My first CX report

Summer's over, fall is here and that means one thing for many racing cyclists: cyclocross season starts! To me, previous falls meant fun mountain bike rides with friends, no trainings, no glances at a HR monitor, just riding for the fun of it. Last year I wanted to give cross racing a try but I didn't act on it quickly enough and missed the very short race season in Quebec. This year, I was there for the first race, the Grand Prix Cyclocross de Magog that took place this past sunday.

I was on vacation for the last three weeks so I did get to ride but I didn't do much specific or structured trainings, I just enjoyed the riding. I did get out on the cross bike and tried to get more comfortable doing dismounts, remounts, running up steep grass inclines and riding in sand. I felt okay with the dismounts, so-so with remounts, okay with running and sand riding so I lined up sunday morning feeling like I could expect not to be last but I knew I would be far from the front, not only due to my lack of cross specific skills but also because I knew my top speed, my red line zone wasn't up there. Add a cold that sticks like a gum under a shoe so I thought I would be fine racing a steady pace for an hour or so but wouldn't be able to attack, attack, attack like cross needs. Basically, I headed to the start with modest ambitions: learn, have fun and enjoy a nice sunny day.

After a warmup, a gel and water, time to head to the start line.

Everyone doing a 60 minute race were starting together in the school's bus parking lot, that meant some seriously fast and experienced guys and people like me. I could have raced in the 40 minutes Sport category but I figured I'd learn 50% more, have 50% more fun and risk crashing 50% more by riding in the Masters 30-39 category.

Much to my surprise, I was called to the line since I was one of the early registered racers. The two front 8-wide rows were called, elite or not, I was on the second row with plenty of much faster racers behind me as we were 65 starters. Of course, when the go was given and we headed into our starting loop, I lost some places but that was okay. I decided to try to hang on with the pack but if I felt it was too fast, I'd just go at my pace and do my own race.

The start was very fast, elbows touched...

After a paved straight drag strip from the start, we had a wide radius 180° to the right that led us into the sand where we had to zig and zag. As I thought, with the first lap traffic, running was the better option, for now. After that was some taped maze-like grass section with a few off-cambers straights and corners. The grass was dry, hard and fast but very bumpy. Then we were back on the start straight and now doing full laps. Instead of turning into the sand, we now hoped over a curb on a grass left that lead to the first barrier at the bottom of a steep run-up, then back down, a sharp 180° on concrete, up again, through a parking lot and then dismounting to cross the greasy ditch of death followed by a steep rocky and rooty run-up leading us into the woods... Okay, it wasn't that bad but on every lap, I tried to find a place where I wouldn't sink to no avail, I had mud over the ankle each time no matter where I tried. Thankfully, my Eggbeaters didn't mind, some SPD users had more problems after the run-up.

Chasing before the ditch.

In the woods, it was pretty fast, one sharp loose corner followed by a steep uphill was the only real difficulty as many weren't able to pedal it up. On the first lap, I had to run it because there was just no room to pedal it. After that was a fast gravel and grass trail that I used to recover on almost each lap. It spit us out of the woods on grass again around a football field where we had a sharp off-camber 180°, a straight, a short up leading to an off-camber section featuring a sharp hairpin followed by two barriers then another 180° leading us back through a short wooden rocky trail and then back to the school area. A long sentence right? Need to breathe? No, it's cross so we keep going. Through the parking lot again, hop a curb, left and down a steep grass descent that launched us full speed on a long flat section of grass then pavement then back into the sand...

Preparing a pass at the top of a climb.

Now, after the first lap, we had more room to ride, run and jump. The sand became easier and faster to ride as a track became compressed by the racers. My race was then pretty steady, going pretty good at a pace I knew I could keep for the hour... I probably could have gone faster but I was having a blast! Only things to note after that, I started to get lapped by a few of the faster riders, but only in the last minutes of the race so I finshed one lap behind. Could be better, but given my experience and condition, I thought it was pretty good. I managed to pass riders here and there (here being on the bike, there being running) throughout the race, even lapping some that finished 2 laps down. When I finished though, my back hurt. The bumpy grass sections were giving me a beating so when I stopped, my conclusion is that my back was happy to finish but that my legs weren't close to being used at 100%. Maybe my back would have prefered lower pressures in my tires but a botched bunny-hop over a curb had me really surprised I didn't flat my rear so the hard tires maybe saved me there... I also hurt a knee during the race but I only found out after the car ride to go eat and drink afterwards. When I got out of the car, I felt the pain with my knee at an angle. I think it might be from dismounting into the sharp off-camber hairpin leading to the double barriers, all my speed went straight into and got redirected by my left leg...

Out of 65 starters of the hour long race, I eventually finished one lap down, 46th overall. Of course there is much room for improvement but that's a good thing. Now I know what it's all about and I'm really looking forward to the next race. The next cyclocross weekend is October 3rd and 4th in the Trois-Rivières area but I'm not sure if I'll be able to make those at all, or maybe just the sunday race, we'll see.

A guy that was there thursday at the practice and raced sunday had a camera on his bike, here are short montages of the practice and the race.

This week, I'm trying to take it easy, rest, recover that knee and the sore back because next weekend might be a hard one. I got the confirmation sunday night that I was in for a road race saturday and I'd like to make it to the last mountain bike race of the year sunday. Again, we'll see for the xc race but after that, only cross races remain until the snowflakes start falling.


Old Man Dave said...

Well done mate excellent first try and you enjoyed it, that's what counts.

Carl Buchanan said...

Great race and an awesome report. Sounds like you had a lot of fun and that is the best part about 'Cross, it's a ton of fun.

bluecolnago said...

great report! those bumps in the hard grassy areas are much better when the course is wet :) bring on the cowbells!