Sunday, November 20, 2016

Race Report: Winchester AppleCX

The good news is that I was on the podium!
Just three of us because Sarah and I dawdled for too long in the nice, warm rec center. Casey was kind enough to step in to make it look a little less silly for this picture. Sorry to third and fifth place for not being there for the full picture!
The bad news is that I flatted . . . again . . .

Winchester is about an hour and fifteen minutes away by car. A friend from my local cross group stayed the night (it's hard to get around the city without a car at 4:30 in the morning), and she and one of my teammates rode up with Emily (who gave up her Sunday sleep-in) and me. As I was putting the bikes on the rack, I noticed that my rear tire was flat. What? I rode on Thursday, and it was fine then!

So after I got my race number, I set to work changing my rear tube. Got that squared away and it held air just fine. Pinned my number, put on every scrap of clothing that I had (it finally feels like winter here, and the wind was brutal--although not this brutal), and got to pre-riding the course.

It was a real monster--the hardest course I've ever raced. Its primary feature was the Belgian Wall, a steep, completely un-ride-able uphill straight into a steep off camber straight into another steep uphill. The Belgian Wall was a running feature, no question, and the dirt was loose and soft like sand. The off-camber was so steep that it was difficult to remount, but I found the secret to that--drive-side dismount! If you could remount from the drive side, you could swing your leg over on the downhill side instead of the uphill side and avoid having to run the off-camber. The second uphill was ride-able, but only if you hit it just right, which I only did once. There were, in total, four run-ups, two of them pretty long. There were off-camber turns that got very dusty and loose throughout the day. There was steep, loose descending (a boon for all the mountain bikers!) and lots of roots, even in grassy sections.

It was also a long course, and I only got around it once before it was time to stage for the women's 4 race. We lined up behind the cat 5 men, and there were more of us than them! Win for women's cyclocross in the DC metro! I muffed my start pretty badly; I couldn't get my right foot clipped in, I think because my toe cover was in the way. By the time I got clipped in, I was third or fourth wheel. I moved up a few wheels in the first few turns, then had the lead going into the first off-camber section. I could hear riders behind me, so I put in a couple of hard digs. By the time we got to the first run-up, I had a lead of maybe 10 seconds. I steadily grew the lead over the first lap. And by the start of the second lap, I couldn't see anyone behind me!

Boy did I get heckled, though! Seemed like everyone out there was telling me to slow down and wait for everyone; or speed up, because my lead had shrunk to less than a mile. I do finally have enough points to upgrade, and I think I will submit my application for cat 3. I'm still in the voluntary upgrade range (2 more points and it's mandatory), so I don't have to. And I have already registered for one more cat 4 race, so . . . But at this point, I feel like I'm sandbagging a little bit (or a lot). And that's not a nice thing to do.

I've started a little bit of road season base training, getting out for longer rides during the week and riding more hills. By my third and final lap of the first race, my legs felt heavy. I really didn't feel like racing again. I was intent (as I always am) on soft-pedaling the second race. My legs hurt and I was tired and it was potentially my last chance to make the 3/4 my B-priority race. I lined up in the second row with the intention of taking it easy. Relatively easy.

But then I got a pretty good start and came into the first section with the front group. I made up a few positions in the first half of the course. I had my first and only fall doing my drive-side dismount before the Belgian Wall, but was able to pick off a few more positions on the second half of the course. I figured I was sitting top 10 or so, and planned to maintain that position as well as I could without trying too hard to move up.

Then my teammate, Sean, who was watching from the sidelines, yelled that I was in seventh place and I could ride my way onto the podium . . . so I made the decision to go as hard as I could and see if I could get on the podium for the second time today. I managed to pass seventh, who later had to pull out with a flat (there was some suspicion that someone dropped tacks on the course). I managed to pass a pre-teen girl (one of many who tears up the women's 3/4 field every week) and put some distance on her on the power sections and, surprisingly, the climbs. Her technique is on-point, though, so I didn't make up any ground in the corners and descents. She was breathing down my neck, so I couldn't let up enough to catch my breath.

I managed to get through my drive-side mount on the second lap, but knocked my chain off in the rough ground of the Belgian Wall; I'm fully aware that bouncy ground doesn't matter if you shoulder the bike; I need to work on that. When I went to remount, I didn't go anywhere and I was in the red enough that I couldn't figure out why. So instead I just fell over, slid about three feet down the hill, and did this:
That is my right hip, not my butt. I'm going to tell people I got mauled by a baby bear.
I managed to get the chain back on, remount, and run the hill. I can't remember if Ella (the pre-teen) passed me or not . . . I don't think she did. But if she did, I re-passed her pretty quickly and went into my third lap in fifth place, just barely on the podium.

Sean was not satisfied. Fourth place was within reach. He yelled at me to catch her. I was on my limit already, and was concerned that I would have a repeat of last week and explode spectacularly before I could finish. Fourth place was strong, but I was clawing back one second at a time. I drilled the uphills and flats and recovered as much as I could in the downhills. I was closing in on her at the end of the third lap and figured I could catch and pass her on the power section at the start of the fourth.

Then my bike started feeling a little squirrely. It's happened enough at this point that I recognized the sensation. My rear tire was flat. I had enough control that I could still ride it, so I finished my third lap (I was less than 30 seconds from the finish line) and withdrew. I rode myself onto the podium, but lost it on . . . I don't, maybe a root? I haven't checked the tube yet, but I'm pretty sure that I pinch flatted on a root. I bottomed out the tires multiple times; I was surprised that I hadn't flatted sooner. Should have run a little more pressure, especially as the temperatures rose. Could have had better line choice, and it wouldn't have mattered. But that's cross.

So for the second week in a row, I felt like I could be competitive in the 3/4 race, even if my results say DNF instead of podium.

In other news, my teammate, Sarah, got second place in the 4 race this morning; it was her second-ever cross race, and her first was yesterday! She also signed up day-of for the 3/4 race, because she loves pain. My other teammate, Beth, finished on the podium in third in the 3/4 race. Sean got tenth in the masters' 35+ 3/4/5, and Eric got second in the masters' 45+ 1/2/3. Eric currently leads the Super 8 Series in masters' 45+ 1/2/3, and I don't think he can be caught, with only one race left. A very solid day for Veloworks-Spokes, Etc. at Winchester AppleCX!

Next race for me is in two weekends, at Capital Cross. I'm going to convert my wheels to tubeless between now and then. The wheels are tubeless-ready, but I've been putting off the conversion because I haven't done it before and it's one more thing to learn. I think my pinch flat today was poor line-choice, because I was so fatigued, but the one at Rockburn was bad luck. Either way, I won't have to worry about it anymore after I go tubeless!

Thanks for reading!

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