2016 Pan-American Championships & Kings CX

Returning home from Cleveland, it was a quick turn around before heading back up to Ohio for the Pan American Cyclo-cross Championships. This year was my second year racing the Pan Ams and Kings CX race, two of the best races in the country in my opinion. No matter the outcome, it was going to be a great trip!

I rolled up to Tulsa on Thursday morning and swooped up my friend Skylar Mackey to start the adventure. We rolled in to Devou Park on Friday afternoon, just in time to get on the Pan Am course to shake out the car legs and reacquaint ourselves with the course. The course, set at the top of the hill in Devou Park, is a truly challenging course. With technical off-cambers, steep drops, and plenty of pedaling, the course has played a fitting host to crown the Continental Champion.

Pan American Cyclo-cross Champs - Fight the Power (22nd)

We had a chill start to the day, watching the Euro cross races and some Premier League soccer action. Since Skylar's U23 race was early in the day, we got to the course with plenty of time to set up and check the course again. Skylar had a good race, finishing in the top 15 of a very competitive field.

The afternoon wore on and it finally got time to race. If you've been keeping up to date with the season's racing so far, you already know where I was called up on the grid. Yup, Dead. F. Last. Yet again, another opportunity to move up, up, up! Waiting at the line, I was joking about getting a running start into the race. The official denied my joking request, unfortunately. 

As the whistle blew, the men's elite field flew off the line. I avoided the riff raff and silly crashes on the first lap, moving up in the field. I tried to settle into a rhythm and pace of my own rather than let my race be dictated by riders going H.A.M. on the first lap. Coming into the Pan Am Plunge for the first time, I took my time, avoiding any incident (unlike in preride) and making it to the bottom safely.

I thought that I knew how demanding the course was, but by lap two I found that I really underestimated the challenge it would pose. I found myself in a mental battle of "Please pull me!" vs. "Keep pushing!" Honestly, had the official pulled my two laps in, I would have been fine with that. But my desire to get the best result possible overruled and I kept the power down for as long as I could. I continued racing solo around the track, each time trying to ride sections better or faster than the time before. 

After riding by myself for most of an hour, I was finally relieved from my torture, as the official pulled me with two laps remaining. My finish was 22nd, a huge improvement from the year before. While I was a bit bummed to miss the group that was a short distance in front of me, I had some positive takeaways from my race and was looking forward to carrying the momentum into Sunday's race.

Kings CX - It's Not Gunna Rain (50th)

Sunday proved to be another gorgeous day with not a cloud in the sky. The elite race didn't kick off until 5p, so we took our sweet time lounging around for the morning and then heading over to the course. The Kings CX race is (was) hosted at Kingswood Park in Mason, Ohio. An old golf course, the track uses many of the features that remain and flows over the gentle undulations of former fairways and greens. It's sad knowing this was the last time we would race at this venue.

I was feeling good about my form and with yet another back row call up, my race plan was again based around patience and pacing. About an hour before the start of the elite men's race, clouds started to appear on the horizon and rolled in to Mason. The dreary skies looked threatening, but the radar didn't indicate that we would see any type of precipitation. I was planning on a dry race and rolled to the line with my Challenge Chicanes (file tread tires) pumped up to 25/26 psi. 

The men's field rocketed off the line and as we hit the gravel section, some one on the right side of the grid elected to grab a fist full of brake. The ripple effect through the pack caused a momentary stop in the action and meant that I was unable to better my position in the field for the time being. Back on the gas, I kept an aggressive attitude, pushing past riders and forcing my will upon others. I maintained a steady clip and dodged crashes and bottlenecks in most every corner.

As luck would have it, the radar was less than accurate, and the skies released the rain upon our field just one lap in to the hour long race. Chaos ensued. With too much pressure in my tires and the wrong tread pattern, my pace was slowed as I tip-toed around the course. I made it to the pits and grabbed my spare bike from my guy Hugo Scala Jr. (s/o to my homie).

"Muds at 23/24!" I yelled to him.

I think he got the message and the next time through the pits I changed bikes again with more instructions to drop the tire pressure on the "B bike". This dance went on a couple more times until I finally got the tire pressure where I wanted it at 22/23 psi on my mud tires.

Finally comfortable with my set up, I got back on the gas as best I could. But it was too late, as the front of the race was well beyond reach and I was too far back to make it any farther. The result of being pulled early was disappointing and my frustration was only quelled by frozen yogurt. And still, there is only so much you can do when the race becomes unpredictable. In hindsight, I did what I could to adapt and ride as fast as the conditions allowed. And while the outcome result was not what I had hoped for, the experience is what matters the most.

The trip to Ohio/Kentucky was another one for the books. As we made our way back to the warmer climates of Texas and Oklahoma, I was pleased with my progress and can see some of the pieces start coming together. Each weekend and each race is one step in the process and I can feel satisfaction in knowing that it will all come together soon!