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Race Reports

Monroe Seattle Cyclocross event

From Roger Burton on 11/26/2012

I'll start my report with a late report from Steilacoom. Nothing was wrong that day, but I just didn't have the "winning" feeling at the start. The start was packed and everyone flew hard into the first corner. I tried to keep up with the lead, but about 10 to 15 guys were leading off ahead of me. There was a lot of traffic going up the hill on the first lap, and I ended up riding in the grass to pass, which was not easy! I kept pace most of the race, but never seemed to pass more than a few guys in my category. The third run up the hill had me feeling tired. I saw a guy in my category just ahead of me on the final climb, and managed to keep pace, but he flew down the descent so fast that he gained at least 30 seconds on me and I never caught him. I crossed the line, thinking that there were at least 10 or so guys still ahead of me. It was not false modesty that had me telling a few of you that I thought I placed somewhere around 10 to 15th place. I was very surprised to see that I finished 4th, and only 18 seconds behind 1st! Now for Monroe. I wondered what I was in for. On the warm-up, I nearly rode off the course going down the steep incline, coming around the corner too fast with wet brakes. But I tried it again and it was fine. The only problem was going to be traffic. I wanted to win this one if I could, but would be happy with anything in the top 5. A win would cinch my Cat 3 upgrade points. But I made a huge race mistake. Read on to find out what! I was thinking that with the short course, we would be doing maybe 5 laps. The starter mentioned that we would probably see "3 laps to go" on the lap board as we went by. Only 3 laps? That seems short! But maybe the hill and mud were expected to slow us down. Can you see my mistake yet? I got a call-up for my race, and was positioned second row. They started us off, and the guy in front of me immediately dragged, slowing me down. I had about 12 guys ahead of me going into the first hairpin up to the grass. Everyone was going out hot! I managed to stay in good position through the grass maze, and headed into the downhill corner. Some guys were dismounting and running, others were not. I rode it behind another rider, who rounded the corner at the bottom and promptly got off his bike. Argh! I did not have the momentum or room to get around him, and my foot went down, killing my speed. I was at a dead stop, trying to get started again as another 5 guys went by (nice job Kozo!). I finally got it started again. I pushed on and passed a few guys. The sand was easy by now; but the traffic forced me to get off the beaten track to pass some guys, which was not as bad as it looked (the sand, that is). I finished lap 1 in 9th place. I pushed through lap 2, slowly gaining ground. I passed up numbers 427 and 457, two of the top racers in the category, on the straightaway going into the sand. 457 was the fast descender from Steilacoom. I also passed a few of the other leaders, and was surprised how early in the race I passed them. 457 soon passed me back, though, right after the end of lap 2. I stayed on his tail, though, and pushed hard. This was lap 3, the last lap, right? I got a good gap on him and started looking for the leader, #440. I caught him somewhere near the mud and pulled ahead. I crossed the finish, thinking I was done. But the lap board still said 1 lap to go! Is that right? I better keep riding... I realized what I had done, and dug down and just hoped that I could hold on to my lead for another lap. I tried to ride hard, but not out of control to avoid any time-consuming mistakes. I passed some open 4s, and then I could hear someone on my tail as I climbed up to the grass maze. I felt them going by me, and I thought, this was it, I was gassed and getting passed back. But no, it was one of the kids in the open 4s re-passing me. Not great, but not anything to worry about! I got slowed in the downhill corner by the guy in front of me, but managed to ride it out, just slow. It was multi-colored skinsuit guy (MCSG) from the open 4s. I stayed behind him to the run-up, and was having trouble getting around him. The best line through the mud was on the left, and I was just to the right of MCSG, who was on the far left. For some unknown reason, MCSG rode diagonally across the mud towards the right, forcing me into the deeper mud and preventing me from passing him. Argh again! I thought for sure I was going to lose a place because of that. But I overtook MCSG right after the mud and barreled on into the straightaway and sand. I almost slipped on the final corner in the loose gravel, but righted myself and sprinted to the line. I did it! The announcer called my name as the 35+ winner. Wow. My lap times showed the story: 7:34, 7:34, 7:24 (the all-out lap where I thought I was done), and then 7:40. I came across the line 12 seconds ahead of 2nd place, and with the same lap time (7:40) as him. So luckily I was not the only one who slowed on the last lap!

From Rainer Leuschke on 11/28/2012

Monroe is a good course. Mud, packed sand, tacky sweepers, ride or run descent. Got to love the features. Unfortunately the new rock garden feature ruined the fun for me a bit this year. Not sure what the course setters were thinking leaving a 20 ft section of fist size sharp boulders in a stretch that called for high speed. Anyways, carnage ensued. I was sitting second to Jason Jablonski in the series with a chance to win it if I'd win the race. Coming second with him third wasn't good enough. I took the lead early, ran the loose descent and subsequent climb and had a bit of daylight between me and Jason. Ron Schmeer joined the party and we separated from the rest of the field. I was feeling really good. It seemed like I might have a shot at shaking my companions at some point. The good sensations were over in lap three when I noticed the rear slowly deflating after passing the rock garden. Jason pitted with a flat, while I nursed my deflating tire for half a lap. Quinn was pitting for me and the bike swap was a bit of a cluster. I guess when somebody is in the pits for me, I need to learn to signal before I come in. So I was on my single speed bike for a lap. It actually felt pretty good at 42x18 but I did loose a bit of time and Ron and Jason were riding together 15 sec ahead and I still had 15 sec on the chasers. Back on my geared bike with a spare rear. Since I now had little pressure from behind I tried riding the descent. The descent was definitely slower riding than running for me but including the run up and remount it was probably a wash for time and it did save some energy riding it all so I stuck with this approach. I also started to make noticeable progress reeling in the leaders. With 3 to go I was maybe 10 sec down. A half lap later I was maybe 5 sec back, about to make contact. Then one more pass through the rock garden and I had another flat. This time it was the front and it deflated fast. I rode the mud bog section on very little air but had to run the short descent to the pits. On my single speed for a half lap and back on my A bike. Practice makes perfect and Quinn and I got to hone our pit skills. That last bike swap was almost cat 1 worthy. Unfortunately the race for the win was up the metaphorical road. I didn't back off a whole lot, as long as there was another pass over the rocks my competitors might have the same misfortune as I did after all. But this is as it remained. I got to watch the sprint between Ron and Jason from the exit of the sand pit. (Ron won it on a deflating rear tire). Proud to have come away with a podium finish in this race and 2nd place for the series. Last year I got the bronze cowbell, silver this year. Come back stronger next year and get that golden one, right? Thanks again to Quinn for the help. Saved my bacon for the day. And a big thank you to the whole team for all the support and cheers. This is what makes cross my favorite season of the year.

Rainer’s Lament

The consistency of muds
Some say is peanut butter;
Others say is glue,
Sucking and oozing
Till you slop to a stop.

It swallows your front wheel,
Taking all your momentum,
Making you wish
Your tires were very wide.

Mud belongs on the level,
But can be on a slant,
Making the traversed terrain
As frictionless as brown ice.

As the rains begin,
Some are driven to despair,
But several among us
Crack a big smile.

OH! but several days of dry
Made Magnuson the equivalent
Of the Ballard crit,
And the mud haters got a reprieve.

The mud believers were earnest,
Doing their dances and magic,
For Enumclaw would not be the same;
The mud haters’ punishment would be Rainer’s joy.

Raleigh Midsummer CX Race

This was an interesting race that included all kinds of different terrain, but no mud. I vividly remember the very bumpy grass, the wind, the dust, the smooth tarmac and the steep downhill. (I’m trying to forget the steep run-up).

The race started along a very fast and smooth tarmac road, followed by a hard left on to the bumpy grass, ruts and plenty of dust. On this first lap I inhaled enough dust to grow a garden. In the center of the course we raced downwind through rather tall grass which hid a lot of potholes. It was like playing blind man’s bluff with ruts hard enough to cause flats. After the tall grass came a short jump up, then a fast descent through loose wood chips. I raced in a blur of pumps until the steep downhill on lap two. Going into the downhill I was following a guy in pink when he went over the front of his bike, blocking the trail right in the middle of the descent. I wasted a perfectly good pint of adrenaline making my way around this fallen rider. At the bottom of the descent I was thanking my lucky stars that I had not fallen. Someone at the bottom of the decent hollered “Way to go Michael!”, and the inflection in their voice meant “I don’t believe he avoided that crash”.

During lap three I could hear the cheers for Emily coming up on me. I gave a holler for her to come up to me but then heard shouts that she had lost her chain. I continued on in no man’s land until I saw Chris in front of me. I chanted to myself, “Catch him, catch him” when suddenly at the top of the run-up he was right in my face. Little did I know at the time, but the only reason I caught him was that he bent his chainring. Again, I blurred out until the finish. I got 7th place one minute and twenty five seconds behind the leader. For me this was a very good result, but during the latter parts of the race I felt slow and out of gas. When home, I checked my Garmin data, which indicated an average heart rate of 182 with a max of 186 and a speed of 24.4 mph down the last tarmac stretch. A good effort for me.

I want to thank Sharon for giving me tips on how to get down the descent, Mel for pointing out Chris Nodder’s images of the descent, and all the team members for their support. After a challenging race, remembrances fade to fun.

Gran Fondo Ephrata 2014

Yesterday, while the rest of the Mud Roosters were earning their names, Quinn and I headed east to Ephrata and suffered through the Gran Fondo Ephrata with its unseasonably warm and sunny conditions. I came home with a real tan, not a mud tan! The Gran Fondo Ephrata is 80 miles with almost 5,000 ft. of climbing, on paved and gravel roads. It sold out this year with 200 riders. It is not a race, but it is timed, you are ranked, and prizes are given to the first three finishers.

At start line, the debate was, to wear a jacket or not? I put my on, but realized that I was warm standing around in it, and was quickly going to be hot. So I doffed it and started the ride in shorts, short sleeves, and arm warmers. Turned out to be the right decision! After a neutral roll-out through town, we were set loose on Baird Springs Road leading into the hills west of town. I had started near the back, and found myself quickly moving forward in the throng to about mid-pack when we turned off onto the first gravel road and first climb, Norton Canyon Road. I tried to keep a good steady pace, moving forward but not pushing so hard that I would burn out later. I found myself cresting the hill in a few miles just several hundred yards shy of the lead group of riders, passing most of the guys I knew on the way up, like Rick H. from Audi, my carpool buddy Matt K., and Joe Martin. We descended back to the main road, crossed it, and begin the second, longer, but not-as-steep climb to the crest. This climb goes on and on. Every time you think you are nearing the summit, another hill looms in the distance. Gradually climbing rollers, as it is. I hooked up with a second group and we started closing on the lead group. But then the hill got steeper, and we broke up and I fell off the back. I couldn’t keep up with the group. I kept up a decent pace, though, and eventually reached the summit and started down.

The road conditions were excellent; no snow or water, and the dirt and gravel was fairly solid. I felt comfortable going full speed down the hill. I traveled solo for a while, then got passed by another ride or two and latched onto their wheels. Then a bigger group came up, and we all joined in with them and their higher pace, cruising down the rest of the descent, through the tunnel, and finally out to the highway along the Columbia. We quickly turned off the highway and started the climb up to the sandy sections, our group breaking up on the climb. I was all set to use my practice in cross riding through sand, but I found myself stymied by other riders in nearly every section crossing my line. That, and I wasn’t the smoothest either! But the sections were short, just 20 to 50 yards each, and we were through them quickly and on down the very rough road across the hillside. We eventually came back to the highway and rode along that for a few miles, grouping back into pacelines.

I stopped at the aid station at the turn off onto Palisades Road and grabbed a sandwich wrap and cookie, used the facilities, and headed out with the wrap still in hand. The pacelines had broken up, some continuing and some stopping at the aid station. I was near a Ravenna rider, Mike, and after finishing my wrap he and I started trading leads and moving up the canyon at a good clip. We overtook another rider and added him to our group. We continued like this for 20-25 minutes, moving at around 22 mph. Just as I was cresting a hill and about to relinquish my pull, a large group of 15-20 cyclists came up from behind and we jumped in with them. They were moving at 25-28 mph and flying. I was a little confused as to the order of the paceline; it appeared to be a double-line with one side or the other moving up. I realized after a while, though, that it was a standard paceline, but that the rotation was so fast that no one pulled; as soon as you got into the lead, you moved over. Before realizing this, I made some unusual moves and got “scolded” by some other riders. Sorry! Once I figured it out, though, it went much smoother.

Palisades Canyon is the most scenic part of the ride. High basalt cliffs on both sides loom over you and close in as you climb up the canyon. The pavement eventually runs out, and when it did and the dirt started, the pacelines fell apart. Partly because of the potholes disrupting the lines, but everyone seemed to drop back. A few people went off the front, and I pulled ahead too with little effort and soon reached the start of the climb back to Ephrata, Three Devils Hill. It’s called that because it has three steep climbs on it; each one climbing up a basalt escarpment (on a graded road). Near the top of the first steep pitch, one of the riders in front just fell over. I think his leg cramped so bad that he lost his balance. He was okay when I went by; just discouraged! Another rider cramped up on the second Devil and had to pull over. This guy chatted with me and it turns out we raced against each other in Cross this year. He cramped several more times, but otherwise was a faster rider than me and eventually overtook me and beat me back. I hooked up with a couple of riders after Three Devils, but couldn’t keep up and they went off ahead. I rode the rest of the way back solo.

The hardest climb, psychologically, was yet to come. After Three Devils, you hit some long section of open road, both paved and not paved. Then you turn right and climb to the crest in another of those false-summit canyons, with another steep pitch at the end. Then after that, more rollers, one after another. Finally, you reach the “Hill” sign, a sign indicating that a downgrade is ahead. Yes! The end is near. We descend down Sheep Canyon for several miles, a welcome relief. Unfortunately there was a bit of a headwind, and so you had to pedal to keep a good speed up. Finally, at the bottom, is the final finish flat. Easy? No, the headwind was very strong here. It was work just to go 12 mph. I told myself I was riding uphill, and that made the slow speed more bearable. Tired, exhausted, and with my legs starting to cramp, I was wishing I was back already. A rider who was in the distance behind me on the hills before descending had disappeared from sight in the windy section along the levee, but after I came around the last corner to the finish straightaway, I looked back and he was only a few hundred yards back. I was not going to let someone overtake me in the last quarter mile! I turned the cranks as hard as I could, getting my speed up to like, 15 mph? and made it across the line safely.

Two years ago, I did the ride in 4:46 and took 3rd. Last year, I did it in 4:49 and got 26th. The ride got a lot more popular in 2013! This year, I crossed the line in 4:24, 25 minutes faster than last year. I was 19th in the lineup this year.

After the ride, we went to the Rec Center and they fed us some awesomely tasty and filling lasagna with salad and garlic bread. Perfect!