Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Natz Race Report from John Elgart

Snowacane Numbs Natz
From John Elgart

05 Cyclocross Nats Report
Providence RI 12.11.05
Result: 1st in 60+ age group, out of 20 some starters, 16 finishers

Two minutes into my Cyclocross Nationals things were not going perfectly. In the first corner I crashed, entangling my bars in the frame. Then on the side-hill traverse, I slid down the hill and spun out. Finallly on some black ice, the rider fell in front of me and I had to run again. But after that, after my first 2 minutes, I was in first place. It was that kind of race. If you were there, you fell down.

The Providence CX Nationals will be known as the year of the “Snowacane” – like the Napa CX is known as the year of the Deluge, and Portland as the years of Mud-part1 and Mud-part2. Friday’s races opened in a snow storm, followed by a few hours of rain and then, to the surprise of the National Weather Service, by plunging temperatures, 40 mph winds, hail in varying sizes, and finally a white-out blizzard. Crossers do revel in the epic nature of their sport, but this was epic squared. With hypothermia a real issue, as well as flying tents, tree limbs and bicycles, the last two races on Friday were cancelled. Unheard of? Quite. Crossers love bad weather, but for 2 races, cross wimped out.

The next two days dawned sunny, but the damage was done: much of the course was frozen ruts of muddy ice covered with a layer of snow. A cycle of freeze and thaw followed, with a constantly changing network of ice barriers. To say it was an unpredictable ride is an understatement. It made for racing where victory often went to the best technician or the rider with the most experience with snow in all its guises.

But back to my race: 11:30 Sunday, temperature 35, plenty of mud, ridges of ice, snow and slush… beautiful to look at, a Breughel scene. I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures on CyclingNews.

We were running in 3 age waves: 50-54, 54-59 and my group the 60+, each separated by a minute or so. I’m told we had 26 signed up for the 60’s – though only 16 finished. The 3 groups combined were over 100 riders.

The start was a paved uphill of a few 100 meters with the hole shot over a curb to a narrow rutted single-track that went slightly downhill for 100 meters into an off-camber drop, the so-called “Jellybelly Candy Bowl,” with a u-turn coming out. I must have been doing 25 with I entered the Candy Bowl and promptly slid, ice flying, into a 360 degree tumble. Luckily I wasn’t hurt -– just a bit embarrassed. My bars had hooked under my top tube. I must have looked dumbfounded before I pried them loose and ran up the bank just as the pack got to me.

Thus tragedy was avoided –- in time for the comic portion of the program. On the side-hill traverse that followed immediately the two riders in front of me spun down the embankment to collide with a nest of frozen ruts. Again we were all off our bikes. Then around the next corner, a nasty piece of black ice pitched off camber, the rider in front of me slid into the tape. I avoided him with another run, and at this point I found myself in the lead again, and surprisingly there I stayed.

After such an eventful beginning, I took all other obstacles at a pedestrian pace. In fact I was often in pedestrian as opposed to vehicular mode. This seemed really pitiful when I watched most of the women’s field riding one of the sections that I ran every time. But you gotta do what you gotta do. I stayed upright.

I did have some excitement when I was caught by local favorite Bruce McCowan after a lap or so. Bruce was the winner of the Verge series in the 55+, so I wasn’t surprised to see him on my wheel. But strangely he dropped off after the big run up. When I came through the pits at the end of lap 2, I had 30 seconds and Linda was telling me to just ride carefully.

I did go all-out on the straight riding sections and the run-ups – and there I passed many riders from the two earlier waves. In the end, after 46 minutes, my gap was a bit over 2 minutes on Bruce. Overall, I wasn’t really as fast as I could have been, but I was faster than anyone else in my group, and that’s what counts.

Cyclingnews had some great photos (one from Abiorca) of me looking uncharacteristically coordinated:

Notes on the Races:

** UCI Cyclocross courses have been heading in the direction of criteriums on dirt. The idea is to have spectator friendly pack racing: after 10 minutes a dozen riders are together at the front, and this group is gradually whittled down until a single rider escapes on the final lap. The Providence course might have been like this without any snow. With snow, however, the splits were immediate and ever increasing. This made the racing a bit boring, aside from the thrill factor of seeing the inevitable crash.

** Even the best riders crashed. Todd Wells, one of the best bike handlers out there, fell going by the pits in a straight line where virtually no one had fallen all day. Andy Jacques Maynes, another great bike handler, fell and separated his shoulder. But this is quite atypical for cross. In most cross races, falls are rather rare. No really.

** California riders fared, for the most part, not so well. One exception to this was Henry Kramer who took 2nd in the 50-54 behind Paul Curley. Henry and I had something in common: we both “yard saled” on the first lap, in the first corner. Another exception to the NoCal rule was in the 30-34 where Justin Robinson from Santa Cruz won for the 2nd year.

But the Elite racers came from points East and North. In order, they were from: Colo , Ore, NH, Maine, Mass, Ore, Ore, Wisc, Mass, Colo, Kansas, Colo, Penn, Mass, Ore, Ore, Mass, Conn, and FINALLY from Cali Josh Snead in 20th at 8:20 and then Chris McGovern in 21st. Our Alto Velo adopted favorite, Chris Horner was 27th at 9+ minutes. But he wasn’t lapped.

** The 35-39 race was the really, really bad one, starting in rain and ending in meteorological Armageddon. When the temperature drops 10 degrees during a 45 minute race, you might think something is a little weird. The local newspaper had a term for it, which sounds totally made up: bombogenisis. It has something to do with a very rapid drop in air pressure. Like a bomb going off, eh? Anyway the riders from this race did look as if a bomb had gone off during their race as they staggered around the Expo Tent afterward looking for a warm place to curl up.

** Next year CX Nationals is again in Providence. Then Kansas City for 2 years. In December, of course. You’d think that just once they’d wind up in some place like Tucson, or San Diego, but that would not be the Way of Cross. It would be, well, too easy.


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