Into the Lead

One of the early laps (photo Mark Thome)
This Wednesday Missoula cyclocross returned to the same venue (DNRC, can't remember what it stands for), but with a different layout.  We talked a lot about course potentials before showing up because my coworker's (Sarah) husband was laying the course.  I mentioned that I was glad the week before had gone counter-clockwise so that we didn't have a scary turn around a fence bordered by an irrigation ditch.  Naturally, the course this week went the opposite direction and made that turn.

When I started out on my pre-ride warmup I liked the course.  The first bit was pretty windy and the barriers were placed at the beginning of a hill so it meant that we jumped the barriers and then ran our bikes up, thus giving me more time to catch up after I would inevitably fumble the dismount.

After the snaking section a small downhill lead onto a fast straightaway with only gradual turns, which would also give me time to catch up if I messed up in the windy area.  Bike handling is not my forte.

Lots of straightaways 
From there, though my love of the course dropped.  We jumped on a single track right next to a fence, then made a 90 degree turn thus avoiding a nasty spill into a dry ditch.  Another sharp turn led to a dismount-barrier-ditch-sandpit area that did not leave me excited.

After that though the course sped up again with more straightaways and only a few snaky turns before finishing the lap with a couple tight turns around trees. Aside from the fence/ditch combo it seemed like a great course for me (not technical), but that combo made me terrified.  Little did I know that would play into my favor in a huge, mistaken, way.

At the start of the race I settled into a 3rd/4th position where I could keep an eye on Cory, but wouldn't have to fight with anyone too much for position.  Cory helped me out last week when we tried to stay ahead of the third place guy, so I knew that he would set a good pace, and leave me good lines to follow through the more difficult spot for me.  Unfortunately for me, he does a great job of exploding out of every turn without seeming to do much.  This left me constantly trying to close the gap on the train in front of me and leaves me feeling like I'm in a deep hole way before I should be.

The course itself ended up being great.  Everyone slowed down on the fence/barrier/ditch/sand thing so if I bumbled one I could catch back up in the other.  We had a good group of 5-6 guys setting a pretty good clip for a couple laps as well, which made me stay engaged.

Owen and Shaun chasing Toby at the front of the A's (photo Mark Thome
With four or five laps to go one of the guys in our group exploded to the front and took off. In my mind I thought I lost the race right there.  Not only was I unprepared for his savage attack, but I couldn't have latched on if I tried.  The train picked up to try and close the gap, and fortunately he faded a little so by another half lap we were back on.  But it made me very wary of him.  I wanted to create distance before the last lap because there would be no way for me to out-sprint him.

Then he fell.  Coming up on 3 to go he went down in some pine needles so my group went around and tried to pick it up a bit.  Cory took over the lead again after he had been sitting for a bit, and I jumped on his wheel.  We went through the next half lap without incident.

By this point we had started lapping people and we were nearing the section that got really narrow along the fence line.  The turn before the single-track to the fence we started to pass a Junior girl.  Corey took the wide line and seemed to slip or something.  I went inside and ended up in front.  This was way earlier than I had planned to make a move, but I realized that I could try and sneak by a couple of people we were lapping and maybe the guys behind would get held up behind them along the fence.
Running through the ditch (photo Mark Thome)

It totally worked!  By the time I made it out of the ditch and sand I was clear. But I also had two and a half laps of riding ahead of me, alone.  The next lap and a half I absolutely crushed myself.  I hammered every turn, every straightaway, and pretty much stood whenever possible.  I just wanted to make it hard for them to catch up.  By the time I came up to the last lap I was faltering, but I had created a bigger gap.  I kept trying to push, but I could see them slowly closing the gap.  Then with half a lap to go they were quickly closing the gap.  Fortunately I had just enough to hold them off and take the win.  Keep in mind this is still in the "B" category.  The A race was over well before, and Owen won, again, to keep his leader's jersey secure.

Just about dead (photo Mark Thome)
So far the cyclocross has been a great introduction to bike racing for me.  I have had different race experiences every time out.  Last week I was able to hold catch up, then hold onto a wheel for much of the race before making one big last lap move. And this week I had to ride from the front as hard as I could and just hope for the best.

I'm hoping some of the strategy carries over to running.  Obviously the drafting is a much bigger deal in cycling, but the patience to hang back is something I struggle with running.  It will be interesting to see how it carries over.

I still have two more weeks of cyclocross though, and I think now I'm in the leader's jersey for the "B" category!  Time to learn how to defend a jersey.

Until next time,