Sunday, July 12, 2009
It’s 90+ degrees outside!! That must mean Jackson Park, the first ChiCross race of the year, is just around the corner, right? Unfortunately not. Chicago is experiencing its first heat wave of the season and Palos is STILL un-rideable in mid-June. I needed a distraction to keep from going crazy, riding so much pavement, so I picked up "The 9 Ball Diaries" and "Transition2 - Cross the Pond" cyclocross vids from Iron Cycles to get into a “cool” state of mind.
I expected a mildly entertaining recap of top domestic pros racing in the US and Europe. After finishing both films I realized that there were a lot of good pointers for a cyclocross enthusiast to gain from watching these movies. Bike racers aren’t the most interesting folks to film, so race footage is what I was really interested in, and these movies have a lot of it.
Last year I had the opportunity to watch a few UCI races in person and was awed by the power that the pros put out. When watching the DVDs I noticed more of the finesse and the little things, in addition to raw power, that the top pros have also refined. Cyclocross rewards the complete rider. These people have worked on their bike handling, dismounting and remounting skills, CX starts and the full range of power zones starting with Freaking Hard!!! and then increasing. Many of these skills require just practice with minimal suffering (compared to intervals) which I appreciate.
I enjoyed 9 Ball Diaries a bit more than Transition2, but both are definitely worth watching. 9 Ball is short, only about 50 minutes, but I think that it has better race footage. It follows Tim Johnson during his ’08 USGP of Cyclocross and CX Nats campaign. The movie starts with Tim riding his cross bike through singletrack as he explains how it helps him with handling. At times during races we see him carving tight corners and using those handling skills, incredibly in tune with the cornering ability of his tires. Most people who race would benefit from spending more time practicing ripping around on grass and dirt during the week like they race on the weekends. Testing the limits of their equipment and improving handling ability.
Transition2 has a broader focus and more footage of the lifestyle and travels of US EuroCrossCamp racers. It also shows some cool euro courses with pumptracks and a lot of run-ups. Bike shouldering (picking the bike up and carrying it with the top tube on your shoulder) isn’t as vital of a skill in Chicago, but it is still easy to work on and good skill to have.
When watching the films or any races notice the little things other riders do that add up over the course of a 30-60 minute race.
-Finding the pedal and getting clipped in immediately at the start
-Getting the hole shot.
-Taking corners like they are on rails
-Fast dismounts and remounts
-Immediately finding the pedals on remounts
-Digging deep to hold onto a stronger rider’s wheel to draft and recover
Hopefully Palos dries out soon so I can take my CX bike out and practice these skills.
Superweek - Blue Island and Elgin Race Recap:
Blue Island: When deciding my race schedule I almost skipped Blue Island. Some people complain that it is a “boring” rectangle crit. I decided the course, which almost a guarantees a large field spint, is what most Chicago area crits are about. Learning how to sprint and win out of a pack is a necessary skill in Chicago.
We start almost on time and get rolling for 25 one mile laps. I’ve raced here the past three years and knew exactly what to expect. The first few laps had some break attempts, but they never gained more than a few seconds on the field before being reeled back in. The racing continued that way until mile 13 when I made a jump. I had a few people come with, but they didn’t stay for long and I was out front alone. I had a decent gap and felt good so I committed to it and put my head down. The gap grew to nearly 20 seconds and I kept pushing. After 6 miles out front I saw that the pel was getting organized and I would be caught. With 5 laps left I backed off the pedals until I was caught. 15 minutes in a solo break, let’s see what’s left in the tank.
With 2 laps to go a South Chicago Wheelmen rider was on point and did an awesome job setting a good tempo. Usually there are people swarming to the front and then hitting the brakes, not wanting to do any work once they get there. He is setting a great pace and the pack is kept at bay. I’m sitting 2ndwheel coming into turn 3 on the final lap when the swarm finally came. I was pushed back to about 8thplace. Turn 4 I took an outside line as I hear pedals skidding across pavement to my inside. Thankfully I stay clear and look ahead to choose a wheel to follow. The riders ahead separate into a right and left group, so decided to go for daylight and shoot up the middle. I’ve been working on my sprinting and it felt great to actually pull ahead! I thought that I was clear, until I saw the wheel of Ernie C. closing and nip me at the line by about a wheel length.
Despite not winning, I was really happy with my performance. Soloing for 15 minutes and then having enough left to take 2ndin a sprint is nothing to be disappointed about. Well, it would have been nice to finally get a W, but I can tell that my form is improving and hopefully it will come soon.
I was riding well floating between 1stand 10thposition most of the race until the “back in” portion of divided road on lap 4. I took the left turn too fast and my wheel slid out. I had a bad feeling about that turn before the race, and now I know why. I ass and elbow skidded until running into the curb. I jumped up, worried that someone else would make the same mistake and run into me. I was a bit shell shocked and had trouble getting my chain back on until the SRAM support gave me a hand. Everything was in working order, so I decided to try to chase and finish strong. I chased for the final 5 mile lap but wasn’t able to make up ground.
During the last lap, after making my way past that same left hand turn, there was an equally questionable right corner that dipped into poorly patched asphalt. Off to the left of the street I saw a Tower Racer laying in the grass being attended to by medics. Coming into the final turn I saw 3 more people off to the left in the grass, taking stock of their wounds, and a bit farther up the road a Bicycle Heaven rider was shouldering his bike and walking away from the course. There must have been some real carnage on that last lap.
Give me a “boring” race on good roads any day over attempting to stage a race with questionable pavement and too narrow courses. Now I have to replace my shorts and jersey. Actually, I think I'll patch it up and wear it for the next few races until I end my road season. Why risk it with nice new stuff. Give me dirt and grass. Bring on Cyclocross season.
It's the first of our race recaps for the newly formed Iron Cycles Racing team. Thanks Tim for getting us going!