Nederland CX – A Race Review

Nederland CX – A Race Review

As I drove up Highway 72 to Nederland, I wondered just what the course for this inaugural Nederland Cyclocross race would be like.  The race flyer stated that the race course would wind through the heart of the town and include a mix of cyclocross features.  What exactly, did that description mean?  As visions or stairs and other urban cross features floated through my head, I parked and made my way to the registration tent.

The first feature I noticed was a very sharp, uphill turn onto a covered pedestrian bridge over a creek.  After retrieving my race number, I walked a bit more of the course.  I noticed another bridge and some railroad tie barriers.  I made some smalltalk with a woman nearby.  The topic of conversation quickly came around to the race course.  She mentioned on the other side of the course, that if you didn’t take the right line in one section, you were sure to end up in the lake.

At that point I decided it was in my best interest to get my bike out of the car and take a pre-ride of the course.  I didn’t mind getting dirty, but I certainly did not want to land in a lake astride my bike.  Once the current race was over, I pedaled on to the course.  I ended up behind another guy who must have already raced, because as we rode along, he told me about what was coming up around each bend.  In this section of the course that wound along the creek, the vegetation was so tall that you couldn’t see what was coming until you were there.  The first surprise was a sharp left turn.  The next surprise was a path of beaten down cat tails.  The mud below the cat tails was now being churned up by all the bike tires.  At the end of the cat tails was a steep run-up.

The next part of the course was the hard part: two- three off-camber ups and downs on loose dirt, and the steepest, loosest run-up ever.  This was followed by the steepest, loosest descent ever seen (by me!) on a cyclocross race course.  It was during this descent that I came upon the place where landing in the lake was supposedly a certainty if one were to take the wrong line.  My conclusion was that landing in the lake was only a remote possibility under the worst set of circumstances.  At the end of the lap, I began to question whether this race was something I could actually finish, let alone be competitive in.  I’d been nursing a sore shoulder all week and it would be impossible for me to shoulder the bike in any of the sections where it would make sense to do so.  I’d have to run the bike and lift it over the barriers when necessary.  I considered packing my bike in the car and going home right then and there.  Then my phone rang and Motoman wanted to know if it was raining in Nederland?  I looked up at the threatening skies and thought how miserable this course would become if the skies were to let go.

When Motoman arrived, I mentioned how hard the course was and that I was IMG_0925contemplating leaving.  His response was that it would be just as hard for everyone else as it would be for me.  As I pinned the number to my jersey, I thought to myself that I’ll just ride it; then I won’t have any expectations nor disappointment about how I finish.  Then we got a FaceTime call from our daughter who we hadn’t spoken to in a couple of days. It proved to be the perfect distraction.  When we hung up, I had only about 30 minutes before the start time to pedal around and half-heartedly warm-up.  Besides, who needs to warm-up for ride??

Promptly at 5:10 PM, the race started and we were off!  Racers were still rather clumped together when I reached the hard part of the course.  A crash in front of me forced me off the bike and to run more of the off-camber section than I would have liked.  However, as I trotted along, I realized that the women who were riding weren’t going any faster than I was.  I had started to run with my bike because I didn’t want to stop. But now that I couldn’t find a decent place to remount, I just kept going.  Two thoughts occurred to me as I finished that first lap 1) I did not want to run as much on the next lap and 2) this race was as hard for the other women as it was for me!

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Photo Credit: Cid Dennis

I dug in and settled into a pace I could sustain for five more laps.   I’m so proud to have finished such a difficult race!  Taking 2nd place was the icing on the cake!

 

 

 

 

Not only was this the hardest race I’ve finished, it was also the most expensive:

  1. Entry fee: $30
  2. Deductible for car repairs necessary from colliding with black bear on the way home: $750
  3. While tasty, the six pack of beer only drowned my sorrows temporarily.
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    Master’s Women 40+, 2nd Place Photo by: Cid Dennis

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    That’s black bear fur stuck in the wheel.

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Adventures in Retrofitting

My first official cyclocross season came and went without amounting to much of anything.  I found a bike in September, just before the season’s first race.  Finding the bike had been a challenge of it’s own.  Let me put it this way: had there been a handful of cyclocross bikes to choose from, I may not have ended up with the one I’m riding.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great bike, but it’s mine simply because there wasn’t another choice.  There just aren’t many bikes available in the small size I ride, which is probably fodder for another blog post.  Nevertheless, I finished a couple of races and then experienced a series of flats which resulted in a few DNF’s (Did Not Finish).

Since I had only one wheel set, I very quickly found myself in a place where I needed to make some changes to said wheel set in order to get back into the races AND finish.  The choices were 1. to use a conversion kit on the stock wheels that would result in a tubeless setup or 2. to upgrade the wheel set to a tubeless ready system.  In other words, choice 1 costs around $80 and choice 2 closer to $500 and up.  Since I wasn’t sure how long I would keep the bike, I decided to go with choice 1 and consider choice 2 next year after I had a few more races under my belt and a better sense of whether I wanted to keep the bike.

After doing some web searching, watching videos, and reading step-by-step instructions, I was confident in my (husband’s) ability to successfully complete the conversion under my supervision*.  The Stan’s No Tubes web site even states “Converting requires very little mechanical ability but it is important to follow the Instructions.”  I was confident that even a non-bike mechanic gal like myself could supervise this project flawlessly.

I purchased the cyclocross conversion kit.   The process of cleaning the wheel, drilling the valve hole, and applying the rim tape was easy enough.  The problem we encountered was that the rim was chewed up enough to leave a gap large enough that the rim tape, tire, and sealant combined weren’t enough to close that gap.  Yes, we tried the compressor.  It resulted in a shower of Stan’s sealant all over a friend’s garage before we finally gave up.  Here’s an image of the rim to give you an idea of the kind of ding that prevented this conversion from working.

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I wish the very thorough instructions and videos on the Stan’s web site would have mentioned that your rims need to be ding free in order to work with the conversion kit.  Unfortunately for me, the conversion kit was a failure and waste of money.  On the bright side, I have a sweet new wheel set on a bike I may or may not keep and another wheel set that is very likely to become wall art. I’d say everyone won in this case!

*Disclaimer:  I’m not a bike mechanic.  I don’t even play one on TV.  But I do have a very handy husband who helped me with the conversion.

Handlebars, headsets, and tunnels. Oh my!

Last year I did a couple of cyclocross races and got bitten by the bug.  I started shopping for a cyclocross bike in late July because bikes in my small size are few and far between.  I was scouring online forums and bike shop web sites for something, anything in my size so that I would be outfitted come race day in September.  It was suggested that I visit a certain bike shop in Boulder because it was known to be “the” cyclocross bike shop in the area.

I dedicated an entire afternoon to making the drive up to Boulder with the intention of test riding as many bikes as I could find to fit me.  The first (and only) bike that I rode was a Focus Mares CX Disc 105.  I rode along South Broadway in Boulder to some open space where I could take the bike on the dirt.  Overall the bike felt large and sluggish.  I gave this feedback to the sales rep who was helping me.  He suggested swapping out the stem so that I would feel less stretched out on the bike.  We went to the back of the store where he did this while we chatted.

He asked me to take the bike in a loop around the parking lot before departing for the open space just to get a general sense of whether it felt any better or not.  I gave him the thumbs up and once again headed south on the sidewalk parallel to Broadway.  I was bunnyhopping, jumping, and generally riding aggressively on the bike as I pedaled alongside the busy road.  By the time I reached the tunnel that passes under Broadway, it became evident that there was a problem with the bike.  As I entered the tunnel and it became darker, I became very confused about what was happening.  I realized that while I was still going straight forward on the bike, the handlebars were turning sideways.  I had absolutely no control over the direction this bike was going.  I gingerly placed one hand up to run it along the tunnel wall and bring the bike to a stop.  As I rolled to a stop in the dark tunnel, six kids came charging through the tunnel as they rode their bikes home from school.  I was subjected to bells ringing and verbal reprimands for stopping so foolishly in the dark tunnel, which only added to my confusion and fear.

After dismounting the bike and pushing it back into the light, I was able to confirm what had happened.  In swapping out the stem earlier, the sales rep had failed to properly tighten down the headset.  All the jumping and aggressive riding I’d done between the tunnel and bike shop had loosened the one bolt that he had tightened.  I started the walk back to the bike shop.  As I walked by all the obstacles I’d jumped, I wondered how it came to pass that I had not lost control of that bike and veered off into the traffic speeding by on that busy road.

When I finally arrived back at the bike shop, a couple of their team members snickered as I walked by with the bike.  I suppose it was quite a sight: me in my loose fitting shorts, t-shirt, and shop-loaned helmet walking a bike with the handlebars turned completely to the side.  When I entered the shop, one of the sales reps looked at the bike in horror asking what happened.  I rolled the bike toward her and told her I was sent out with a loose headset.  As the gravity of that sank in, I retrieved my driver’s license from the sales rep who swapped out the stem.  He seemed as appalled as I was by what had happened and took full responsibility for it.

Later that night I received an email from the shop owner inquiring about the situation.  He assured me that this incident was the first of its kind at his shops.  We exchanged a couple more emails and ultimately he reassured me that he’s ridden for years and nothing has ever stopped him from getting back on a bike.  I knew it wouldn’t stop me from riding either.  I’ve had too many good experiences on the bike to let one incident like this stop me from riding.  I also knew, however, that a most basic level of trust had been violated.  The nightmares I’ve had about biking since this incident confirm that it affected me on a very deep level.  As I said before, it hasn’t stopped me from riding, but it has stopped me from returning to this shop.