2015 Cincy CX & the Pan Am Championships
Another weekend and another UCI adventure! Two weekends ago I jetted up to Cincinnati, OH for the Cincy CX Festival and the Pan-American Championships. I joined my teammate Rob Sandusky and his dad Bob on the trip up for what was sure to be a great weekend of racing. Having watched the race in years’ past and heard stories from Rob and other local racers, I was both excited and nervous for what was ahead.
We left a rainy Dallas on Friday morning and were greeted by gray skies and cool fall temps in Cincinnati (Cincy). Having just missed the fall colors on my East coast ventures, it was awesome to see the bright oranges, reds, and yellows of the Midwest fall. After trying some local chili at Skyline, we unpacked our bikes and headed to Devou Park just down the road from our hosts’ house.
There was a ton of people out at the park pre-riding the course and getting a general sense for what was in store for Sunday’s race. Rob showed me the lines on a couple laps, and I tried my best to keep a straight face as I was pretty intimidated by the course features, but more on that later. Preride complete, we cleaned up and headed to downtown Cincy for some chicken and waffles at Taste of Belgium. Appropriate right? Definitely worth a visit if you head that way!
The weather hadn’t changed much when we woke up on Saturday. There was no rain in the forecast but the skies did seem somewhat threatening throughout the day. The men’s race didn’t start until 5 pm so we had plenty of time to run a few errands, have some diner food at the Anchor Grill (waffles to keep the theme for the weekend), and just hang out before the race.
The Cincy CX race (formally Cincy3 CX but it was trimmed to just two races in 2015) is held at an old golf course in Mason, Ohio. The course itself is awesome! Great turf to race on and lot’s of it. Plenty of pedaling and some well utilized features including some off camber switchbacks and a long sandpit. Just imagine having free range on your local golf course! All fun aside, the rain from earlier in the week made the ground soft and the course difficult. This wasn’t going to be a grass crit, it was going to be a power fest all the way to the bell lap.
The field was STACKED with anyone and everyone who calls themselves a pro cyclocrosser lining up at the C1 event. Given the UCI call up procedure, it took about 5 or 6 rows to get through all of the riders who had UCI points to their name. Needless to say, Rob and my call ups were way to the back.
The gun went off and I was pretty aggressive but somewhat tentative off the line. The race was going to be a long one and with 90 guys in the field there was sure to be a great deal of traffic. I managed to hold my spot as we jumped onto the course from the start stretch and wiggle my way through some of the first lap traffic – there was a lot of it. As we neared a u-turn on the course, it hit me how far back I was as the leaders came past about 15 seconds ahead at the very least. At this point, rather than be patient, I got a bit overambitious and tried to push the pace. The first lap came to an end after some 9 minutes of racing. I was gassed and the thought of doing another 50-60 minutes of racing was disheartening.
My downfall ultimately came over the next 3 laps. Attempting to go fast and make up time and places, I pushed really hard on the opening laps, hitting the red zone too early. Once you reach your physical limit, there is only so long that you can maintain that pace until your mind starts telling you to slow down. Unfortunately for me (and due to my own fault) I pushed the needle into the red zone and couldn’t come back down without slowing the pace. I watched in despair as the riders I had been pacing with continued on, well up into the standings.
I waited for my second wind but it never really came around. My goal went from finishing in the top half of the field to just finishing at all! Rob came past, riding smooth as always and I did my best to try and follow his wheel. But young Sandusky had more of a motor than I did and pushed on, going on to finish on the lead lap! Proud of that dude! I on the other hand, was pulled with 2 laps to go and could only watch the end of a thrilling race.
Lesson of the day: Go hard on the hard parts of the course and use the easy parts to recover.
2015 Pan-American Championships
No trick-or-treating for us, but we did manage to steal a few pieces of candy from our hosts. Sunday was another lazy start to the day and after packing our things, Rob and I made our way a mere 5 minutes down the road to Devou Park for the Pan American Cyclocross Championships. Having seen the course on Friday, I was feeling a bit better about my chances and the chip on my shoulder was a good motivation to ride as fast as I could. How often do you get to compete in a continental championship?!
I took the liberty to get multiple laps in on the course during the mid-morning hours. With so many technical features, I knew there would be plenty of areas that I would need to have dialed and memorized to have a better result. I’m pretty sure I rode and re-rode the course more times than anyone else at the event and by the time race time arrived, I was ready to get down to business. Rob had finished the U23 race in an impressive 18th place, three spots away from snagging one UCI point. That’s a good result for your first UCI race of the year, in my book! Well done, Rob!
Again, the call up gods frowned upon me and I found myself on the back row of the bunch. Ahh, the pleasure of no UCI points! =] Knowing that the course was so taxing, I remained steady in my effort as the gun sounded. In the first U-turn, I made up a bunch of spots by avoiding the inside line and kept pushing my way to the front. The slick off-camber was unrideable the first lap, but I was able to move up a bit more but running the high line and not slipping the hill, thanks to my Horst Engineering Toe Spikes (wink!).
Compared to Saturday’s race, I was feeling a lot better but still not having the race of my life or really the race that I wanted. Many features, which should have been rideable for me, became running sections (whether by choice or due to lack of skill, is up for debate) and that would open up some gaps here or there. I certainly am in much better running shape than last season but if I want to have any hope of making it to the front, I’ll need to learn to ride the gnarly stuff. One gnarly section was the Pan Am Plunge, an aptly named 70 foot chute through the trees open to UCI categories only. I was able to ride it each time, but no doubt I was going much slower than the guys at the front.
First lap complete, I was continuing to move up and pick up spots, improving upon my back row start spot. Some stuff got a bit easier as the course cleared but for the most part, I was gassed the entire time and tried to rest when and where I could. At one point, Logan Owen came past me after he suffered a first lap mechanical. I only wish that I could have hung on his wheel for a bit longer than a minute or two. But that would have intensified and prolonged the suffering I was going through. (Un)fortunately, the refs put me out of my misery three laps in to the seven lap race.
Though I improved upon my ride on Saturday, the result was not on par with my personal high standards. I don’t think that I had any chance of winning from the back row and against such a strong field, but I do expect that I am doing everything that I can to be ready come race day. Whether it was my preparation leading up to the event or my riding in the race itself, I left Cincinnati wanting more. I wanted to have a do over, to eat better, recover harder, and race smarter. That, of course, isn’t possible and the only thing I can do is reflect on my experience and put those lessons to use moving forward.
It was an awesome time traveling to Cincy and I’m excited to head back in 2016. Next time I’ll get it right…