Monday, November 17, 2008

Double-O CX: A Quantum of Sandpit

Just as James Bond has a license to kill, Coreys Haim and Feldman have a license to drive, and Billy Ocean has a license to chill (revoked in 1989), BCC agents Linus O-.G. and Chris O. have a license to race bicycles.

To honor these licenses, we headed down to Southern Pines on a super secret cyclocross mission. A number of other racers in the NC series apparently chose not to accept this mission (in favor of the Blacksburg, VA race, the New Jersey UCI race, or sitting on their butts back at BCC World Headquarters). Nevertheless, there the race went on with plenty of fast dudes and plenty of challenges on the course. Southern Pines is in NC's sandhills region which, while not very hilly, is very sandy. The promoters always put together a nice race on the campus of Sandhills Community College (who are kind enough to let us use the restrooms in the student center, rather than accursed porta-johns), winding across a flat grass field and parking lot. This is all well and good, but the real trouble comes when we enter the woods; a descent with quick switchbacks through deep sand, followed by a long, sandy run-up.

Call me crazy, but there isn't enough running in bike racing. Watch the Euros, or races in the US where it rains a lot. The conditions get nasty and riders are forced to run. Here in NC, we are blessed/cursed with ild wintertime weather, meaning that while we don't freeze our fingers and toes off, we don't get ridicuolus mud. I think that this should encourage race course designers to find some wacky feature that forces riders to run with their bikes for a while, but this typically only happens up the dam in Cary and up the sandhill in So-Pines.

But this is all just theory and philosophical musing of what makes a great cyclocross course. In reality, these run-ups suck. They hurt like hell. The are motivational killers because you not only feel like you're moving so slowly, but when you finally get back on the bike, you try to pedal and you have zero power. Ooof.

Linus always gets great starts, quickly settling into fourth position. This appeared to be a big help, because there were few places to pass on the serpentine infield and there were huge bottlenecks once the pack hit the sand. Avoiding these pitfalls, Linus settled nicely into his rhythm, rode cleanly and smoothly, and held off a late charge from some dude to finish 11th. He seemed a little bummed he was just out of the top 10, but a fine result. He rewarded himself on the drive home by buying a beef stick at a gas station. I thought it looked nasty, but he seemed satisfied.

My race was a strange one. Only 7 riders, all of whom had beaten me in previous races. However, I had beaten at least one of them when they were sick or had mechanicals. And while I would not wish ill upon one of my competitors, racing is an opportunistic endavor--when someone is having a bad day, someone else gets to step up. If I could finish, I was assured one of the highest-placed finishes of my CX-1-2 career, not to mention some cashmoney. However, could I avoid a last place finish? I got off to what's becoming my trademark slow start (initiated in racing singlespeed against the mostly geared collegiate men), as to avoid getting in the way of dudes that were clearly faster than me. My body seems to respond better when I start conservatively, holding wheels and not trying to jump past people in the first few minutes. This worked out pretty well as one, then two dudes kinda popped. I followed the wheel of Scott, an Inland rider, for a couple of laps until he gapped me and was on his merry way. I was feeling pretty okay and had a fairly sizable lead ahead of the 6th place guy, trying to ride quickly without taking any silly risks. The final lap presented a late surge from Aaron (the aforementioned 6th place guy), so I had to dig a bit deeper to fend him off. So while there is a big asterisk after this fifth place (my highest finish in a CX-1-2 race ever), it is still one of my most proud third-to-last place finishes.

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