2016 CXLA & Turkey Day

Riding the wave of my recent success at Cyntergy Hurtland, it wasn’t long before I had to snap back to reality and get back to work. While I could breathe a sigh of relief and check two boxes on my “Season’s Goals” list, Friday came quickly and it was off to the West Coast for some SoCal cyclocross racing.

Friday - Jet Setting

Bike shipped and bags packed, I arrived at the airport with some good vibrations. Of course, being left by the Parking Spot shuttle and paying a ridiculous bag fee for my bike bag were attempts to damper my happiness. But try as they may, I was still in good spirits when I got to LAX.

After fighting LA traffic – even at 8pm on a Friday! – I eventually made to my hosts’ house out in Claremont. Opting for the path of least resistance, I decided building bikes was a less worthy cause than getting food and going to bed.

Saturday – It Doesn’t Rain in SoCal (18th)

My biological clock woke me up early. It would seem that my body missed the memo that we had traveled two time zones, but being up at 5:30am gave me plenty of time to watch some European cyclocross action and build bikes before the day got started.

Hosted at Whittier Narrows Park in South El Monte, the 2016 edition of CXLA was another case of “who would travel out to Cali to race cross?” The answer… a lot of fast dudes. I’ve tried to make it a habit of NOT checking registration lists before an event. And it’s a good thing I didn’t because from Monday to Friday, many fast riders had signed up to race. Names like Michael Van den Ham, Tobin Ortenblad, Cody Kaiser, Allen Krughoff, Yannick Eckmann, Geoff Kabush, and many others, set the stage for a fast weekend of racing.

Texas? or California?

The course itself was to my liking… I think. That is to say, it was a Texas-style track. Mostly flat with use of the lake-side undulations, the course wound around the north side of the park. Aside from a few twists and turns, the most notable feature of the course was the sandpit just past pit one. After a few recon laps to open up the engines, I got set preparing myself for a fast race.

As the 621st rider in the cyclocross world rankings, my one UCI point put me third row on the grid. The whistle sounded and I got into the pedals quickly, shooting a couple gaps and moving up to just behind the first row of riders. Somewhere along the opening prologue I got shuffled back a few spots, but I tried to settle into a steady rhythm that I could manage. Again, being that it was a fast track, I was sure that many riders would pay for their fast start. At the first pass through the sandpit, someone botched the rut and I took the opportunity to dismount and make up a few more spots. It wasn’t long before Adam Craig and Carl Decker came past me, and I tried to jump on the Giant train that was headed for the front group. Of course, a few other yahoos had similar ideas and decided the corner would be the best place to pass.

Pro Tip or rather PSA: Choose your passing location wisely. Passing in the corner is aggressive and sometimes necessary, but when your line to pass into the corner sucks, you just slow down yourself and the rider you’re passing. So good job bro.

Photo by PB Creative

Ranting aside, the train left the station and I was too far back in the line to make it onboard. I settled into the second group and felt like I was taking better lines than any of my competitors. With three laps to go, I decided to test my luck and lay down the gauntlet for the other riders in the bunch. As we set up for the sandpit, I pushed my way to the front and nailed my line through the soft sand. Looking back, I had opened a gap and was now forcing the other riders to chase me down, which they eventually did. Going into two laps to go, I made another move just before a couple of tight turns but the road sections that followed meant my energy spent was all for not.

As we hit the last lap, the front group was gone and our group of five resigned to racing for 14th through 18th place. Just when I was thinking, “I should move to the front” another rider beat me to the punch. The pace ratcheted up and I was unable (or maybe unwilling) to make any gains through the second half of the course, settling for 18th place.

It was definitely a sour end to the race, but I wasn't too bummed by the result. Sunday would be a new day and it was time to get ready to go for day two!

Sunday – No Really! It’s Not Supposed to Rain in SoCal (20th)

I got up on Sunday and ventured down to the little town square in Claremont. There are tons of quaint shops and a farmer's market, but I was most interested in Some Crust Bakery. The shop was filled with tons of goodies and I would have spent a small fortune to have one of everything. But alas, I was racing that day and that amount of butter and sugar doesn't generally sit well.

The course on Sunday remained mostly unchanged. The skies were clear and the weather was again pleasant. I got a couple of laps in early to get a feel for the course and then sat down to relax before race time. But as luck would have it, the rain clouds rolled in and opened up over South El Monte. So what was a dry and dusty course, quickly turned into a greasy and muddy track. Fortunately, I had brought one set of semi-mud tires that I could use today. 

Photo by Rocky Ehrich

Again the race started at a blistering pace but I wasn't as lucky with my own start, getting boxed out by riders in front of me. Relegated to the back, I spent the first couple of laps trying to get back up to a good spot in the race. After pitting to change bikes, I was never quite able to make it back to the group that I was in the day before. As a result I spent the rest of the race pushing as hard as I could to try and gain some ground. Problem was, every time I stood up to go, there was no gas in the tank. With that, my mind started to wander to my impending trip home and with my focus, so too went my shot at bettering Saturday's result. I crossed the line, rounding out the top 20.

There wasn't much time to sulk or pout as I still needed to clean up, drive back to Claremont, pack bikes, pack clothes, drop bikes at FedEx, drive to LAX to drop the rental car, get food, and finally catch the redeye home. I see now, why I couldn't stay focused for the whole race! All-in-all though, CXLA was a great experience and I certainly walked away with some lessons learned. I really appreciate the hospitality the Clements showed me as I came in and out like a tornado or bikes and lycra, and I hope to head back again to better my results!


Thanksgiving

It was a short trip back to DFW on a strangely, over-booked red eye flight. Seriously, who takes the red eye anymore?! I dragged myself from the airport straight into the office and lasted until about 2pm before I couldn't keep my eyes open much longer. But all the grogginess aside, I was excited to head out to Denver to visit family for the Thanksgiving holiday.

The weather was fantastic every day and the riding was pretty awesome too! Each day I pedaled up the US-36 bike path towards Boulder to sample the local coffee and take in some of the sights. I was fortunate enough to have a couple of tour guides one day in Allen and Dani, showing me some the network of dirt paths that criss-cross the plains. It was a great trip and an awesome chance to catch up with family. And, like all good things, the weekend quickly passed by and it was time to get back to reality.

Next on the agenda, a date with Ruts N' Guts in Tulsa!