2018 West Sacramento Cyclocross Grand Prix
There was barely enough time to clean the mud from my ears before it was time to pack up for the next race. We left the mud of Jingle Cross behind for the familiar climes of Texas. We got back to town on Monday evening and I basically dumped my suitcase into the washing machine (after 30mins of hand washing muddy kit [sigh]). Ahhh… the life of a traveling bike racer! Or maybe the part of “The Dream” they don’t mention up front.
For the past three years, I have made the trip out to Baltimore for the annual Charm City race. I certainly love the opportunity to get back to the East Coast and see some familiar faces from my time in the Mid-Atlantic. But this year I decided to change it up a bit and head west.
The West Sacramento Cyclocross Grand Prix (WSCXGP) provided a new challenge for me. In its second year, this event has already cemented itself as a great event on the West Coast. While I was sad to miss out on the fun in Baltimore, I was equally excited to test my legs against the best of the West.
King of the Hill (Strava)
After a hop, skip, and an airplane ride to the Bay Area, I caught up with my friends Clint and Carina. Clint is actually The Godfather of cycling to me. We met during our time in New Hampshire and it was under his guidance that I learned more about cycling and eventually bought my first road bike. So, both me and my bank account have him to thank for this life path that I have chosen to pursue.
We got up early on Friday morning to head out for a little spin. The brisk morning air of the Bay Area greeted us as we climbed from the heart of Redwood City up towards Skyline Drive. We rose with the sun up Kings Highway and the steady grade proved to be the perfect place for my pre-race openers. There were so many times I wanted to stop mid ride and take a photo – I do it for the ‘Gram – but I chose to be a good cyclist and stuck to my efforts.
Back from the top of the ridge, I packed up my things and headed Northeast to Sacramento. Though it was only an 80-mile trip, it took a solid three hours to make the journey and I arrived just in time to swoop up my buddy Greg from the airport. I was thankful to have Greg with me on this adventure and he was a huge help all weekend!
Let It Flow (6th) (Strava)
The WSCXGP course runs along the banks of the Sacramento River at River Walk Park, in the shadows of the Tower Bridge. Utilizing the steep pitches and sandy soil of the river bank, the track itself is fast a flowing with many punchy accelerations and loose sand sections. Requiring equal parts power and finesse, I was really excited about the course and my chances as race time approached.
Fortunately, my current World Ranking was enough to put me on the front row of the grid with the likes of Cody Kaiser (LangeTwins/Specialized), Allen Krughoff (Chocolove – Specialized), Anthony Clark (Squid Squad), Lance Haidet (Donnelly Cycling), and a few other shredders. The whistle blew, and I got into my pedal immediately. I surprised myself with how fast I got in the pedals, but held my composure as if I had been here before, entering the course second wheel. After the first quarter of the track, I had shuffled back a bit to fifth wheel. We entered the off-camber U-turn, a steep and tricky balancing act just before the first pass of the pits. As I set up in the single file queue to make it through the turn, a rider from the back of the pack T-boned me just as I was entering the turn.
Now… I’m all for a little argy-bargy in racing, and sometimes it’s necessary. But in this instance, when there is one line and a ten foot fall down the hill, and it was not exactly necessary. Fortunately, I was able to keep myself upright and make the turn, but I was sure to shut the door on the offender and make my point known to him a few turns later.
Frustrations aside, the top five accelerated away somewhere on the first lap or two (it’s all a blur now), and I was left pedaling in solo sixth. Looking back, I could see Kevin Bradford-Parish (Gillespie Eye Care/SETcoaching) and Max Judelson (Voler/Easton/HRS/Rock Lobster) coming up to me. I decided to take a minute and wait for them to make contact. Our trio worked well together and we tried as we could to make some headway to the leaders, all while trading a few attacks.
Coming into four laps to go, it was my turn to come to the front. Sensing that I could go a little bit harder than my compatriots, I went to the front and put in a little dig over the last rise before the finish. The move created a small gap, and I kept on the gas coming through the start/finish line. I focused in on my effort, pedaling the flat and headwind sections hard, while recovering in the technical bits. The investment was working and my gap to the chasers was growing each lap, while my time to 5th place was shrinking. Unfortunately though, I ran out of real estate to find my way into the top five, and crossed the line in solo 6th place.
I was super satisfied with the effort and Greg was a huge help with shouts of encouragement from the pit. While it wasn’t a podium spot – wide or regular podium – I was able to take some lessons from the day and sleep soundly that I gave my best.
Sandstorm… Not the Song (8th) (Strava)
We woke up on Sunday again to sunny skies but the breeze had picked up considerably. With winds gusting up to 30 mph, it was sure to be a difficult day on the river. The course remained the same as the day before with just a few modifications to the course width. I took my customary warm up laps and felt confident with my lines. Confidence in the legs though… that would be the big question!
We lined up in the same order as Saturday, as if our spots on the grid were assigned seating. Off the line, I again got in my pedal quickly but so too did my competitors. I was shuffled a few spots back, but was able to hold my spot in sixth wheel as we dove into the sand for the first lap on course. The leaders hopped the barriers and I chose to play it safe (for me) and run, which made all the difference.
As I remounted, I looked up to see the leading quintet already had five bike lengths on me and I was in no-man’s land in the headwind. I lowered my chest to the bars in an effort to stay out of the wind, but I could have laid flat on the ground and gone about the same speed. Still, I tried to press on the pedals and make up seconds where I could.
Eventually, I found myself in the same trio that I was in with Kevin and Max on Saturday.
Deja vu, anyone?
However, this time around we were riding in fifth to seventh position. After some early bike trouble, Anthony Clark made his way back to our group. As we hit the finishing stretch, he went to the front of our group and put in an acceleration to bring us closer to the leaders. I tried to follow the best that I could, but my legs did not have the same gas as they did on Saturday. Feeling a bit defeated in the moment, I let the group go and took a moments to ride at my tempo.
I thought for sure I could make a difference in the headwind after I had recovered from my early efforts. But despite pushing as hard as I could and taking the same lines that had brought me success the day before, I made no dent in the gap and carried on in solo 8th place.
I struggled, not just physically, but mentally as well. When the lights go out and you’re left in the dark, many seeds of doubt can begin to sprout in the dark corners of your mind. My thoughts drifted from the race and I started to make mistakes. Ahead of me, I could see the group starting to splinter and that was enough to refocus me for a moment. But even still, there wasn’t enough gas in the tank for me to make up the difference, and I settled for 8th place on the day.
In the moment, I was frustrated with my ride. I knew that I had the motor to put together a better performance, but my motor failed me on the day. The conditions were hard, sure. But everyone has to ride the same course in the same conditions, so that’s not an excuse.
Instead, we reflect on the day, write down the good parts, note the areas for improvement, and use that as fuel to the fire moving forward.
My trip to California was a success. We had great (read as: dry), warm weather and the atmosphere at the venue was fantastic! I would recommend to any racer looking for a new challenge, to make the trip out West Sacramento. I know I’ll be heading back in the future, but until then, it’s time to regroup at home and get ready for DCCX!