I‘ve always been fascinated by Cyclocross racing. When Stuart Beal and Carlos Iglesias asked me to go with them to a “Cross Race” in Clermont a few years ago I was curious. It’s kind of hard to figure out why it exists, really. I mean, who thought up taping off a section of a field, putting obstacles like sand pits and barriers, and adding sections called “run ups” anyway?
Whoever “They” are, I’m glad they did. It’s hard to have more fun on a bicycle. Safe too, as there are no cars on the course (well except for a van driving down the West Orange Trail today (?) Oh and except for the road section at Infinity. Oh and Lakeland. OK there aren’t many cars on the course.) OK maybe it isn’t totally safe but it’s safer than riding down a busy road any day.
It’s also very challenging. The course designers love to go out and find spots that will test you, like ditches, off camber turns, very long sandy sections and very steep hills, both up and down. I’ve never been competitive as a racer but I’ve always been excited about trying to figure out how to get around these courses without having to jump off the bike, or worse, falling off.
The 2014-15 Season
As September approached I told my coach at the time (Dave Severn) that I wanted to take a stab at a few cross races, maybe even the whole FRS series. He agreed to help me do better at the races and customized my training plan for certain cyclocross talents and strengths needed. I went in to the season expecting to be last or second to last, just like all the other races I’d been to in previous years. And of course, my first race at Wicked Awesome Race #1 (WAR) in Dade City was pretty much that. I don’t have a cross bike (yet) so I show up with my Giant aluminum 29er hard tail and do the best I can. However, the WAR series had something I liked; a mountain bike division. I raced Masters 55+ in the morning but stayed around all day to try the MB race. I know this division is somewhat controversial with the cross “purists”, but not everyone can afford to have another bike just for a few races at the end of the year. My MB is my commuter. I ride around the neighborhood with it (with my wife and kids.) I ride it to the stores, or to doctors appointments or even a few business meetings. It’s also the only bike I have that can handle “off-road” conditions, so this year anyway, it was my cross bike.
Anyway, at WAR #1 a funny thing happened in the MB race. I didn’t finish last. I didn’t even finish 2nd to last. No, I finished 4th out of 6. I actually caught someone. Huh. Maybe this training stuff works. OK I was now interested in going to a lot more races.
I raced in all three WARs, Spooky Cross in Winter Garden, Infinity Cross in Melbourne, Lakeland Cross and finally today, the final race of the season, Orlando Cross (in Clermont of course!)
No one was more surprised than me when I started doing better. At Lakeland I actually caught and passed Claudio Macieira, an A rider, during the Cat 4 race. I finished 14th out of 27, exactly mid-pack. I was still last or second to last in all the Masters races, but those are some serious riders in that group. Guys like Brian Davis, Steve Noble, Dan Sullivan, etc. In those races I just fought not to get lapped twice.
I noticed something else, too. The new USA Cycling points system rewards you for racing with people above your level. I was getting excellent points for finishing last in Masters races, even better than mid-pack in Cat 4. And then something unbelievable happened at WAR #2. On Saturday, they called me up to the podium for the Mountain Bike race. I had finished 3rd out of 7. This was a big deal for me. I had never been on a cycling podium before.
I was excited about the Sunday race. I didn’t expect to make a podium again (it turns out John LaManna had a mechanical on Saturday) but I thought hey, there’s always a shot. Well surprise, surprise, only three of us stayed around for the MB race. Me, Mark and Connie Schwab, and Mark was the guy I had caught and passed yesterday. Hey what can happen here? (see this story on that race) As you can see below …
What’s more, is that I found out later that week (when Josh posted the series standings on Facebook) that I was leading the MB division, with a 4 point lead over two guys tied for second. Series winners received a sharp looking jersey from Mumu apparel. Coach and I decided we wanted to win that jersey. He added strength training and a bunch of cross style exercises on the bike for that purpose.
Long story short, I had enough of a lead to hold off the challenges at WAR #3, even though I did not get another podium.
Next to me was Dave Dixon, who came very close to catching me in points. (The 2nd place finisher had already left.)
Final Race of the Season
Orlando Cross was the final race of the year. Topview had to change the venue to Clermont which made it odd calling it Orlando Cross, but a name is a name. It was a great course. A hard course. The perfect course for the last race of the year. Even though John Paul Russo hates himself for making the course that hard I congratulate he and Tim for doing a great job.
The Masters 55+ only had 7 riders but they all looked very fit and competitive. I started out in last as I usually do but caught one guy right away. Then I caught up to another guy. Then another at 30 minutes in. “This is really amazing” I thought. The last 15 minutes were really hard on me but I held them off and finished 4th. I got an “almost podium” as Topview likes to call up the top 5 riders to encourage more people to race (which is an excellent idea.)
I was dead for the Cat 4/5 race but I finished it anyway, 16th out of 20. I have no idea how I will end up in the FRS points standing at this point.
So quite a year huh? I hit the podium, won a race, won a series, won a jersey and most of all, made many new friends and built on relationships with old friends. I even learned how to mount on the run, well at least a fast walk, as opposed to standing there and stepping on the pedal first. I learned a lot and had a lot of fun. I want to shout out to some people I haven’t mentioned yet who made this a great year:
Ted Hollander thanks for your encouragement and advice.
Michael Toth for being the best heckler ever.
Layne Hampton with Hawkdancer Photography for the greatest cycling shots ever.
Team Kyle’s Bike Shop for taking us under their wing and making us feel welcome: Kyle, Christy, Mark and Lauren Chandler, Tara Smith, Rob Thwaites, you are all great people and I look forward to racing with you lots more.
Michael Ploch for trying to catch David Fleet for me so he wouldn’t catch me in the points at WAR.
Nathan Rogut for teaching me how to put on a number, for being a good ref, and for being “my dad” at the races.
Graham Partain for Cross Copter. ’nuff said.
Steve Collins, Gordon Myhre, Patrick O’Shea and all those others who hung with me at the back of the pack so I wouldn’t feel lonely.
If I forgot anyone please yell at me, I can come back and edit this, but remember I am “an old man on a mountain bike.”
So I’m exhausted, totally beat up, sore, etc from today’s race. The end of the season. I’m glad it’s over.
Wait. Is it September yet?