Racing tales from the great Pacific Northwest

Monday, November 1, 2010

SXC #4 - Ft. Steilacoom

What a difference a day makes. It was beautiful Halloween morning and I was excited for this race. It was billed as a "Crit on Dirt", a course a roadie would love. "What's not to like?" Denise and I got an early start and reached the venue in Lakewood at 8:30. There were already a ton of people there so I knew we would have a pretty large field. I registered, put my timing strap on my helmet and headed out on the course. It did look to be a tough, fast course. It was right up my alley. The first race was getting ready to start so I made my way to the end and headed back to the car. I was going to warm up on my trainer but decided to ride on the paved sections in the park instead. While I was out there a guy came up beside me and asked if I was the guy that won yesterday. It turned out to be 6XX who finished 2nd. We had a chance to talk. His name is Paul and he races for 4-Corners. He spends a lot of his time in Utah and this was only his 2nd race in Washington. He's a really nice guy but.......

It was finally our turn to race. It was great to see so many people in costume. As we staged I was really surprised that Jeff (Cycling NW) and I think the two guys that were sitting 2nd and 3rd in the standings were not there. I pointed out Paul to Brian and told him he would definitely be someone who would be in the mix.

Check out this awesome video by Kenton Berg. It is one lap of the single speed race.

You also read his articles on the Cyclocross Magazine's web site

The horn blew and off we went. We were the first field to go for this race so we would have open road for a while. It was a fast start. It was the first time I have had trouble clipping in and found myself in unfamiliar territory. As we hit the sharp left turn onto the grass I was sitting about 7th wheel. The first section on the grass was flat and fast. I was a little worried that the guys up front might get a gap and I would have to work extra hard to get back in the mix. By the time we hit the first set of technical turns I was still farther back than I wanted to be. I say technical but they were not that tight and you could still carry some speed. We were still stacked up and guys were taking every line possible. Wheels were getting chopped but everyone kept their cool and no one went down. We exited the tech section and onto a nice, long, flat, fast section. Everyone was riding hard and positions changed constantly. I would pass two guys then someone else would fly by me. We entered the woods and the trail tightened up but there was still room to pass. The speeds were still high so not much changed. Right before the first climb there was a sharp left turn that could get ugly at these speeds. A couple of wheels slid but everyone in front of me got through OK. It was a long, steady climb but not really steep. Paul went flying by me and I jumped on his wheel. We both moved in right behind Brian. It stayed that way until about 3/4 the way up when three guys came flying by. They were really gunning it. We were almost to the top and I was again sitting about 6th wheel. It was about this time that things started to sort themselves out. All three of those guys completely died right at the top. One of them almost came to a stop. Paul and I flew by and once again we were on Brian's wheel. The trail leveled out and we kept the pressure on knowing that some guys would use this as a place to recover. We got to the first downhill section which was on really soft dirt/gravel. It wasn't bad after the first race had pounded it down a bit. At the bottom we turned right and back onto the grass for the the 2nd "technical" section. It was short and slightly uphill. . As we maneuvered our way through I looked back and saw that the three of us had a nice gap and I could only see one guy coming off the downhill. We exited and hit the 2nd climb. It was shorter and less steep than the first. I was able to power to the top of this one. At the top we turned left and started heading back down on single track. The three of us were wheel to wheel with no one else near us. We came of the trail and onto straight downhill section on a nice paved. We got into a tuck and kept up the pace all the way down. When the path ended at the bottom we had to brake and negotiate a tight left. the transition was all dirt and gravel and I was a little worried about going into it too hot. It was not an issue. We were now winding our way back to the start/finish. We went around a barn and hit the first barrier. The hecklers were out in force yelling at us to "bunny hop" them. I remounted and headed though a few more turns and towards the 2nd set of barriers. These were at the end of a little straightaway so we were going into them hot. I made it though OK and it was on to the next lap.

We flew it down the paved section and then back onto the grass. As we worked our way through the turns I could see that no one was on our tail. It looked to be a three man race. I think once we knew that the cat & mouse game started. Our pace really slowed. I think Brian wanted someone else to take the lead and Paul and I were content to let him set pace. Brian worked it and Paul finally took the lead with me moving into 2nd. Soon after, Paul went wide on a turn and forced me to take the lead. We could do this for a while but if we kept it up we would have another 4 or 5 guys with us soon. I decided I wanted to keep this manageable so I didn't sit up. I pushed the pace to see what would happen. I worked hard all the way to the top of the climb. At the top I looked back and both were still right on my wheel. This was going to be a dog fight. We hit the 2nd climb and this time I really poured it on. When we got to the top I looked back and Paul was still on my wheel but Brian had dropped off. I told Paul that Brian wouldn't give up so we had to pick up the pace on the paved downhill section. That is just what we did.. By the time we hit the start/finish we had a nice gap. Now it was time for Paul and I to play some games. I had done a lot of work and I wanted to let him get in front. By the time we hit the first climb again he did take over. I think he hit it hard to see if he cold drop me. I was able to stay right on him.

As we started the final lap we started to lap riders. It was time to get through as many as we could and get as many of them between us and the rest of the field. I was following Paul's every move. I'm not sure if it was planned but though the turns on the grass he slowed up and forced me to pass him again. No worries, just ride my race and he has to get by me if he wants to win. Just then we got to a turn where the tape had come down. A woman didn't follow the proper route and cut right over the downed tape by accident and was coming the opposite direction right at me... HOLY SHIT!!! I yelled, "You're going the wront way!!!" I don't know if she panicked or did it on purpose but she went down right in front of me. I don't know how she didn't take us both out but we somehow got by her. Talk about an adrenalin rush! I heard that a bunch of other people did the same thing behind us. As we started up the last climb of the day there were three women on the trail. They took up the whole trail and there wasn't a good place to pass. I should have powered by them without hesitation but for some reason I decided to wait until we got to the top. Paul saw my hesitation and made a move on me. It took me a second to react. I got by them at the top and then had to ride hard on the downhill to get on him. Just as I caught him he made what I thought was a sketchy move around two more lapped women. I would not have passed them where he did. The trail split and the right side rose up and was off camber. It looked like his rear wheel was sliding out and if he lost it he would have taken both women down with him. He managed to stay up and and got by them in expert fashion. It was impressive. At the bottom of the hill I passed them and pushed it hard through the turns on the grass. We hit the paved downhill section and I floored it. I was moving faster than Paul and was right on him before we reached the bottom. We hit the hard left and I almost went down while trying to hold my speed. I was right on him and had him when we came up on two more women and a junior. He got out of the saddle and powered by. I got by the two women easily but I guess the junior was not about to let the old guy by. I yelled, "RACE LEADER, ON YOUR LEFT!!" for a second time but he didn't move over. I really had to work to get around him. That's the way it goes sometimes. OK, don't panic, anything can happen. Paul could plow into a barrier or crash on a slick corner..yeah right! I hit the first barrier and was only a couple of seconds back. I came up to the 2nd set really hot and was lucky I didn't take the first one out. I was close enough that maybe I could out sprint him on the paved straight away to the finish. I came off the grass and for some reason I thought it was a lot farther to the finish than it was. I hit the gas but ran out of real estate. I finished one second back in 2nd. We had a minute gap on Brian, who finished 3rd. Paul rode a smart, solid race. He made his winning move at the perfect time. It was great battle on a great course.

all photos by Denise Phillips

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