2018 Ruts N Guts
Before UCI cyclocross racing came to the South Central US, there was the Southern Cross Series. With races in Waco, Dallas, and Tulsa, the series drew solid crowds of racers and offered three different courses to challenge your skills and your legs. A few years have passed but Ruts N Guts has remained as a staple event. As the last C1 race on the ProCX calendar, many top riders were making the trip to Broken Arrow to get one final tune-up before the championship races in Louisville.
Okie Is Okay
The week in between Resolution CX Cup and Ruts N Guts gave me the opportunity to stay in my routine at home. Being on the road so much over the course of the fall, it’s a welcome change to be home and have a week of proper training. Plus, any time I can drive to the race is a win for me!
Looking at the week ahead the weather was looking less than ideal. I got to the course on Friday under gray skies and blustery conditions. The track itself was similar to years before, offering a balance of pedaling and technical sections. Uphill and downhill sand, railroad tie stairs, awkward ditches, and slippery roots required a high level of focus to ride without error. I’m certain that I’m not painting a vivid picture here, so it’s better to check out the CXHairs Ruts N Guts Track Walk to get a view of this awesome course!
Openers done and course reconned, I went to bed on Friday night with ease.
Two Times the Charm (23rd) (Strava)
The projected bad weather did not materialize on Saturday. I, for one, was thankful that the threat of bad weather was gone. That’s not to say that I hate riding in cold, wet conditions… this is cyclocross afterall. But what I do roll my eyes at is the clean up after a cold, muddy race. Because there isn’t anything I’d rather do more than wash, dry, and lube my bike when I’m cold, wet, and tired. So thankfully, that would not be the case this weekend.
The Men’s Elite field was pretty stacked with names like Curtis White, Spencer Petrov, Gage Hecht, Brannan Fix, Cody Kaiser, Allen Krughoff, to name a few.
SPOILER ALERT: Check out the CXHairs Race Recap
I got off to a good start and inserted myself in the top 10 to 15 riders off the line. We hit the first two turns and jammed ourselves into one long line in the lead up to the sand pit. I was feeling good and flowing well through the first lap, confident that I could put together a good ride. We finished the pedaling section of the course and hit the more technical woods. Navigating the awkward dips and turns is not a strong suit of mine, but I was still on the wheel and not giving an inch (save for when Jeremy Powers told me he was coming by… I’ll give a wheel to a 4x National Champ). With just one quarter of the lap remaining, I heard a pop from my drivetrain, the same sound your chain makes under load. But the tinging sound that followed was hauntingly familiar and I knew in an instant that I had broken a spoke. I was frustrated but it wouldn’t be a UCI weekend without some kind of mechanical for me, am I right?
Finding a group of five to six riders, I settled in to the race and was content to be in the fight. Perhaps I was “Mother Ducking” it a bit, leading the group through the twists and turns. Rounding an off-camber u-turn, I lost my front wheel and went down on my right side. Not hard, but it was enough to hold up the group and be “that guy”. I picked myself up and looked down to see my derailleur hanger was bit. Like I said… this is the kind of luck that I have as of late. Back in the pits, I got back on my A Bike and got back in the race.
I tried to muster some effort for the remainder of the race but mentally I was checked out. A few riders came past but there was no holding their wheel. The only race I was in now was to make the lead lap. The official tried to pull me with one lap to go (Why USAC Officials? Why do you do this?), but I ignored their offer to quit and kept pedaling, eventually crossing the line in 23rd.
I needed a minute to myself. I was frustrated to have another race affected by mechanical issues. I was disappointed in my form and my mental performance. And while the bad juju was still with me, I was fortunate to have some amazing friends in Ryan, Barry, & Ian working the pits for me. After listening to Bill Scheiken’s interview with Tobin Ortenblad, I started to adopt the “One Bottle” rule and gave myself the space to be mad as I cooled down. Mechanicals are part of the game, and sometimes there is nothing you can do to avoid them. But when you’re hit with something race after race, it’s hard to remain positive. I finished my bottle and moved on to packing the car with gear before heading to dinner with friends. The only thing I could do was move on mentally and look to control the things that I could control on Sunday.
Lobster Sammich (17th) (Strava)
Sunshine on Sunday! Spirits were high as I rolled over to the track and the sunshine added a few more degrees of warmth. The course itself was run in reverse, adding a new set of challenges. What was up, was now down, and what was flow, now required more pedaling power. My legs were good and I was confident that I would be able to manage the course and the competition. Focused on having a good race, I set out for my final pre-ride laps to recon the course. I had been bunny-hopping the barriers, but in my last lap, I didn’t have great speed and had to abort the show after clearing the first plank. I put my foot down to save myself from crashing and when I looked down I had bent another derailleur hanger. Ugh…
Mechanical out of the way I went to the line focused on having a CLEAN race. No crashes. No mechanicals. Just good smooth lines and hard pedaling. Results were not important. I just wanted to have something good happen. I got off to a good start and was in a good spot in the peloton, about 16th wheel.
Passing by pit two on lap two or three, I took a deep breath and felt a twinge in my back. Looking back, I think it was probably just some intercostal muscles being moved by my deep breathing, but in the moment I backed off the pace to gather myself. As I let up, the group in front of me got away and I was rolling around by myself in 18th place.
Mentally back in it, I kicked myself back into gear and started to press on the pedals. I stuck to hitting my lines, keeping good body position, and staying relaxed. Lap after lap I would sprint through the sand and kept chipping away at the gap to the group ahead. The progress was visible as I started to distance my chasers and make headway on Max Judelson (Voler/Clif/HRS/Rock Lobster) in front of me.
With one to go, Max was in my sights and I was able to make the catch as we hit the back side of the course. I wasted no time and went around to keep the pressure on. Max was keeping pace but when we hit the sand, I sprinted as hard as I could to open up the gap (foreshadowing). The elastic had broke, but my work was not over. I sprinted hard for the remaining sections and powered all the way to the line to finish in 17th place.
For some, working hard for 60 minutes to move up one place may seem like a shitty ROI. But for me that was the kick in the ass that I needed after a month of bad luck. I had achieved my goal of having a clean race, and more importantly I proved to myself that I was a bike racer. I didn’t come up to Oklahoma to pedal around and take in the sights. Each race is like going to work and provides an opportunity to hone my craft as a racer. I rode to the best of my ability for the full hour and it paid off with one spot higher on the results sheet. The battle was not to conquer the competition, but rather to conquer myself. And in that fight, I proved successful.
Ruts N Guts is a fantastic event and I’m a believer that every ‘crosser in the States should make the trip down to Broken Arrow to experience it! From the amazing, ever-challenging course to the wonderful people of the Tulsa community, it’s a gem of an event. Thank you to Tanner, Mike and the rest of the crew for your hard work on this event! I’m excited to see what the 2019 edition holds! For now it’s time to clean up and get focused for Nationals just one week away!