Austin Day 2. When is a call up not really a call up. And what do you call the champion of the non-championship race.

Wednesday dawned sunny but windy and cold. Today was the 30-44 Men’s Open, Non-championship race. Also known as the annual Sandbaggers Championship. But hey, if I was gonna fly out halfway across the country, I was gonna race every single race I could!

Had breakfast with the family then cruised out to the venue.

There’s are definitely differences when you’re racing Nationals. This was my third time racing Nationals. I raced in Junior Nationals for MTB a LONG time ago in Mammoth, CA. Back when the Kamikaze was a thing and mountain biking was hitting the main stream. Then I raced age-group Nationals for MTB in 2007 in Mount Snow, Vermont. Total opposite of main stream at that point. But I digress.

So the differences.

1. Size of the venue. The layout of the course, where things are located, where you can park and warmup are all larger in scale compared to our local race scene. Even the laps at this course was about 2 miles. The walk from the warmup area to the pit then to the car was about 20 minutes. This meant planning and logistics and timing would be way more important.

2. Size of the field. I’ve never raced cross at this scale. We had 148 riders in our field. That’s 148 riders to call up, line up, start together, and race together. I guess it was good the laps were about 2 miles long!

3. Amount of distractions. There’s lots of cool stuff going down at Nationals. Old friends to catch up with, new ones to meet, food, drink, and swag. All good stuff but all potential derailments if you’re trying to warm up and race.

I told myself I was gonna do everything I could to limit the differences and make things as close to my normal routine as possible.

I normally warm-up about 30 minutes before a race so I cruised to the venue, which took about 10 minutes, then rode around the venue a little bit on the grass and beside the course to check grip and tire pressure. Then I placed the spare wheels in the pit. The pit was far. Unless you flatted right at the pit, your race would be done. But I put the spare wheels there because I wanted to finish. Then I hit the rollers at Tony’s tent to spin one more time.

Hitting up the rollers to warmup.

Hitting up the rollers to warmup.

Elliot working on wheels.

Elliot working on wheels.

The bookabikemechanic tent was like club Focus.

The bookabikemechanic tent was like club Focus.

The temperature right around then was probably 45 degrees. This was another difference, but more unique to my situation. What was I going to wear? I decided to race in a short sleeve, thicker base layer, long sleeve skin-suit, embrocation on the legs, then regular long fingered summer gloves. Air Attack helmet.

I did one warmup lap then it was off to the start. I was actually cutting it too close because a lap took me about 10 minutes but the start was 12 minutes away. I ended up cutting the lap short and heading to staging.

Didn’t really matter since they actually call up every single racer. Yup. All 148 of us get called to the “line.” I put “line” in quotes because by the time they called me up I was in the 12th row. There are 8 racers per row so there were 90 people in front of me. Seeing the line was impossible.

The official gave her instructions, including the fact that she would be pulling out racers if they were lapped or slower then 80% of the leader’s time. Wait?!? (Insert record scratch sound drop). They’re pulling people? How bad would that suck if you flew halfway across the country to race a 45 minute race, only to get pulled by the official. I told myself, “If there’s one goal you have today, it is to NOT get pulled.”

The racers around me joked that the official gives that instruction only to the last half of the field, not the front guys!

Then it’s “15 seconds to start” then the whistle! And it is mad chaos.

I knew that the long, wide, paved start straight would be one of the best and only places to pass people so I sprinted like a mad man right up the right side. It really pays to know who to follow, which I didn’t, and it was tough navigating but I made up probably 40 or so spots in 15 seconds.

Then we hit the off road sections. I kept everything smooth through the grass as we approached the first pinch point. A tricky downhill into off camber left turn, around a tree, then back uphill. What made it tricky was the pile of wood chips laid down over the ground. Even though I rode this thing no problem in warmup, when you have 8 people across going full bore it’s totally different. All it takes is one person slipping or messing up then it’s a pile up.

So that’s exactly what happened. I tried staying on the bike to ride but in hindsight, I should have just dismounted and run because that’s what ended up happening anyway. I gave back 15 or so spots right there. Ugh.

Then it was back on the bike and then just doing what I had been training to do all season. Race my cross bike.

I found groups to stay with and pace with. I just tried hitting lines clean and smooth. Having a big field made it kinda fun because there were always people around you. I saw lots of bad luck happening to people. Broken chains. A guy rolled a tubular on a grassy uphill right next to me. Brakes failing. I kept trying to pass people which oddly enough, happened in the flat, power sections. I got passed every single time up the limestone steps. Ugh.

I almost ate it on a off camber slope right after I heard my family cheering for me!

One of the spectators was counting off racers and as I came past he said “53.” Oh nice! That meant I was somewhere around the middle third of the race. At least nice for me.

With one lap to go I told myself I have to keep it up to not get pulled. Turns out the mind was willing but the flesh was weak. I started cramping bad, especially at the running parts. The limestone steps turned into limestone crawls. Then over the barriers I cramped real bad, a rider passed me, and I had to limp to the line.

But I finished! And without getting pulled or lapped. It was fun to hear the spectators, the cowbells, people cheering. I knew I had given a good effort.

I later found out I ended up in 47th place. Same lap as the leaders but 5 minutes back. Made sense. I was about a minute slower each lap and we did 5 laps.

I cooled down on the rollers a bit, met up with the family, then cruised back to the house.

Hit up East Side King for lunch for some Tako Tacos and chicken rice.

It was nice to get one race done. The weather ended up being sunny and cool. Perfect cross weather. I was able to finish the race and feel like I gave my all.

Now for the big one on Friday. The Master’s championship race.

It's fun racing with a big group.

It’s fun racing with a big group. Jason Siegle hitting the front of the group.

My cheering squad. Taking a break to tailgate.

My cheering squad. Taking a break to tailgate.

My wife snapped this pic of me going by near the pit.

My wife snapped this pic of me going by near the pit.

Limestone steps. Look at that pain face. I look so dead. Haha.

Limestone steps. Look at that pain face. I look so dead. Haha. I honestly feel like deaf people would lip read my face right now as saying “Why” or “Please make it stop”

Madness up the steps

Madness up the steps. All these photos were taken by my wife. She tweets at @aalawahine

Thanks for reading!

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Austin Day 1. Tacos. Sun. And Limestone Steps.

Landed in Austin on Tuesday and we were greeted with awesome weather! Upper 60’s, sunny.

First stop from the airport was grub. We hit up South Austin Trailer Park & Eatery. Nice outdoor setup with a Torchy’s Tacos, Conscious Cravings, and Holy Cacao.

After some barbacoa, migas, and some awesomely good fried avocado tacos (vegetarian option) we were off to race registration and number pickup.

Torchy's Tacos

Torchy’s Tacos

Registration at Bicycle Sport Shop on Lamar.

Registration at Bicycle Sport Shop on Lamar.

Saw Crystal Anthony at registration. I asked her what her goal was this weekend. "It's always nice to make the podium."

Saw Crystal Anthony at registration. I asked her what her goal was this weekend. “It’s always nice to make the podium.”

After settling in, I made my way to Zilker Park to pre-ride the course.

Decided to take a total of 3 laps. First lap, ride nice and slow just to get the lay of the land. Second lap I was trying to go a little bit faster to hit my lines. Then the last lap a little bit faster still to see how the tire pressure would handle at speed and how things changed at race speed. A lot changes at race speed. Entrance and exit points into turns and obstacles for example.

Here are my thoughts after pre-riding the course and checking out the venue. These include observations and tips for myself.

– If there’s a nationals course that suits me, it’s this one. Pretty flat. 100 feet of elevation gain per lap. And the elevation gain is composed of limestone steps and short punchy climbs.

– Bike handling and bike driving will be key. This sounds obvious but since there’s not much climbing on this course, you have to make time on corners and riding things others can’t.

– Off-camber skills, line selection, and cornering technique will be very important.

– I really liked running slightly higher pressure in the tires. There’s no mud and there are some G-outs, braking bumps, and curbs. The slightly higher PSI’s did feel a little faster.

– The start will be crazy. A 300-yard paved road, slightly uphill.

– Just because you can ride everything while you are pre-riding, doesn’t mean you can ride it when you are red-lined, with 150 other sweaty people all around you.

– Limestone steps are not the same thing as wooden steps. Especially when you’re short like me and some of those steps seem waist high. They’re jagged, variable, and will hurt during the race.

– The laps are fairly long. I was doing 10-11 minutes at a cruise pace. Hopefully that means I won’t get lapped!

– Don’t stress about things you can’t control. This last one is especially for me. I’ve been stressing about the weather. I’ve been looking forward to 50-60 degree weather and sunshine. But the weather forecast keeps showings 30-40 degree weather and wind! Also been stressing about the fact that I don’t have a lot of USA Cycling points. This means my start position is gonna be in the back. WAY back. And I’ve been stressing about having a slight sore throat and runny nose.

– STOP STRESSING. I’ve been looking forward to this event and this trip for a long time. I’m gonna enjoy myself. I’m prepared and I’ll do my best with the situation at hand. All those things above that I can’t control, I’m just gonna have to let them go.

After pre-riding the course, I cruised back to our Air BNB house to chill for the night with some Thai Food, putting the feet up, and hanging with the family.

Thanks for reading and good night from Austin.

Short sleeves and bibs in January! I feel like I'm in So Cal.

Short sleeves and bibs in January! I feel like I’m in So Cal.

Found some of the SoCal peeps.

Found some of the SoCal peeps.

The shorter of the two sets of Limestone Steps. This one comes about a third of the way into the lap. The approach seems straight forward but the steps themselves are not. Varying height on the steps, a little slick and jagged, and basically not what you want to be running on with carbon soled shoes.

The shorter of the two sets of Limestone Steps. This one comes about a third of the way into the lap. The approach seems straight forward but the steps themselves are not. Varying height on the steps, a little slick and jagged, and basically not what you want to be running on with carbon soled shoes.

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What’s the Point? A post about points. See what I did there?

Two years ago I SO wanted to race Cross Vegas. I would be at Interbike and so I figured might as well sweat to the Elvis at the Desert Breeze Soccer Complex.

I missed out on the Wheelers and Dealers race as the field was already full so the only other way to race would be to hit up the USAC Men’s race. Turns out that race was for USA Cycling Cat 1-3 riders.

As a Cat 4, I figured I better get upgraded to a Cat 3 to race in the event. Prior to that season I had won a Cat 4 CX race (Black Cat) and I had several top 5 finishes in So Cal Cross “B” races.

Based on this Chart of Awesomeness, I figured I’d be able to upgrade to Cat 3.

Upgrade chart of awesomeness.

Upgrade chart of awesomeness.

I sent in my results to USA Cycling and I got the following reply.

No soup for you!

No soup for you!

Well shoot. You see, the only results that USA Cycling cared about were the results I obtained in races actually sanctioned by USA Cycling. That was probably about 3 races out of about 15-20 I had done up to that point.

The Top 5 finishes in B races? Like they never even happened.

I felt kind of like a student who took 2 years at Community College then transferred to a traditional 4-year school, only to find out I would have to start all over again from the beginning because my credits wouldn’t transfer.

I understand why some races and promoters wouldn’t want to hassle with USAC. 

But where does that leave us, the common, everyday, cyclocross enthusiast? I still wanna race my cross bike, but it would be nice to be able to race against like-minded competition.

When I found out that this season’s Cyclocross Nationals would be in Austin, TX, I was beyond stoked. Austin is an awesome city with great food, music, and BBQ (I guess that’s still falls under “food”). I have tons of family in Texas so there would be plenty to do, plenty of peeps to hang out with, and childcare. Because kids.

But the whole points thing reared it’s ugly head again. I technically COULD race Master’s 30-34 (didn’t think I could race Masters this early in life!?!) but I would have to once again, try to become a Cat 3. The Master’s race is for Cat 1-3.

So it was on for a chase for points. I had to find out where I could race USA Cycling races early enough in the season to get my upgrade.

Thank goodness for the West Sacramento GP CX race. This race was awesome. Great venue by the American River. Pretty sweet, swoopy course. Early enough in the season and USAC sanctioned to try and get some points.

On my way to my best Sandbagger award. Aero helmet made the difference.

On my way to my best Sandbagger award. Aero helmet made the difference. 1st Place, Men’s 4/5 race.

Busted a pawl in the B race. No. Really. Got 30 something I think.

Busted a pawl in the B race. No. Really. Got 30 something I think.

So as a Cat 4, I raced Cat 4/5. Turns out I won. Now check out the email I got from USA Cycling right after the event!

LOL. Check out the sign-off: "Hopefully" congrats are in order! Spare me.

LOL. Check out the sign-off: “Hopefully” congrats are in order! Spare me.

The same body who turned down my upgrade request was now in effect saying “You’re a sandbagger. You better upgrade.” Well yeah! I wanted to earlier but you folks said No!

This is one of the unintended consequences of not having points carry over from one governing body to another. People end up racing against others of different ability. It ends up being a little unfair to everyone all around.

Later in the season, we did end up having another CX series down here in SoCal that was USAC sanctioned and with a couple more points I WAS able to get my upgrade to Cat 3.

Woo hoo!

Woo hoo!

So to all the promoters out there. Thank you for what you do. You really do make the sport happen for us enthusiasts. And to the governing bodies. Isn’t there some way we can all get along? Make points transferable. That seems like it would be an easy step. If you want to have some special formula or algorithm to modify the points, well I guess that would be a start. Otherwise you’ll get riders who are getting podiums in “A” elite races, gunning against Cat 4/5 riders during a USA Cycling event. Something to think about.

Nevertheless, I’m super stoked on getting the chance to race in Nationals and represent the peeps who support me. Check ’em out here.

Don’s Bikes. IRT Wheels. Big Wheel Coaching. 

I’ll be posting more frequently from Austin so stay tuned for pics and prose from the Lone Star State.

Thanks for reading.

These guys are on their way to Austin, courtesy of Tony and bookabikemechanic.com. Cheers.

These guys are on their way to Austin, courtesy of Tony and bookabikemechanic.com. Cheers.

Cross into 2015. Race Report. With Random Pics

My last race of 2014 was this past Sunday.

Another event at Irvine Lake. I had good vibes from the venue as I got 2nd at the state champs a year ago (Cat 4) and got 7th place at the Dia de los Muertos event there earlier this season (Men’s B race).

On the box at Irvine Lake last year. Love the kid's expression.

On the box at Irvine Lake last year. Love the kid’s expression.

During the B race earlier this season 10/26/14. Got 7th.

During the B race earlier this season 10/26/14. Got 7th.

I was excited, and a little nervous, because these last couple of races combine the men’s A and B. I didn’t race on Saturday but when I saw the podium from the race, I saw Ryan Trebon and Ned Overend, in addition to all our local heavy hitters. TreeFarm and The Lung? That’s like saying “Let’s play some pick up hoops in the back yard. Oh, and you’ll be playing against Detlef Schrempf.” But then again, it would be so cool to say you raced against a childhood hero. I still remember the epic Tomac/Overend battles when I was a young grom.

But alas, Trebon and Overend did not race on Sunday. Oh well. I was still tempering expectations racing against professionals. I lined up in the 3rd row then the whistle goes off.

That flash of highlighter yellow in the circle. Yeah, that's my shoulder. Woo hoo!

That flash of highlighter yellow in the circle. Yeah, that’s my shoulder. Woo hoo! Photo by Rod Christiansen.

Slotted into the top 10 and we charged through the first lap. Rode through the sand and now I’m in 6th or 7th place. We approached the run up, but I had hit that feature in warm up and knew I could ride it. Ended up riding it and now I’m caboose on the lead group, putting a gap into the chasers.

Dot Wong, on the run up. But this is rideable. I rode it every lap except for one. I blame it on tiredness. Photo by Rod Christiansen.

Dot Wong, on the run up. But this is rideable. I rode it every lap except for one. I blame it on tiredness. Photo by Rod Christiansen.

Through the trees and over the curb then BLAM!

Rear tire vs. Curb, rear tire 0, curb 1.

Instant flat and I think what happened is that I pinched the tube inside my tubular. Ugh.

Hoof it into the pits, slap on the spare rear wheel then off I go again. But it turns out the RAT axle on the Focus loosened up and I had to stop again. All in all I think I lost 3 minutes but that’s an eternity in cross racing. That’s pretty much half a lap right there.

When I told my wife earlier in the day I was racing against professionals she said, “Well, at least don’t come in last place.” Now with these mechanicals and flat tire, I was in last place.

Being in last place is weird. You want to do the best you can, but there’s a little voice in your head that tells you to just mail it in since there’s no way you’re gonna do well.

I basically told myself, “Don’t come in last, don’t come in last.” Honestly, I got sketchy over the barriers but didn’t crash. Slowly but surely I reeled in a couple of riders. I ended up finishing 9th place. Maybe I could have done better but I got a top 10. I’ll take it.

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I was happy to get a solid workout in and at least, if I was gonna get a flat, I should get one here and not at Nationals which is next week!

I’ll sign off with a couple more random shots I snapped of the earlier races.

Thanks for reading and I’ll be posting more reports and pictures on the road to Austin, CX Nationals 2015.

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