Update: Here's the GPS data from the race -- the first two laps are real data, you can see on the third where I flatted and started walking back. The cyclocross season kicked off today with a race at Robertson Park in Livermore. We're in the midst of a heatwave in the Bay Area, so when I arrived at the site this morning at 7:45 AM, it was already pushing 75 degrees. By the time of my 9 AM race, it was in the 80s -- I can't even imagine how hot it was when the good racers went after 11.

I went in to the race not really having any idea what to expect. I've been training pretty hard, and feel like I'm much more fit than I've been in years, but it's never the same as actually competing. If you had told me that I'd go out there and get crushed, I would have believed it; if you told me that I'd win, I guess I would have believed that too.

The reality was somewhere in between.

The course was fun, a good mix of grass, dirt trails, some loose wood chip covered paths, and some pavement. There were just two dismounts -- a set of barriers before a hill that turned it into a run up, and three downed logs on a dirt trail.

I got in what I thought was a good warmup, a few laps of recon on the course, and then some sprints on the road. But as the race started, I found that I wasn't quite ready to really hammer right from the gun. I need to get in more work before the race starts, especially since the first lap or two of a cross race is so, so important.

At the first turn, I was probably 15th or so, and eating a ton of dust on the dry, hot day. After that first turn was one of the wood chip paths, which were hard going, as they were very loose and the bike wanted to go every which way underneath you. I kept applying the pressure as best I could, and after that section, and the first pass through the grass section and the first runup, I was picking off riders, and had moved up into the top ten.

Then, there was a long flat dirt section, where I found that I was able to ride hard and pass people while still recovering. That's a great sign, I think, that the interval training has really enhanced my ability to recover at a high workload.

We came to the downed logs, and I did just a horrible, rushed dismount, and fell. I've got a pretty gnarly road rash (dirt rash?) on my left calf, and a big ol' scrape on my ass. Just very frustrating, as I know I need to get better technique working, and generally felt OK with that today. Practice is the only way to get better, I guess.

The next two laps, I rode well, passing more riders. A couple of people were way off the front of the race, then another pair of riders, and then me and another guy. So I was in a fight for fifth place, and feeling like I had a real shot at that. I was feeling OK, especially on the dirt sections. The grass really grabs your wheels and adds a ton of effort to riding, so I was trying to get through those and then recover on the other sections.

With a lap and a half to go, we came to those downed logs. I dismounted and immediately heard the air going out of my rear tire -- a flat.

I shouted some very angry words. The wheel pit was about 300 meters or so up the course, but by the time I could have run there, I would have been way out of the race. Plus, I didn't have any spares stowed there.

So, I slowly walked the bike back to the car, cursing my luck. Several of my teammates checked in with me to see what had happened, and I thought that it had been something on the course, like a thorn. I didn't feel the rim bottom out (I was running about 33 PSI), which could have caused a pinch flat.

When I got home, I got the tube out, and there it was, the telltale two-hole pattern of a pinch flat. So, there's one lesson learned -- I either needed a little more tire pressure, or a little smoother technique. Or a little of both.

Overall, my fitness was pretty decent, but I'm disappointed in my skills, and crushed that I didn't get a chance to finish the race strong, and maybe notch a top-five performance. Plus, my leg hurts.

Things to work on: better warmup. Dismounts and mounts. Hitting it harder at the start. Bike handling skills. Getting tire pressures right. Keeping my mental focus.

AuthorMark McClusky