Starcrossed Packfodder

So, the Starcrossed cyclocross event is officially over, but the bruises are still blossoming. I raced the Men’s Cat4 event. I’m going to tell you that good technique and fitness can certainly help you do well in cyclocross, but lack thereof shouldn’t keep you from having fun.

You see, many competitors will have trained well for cyclocross, or at least been racing mtb or road bikes all season. They might have practiced good cyclocross technique like what Tim Rutledge, the godfather of NW cyclocross, taught us as featured by Bike Hugger. A wise competitor would have practiced the course days before, or at least pre-ridden it the day of the event.

And then there’s me…. no fitness, no technique, no pre-ride. Hell, I barely made it in time to register for the event. But I managed to finish.

For various reasons familiar to any paid mechanic… this season I’ve wrenched on a lot of bikes for people and barely ridden my own. Plus for the past two weeks I’ve been nursing a bad back. I haven’t been very motivated to practice my cyclocross re-mounts. I think I can count the attempts in the past two years on one hand.

I thought for sure I would avoid racing in the mud, but NW weather was every bit as wet and dreary as the stereotype. We got to Marymoor park late and I didn’t get to pre-ride the course… or even warm-up. Once I got racing though, I felt a lot better.

Racing towards the back of the pack isn’t that difficult. My advice is to start steady if you know you’re not that great, rather than go all-out on the first lap. You waste too much energy if you’re caught in the crowd and you can’t pick the best line. After a half lap, the lanes open up and you can concentrate on picking off riders. It helped that the Starcrossed course had a lot of places to pass.

Right off the bat, I noticed that I had better bike control in the turns than the riders around me, but they could remount much better than me. I rode in a way that used my strengths and limited wasting energy. I honestly didn’t even attempt a real cyclocross re-mount. The probability of missing it was too high. I paid attention to the lines, choosing the paths that were smoother and had better traction, or let me keep a higher speed through the turns.

There were a couple steep sections that followed tight turns. I set myself up so that I could come out of the turn with enough speed and a low enough gear that I could zoom up the hill without dismounting. Occasionally I even let a gap open between me and the rider ahead so that I could keep my speed through the turn. Twice, a rider ahead stalled out and had to dismount while I powered over and ahead.

I got a little too clever when I tried to use the velodrome to gain speed and a better entrance angle on a grass section. I miscalculated how slick the banking was and yanked the front wheel too hard. The crash was spectacular.

In the end, I finished the race by just riding steady (and only falling once!), but just about everyone behind me got lapped and pulled. True, not exactly a podium spot, but the lesson here is that you don’t have to be good to have fun at cyclocross. It’s like playing in the mud while your friends cheer you on. In fact, it was a lot more fun than most criterium races and a lot more fun for spectators than most mtb races. You should give cyclocross a try too.

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