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Race Report: West Falls Cyclocross Race

“What about your race? You’re racing too, aren’t you?” Jon added.

West Falls Cyclocross put on by John Roden and the Buffalo Bicycling Club was just flat-out muddy fun. The course wove its way through West Falls Park and featured some fast and challenging single track through the woods and a trio of steep climbs, two of which were easily rideable and one…not so much.

I heard the rain all night, and I woke to dread what I would see outside. 50-degree temps and a light rain seemed to put a real damper on the day ahead until it occurred to me that this was what real cyclocross weather was like. I embraced it and brought a few extra layers. By the race start, the rain had subsided, and the temps were warm enough to give the short shirt jersey a try. I kept my gilet on because there was no time to re-pin the number. Oh well.

The first part of the race was a series of sharp twists and turns through the grassy park sections and across the ball diamonds. As someone who works on baseball diamonds all summer, I had an uneasy feeling tearing across the infields, but they held up just great having been packed down by the hot summer and light rain. As we headed into the woods, the single track was fast and greasy. A few dabs here and there were required to keep the bike moving through corners at high rates of speed. Okay, maybe just high rates of speed for me.

A few sketchy bumps downhill and the race jumped over a few logs and down to the creek bed. I laughed as I rode the sandy section of the creek. After a few laps, Ron Grucela, local photo guru, was calling to me, “Bob, ride the water.” I figured he was trying to get ol’ Bobbo to take a spill and get some good footage, but he proved to be a true friend, as the creek section was much faster than the lines across the beach.

A series of three climbs brought us back towards the finish. The first two were steep, but rideable every single time with some effort. I encouraged the riders ahead to keep going a few times, so I didn’t stall out. This is where the positions changed several times. The third and steepest climb proved to be the most fun. I rode it 1/3 to ½ of the way each time before jumping off and shouldering the bike. The first lap, I had lots of supporters screaming encouragement from the top, so I ran that hill like my hair was on fire. Okay, maybe I don’t have much hair…but, that effort nearly killed me as I remounted at the top. I think I could see stars and my heart rate was through the roof. The rest of the laps I handled the hill with more reasonable pace and steady progress.

All in all, the race went okay. Or should I say, the “ride” went okay? I was pretty much relegated to the bottom third right from the start. I settled into the starting line back in the pack, and I took the starting twists and turns rather lightly avoiding a chance of crashing too early. It was dumb, I know. As I plodded on, I was happy to have tackled everything the course threw at me with much more precision and skill than usual. I didn’t dismount for anything just to avoid riding it, as I have in the past. I rode the sand, mud, and the barriers much better than usual. I am just still struggling to hurtle myself into the pack and race. I need someone to light a fire under me. I never quite got the guy ahead, but I held off the two riders closest to me, and passed them for the final time on the fourth lap.

The perfect lesson revealed itself in a post-race talk with one of my absolute favorite local racers, Jon Siuta. He asked me, “Why were you standing around?” I reached back into my memory to think about what he was talking about, and remembered Jon and three juniors passing me (lapping me) on the third lap. The rider I was with most of the race and I had pulled off after one of the log sections to let the pursuing group by us. “I was trying not to get in the way, you know, and mess up your race’” I replied.

“What about your race? You’re racing too, aren’t you?” Jon added.

I am going to try to remember that next time and every time after this week. As I looked at the third lap time, it was about 30 seconds slower, probably due to that concession to the riders coming from behind. When I looked at the gap to the rider ahead, it would have been enough to get me closer, probably close enough to have taken another place ahead. Lesson learned.

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