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Labor Day Cyclocross Championships at JBLM

Last November it seems I was inflicted with the Cyclocross bug. It is not news that I have an internal defect that drives me to race. For years it was motorcycles. Then small sailboats. Now it is Cross.

Last fall I sampled Cyclocross by outfitting my 1970’s Raleigh Grand Prix with cross tires. That bike was not ideal for Cyclocross racing. This year I put myself aboard a proper Cyclocross machine; a Norcross SP from Blue Competition Cycles.

For Cyclocross it is important to get the tires and their pressures just right. On race day I chose 30 psi. front and 32 psi. rear. I switched to 30/33 after my three warm up laps. I still felt a rear wheel ‘ding’ at one point in the race. Maybe the best choice was 30/34. The 1x8 gearing (38 front, 12-28 rear) easily covered my needs with neither top nor bottom gear being used during the race.

This event was held on land controlled by Joint Base Lewis McChord but not inside the military base. The event promoters, Team Double Check, set a fastish course with little elevation gain. It contained one tallish barrier at the bottom of the only run up. About 1/3 of the course was laid out under trees with many technical corners. Off camber, decreasing radius, double apex. There was a test for every skill. The other 2/3 was laid out on a more or less flat area that had few trees. This flatter portion of the course was definitely faster. There had been little to no rain in the preceding 4 days so the soil was pretty dry.

I arrived a couple hours early to walk and pre ride some of the course. I invested some time examining the ditch preceding the first corner and the best lines through the trees that made up the first 9 corners. By chance those corners were also the last 9 corners before riders crossed the finish line when completing a lap.

The barrier and run up felt like my weakest point of the course. My practice with low barriers on level ground now appeared somewhat short sighted. On the plus side I felt my cornering speeds were equal or superior to the riders around me.

After meandering around the course three times I headed to the start line. Riders were already filling the third row of the 35+ cat 4 mens so that is where I parked. Then I noticed that the guys next to me didn’t take an open slot in the second row so, with their permission, I did.

Category 4 Mens Masters 35+ start

The start was a straight gravel road for 200 yards to the ditch, into the trees, and the first turn. As soon as they waived us off I was surprised that there wasn’t that much competition for position. With just a little extra effort I was able to move up to third before the ditch and hold that position into the first corner.

I knew I wanted to stay in the lead group. But I was clueless on what the best race pace should be. My cornering speed was competetive which helped me stay with the leaders. There were just three riders in the lead group by the end of the first lap. We were not racing against each other. Just trying to stay fast without burning up. But if one of use took a corner poorly or got stuck behind a slower rider the positions would get rearranged. This went on for about two laps. During this time I hesitated taking the lead as I still wasn’t sure what the best pace was.

At about the half way point the lead group thinned to just myself and Adam Cramer. He encouraged me to lead for a while and I did so. I imagine he did that to size me up before the last lap. I already knew that I wasn’t likely to win a sprint against Adam as he seemed stronger than me any time he wanted to be.

Cyclocrossing through the trees

When the scorer announced ‘one more lap’ it looked like it would come down to Adam or I. Despite his strength he was letting me set the pace. I upped my cornering speeds a bit but did not put much extra energy into the pedals. This pace was no problem for either of us. Near the end of that last lap Adam passed me to take the lead on the run up. He looked strong and put 50 feet into me on the next three straights and through the two fast corners that joined them. Fortunately a technical section followed and I was able to close the gap with about one minute to go.

With about 30 seconds left to race we entered the section of 9 corners that I knew well. At this point I was using some energy, confident of my lines, and glued to Adams rear wheel. On the third to last right hander (a sharp turn with an uphill entry and gravel patch at the exit) I set up wide to exit tight. This line had worked well all race and it was through this corner that I regained the lead. I put some extra effort into the pedals for the next five corners and crossed the line just two seconds ahead.

The runup at Labor Day Cyclocross Championships
At the Cyclocross finish line

I felt pretty giddy afterwards. I had won races in other disciplines before. But succeeding in a Cyclocross race left me with a validation that all the suffering on the bike before the race translates to a stronger sense of accomplishment after the race.

A few interesting notes:

Credit for some of the action images goes to Woodinville Bicycle. Many more images available at their Smugmug account. Credit for the remainder of the action images goes to the promoter's Facebook account Labor Day Cyclocross Championships.

During the race a number of riders took a dangerous wrong turn after some course tape was knocked down. This happened near the scoring booth and the scorer missed some riders as he made emergency repairs. I was told official scores wouldn’t be posted for a few days and had not been posted at the time of this writing.

I also discovered that Adam, the ‘really strong’ rider, really is. He raced, and nearly won, a second race just 25 minutes after we crossed the finish line.

Summary: Years of racing motorcycles taught me how to make a bike turn. Tens of thousands of vertical feet of climbing with the Cyclopaths conditioned my body to make a bike go. And for this racer on one particular Labor Day that turned into a winning combination.