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Raleigh Grand Prix - Crosser

After being convinced by some cycling friends that I just had to try Cyclocross racing I put forward a three part plan. Step one was to elect and then upgrade the well used Raleigh Grand Prix just enough to be able to get around a Cyclocross course. Step two was to start taking some higher intensity and shorter duration rides to build up the engine a bit. Step three would be show up on the start line and see what happened.

Although I had never entered a bicycle race I do have a fair amount of two wheeled racing under my belt. Some on road. Some off. All motored. The techniques of getting a two wheeler to go around slippery corners are not new to me. Despite this confidence a few practice days at the venue seemed wise. These practice days allowed me to get familiar with the handling of the tires and bike. They also allowed me to study the course a bit. I tried to focus on smooth bike handling during these sessions.

The weather forecast for rain on race day was spot on. Fortunately the temperature was mild at about 50° F. I arrived early enough to take a couple warm up laps before finding a spot on the line. With about 60 riders entered in Men's 35+ Cat 4 that spot was 5 rows back.

As the race started the first two rows were able to get away cleanly while the rest of us fought to find a lane. The first corner was a slowish 180 degree left hander that was at least 100 meters after the start. I moved all the way to the right side of the course and started passing riders by riding right up against the plastic yellow tape that defined the course. This worked well all the way to and through that first corner by which time I had probably moved from about 50th to about 40th. This technique of finding room right up against the tape worked well and I continued to find passing opportunities.

And it didn't take long to figure out how the various riders made or lost time. I didn't have the strength for a hard accelerations after each corner so I conserved energy by rolling through whenever possible. Some other riders around me seemed overly cautious about their cornering speeds but had the legs to get the bike moving again afterwards.

Click to see the author as he works through the barns. Photo courtesy of Laurel Bluhm at www.onceglimpsed.com.

My first lap pace was about right. I was able to continue to make occasional passes in and out of the more technical sections and only gave up a few positions on the climbs. It also became clear to me that I was not the only rider comfortable in a pack as I discovered that a little bar to bar contact and the occasional lean were normal when the going got tight.

Click to see the faces of suffering. Photo courtesy of DBC Photography www.dbcphoto.com.

At the start of my second lap I found my race rhythm and also how to move forward. In a technical section I would catch up to another rider. When the opportunity presented itself I would show him a wheel. He would respond by letting me go by or by working a little harder to stay in front. If he didn't let me by I would be patient and concentrate on conserving energy for a corner or two. Then I'd show my wheel again. By about the third iteration I'd be well rested enough to make a serious move and then accelerate away to seal the pass.

Towards the middle of that second lap I also realized my main weakness. The run-up was slow on the first lap due to congestion. But on the second lap we had more room and my legs were shot when I remounted at the top. This is where my memory is a bit fuzzy as I was trying to recover from the run-up while negotiating the two climbs that followed it. There was plenty of suffering going on until my lungs finally caught up during the long descent.

Click to see the author asking 'Is this fun?' Photo courtesy of Laurel Bluhm at www.onceglimpsed.com.

During my third and final lap I was able to put together a good showing. I was still catching and passing the occasional rider. But I was also throttling back my energy output in the final minute before the run-up. I didn't ascend any faster but was able to remount in much better shape and keep a decent pace on the next two climbs.

At the finish I had no clue where in the field I might have finished. With two riders directly in front of me and one directly behind I only knew I wasn't first and I wasn't last. Fortunately the folks at Seattle Cyclocross have their act together and results are usually posted within 15 minutes. Those results showed that the Raleigh Grand Prix Crosser had taken me just into the top half of the group. My finish time was about two minutes behind the winner of my race. (Although we might of well have been separated by an hour. After the start I never saw any lead riders.)

The Raleigh Grand Prix certainly did it's job. After a number of practice days and a full on race it never let me down. Although I would not recommend a 25 pound bike for Cross racing I can say that the Raleigh was not the limiting factor.

After a number of pleasant vacation trips and a successful Cyclocross experiment this particular bicycle is without a mission. Maybe next Fall it will again turn a Cross wheel in anger. Or some future winter could see it converted into a fendered commuter. For now, however, it will get stuffed into the shed to wait for that next assignment.