A Cyclocross Race – The Aftermath

Mid-race: getting a little muddy out there

Most riders train hard, eat right and race their bikes to the best of their ability, then go home. Some volunteer their time to local races or causes and see a little about the inner workings of what it takes to put on a race. Few do both. I have had the opportunity over the past two cyclocross seasons to team up with Bike Monkey and become one of those few people that race and promote races. One of the facets of my company, CX Nation, is to do course design for the races that make up the Santa Rosa Cup. Let me tell you, this job is not easy and takes quite a bit of time. You can’t just show up the day before a race, line out the course and be done. I usually start months before a race is to happen and I begin, what I like to call, “massaging the venues”.

You see, most possible venues have no idea what cyclocross is, let alone what a race could do to their park or winery or whatever. I have learned over the past few years that you really have to lay everything on the table and let them know the possibilities. That way there will be no surprises…or I guess I should say fewer surprises. There will always be surprises.

This year the last race in our series was at Windsor Oaks Winery. They were actually looking to get people up to their winery to do some mountain biking in the summer months. Well, I explained to them what cyclocross was and they were actually pretty excited about doing a race at their winery. The winery was a great place to have a race. There were great features, like a dam, some elevation, lots of grassy fields and the potential for mud.

The day before the race we were setting up and I met the vineyard manager. He had some concerns about where the course was going and how it would effect erosion, etc…. I was just thinking to myself, “we have been planning this for months and how come I never met you or heard of any of these concerns.” He knew that we had done some restoration after races, which we have, and so I had to assure him that we would do it here also, even though it had never been discussed. Bad idea to not appease the property manager the day before a race.

It is hard to be a promoter and a participant in your own race. I tried to race with the Master’s field in the middle of the day in past races. It just doesn’t work. But I figured why not jump in with the elites for 60 minutes of fun at the end of the day. It was kind of a reward for me. I wasn’t expecting a great result. I started at the back and just tried to have fun…..and you know what, I did! Lots of rain fell during both the men’s and women’s elite races and it turned the course sloppy and slippery, which is just the way I like it. We don’t get these types of conditions in California all that often. I got to run my tubulars at 22 psi. What a treat!

Mid-race: getting a little muddy out there
Mid-race: getting a little muddy out there

The race was a success and the managers of the winery were very excited. We had a few hiccups with communication to the workers that were there the day of the event, but all in all it went well. Our work was not done though. We still had to clean up the mess. So a few weeks later Carlos and Greg from Bike Monkey, and myself met up there and went to work. Let me tell…it was real work. Raking all the ruts that the bike tires made, spreading seed and covering the entire course with straw. We had to come back the next week and put more straw down because we ran out.

So the next time you get frustrated with a promoter because they misspelled your name or didn’t have results up in 10 seconds or didn’t give you any prize money – just stop and think. We aren’t doing it for the money or the ego (at least at the Santa Rosa Cup). We are doing it because we love the sport and want to spread the fun of cyclocross. Oh and by the way…it takes a lot of work to put on these races. So next time you see a promoter, thank them for doing whatever they are doing to put on a race for you. Ok, off the soapbox.

Raking the ruts
Raking the ruts
More manual labor
More manual labor
Some of the places were still muddy, so we rolled them with a sod roller and layed down the straw
Some of the places were still muddy, so we rolled them with a sod roller and layed down the straw

Last CCCX – The Long Road

Lap 2 - Former Rock Lobster and pro stud Chris McGovern and World Champ Don Myrah right on my heels

I don’t get down to the race series in Monterey that often – “often” meaning once in the past 2 years. It’s a 3 hour drive from where I am at in Napa County and it can be a haul that even a trucker might cringe at…because at the end there is a 45 minute race and then another 3 hour haul home. But there were very few races in between the last Santa Rosa Cup race and Worlds. It’s hard to stay motivated to race a huge race when you can’t even stretch the legs. So I made the trip. The forecast of rain getting me even more excited to race.

A 5 am wake-up jolt got me going in the right direction and once I got out the door it started raining. It rained the entire way to Monterey and only stopped when I took the exit to Fort Ord, the old home of the 7th Infantry Division. I am always amazed at military bases and especially ones that are not in service anymore. Most of these bases were thrown together during World War II and they are truly feats of engineering. Not so much cool structures but the amount of structures that they built. Fort Ord was actually established in the early 1900’s and closed in 1994. It had been around a while. I had the chance to check it out when it was in service because when I was in college at UC Santa Cruz my best friend’s parents got stationed there. His dad was a Colonel in the JAG core. You’ve seen the show right? Judges and lawyers flying F-15 and shooting terrorists. It was anything but that. I hadn’t been back since the early 90’s. My how things have changed.

It is ghost town now. Lots of rotting structures. I heard from locals that you used to be able to ride all around the complex. There are training grounds and trails everywhere. Then the new group that is taking care of the property got concerned about people finding unexploded ordinances so they closed a lot of the prime trails. The only thing that I found that exploded that day where my legs…in my race, maybe my lungs too.

The CCCX series always brings down the best Master’s riders – Myall, Myrah, Finnerty, Robinson, Flores, Kramer, Howland, etc…. So while the fields are not big, then are packed with National/World Champions. The course was a little greasy from the rain, but the sandy soil in the area held together quite well. The course was basically a big hill (by cross standards), a screaming downhill and a little single track. I got a good start and ended up 4th at the top of the hill. My fitness wasn’t too good after a long layoff and by the second lap I was fading fast. I managed to battle it out with Brij Lunne for most of the race, even though he was a 45+ racer. We had fun and I took him in the end, even though he started 30 seconds behind me. It’s the little battles that are most fun. That’s the cool thing about cross. You are always battling someone, even when you are in the Top 10, Top 20 or beyond.

And then I drove home….another 3 hours.

Lap 2 - Former Rock Lobster and pro stud Chris McGovern and World Champ Don Myrah right on my heels
Lap 2 – Former Rock Lobster and pro stud Chris McGovern and World Champ Don Myrah right on my heels
Screaming downhill - check out the chain slap.  Bounce, bounce!
Screaming downhill – check out the chain slap. Bounce, bounce!

SR Cup – Round 3 – Ding,Ding!

The mud cometh...
A little California mud – about as scarce as Bigfoot
A little California mud – about as scarce as Bigfoot

Round 3 of the Santa Rosa Cup brought us to the quintessential wine country location – a winery.  This was the first time we have held a race on private property and at a winery.  It all started 4 months ago when Windsor Bicycle Center introduced me to the director of marketing at Windsor Oaks Winery.  They were hoping to have a mountain bike race on their property and was wondering if myself and Carlos at Bike Monkey would promote it.  Well, I don’t know the first thing about mountain bike courses, but I told her I could take a look and see if we can have a cross race on their property.  Blank stare on her face.  “What is cyclocross?”  And so it began….

The property was actually pretty good for a race – elevation due to a dam being on the property,a crush pad, lots of pavement and some pretty open fields.  It looked promising.  So we made a date for mid-December.  Now the winery was a little remote (up this mile long dirt driveway) so I was a little worried about people making the trip.  Parking was also an issue, meaning there was little if any “organized” parking.  And with a lack of volunteers I was leaving that issue up to the attendees.  The weather looked promising – rain during the week before with rain projected the day of.  It didn’t disappoint either.

Brian Finnerty runs through the TRP Brake Zone. Finnerty crushed World Champ Don Myrah in 35+ race.
Brian Finnerty runs through the TRP Brake Zone. Finnerty crushed World Champ Don Myrah in 35+ race.

Cold weather and a little rain greeted the riders the morning of the race. The racing was fast and furious in all age groups.  The elites went off at 3 and as if on cue, it started pouring rain.  I jumped in the race without proper warm-up and just went out there and had fun.  It is always nice to see what the course looks like, especially when you designed it.  Thick mud was everywhere and running became a must in some places.  It felt like a classic Euro field course.  And another successful year for the Santa Rosa Cup.  And while it didn’t quite turn out the way I would have liked it (with the cancellation of the fairgrounds race) we still had three races where people seemed to be having fun and that was the most important thing.

The mud cometh...
The mud cometh…

Bend It Like – Buckler

The stairs – they have been there every year.

One week LA, the next Bend, Oregon, for the finals of the US Gran Prix of Cyclocross.  Polar opposites for sure.  It was actually drier in Bend, if you can believe that, but it wasn’t warmer.  I shacked up with my old friends the Arnolds, who are transplants from where else – LA.  Both were in the record business, but needed a change from the bustling city life and all those parties, so they headed north and wound up in not-so-bustling Bend.  Which is not to say that Bend is boring or that the people don’t party.  Bend has more breweries per capita than any other place in the country. 

Which brings me to the race course…..it has been held at the Deschutes Brewery for the past 4 years in some form or another.  First Nationals and then the USGP has raced around the kegs rooms.  It is a classic course. A little of everything and great viewing for spectators.  Day 1 started cold and I was pretty excited because I finally got to “Buckler Up”.  A friend of mine, Jon Mason, started an embrocation business called Buckler Embrocation.  There is something to be said about rubbing warm stuff on your legs on very cold days.  Most of the time it is more effective when it is raining, but mud can activate the burning, I mean, warming sensation that keeps your legs warm.

Sketchy downhill from the brewery loading dock. Then you go into a right turn, then run up.
Sketchy downhill from the brewery loading dock. Then you go into a right turn, then run up.
The stairs – they have been there every year.
The stairs – they have been there every year.

First rule of applying embrocation is to be careful of where you are applying it.  Get it only on your legs or there will be a burning surprise when you start riding around.  The first step is to have your bibs on before applying embro, as it is called for short.  This is because if you put it on your legs and then pull on your bibs…well it will give you new meaning to “great balls of fire”.  The second rule is to have some rubber gloves.   That way you don’t run the risk of getting some on your hands then grabbing your junk when you have to pee right before race time.  Fire on the privates again.  Once you have rubbed your legs with the embro, discard gloves and you are set.  Now if you are really pro maybe you can convince someone else to rub your legs with embro.  Then it is their problem.  But they better be good friends of yours if they are going to do that.  Oh, and remember after the race get some baby wipes and wipe your legs off.  Because if you go into the shower without doing that….fire, fire, everywhere.

Which puts me back to the race.  Day 1 went well for me.  I was near the back but had a great start and was Top 10 for the first 1/2 lap until the guy in front of me crashed in the sand pit.  Thus began my slow slide backwards.  Day 2 offered no solace as I had an even worse start and did my same slide backwards.  One of these days I will have a Top 15 at a national race.  Till then….keep training and trying.  And glove up when applying embro…  I beg of you.