Thursday, October 23, 2014

Preparation or perseverance?

Michael Burleigh reflects on an ill-fated day at Valmont Bike Park.

Like all serious cyclists, I pride myself on being prepared. In fact, the preparation aspect is one of the things that I love most about cycling. I like preparing the bike for race day, I take satisfaction in eating right because it prepares me to get faster. I even enjoy riding the riding the trainer all winter because I know I'll be prepared for racing in the spring.

So naturally, I showed up to race Valmont on Sunday with ample time to prepare for the race. Earlier that day, I prepared some beet juice so that I could drink it on the drive to Boulder, thereby consuming it in the optimal window of 2-3 hours before the race. Before that, I had prepared and consumed a large and balanced breakfast and a medium sized lunch, so as to be optimally fueled for the race. So, as I said, I arrived at the race venue in plenty of time.

I parked, and casually made my way to the registration truck. Of course, I had preregistered, prepayed, and presigned my waiver, so I only needed to pick up my number and my timing chip. The friendly woman at registration told me that the computer showed I still had a timing chip from the last race. "That's correct" I said, but not to worry, being a crackerjack planner, I had put that chip in my race bag weeks before when I noticed that I still had it. "I'll be right back" I said. It's OK, she said, I'm not supposed to give you the new chip until I get the old one from you, but I trust you. "Makes sense" I thought, she can see I'm on top of my game. I went back to my car, pinned my number, changed, grabbed the old timing chip from my bag and headed back to registration. I slowly coasted past the window of the registration truck with the timing chip in my outstretched hand. I made eye contact with the woman in the truck. She looked quizzical at first, but then she smiled as she recognized me. "Oh good! You're back." Yeah, you were right to trust this guy. I smiled back. "Timing chip sorted," I thought as I rode away to preview the course.

I saw my new teammate Spencer warming up on the course and I rode behind him to soak up as much bike handling and line selection know-how as possible. "I like the outside line on that one" Spencer said. Mmmm-hmmmm, I think I like the outside line on that one too. How was race day going? Like clockwork. I exited the course to finish my warm-up on the road, where I encountered a friend and former college teammate, Brad, also warming up. "Awwww yeah! Nice kit, dude" he said. "Yeah, thanks! I'm guest riding for Evol the rest of the season," I said with more than a little pride in my voice. We rode together and chatted. As we rode, we came upon the imposing figure of Ken Benesh going the other direction. Ken gave a me a casual wave and a nod. You see that Brad? Yep, I'm pretty much boys with all the best cross racers now, because, what else?

I lined up behind Brady Kappius. Brady "Holeshot" Kappius as the announcer called him. "You genius," I thought to myself, "that's basically a front row spot." I looked down at my chain to make sure I was in just the right gear to jump on "Holeshot's" wheel and make that early selection of top guys. 42-28, yep. My eyes wandered to the awkward crumple of Brady's left sock. He should fix that lumpy sock, I thought, so not pro.

Actually, that's just his timing chip.


My mind flashed to the timing chip sitting on the front seat of my car. The new timing chip. The one I needed in order to be placed. "ONE MINUTE" The race official said. Is it better to potentially do well but not have it count, or be guaranteed to not do well and get credit for it? I lifted my bike up over my head to climb over the tape. "You giving up this spot?" No, I'll be back for it.

I threw open my car door. There it is, still in the tiny zip lock bag. Ziptie? HURRY. Just put in your pocket!! No pockets, skinsuit. Down the back then, like a water bottle. Good, go!

When I got back to the start grid, there was only a cloud of dust waiting for me. I looked up to see Danny Summerhill and Spencer running up the staircase. Perfect, half a lap down to guys I've never beaten. I completely missed my start. Is this one of those anxious dreams? What's next — I show up to work only to find I'm naked? I stood up out of the saddle and started chasing. "Michael Burleigh only has 80 guys to pass to get to the front of this field" the announcer said. Well, when you put it that way it doesn't seem that bad.

For the first half lap, I was alone. Then I came upon the back end of the MM 35+ field. I began passing, everywhere I could. Through dozens of riders. I let the panic of missing my start fuel me. Almost done with the first lap. I hit something hard in the grass with the front tire. Someone's water bottle is spraying me? Nope, that's sealant spraying from my front tire. Awesome. Maybe it'll seal. I cross the line with a very soft front tire and a strong self-loathing. At the top of the hill, a hard right hander. I dive inside to make another frantic pass. My soft front tire crumpled and I hit the dirt hard on my right side. The riders I just passed were not impressed. Who can blame them?

My tire was completely flat. I rolled under the tape and looked at my scrapes. Is it better to finish with an unimpressive result or DNF with a decent excuse? I hustled back to the car. I threw open my car door and grabbed my only spare cross wheel (mud tire). I hadn't bothered to put it in the pit because who flats at Valmont? I added some air to my mud tire, took a drink and headed back to the futile task of chasing down guys that are faster than me. I sheepishly passed many of the same riders for the second time. Avoid eye contact. As I rode, I could feel the timing chip slipping down my back.

This just keeps getting better.

With four laps to go, Grant informed me that the single speed rider ahead of me was racing the open. "FOCUS and you can still get a couple points" he said. I was focused. My focus was centered on preventing the timing chip from becoming one with me. The rest of the race proceeded without incident. I was only able to claw back a few more open riders, finishing 19th. I peeled the timing chip off my lower back. At least I had won that battle.

Perhaps the only thing as important as preparation is perseverance. In fact, is perseverance more important than preparation? Yes, because in the end, perseverance won the day. Well actually, perseverance finished 19th.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Northwest (rite of) Passage

Long on the list and the lore of cyclocross culture and racing is Portland, Oregon's Cross Crusade race series. For over 20 years, the series has produced some of the most iconic and weird images, experiences, and stories in U.S. 'cross history, most notably featuring its two classic characters: rain and mud. Evol racing team rider Josh Whitney made the trek last week for the first time to get a taste of the good stuff.

"The scene here is just unbelievable. Participation and fun are paramount, but the competition across all categories is no joke." Portland has done something special over the years creating a rich and engaging scene when it comes to cyclocross. Fields for the opening weekend at the Alpenrose Dairy were massive, from a field of 60 singlespeeders to nearly a dozen in the unicycle category to the men's master B categories, which exceeded 200 total riders. "It literally felt like a nationals-level production," said Josh.

Racing on Saturday got underway after evening and morning rains provided ample moisture to make the course technical and demanding. While the skies cleared midday, 10 minutes before the elite race, a dark cloud dropped buckets of rain and let up just as the whistle blew. Starting from the back row, Josh worked his way up through the field of 70 riders, avoiding numerous crashes through the first few laps. "The first lap was nuts ... so many people and super challenging conditions. Flying into the Alpenrose Velodrome was nuts as the concrete mixed with grass and mud was like ice. But I was loving every minute of it, the mud and grease was actually really fun, and once we got a few laps in things seemed to dry out just slightly to those perfect, dreamy cross conditions. And with the Clement PDX tubulars, you could really drift and lean into the corners and know that when you needed them to, they would hook up and hold perfectly." At the front, Carl Decker and Chris Jones battled for the pole position, with Josh finishing a respectable 15th on the day.

Maybe it was the numerous local brews consumed that night or just the hard effort on that day, but Sunday was a rough one. Josh failed to take advantage of the call-up and spent the first half of Sunday's race battling for a top-10, only to fade in the second half of the race to 20th. Sunday featured the classic Alpenrose course, with the "choose your own adventure" double staircase, velodrome barriers, off-camber descent/run-up, and another 30-degree hill run-up that was actually rideable. "Initially I felt great and was just off the back of the front group of eight or so, but then with 3 or 4 laps to go, my back had had enough and I was struggling to ignore the pain. My pace slowed and I couldn't maintain position and drifted backwards down the line. Regardless, going one for two on the weekend was a success and just getting to experience the Portland scene, spend some time with friends made the trip totally worth it."

Big thanks to Brett & The Clymb Cyclocross team for the support.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Triple race weekend in Northern Colorado

Cross of the North keeps growing, and this year was no exception as the race expanded to three races, with the addition of a night race

Ken, Melissa, and Jess braved the cold, muddy evening to notch top-10 finishes, including Melissa's third place result.

"I was looking forward racing under the lights," Jess said. "It was my first time! It was a blast. There were some sections on the course where it was pitch black. You just had to go for it, trust it and follow the line. I truly loved every minute of it. I hope they have racing under the lights next year."

On Saturday, the women's team was out in force, with Melissa finishing fourth, Kate taking eighth, Kristin right behind in ninth, and Jess finishing 11th.

Kate was loving the course. "Saturday's course was tacky and fast — with the exception of one big mud pit from the nearby bike washes!" she said. "I had a blast powering through the goopy mess." And indeed, she was one of the few ladies to ride the entire section.

In the men's race, Spencer was second, Ken was ninth, and recent addition to the Evol team, Michael Burleigh was 13th.

"After a successful road season, there's nothing like 'cross to shrink one's head back to normal and reignite the competitive fire," Michael said. "After a three- or four-lap battle, the 17-year-old Liam Dunn rode away from me in the last lap when I hit a post on one of those downhill 180s. Then I got pipped at the line by Logan Garey. All and all, a thoroughly enjoyable and properly humbling experience. Bring on Valmont, my favorite 'cross venue."

Spencer also came to grief at the hands of a course post, crashing spectacularly as he chased Chris Baddick on the final lap. "I'm glad I'm okay," he said. "I hooked my bars, went flying, and somehow my bike ended up tangled in the tape on the complete opposite side of the course. I was close to getting Chris. I wish I'd had one fewer crash and one more lap to chase."

Ken and Melissa earned the iron-person awards for the weekend, racing all three days and finishing fifth and sixth on Sunday, respectively.

"I loved the variety in the course each day that added new and interesting challenges," said Melissa. "I too loved the practice in trusting my bike through the dark corners on Friday night. "One of my favorite moments was during the last lap on Saturday. I was riding in fifth with half a lap to go; I took some risks to catch the rider in front of me and passed her right in front of the pit to move into into fourth. "On Sunday, it started to rain on lap two and the previously buff course was suddenly like ice. Ladies were wiping out left and right. I felt my tires wiggling out from under me. It only took about a lap for the rain to stop, soak in and for the traction to return."