Sunday, October 30, 2011

Washington park Halloween curse

Yes, the title says curse, not course. For the third year in a row, I had a mediocre race at Washington park in Milwaukee on Saturday. It was my worst race of 2009 and 2010, and I hope that will prove to be the case for 2011 as well.  It's a shame, too, because it's a really fun, challenging course in a beautiful city park and since it's always around Halloween weekend, there's always some fun holiday-themed features like using a casket as a barrier. And there are costumes, of course. Brian Matter was a very convincing Papa Smurf this year, and I wore my Bavarian huntsmen outfit. The lederhosen, wool knee socks, suspenders and thick flannel shirt with pewter buttons are neat, but a little restrictive to race in! Next year, I need a lycra-based costume... suggestions? It's always a challenge to find photos from Wisconsin 'cross races online, but hopefully I can add a couple of shots later.

My teammate David Reyes had a great race, finishing third in a very strong field!

11/5 Update: here's the only photo I could find in the online universe: lederhosen.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Tale of Two Courses

heading to registration on another dry weekend

To some that are not savvy to our Colorado Cross scene , you may not be familiar when we throw around terms such as Xilinx or Interlocken in our everyday dialect. However, these are 2 venues are just about hallowed ground to all to are cross-crazed here. The Blue Sky Velo group always comes through in a big way for their race at Xilinx and while it was a variation on the previous Boulder Series Race, I much prefer Blue Sky's take on it. Super fast straightaways punctuated with short, pretty tricky undulations and turns. The spectators invariably gather by a set of 2 "mini"barriers that strike dread into some and encourage others to pull out some bunny-hopping skills, rusty as they may be. Xilinx was a Cross Cup and points were up for grabs so fields were full. Thanks to my decent finish weeks back in Frisco, I was granted a second row start. It was pleasure to witness the front of the race for a change and figured that my chances were slim for netting a top 20 finish (and therefore more callups), so tried to hang it out there for as long as possible. I was continually getting dropped on the long straight power sections and then would bridge back up if it got technical. However the long pulls were taking their toll and the last 2 laps felt like damage control. I finished off the day in 23rd and out of the points race but thoroughly enjoyed the course, despite more dusty and dry conditions. Interlocken=grass, there is no other course like this all season. Deep green smooth grass where the designer goes out of their way to ensure that every single turn be off-camber. It pays to spend the time here and figure out treads and pressures because it could make or break your race. Another key here is the start, a ridiculous short straightaway that immediately bottlenecks before you're thrown into a double barrier run-up, around a 180, down the slope, another 180, across a sand volleyball court and ....yes, another 180 degree turn before you have to light the afterburners into a long sidewalk sprint. Strangely, field sizes were a little smaller than usual. it was a beautiful fall day, cool and crisp but perhaps being held during Veloswap and the fact that it wasn't a points race kept some away. Our 45+ group was still holding strong at almost 60 riders. I had a3rd row starting position with call-ups based on standings (weird) and had an amazing start. One of those ones where it feels like very little effort and you're blowing past everyone. These don't happen often and I took advantage, trying to stay in the top 20 all day and for what felt like an eternity out there. I was in disbelief and shock when I saw "4 to go" thinking there was no way I could maintain this for another 3 to 4 laps. I was up as high as 16th at one point and finished off the day in 19th. For sure one of my best finishes here, especially in an open class.

Next weekend, the pro's are back in town hunting for UCI points in the Colorado Cross Classic held at the Boulder Reservoir ( love-hate relationship ) and the Sunday at the Valmont Bike park for the Boulder Cup. Hope to see you there. Thanks for reading ( I'll try to dig up some photo's to tack on )


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sunshine and a six pack

Sunday's ChiCrossCup race at Sunrise Park in Bartlett was well near perfect. We had gorgeous weather, we had a fun course that was technically challenging despite the lack of precipitation, we had a big-name pro come out to beat up on the locals in the Elite race, and we had a six pack.

The six pack, of course, refers to six barriers set up in a row. The six pack has its roots in the Chicago stop of the SuperCup cyclocross series of the late 1990's. SRAM team members J.P. and Scott both raced the Supercup and remember the six pack. What they remember most was that it seemed far easier to clear the barriers at a dead run back then, than it was at Bartlett.  That may be because they were a bit more spry in those days, but it may also be because the Bartlett barriers were a good four or even six inches taller. No one is complaining here - cyclocross is supposed to be hard.  The six pack was another fun-but-tough feature of the Bartlett course and I hope it will be back next year!

SRAM employee, ex-pro roadie and occasional CX racer Ben Raby was on hand taking photos of the elite event so we're going to do a quick pictorial review of that race...

The moment after the start whistle...look who's smiling!:

   Mike Hemme made a strong move halfway through the first lap:

Scott and Kevin negotiating the first of six barriers:

Brian and Kevin of The Pony Shop CX Team were early animators of the race and finished a strong 3rd and 4th:

David Reyes looking 100% pro:

Barry Wicks, who really is 100% pro, took the lead in the third lap and never let it go:

And finally, Scott getting dangerously close to striking a pedal in a tight, off-camber uphill turn:

Monday, October 24, 2011


I traveled to Wisconsin again this past Saturday for the Doyne Park CX race put on by my wife inc. They really know how to make the best of whatever natural terrain the venue has to offer, and this time they did it on very short notice after learning the previously planned Kletzsch park was double-booked. On two previous trips north I had a couple of Chicagoans to carpool with. This time only Jeff Watt was up for the trip - maybe some are taking a mid-season break? Mine comes at the beginning of November, when I'll be in Germany for 10 days.

Great course, great weather and great fun. Brian Matter won, Issac Neff was 2nd and I managed 3rd. Guess which cupcake was mine? Photo(s): Jeff Watt.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011


The ChiCrossCup just completed its first double race weekend of the year. It's funny that everyone called the previous weekend's course at Dan Ryan Woods a 'power' course, when it was this Saturday's race at Wauconda that really put a premium on power. Sweeping turns and generally grippy surfaces meant we were rarely on the brakes and almost always pedaling. There was hardly a moment to rest and recover. Brian Matter came down from Wisconsin to remind us how very slow we are in comparison to a top U.S. pro...

I didn't realize Brian had a  first-lap mishap and subsequent bike swap. But of course he caught us soon enough:
There he is!  Photo: Amy Dykema
A lap later he took off. At first I thought I might be able to stay on his wheel for a lap or so and learn something:
The massive flyover, shortly after Brian took the lead. Photo: Amy Dykema
I more-or-less maintained contact for half a lap and did, indeed, learn a thing or two watching his lines through the turns. Soon enough, though, I was red-lined and watching him pull away, never to be seen again until the podium ceremony! That left Kevin Klug and I to duke it out to the end. While we were only sprinting for second, it made for a fun finish to a tough race:
Finishing sprint. Photo: Amy Dykema
Sunday in Carpentersville was an altogether different animal. Despite rain overnight and Sunday morning, it was already drying by the time the elite race went off at 1:30pm. We had a fantastic course again this year with mud, sand, grass, roots, pavement, whoops, two creek crossings, fast and slow combination turns and a tricky off-camber section. My favorite spot was the 2nd creek crossing, which immediately followed a barrier.  Most people elected to run through the creek which was both fast and efficient, as demonstrated here by my teammate David Reyes:
Smooth. Photo: Ben Van Couvering
I, on the other hand, chose a riskier, slower and less efficient technique of leaping over the creek, all in the name of keeping my socks dry:
Awkward. Photo: Ben Van Couvering
Carpentersville was the first ChiCrossCup race I ever did, back in 2007, when I was still living and working (for SRAM) in Germany but was on a visit to SRAM's HQ in Chicago. 2011 marks my fifth year racing there and my third win at that venue. Thanks for all the great times!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

It wouldn't be proper to start "field driving" season without a field to drive in so an early wake up pointed us in the direction of Serskamp, Belgium to race around the orchard. I can't say much exciting for my race; a decent start but missed the split in the Master's B and spent the day in the midst of the Master's C race. They are a pretty fast bunch as well. 15th and not lapped which counts as a win for me. €5 prize money on the day!

What makes racing in Belgium stand out is everything surrounding the race. Local races are not what you might think-the SuperPrestige and GVA races are festivals with a bike race. Local racing has some of the same; the fast riders arrive by camper, some in what I'd call rolling condos. Traffic jams as a motorhome tries to turn down a tiny village street. Everyone walking to the end of the lane to pay €4 to watch the race. Yes, they charge spectators at the local races and everyone comes out of watch. But what always strikes me is the hospitality of the people. The pride everyone takes in making sure the signs and banners are just right. The senior at sign in handing out numbers double checking you have the right one. Someone always comes out of their house with a pitcher of water or an offer of somewhere warm and dry to change after the race. That's what makes racing in Belgium special.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

USGP Fort Collins

Last year, Fort Collins proved to be one of the only single weekends to provide real precipitation during the entirety of the Front Range cyclocross season and we seem to be on track to repeat it. With not a lick of moisture on the ground, weather certainly did arrive in time to make for a story within the story. Just getting to the race became more challenging than negotiating the course. I set my alarm for 6am and woke to a series of frantic texts from fellow SRAMmies who had left town 2 hours prior looking to start the Cat 4 race at 8am. All were turned back by snow and ice conditions on the 2+ hour trek North, eventually it was being stuck behind a massive pileup on I-25 that had them turning back to the Springs, unable to participate.
I was planning on leaving the house at 7am for my 45+ start at 11:30 when I rcvd another text noting that I-25 was closed because of the wreck and road conditions. I quick checked the interwebs and didn't see any road closures so jumped into the car and headed up the hill. Super sketchy conditions greeted us immediately but traffic was moving,albeit slowly. By the time we reached Denver, it was more a mix of rain and snow and by the time we reached Fort Collins, just light sprinkles and the course was actually dusty and dry. That however did not last long. What we had driven through followed us North so by the time we started staging, temps had dropped into the high 30's, the wind kicked up and rainfall was coming down hard. I couldn't have been happier, while I may not be a true mudder, I absolutely relish racing in these conditions, this is what epitomizes the sport.
It took forever to stage and I handed off my warm-ups too early, I was left 2 rows from the back in a 60 something deep field ,super cold and wet. The first few laps were a blur, the course immediately started becoming super greasy with a thin "cake frosting" skim layer of mud starting to form at the surface. By 2 to go, poor tire choices and/or pressures starting to send some of the front runners backwards trying to deal with conditions. I quickly starting to mingle with riders that I typically don't see during these races. I was feeling better as each lap progressed and wishing we were racing for the full hour. In the end I rolled through in 27th and quite possibly suffering from hypothermia; Jen handed me my jacket and I fumbled with the zipper for a bit as my hands were frozen blocks. As the girls waited for Jim to come across I ditched everything and ran over to borrow the salamander heater in Stu Thornes Cannondale Trailer. After warming up there, it was back to the car to put on everything I had packed and sit in the car with the heat on full blast until I stoped shaking( an hour later ).
Sunday was the polar opposite, the sun made an appearance , we enjoyed balmy temps and the track dried up to provide incredibly tacky, fast conditions. While I had a smooth, drama free race, the speed was absurdly high and I suffered a bit out there wrapping up the day in 33rd. We stuck around for the Mens Elite race which was a full on barn burner between Trebon and Powers with JPows coming back from a crash and at least a 20 second deficit to pass Trebon with a lhalf lap to go and take the win...pretty impressive stuff.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Weak link

The replaceable rear derailleur hanger is the bane of a derailleur engineer's existence. I got my start at SRAM designing rear derailleurs and even had the corny nickname "Mr. X.O" for a while. In a crash, the replaceable hanger is designed to bend or break and thereby prevent damage to the bike's frame. The problem is that most are so poorly designed that they flex every time you shift gears, making the derailleur less accurate, and they bend far too easily from even the lightest impact. That's exactly what happened to me in the opening minute of Sunday's CX race in Chicago. My bike's RD hanger bent inward after a very light spill, and when I tried to shift to the largest cog at the base of the first hill, I stuffed my derailleur into my rear wheel. The sickening crunch told me immediately what had happened so I shouldered my bike and started running. As I negotiated the course, a helpful spectator shouted that I had dropped my chain. "I dropped my rear derailleur, too!" I yelled back with a smile. I coasted down the hill and finally made it back to the pits. I might not have run as far as the 40,000 people participating in the marathon elsewhere in Chicago that day, but I was still pretty whipped by the time I grabbed my spare bike and started chasing.
Digging deep. Photo: Ellen
My goal was to try to race my way back into the top ten. Well, I must have been having a good day because soon my goal changed to cracking the top five, then the top three, then second place. One thing that helped make up a few seconds was bunny hopping not only the log but also the single barrier in the southeast section of the course every lap. Here's a link to a cool multiple-exposure photo of me hopping over the log.

Second place was the perfect result for the day - I was incredibly motivated by constantly having someone up ahead to chase down, and also super happy that my teammate David Reyes scored his first Cat 1/2 win!

This week I plan to misappropriate SRAM's prototype shop to machine a couple of replacement rear derailleur hangers for my bike. From 4340 chrome-molybdenum steel.

Weekend roundup: Midwest edition

The Chicago contingent of the SRAM Factory team had a pretty good showing this weekend - 1st and 4th in Category 1/2/3 at the Grafton, Wisconsin CX race on Saturday, then 4th in the Women's Cat 1/2/3, and 1st & 2nd in the Men's Cat 1/2/3 at Sunday's ChiCrossCup race at Dan Ryan Woods. More importantly, we had a blast!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Racing is certainly underway in the US, even some of the big names from Europe made the trip across the pond to race in Vegas and Wisconsin. Here in the Netherlands the season has barely started-local series racing starts this weekend.

With racing comes weeknight training. Unlike the pickup races in US parks the local club in Amersfoort has a dedicated paved race circuit around a sports complex for weeknight racing, Tuesday night saw the first 'cross night practice session under the lights. No worries about someone playing volleyball in the sandpit-the "zand" is for bikes!

No pickup race either--7pm and time to start. The first 30 minutes or so are open; a little course with tight S curves on slick grass, a pump track, the pit and a few off camber turns to loosen up everyone. Fast or slow as you want. At 7:30 the drills begin. Under a coach's eye everyone lines up the barriers, speed increases while the distance to the rider in front decreases. A few rounds before the real fun. A little trail in the woods behind the football field, no light, keep up with the rider in front of you. A few bounce off the trees. Sprint when the whistle blows, ease off when you hear it again. Then back to the course; the interval times get longer until the final five minutes at race speed. With riders from masters to juniors there is always someone to catch or be caught. Almost 2 hours of good training with a purpose-everyone gets sharper even as the legs slow down.

It reminds me of when I was a kid. Only difference is we were practicing throwing, hitting and judging fly balls rather than fast dismounts.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


The SRAM Factory Cyclocross team had a great time in DeKalb this past Sunday, the 2nd stop of the ChiCrossCup. J.P. and Bill put in solid performances in their Masters categories, while David and Scott shared the Elite podium with Brian Conant of The Pony Shop CX team:
photo: Ellen
The course had a great mix of very twisty sections, a few off-camber turns, two sets of barriers as well as a fly over, and a couple of power sections.
The sea of course tape illustrates some sections of the course were very twisty. Photo: Ellen
David follows James LaLonde of Chicago.CX. Photo: Ellen
This barrier was squeezed in between two tight turns making it tricky to maintain momentum. Photo: Ellen
We're lucky to have so many dedicated clubs/promoters putting on CX races in the Chicagoland area. It's obvious they put a lot of time and effort into creating challenging courses for us to race on every weekend.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Cross the domes

On Saturday I traveled to Milwaukee for Cross the Domes, put on by My Wife Inc.
Matt Shriver leads eventual winner Brian Matter through a tight off-camber compound left corner. This was followed by a more-than-180-degree off-camber right turn and then up the stairs in the background. Fantastic! Photo: Jeremy Rodriguez
The course was fantastic - a great mix of fast and slow corners, several off-camber turns, a steep but mercifully short climb, and a long sand pit. It was one of those courses with great 'flow' where you could either carry a lot of speed by stringing together three corners just right, or find yourself grinding to a near halt if you didn't nail that first apex.

A new variation on the famous Hemme grimace in front of ones of the domes.. Mike and I carpooled up to Milwaukee along with Jeff Wat. Photo: Jeremy Rodriguez
About three hundred racers participated in Cross the Domes this year, less than half the number who came out for the second stop of the Chicago Cyclocross Cup in DeKalb, Illinois the next day. The Milwaukee race is every bit as close to my home in the city of Chicago as the DeKalb race. While 300 racers is a solid turn out, this was a first-class event at a great venue and I expect to see it grow next year. I'll be there.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Frisco, CO

Our preciptation-free fall continues on the front range. Our weekly great cross migration moved up to Summit County to Frisco Colorado for a Colorado Cross Cup race on Sat and repeating on Sunday ( which I opted out of ). I can't tell you why but I've always experienced really solid form coming up to 9,200 ft in elevation and yesterday was no exception. The course is always held at the Frisco Nordic Ski center and the track features a brutal long grinder section of pavement then dumps riders on to an extremely loose, dusty, "double track" descent that really only features one decent line through deep piles of wood chips leftover from clearing beetle kill trees. Into a fine gravel and grass ball field, over telephone pole "barriers" then into some rocky drops followed immediately by a few short run-ups.

Sunny skies and much more reasonable(seasonable) temps in the 60's met our 45+ group of 50 some odd riders. Without a call up I tried to get as far up as I could however I dread the start of this race. Punching it from the gate in a full on sprint at elevation up a pavement climb usually prompts seeing stars and trying desperately to gather your focus prior to diving into the descent. I had a good enough start and settled in looking to avoid drama. The laps were fairly short and there were lots of opportunities to pass so it made sense to pick a pace that was sustainable and try picking off riders. Last weekends race featured few technical challenges yet Frisco is all hands on deck, you will be penalized for being asleep at the wheel. This type of course suits me and it all came together yesterday. I had a solid race, no issues and rolled through in 17th position, My personal best for this 45+ group since I moved into this category last season. Until yesterday I've never been able to break into to the top 20 so obviously very stoked to put in a solid effort and with luck, pick up a few points for a call up.

Next weekend, Jen and I head up to Fort Collins as the USGP circus rolls into town. Stay tuned.