You survived 8 months of people posting #crossiscoming, and now cross is here! The first Western New York race of the season was another great one at Buffalo Ski Club.
The course is always a good mix of technical sections and long sections to ride hard. When I arrived on scene I had three sections in mind when I surveyed the course. Two out of the three were still in play, and one had changed significantly. How would this affect the race? We were about to see.
Last year, it wasn't a minute into the race when I crashed hard on the opening hill. I got boxed in and had nowhere to go but down. It was unfortunate, but it is now water under the bridge. I promise not to keep on whining about it.
From the parking lot, I could see two barriers were set up on that daunting opening challenge. What? We get to run the hill? That was a sight for sore eyes. I immediately felt that this race was going to be a different story from last year. And it was.
On the preview lap, I saw the other two challenges were there. The quick uphill kicker in which you had to make a sharp right and head straight up was still in effect. I still struggled with it, although it was an easy section to run if you were alone. The creek section was again hard to ride, but as often happens in cyclocross, the course changed as the day went on. The preview lap saw a still wet and dewey course. By the time our Cat 5 race went off, the course was drying rapidly under a really hot sun.
The Cat 4s and SSCX races left two and one minute, respectively, before my Cat 5 race went off. My nerves were not as bad as usual before a race, and I hoped for good things to happen.
Immediately, after the gun went off, I took caution and worked my way along around several turns on the way to the big hill and run up. Dismounting is becoming more second nature, but the race really bottlenecked here. After a crash ahead, the pack really split in two, and I was stuck on the losing side of the split. I worked hard to get back on track. and I noticed that instincts had kept me from crashing and the technical aspects seemed a lot easier.
I rode hard through the woods and came to the next technical challenge, the large drop off onto a long singletrack descent. No issues whatsoever. This was a great sign. (See pic).
Obstacle after obstacle seemed much easier this year. All the little kickers went a lot easier, and I think some of that is the result of going to the 1x 38t oval up front. It really seems to give you some nice punch when it gets hard to drive uphill. I also feel that the lessons I learned from mountain biking and how to keep pressure on the back tire helped a lot.
Yeah, I still messed up the kicker that went straight up after the hard right, but I never lost control or the desire to keep trying it. I had it the last time and got caught up in the tape! They say to use the whole course, but I guess I used a little too much that time. Either way, it was not a crash. (I usually crash once a CX race! LOL!)
The riverbed was getting easier to ride as the race went on. Lap one, it was a sandy, soft mess, and I had to unclip and run. The next three times, I had no problem pedaling through, and I had great success on the hill right after. All great signs of improvement.
The day was a hot one, and as I tried to chase down the pack ahead, I really pushed myself. I was satisfied with the heart rate numbers I saw afterwards. It was a true sign that I raced hard. I actually adjusted my LTHR after the race, as it has increased about 8 bpm! Very happy with that.
All in all, I caught three of three of the CAT 4 racers that I know, who all started two minutes ahead. I also had far fewer people lap me, which is a good sign. The podium 4's were really impressive, so no harm there. Lastly, I caught a young Cat 5 with about 600m to go and outsprinted him to the finish.
Numbers-wise, I was still only 24/34, but I had lots of things to be happy about. No crashes. No quitting. The barriers and technical aspects of the course were so much more doable than before. Heck, in the last two seasons I even struggled at times just maneuvering through the switchback sections. I am extremely happy overall.
I would like to improve upon the start and getting through the pack a little more aggressively. Every race I sit back just a little too much, and I often pay for it. Today wasn't so bad, but there were at least a couple racers I had a chance to catch if not for my first two laps being slow. Next week that is the challenge, start fast and try to get away. We will see!
Here's a look at the race posted by Yann Spindler on Facebook. It gives you a pretty good idea of the course.
I hope your cross season got off to a great start! I hope to see you at the UCI Race in Rochester next Saturday. Thanks to Ron Grucela for the images and to Yann Spindler for the video.