This race report is going to be a little different. A little bit about the race, check. More pictures, check. And actual racing tips from a middle of the pack Cat 3 racer. Definitely check.
I don’t claim to be a an expert in cyclocross. Maybe “OK” is a good adjective for my racing. Because I’m not naturally gifted, I have to use any and all strategies available to me in order to get the best possible result. I wanted to put some of those techniques in this post.
Most of the photos in this blog entry are done by Mike Lord Damayo, an excellent photographer, who also happens to be my cousin. Check out his stuff at six3events.com.
Headed to Pierce College in Woodland Hills for Santa Cross. I think it was my 2nd or 3rd time racing at this venue. It had been raining for several days prior to the race but Sunday was sunny and clear.
Pics and Tips for Pre-race
Arrive at the venue with plenty of time to do all the stuff you need to do. There’s more then you might realize. You gotta register, get your number, get your chip, change, warmup, pee, etc.
I find that I need to arrive at the venue at least 90 minutes in advance.
Have a routine. I always try to dial in my tire pressure based on the conditions and what wheels/tires I’m using. I do this before my pre-ride so that if I need to make tweaks, I can come back to the car to adjust the air pressure. I think I ran 25psi front/28psi back on this day.
Pin your number on the right way. If they give you paper numbers, don’t pin through the holes. Oh, and check to make sure you didn’t pin all the way through the front of the skinsuit. Like I did here. Ugh.
Finally, time to hit the course. The tip for this picture is to know the conditions and dress accordingly. It was 67 degrees and sunny. Some wind and chilly in the shade. I had a long sleeve skin suit with base layer for warming up which I removed for the race. I also rolled with some embro. Used Mad Alchemy Russian Tea for this one.
Equipment is super important in cross. You don’t need the fanciest, most expensive stuff. But having a spare wheelset in the pit could be the difference between finishing and going home early.
I pre-rode the course doing 2 laps. One lap was to cruise and get the lay of the land. The 2nd lap was to go at a faster speed to check my lines and see if my tire pressure was good. Then I spun on the road as you can see below. My warmup was about 30-40 minutes total.
After doing my pre-ride of the course, I spun for about another 10-15 minutes on the road with 3, 30 second hard efforts up this little hill into the college. I did this to get my heart rate up so my body would be ready for the intense effort to come. I tried to finish about 15 minutes prior to race time so I’d be ready for the next step, staging.
After the first couple of cross races I did, I realized proper staging is an art and skill in itself. The first cross race I did, I got to the line 5 minutes before the start to make sure I was as warmed up as possible. I got to the staging area and realized there were 45 people already there in front of me. I never saw the front of the race the entire time. Now I get to the staging area with plenty of time.
No one else is at the staging area. Guys, where you at guys?
OK, more people showing up to staging. I didn’t realize I would get a call-up but just in case I didn’t, I’m just chilling toward the front. I’m also on the side that I think will give me the best line to the first corner, a sharp, 180 degree left hand turn.
I don’t know who was the first to say “You can’t win the race at the start, but you can lose it.” It’s pretty true in cross. I’m gonna insert a video here by Ben Goyette. You can clearly see the start and the different things going on. I’m #289 on the right. I’m in the 2nd row, 2nd from the right. Keep in mind there’s a left hand turn coming up. You can see me, Troy Templin, and Jason Gersting starting by sitting on our saddle, foot on the ground. Kenten Harris and the MOX Multisport rider to the left of us are starting by straddling the top tube. Not one style is good or bad, just be aware the differences and the pros and cons of each.
The whistle goes off 0:14 seconds into the video and 4 seconds later, I’m outta there. Instead of being 2nd row, with 8 riders in front of me, I slot right away into third place. You can see that in the progression of these photos.
So the basic tips for the start: Line up in the right spot, get into your pedals quickly, and move up if you can. It will pay dividends later. If you watch the rest of the start on the video clip, at 0:28 seconds, Griffith Vertican has to dab on the inside of the left hand turn, costing him valuable spots. Sorry Griffith, I know you are way faster then me!
Different skills used during the race
What follows next are some different skills used in cyclocross racing, shown in the flow and context of the race itself.
The approach. I’ve stopped pedaling at least 2 bike lengths before the barrier and now I’m just coasting. I having both my hands on the hoods and I’ve swung my right foot over to the left side and I’m going to hover with my right foot right behind my left one.
I try to hit the ground running so I only need to take 1 or 2 steps before clearing the barrier. I’m trying to minimize the amount of time I’m actually running but if you’re learning it’s ok to dismount further out from the barriers and practice dismounting closer and closer.
The leap. Ideally, you wouldn’t really be jumping over the barriers but rather striding over them, if that makes sense. I’m holding my back with my left hand on the brake hood and the right hand on the top tube at the balance point. I’m lifting straight up and keeping the bike a little bit away from me. Notice how my saddle is to the outside of my elbow and not under my armpit, otherwise known as a suitcase carry. This is avoid getting thrown off balance if the bike were to hit the barrier (which it did later in this race) and also to take up more space just in case someone wanted to pass. It took me so long to get over the habit of doing the suitcase carry and I still sometimes use it.
Repeat the process for the 2nd barrier.
I’ve gotten over the barriers and what I have going through my head is making sure to set the bike down smoothly, straight up and down. I don’t want the bike to get squirrely on the remount.
In the previous picture, my left foot was just about to hit the ground. Now my right foot is hitting the ground and the next step will get me back onto the bike. I have both my hands on the hoods again and I’m opening up my hips to face the bike slightly.
This picture is from a different lap and not the same sequence as the rest. But it’s the only one I have showing the remount! I take a step off my left foot then make a big stride, like a hurdler would, to bring my right leg over the saddle to hit on my inner thigh. As you can see in the picture, I’m not trying to leap or jump as high as I can. Just enough to get my thigh over the saddle then slide forward into place. This is the crux move and I had to practice this a lot for sure. I still mess up too. Not fun.
The pro way is to click into your right pedal as soon as your foot contacts it and pedal away. I don’t always get the cleats clipped in but at least I start pedaling right away. I want to get back up to speed after being on my feet.
There were tons of corners each lap. OK maybe let’s say 10 corners. And our race was 8 laps. If you could save even 1 second in each corner that would add up to 80 seconds or 1:20. There was about 40 seconds between me and 3rd place Chad McKonly and 30 seconds between Chad and 2nd place Ian Schwartz. All other things being equal, the faster racer through the corners will be faster overall.
The setup. I’m thinking about body positioning here as well as my line. I’m off the saddle slightly, putting my weight on my feet to drive the bike tires into the ground for grip. To the left of me, right of the picture, is a camber going away. Because of this I’m leaning the bike a little more then my body. I have my left, or outside, foot down and putting weight on it.
The initiation. I’m leaning the bike now, still keeping my head up and focusing on where I want to go. I’m shifting my weight just slightly towards the front of the bike to give the front wheel grip. I’m still focusing on putting weight on my feet but I’m starting to flatten out the cranks. Still off the saddle as I want my center of gravity to be over the bottom bracket which is more stable, not the saddle which would be more tippy.
The Turn. The turn has started and now I’m leaning with my body and bike aligned and pedals flat as I’m no longer pedaling. I’m really focusing on my line at this point. You can see braking bumps to the right of me and the off camber to the left. I’m trying to find that fast middle line that avoids both.
The Apex. I’m starting to come to the end of the turn and I’m just trying and now I’m trying to keep my weight centered so that I have really good grip on both the front and rear tires. I have a relaxed grip on the bars and in a low, attack position on the bike. Head still up and looking to the exit.
The Exit. I’ve already hit the apex and now I’m thinking about the next turn. Even though there’s braking bumps on the inside, I was trying to setup for the next corner so I’m on the inside against the tape. I have my hips turned toward the inside of the corner and my head turned to look where I want to go.
This corner was on the backside of the course and obviously every corner will be different. The tires, soil and ground conditions, whether or not there are people next to you, and even how tired you are will all be factors in how you corner.
These were just some basic tips that I find help me. The take away for cornering for me was “Look where you want to go.” The bike tend to go where you look so I’m always keeping my head up.
Tips for Post-Race
I crossed the line, tried to do a celebratory wheelie, but was too tired. I had no idea how I did initially.
The time immediately after the race, I’m too tired to reflect. But seriously, the big tip post race is to actually think about your race. What did you do well at? What could you have done better at? What tire pressures did you use? I try to write these things down somewhere. But not right after the race. Haha.
The next big tip is recover. After the race, I spun on the road for another 30 minutes to cool down. Then it’s time to get out of your racing clothes, unless you got another race. Don’t want to get a saddle sore. Then you gotta get some food and drink into you. Fish tacos sound pretty good for that.
Cross is a social event. Don’t forget to chill and hang out and chat with friends. Here’s me with Phil Beckman, photographer extraordinaire.
Oh yeah, race report!
I guess a true race report would detail the events each lap and how the race progressed. It would include tactics and possibly teamwork. Yeah, for me cross racing is just about going as hard as you can for the whole time. I’ll summarize it. I started well, got as high as 2nd, got passed by 3 riders to slot in 5th. Then I reeled in one of those guys and stayed in 4th place all the way to the finish. It was an 8 lap race and at least I didn’t get lapped by the Masters guys who started in front of us. I definitely noticed my strengths were on the power climbs by keeping momentum up them. I also got lucky and didn’t have any major mishaps. I was a little bummed to be one step off the podium but it’s more fire in the belly for next time. Thanks for reading and feel free to share this post if you know people who could use some of these tips.
Thanks for reading!