What happened to the cyclocross season?


I can hardly believe it myself, but this is the first time I will have posted about the cyclocross season since it started. And while I might participate in one more race later in January–the season is pretty much over at this point.

For anyone who followed the VeloCouch last year, this is the exact opposite of what you were expecting, and I’m sorry if this has thrown you off.  Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the season hasn’t been what I expected, although I still managed to post some decent results in a number of events scattered throughout Northern California…

Sac CX #1 – 2nd place
BASP #1 – 6th place
CCCX #4 – 4th place
Lion of Fairfax Vallejo – 8th place
BASP #2 – 8th place
Sac CX #4 – 7th place
Stafford CX – 8th place
BASP#3(Night Race) – 17th place
Santa Rosa Cup #2 – 3rd place
BASP# 4 – 6th place
BASP# 5 – 8th place
Santa Rosa Cup #3 – 3rd place
Sac CX #8 – 3rd place

And now in one whopper of a post, the digest of my cyclocross season…

Talking Smack: After our Leadville adventure, Phil Mooney and I were looking forward to the CX season and most importantly, to challenging one another. I was the accomplished CX racer and he is the professional roadie, so the competition between us would be fierce, and I made sure to stoke the fire all summer long by reminding Phil how he doesn’t really know how to ride a bike, insisting vehemently that in CX season he wouldn’t stand a chance. ;)

Eventually we included others in this interaction…including Roman Kilun, Adam Switters, Andy Gosling, Stephen Dey, Derek Yarra, Cameron Falconer, Walton Brush, and last but not least Rand Miller, who at the time, and for reasons that have yet to be explained, was in the business of “retiring from cycling” but promising to race cyclocross. Between all of us, the joke was that we didn’t care about official results, as long as we beat each other.

Team Selection: After the success of last season I was fortunate enough to have a few choices here, and eventually I happily settled on the Sterling Sports Group team, presented by Fusion IO. Aside from the excitement and generous support the team owner Matt McNamara provided, this team offered an opportunity to team up with the aforementioned–Rand Miller. As one of my rivals from last season and one of the best smack talkers in the business, the season was filled with promise.

The Plan: Carry fitness from Leadville into the CX season, maybe get a sweet new race bike, and improving upon last year’s results, continue the fun and camaraderie while blowing people’s doors off. Also, travel for competition in top-level CrossVegas, Los Angeles and Bend, Oregon race weekends.

Low #1: Gear Envy.
Of course my Ibis Hakkalugi is awesome, but this ended up being its third hard season in a row, and while with some extra care and attention it survived just fine, I had hoped for the opportunity to commission it as my first pit bike. Then, with all the new and improved disc brake CX bikes that have been released this season–the ones that several of my top competitors were racing on–I hoped to benefit from the upgrade myself. This is really no big deal, but I mention it because hopefully next year I’ll be able to pull this plan together. CX bikes are getting so incredibly cool! The new disc brake version of my bike is insane!

Low # 2: Where was Rand Miller?
He never showed up to race. Again, NBD, but I ended up all by myself as Sterling’s one and only Elite male this season. Some team camaraderie would have been nice, RAND! ;)

Low # 3: The Saga of the Night Race!
My call-up resulted in a decent start, and I got into the mix with the leaders early on. But unfortunately, I began loosing ground after the first lap for the simple fact that my legs weren’t there. At this point in the season, I had begun to focus on my career search and The Velorution and had gone a couple of weeks without investing any time on my training. It “was what it was,” as I accepted at the time that the lack of training would come at a cost, but…

I also crashed in the night race. Bummer! This was the consequence of having just replaced my cleats and using the ones that originally came with my pedals, which featured more float and a later release. I knew this involved the risk of a failed release, but I choose what I felt to be the lesser of two evils. The thing is, my already worn cleats were coming out inadvertently, like when bunny-hopping barriers…

Left foot, left pedal

This real time example captured by Ted Katai the prior weekend. Awkward!

Sure enough, at the night race I had the opposite problem. My cleat stuck and I went flailing to the ground after attempting a running dismount at speed with my shoe still attached to my bike. No bueno!

I picked myself up, got myself to the top of the stairs, remounted. No go! Discovered my wheel wouldn’t turn and had become crooked in the drop-out. It took me a moment to sort that out and also put a dropped chain back on. Ugh! By the time I got back to pedaling, *slowly*, I had been passed by another handful of guys, including Philip Mooney. Argh!!!

Pressing on the best I could, I continued to pedal the course but was suffering like a dog. I was not gaining any ground lost to Phil, let alone the leaders who were more than a half a lap ahead of me at this point. The excitement of the race announcement was the worst! Whenever the leaders pedaled through the start finish area I could hear all of the action loud and clear as they pedaled toward victory without me, and meanwhile on the dark and opposite side of the course I experienced the feeling of loosing in a big way. This became one of those instances when I had to fight the urge to exit the course and violently throw my bike to the ground or against a tree or a light pole or something. And unfortunately I was due for one more blow.

In one of my last laps, tired and defeated, spectator/should be racer Rand Miller heckled me with one of the finest drunken heckles ever delivered…”Bunny hopping barriers is cool and all, but it doesn’t matter if you’re slow!”

Ouch!

The Season’s Ultimate Low Point #4: BASP event is moved from Golden Gate Park.
Golden Gate Park is a cyclocrossers paradise and for the past three years I have been fortunate enough to access it 10 pedal strokes from my house. Well, with that you can appreciate how the annual Bay Area Super Prestige race in Golden Gate Park would be my favorite race of the year. I love it and look forward to it all year long. Well, this season I found out that the race date was being relocated and moved back to Candlestick Park where we had already raced twice this season…and this news broke a day after my abysmal night race performance. I almost cried. Enough said.

Low #5: No form, no frivolity!
As a cyclist who made the determination a long time ago that my racing would be much more of a recreational outlet than an occupation, I have enough experience to know that sometime life gets in the way. And this certainly proved to be the case this season. Despite some decent results, I never really came to form. My fitness was always moderate at best. And with that, in combination with the attention I’ve been devoting in other areas of my life, it wasn’t the best year for gallivanting around the country going to all the big events either. It’s a low, because of course I would have loved to have it all, but it’s also another NBD. If there’s one thing the cycling community has taught me, it’s that there’s always going to be more opportunity in cycling and racing down the road.

AND NOW FOR THE GOOD STUFF…

Highlight #1: The season within the season.
The camaraderie was as good as ever this season. I enjoyed several of Travis T’s Wednesday morning Fresh Air training rides with guys like Walton and Cameron. And while the rivalry was not consistently peaked throughout the aforementioned group, it was all the time peaked between myself and Phil Mooney. In fact, this rivalry was everything I expected and more! Here are the results that really mattered this season…

BASP #1 – Mitch 6th /Phil 8th
CCCX #4 – Mitch 4th /Phil 13th
BASP #2 – Phil 7th /Mitch 8th
BASP#3 – Phil 7th /Mitch 8th
Santa Rosa Cup #2 – Mitch 3rd /Phil 4th
BASP# 4 – Mitch 6th / Phil DNP
BASP# 5 – Phil 7th / Mitch 8th
Santa Rosa Cup #3 – Phil 2nd / Mitch 3rd

The Battle

One of the the many close battles.

Turns out all that shit-talking worked! And while I hate to admit it, Philip Mooney developed into quite the cross racer this season. But…before I get ahead of myself, let’s keep in mind the fact that I wasn’t racing as well as I had hoped, shall we.

I mean how else can you explain it? Phil is far less talented and this is clearly, if not obviously, proven in the numbers. Sure, in friendly battle one could say our season ended tied 4 to 4, but I think it’s clear who the better cyclocross racer, and–because cyclocross is the purist form of bike racing on this beautiful green earth–who the better cyclist is. All those sponsors just pay him to ride his bike out of pity.

Highlight #2: Missing the Start at Stafford Lake.
Perhaps it’s an odd selection for a highlight, but at the Stafford Lake CX race in early November I was taking a final few minutes to stash some excess clothing in the car before heading to the start line for the race to begin. I checked the clock with 5 minutes left, but I guess I was a little too relaxed or something because by the time I made it to the start, all I could see was a cloud of dust on the horizon. I couldn’t believe it, but I had missed my start by almost a minute.

I figured the only thing I could do was to get to racing, and to see if I could chase myself back into the event. It was kind of fun as I instantly resigned any cares about how I placed, but also turned it into a game. I wanted to see how high I could finish and thought a victory would be if I could still score a top 10. By the end of the first lap–Stafford is a really long course–I had begun to catch the single speeders–who started 30 seconds after my geared field. In the second lap I began to catch some of the riders I was competing against, and by the end of the hour I had ridden myself into contention and scored 8th place. It was a fun race, and bit of a shame that I started late because I think it was also my strongest day of riding this season.

Highlight #3: Attending all the same races as famed Nor-Cal cycling photographer Tim Westmore.
Aside from being a great photographer and cycling journalist, Tim is a great fan and a kind friend out at the races. I enjoy chatting with him before and after races, especially when we’re talking about Rand Miller being too lazy to show up.

A selection of Tim’s images to offer a bit more of my season recap…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Wrap up: When all is said and done, I’m thankful for another fun and successful cyclocross season. Once again, I’ve managed to establish myself as a consistent top-ten finisher in one of the most competitive–arguably the most competitive–cycling districts in North America. The fact that nearly 1/3 of all my races ended on the podium is not bad either. However, I still can’t help but to give myself a little bit of a hard time here because there were no wins!

I guess I’m a competitive athlete after all, and perhaps next year I should start Stafford on time, but pretend that I didn’t.

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