided to drink heavily on New Year's Eve, and take advantage of the B race in Chicago being a 2/3 race. THAT'S RIGHT! B racer for a day. With Austin Vincent in the field, I didn't think I could win anyway, but I did have this funny idea I could give him a run for his money.

They staged by crossresults points (thank you, Jason!) so I got a front row start, where I could conspicuously be "that dude that raced elite the day before" and feel like a sandbagger.

Then I got the holeshot into a raging headwind, because HOLY CRAP I HAVEN'T SEEN THE FRONT ROW IN YEARS. Wheee!!

I got off the front quickly, but then accidentally back on the front after the lone downhill on the course, because B RACING! It's 3 minutes into the race and I am DICTATING! It was so novel!

Of course there were like 10 dudes glued to my wheel, but whatever. Austin pulled through and I was like LET'S DO THIS, CHILD! and latched on to his draft as we turned back into the ripping headwind.

We headed past the pit, and the good line was right next to snow fence, and I was right on his wheel, and did I mention how windy it was? So Austin got eaten by the snow fence, and I had exactly enough time to think "I should've seen that coming" before I plowed into his bike and went flying into the air. I assume the guy behind me thought the exact same thing...

So the time I rolled to a stop, I was 10 feet past my bike, which was underneath a pile of dudes. My motivation blew away in the next gust of wind and I glumly walked back to my bike to see how much stuff was broken on it.

Somehow, my bike was alive! My motivation had still been strewn across a windy Chicago golf course, so that was still a problem. I got rolling again in the 30s and slogged up to 5th place by the end... which might sound good, except that Austin took just as long as me to get going again and he went on to win anyway. Freaking 15-year-old honey badgers.

Masters 30-34 National Championship

The epic snow/ice/cold cross I had been dreaming of never materialized. It's 2012, so we don't have winter anymore (I named my blog after this!), so the closest thing to "excitement" that the Nationals course could conjure up was the gnarly frozen ruts every morning, that melted into a mud slog throughout the day. Guess when I got to race? 3:45 pm. Crap.

I was already bummed about the course conditions, but then I attempted to roll to the start line and an overzealous official (notice a trend here?) told me I had to take my GoPro off my handlebars. I said "but it's not a UCI race?" and she said "it's run under UCI rules."

I really, really wanted to get into a debate with her about selective rule enforcement, and how the UCI rule is based on media rights, and seriously, half of the course isn't even freaking TAPED, I'm pretty sure we have rules about that, right?? However I also did not want to get ejected from the race before it started, so I glumly took my camera off and lined up.

THEN THE NEXT WEEK CHRISTIAN HEULE RAN A GOPRO ON HIS BARS IN A FUCKING WORLD CUP, so if they aren't enforcing the rule there, can I PLEASE play with my electronics next time, USAC? Here, I have an idea, I'll make a website that you can copy as many features from as you want, and in exchange, you'll enforce UCI rules in your age-graded national championships no more stringently than they are enforced at World Cups. Deal?

See now I'm so cranky I'm not sure I can keep blogging safely. DAMMIT.

So.. uh.. 30+ race. Right. My start was a little too good, but I slid back to where I should be pretty efficiently. I had Sally's bike in the pit and Ryan pitting for me, so I took a bike after a few laps, and expedited the murdering of my back via the ole "pit bike that don't really fit."

Here I am complaining about that on cyclingdirt.

I got my bike back and rallied somewhat to catch Richard Bardwell (NEW ENGLAND SCRUBS UNITE!) with one to go. A fan told me I sucked and I should take a beer feed, and he was right, so I did. This gave the illegal/psychological boost of REMEMBERING TO HAVE FUN, which inspired me to attack Richard going into the final downhill and hold him off for a glorious 18th place.
Chilling deep in the mediocre zone with the man behind @ChiCrossCup, Jason Knauff [via cxhairs]

Men's National Championship

So, I had no business being in this race, but neither did the 25 guys who finished behind me! The course turned into velcro-dirt right before the race, after a morning of gnar, and I was sad. I made it four laps before I got pulled, took two dollar handups, and successfully hopped the barriers once, hereby making a mockery of the sport of cyclocross in as many ways as possible.

Then I got pulled and watched Jeremy Powers FINALLY bag a National Championship, which was pretty sweet.

The next day I drove from Madison, WI to Boston MA (1200 miles in 18 hours) which was more badass than any of my race results.

I decided that next year, I'm flipping the whole Nats plan on its head: stalling as long as possible to enter, waiting to see if there's snow in the forecast, and only buying a plane ticket then. I have ZERO interest in another 36-hour round trip drive to race on a boring dirt hillclimb course.

Oh, and I also might want to try training or something, because getting your ass kicked sucks.

Postmortem

So what now? Looking back on the season, I felt like I had something approaching decent form until Night Weasels, but then I ran myself into the ground putting that on and spent the rest of the year trying to find my legs. With the exception of my traditional good ride at Northampton, I didn't have much to show for the latter half of the season.

One of the reason I write these things is so that I have to read to my own whining after the emotions behind said whining have passed. Right now, I don't know what to change for the 2012 race season, except that something needs to change. Maybe I should quit coffee, right? Feels like a nice, drastic step.

More pressingly, I have elite-wave start at the Birkie in just over a month, and my six-week plan for faking my way to nordic fitness is already derailed by illness. Possibly related, I tried a "week without coffee" last week. Conclusion: My immune system is powered by caffeine.

I dunno, man. I think it's like I've always said: when in doubt, put GoPros on things.

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