By Mark Zalewski
I decided to focus on cyclo-cross more than ever. At this point I have already done more races than last season, and if I do all the ones I have in mind, I’ll have done more races this season than in my last three combined.
I’m also trying to be better AT the racing as well. When I decided to first dip my toes into the CX pond back in 2008 I was still a category 3 on the road (from faster days gone by) and I didn’t realize USAC puts you into the same category for ‘cross unless you ask. (Plus I know what I’m doing, right? Pshht, cat. 4’s be damned!) So I began racing CX as a cat. 3 and was quickly destroyed.
Of course I could have downgraded but that is SOOOO not something a real ‘racer’ would ever do. And I’ve never placed DFL, so I figure I will just train more one of these years. That idea has been hampered by injury the previous two years, but finally this year I came in with a little (ahem) fitness.
Jackson Park was a decent start to the season, though I remember thinking after the race that I wasn’t 100% tired, meaning I left some out on the course by playing it conservative. Both a nice thought to be able to have and a little frustrating. CX is all about a sustained and intense effort. The next couple of races I tried to push myself more but still not quite pushing the bike handling envelope in an effort to stay upright. Dan Ryan Woods (where I cracked my ribs last season) was my best race of the first half of my season, with both sustained efforts and no falls despite letting my bike go more than usual.
Then came the mud-double of Psycho Cross and Carpenter Park. It was like racing in brownie batter at Carpenter and I did not handle it well. My bike even worse as I had to replace my bottom bracket after.
I was bummed; my bike was broken. I had another less-than-stellar race out of town a week later.
I even though about skipping the next CCC race, Campton Hills, because the course last year was little too twisty-turny, even for CX. But I needed to get back on the bike.
With a new bottom bracket installed and my shifting finally sorted, I decided to put everything out there.
I am someone’s nemesis, apparently. This happened about a month before when I randomly met the wife of another racer. She commented that her husband raced ‘cross, and after some back-and-forth realized that he was a cat. 3 and that I knew him. Then at DRW she heckled that he was beating me, though he actually was not, which is likely why he decided to make me his nemesis.
I had extra motivation to do well because the sister-in-law of my (de-facto) nemesis said that to the winner goes a beer. Well now, that is all I needed to hear! Though he started a row in front of me I had my sights locked because now it was for real.
I’ve also learned that the best place to start in the cat. 3 race (besides the front row) is on the sides, as there has been a crash in almost every start this year. Once again it was whistle, pedal pedal pedal, BAM! I was again fortunate to be on the other side and able to quickly get around.
One specific aspect I have worked on this year is starting — to go harder for longer and not just ‘settle in’ where it looks comfortable. That is how you start a crit or a road race, but in CX that means you have to then pass them later. Better to just do it at the start. Unlike some other courses this year the start had pretty wide sweeping turns and I was surprised others were not taking advantage of the real estate to move up.
A quick check and I saw my nemesis four wheels in front of me. At the top end of the course there was a long power section — not normally my strength. (I’m not strong at the technical aspects either; it just speaks to my lack of endurance.) But I decided to burn some matches and put him in my rear view. Passing is more about what happens after the pass than before it, because if you let-up, the passee will often use the humiliation of being passed as motivation to reclaim that spot — especially if it is a NEMESIS! So I made sure to ride as hard as I could for the next 30 seconds, even if I gassed myself. Fortunately, this was enough to put a gap between us AND get me right onto the rear wheel of teammate Trent! (Sadly I was gassed enough from the effort that Trent pulled away.)
Now it was all about staying upright. But the course was actually laid-out well this year with a lot of flow and beautiful weather, so I decided to push my bike handling to the edge. This resulted in picking up more spots and almost making it back to Trent, but still gave me my best result of the year.
As for the other monkeys it was another solid endeavor.
- Despite having some bad luck Hayes is again the strongman by doubling up.
- Monko somehow survived Halloween festivities the night before and raced in a haz-mat suit. (Note: those do not breathe like lycra.)
- Kelly Clarke kicked butt in costume for the women’s 4 and then busted out the candy as a piñata in the 4b. Gets the best SM costume award.
- Great to see Stewart rocking CX
- PJ just needs to upgrade, but I’m glad he hasn’t because he would likely start in the front row of the cat 3 race.
- Kyle and Aaron are netting a lot of points to maintain our team’s position
- Trent… next time!!!