Monday, September 17, 2012

SSCX Season Opener

I'm way behind on my posts. Man, last week was friggin' crazy. Between trying to get in some riding, get the new bike tested and dialed, pick up a bunch of parts for the new SSCX bike we are building up (story for another post) and get ready for the first away weekend of the season (another upcoming story), the weeknights were packed. Add to this a massively busy week at work that nearly ended in me throwing in the towel and just for fun, an impromptu cyclocross skills clinic that I volunteered to put on for NEBC and holy crap, I was wound up and rung out.

Anyhow, last weekend held the opening events of the New England based 2012 Zanconato Single Speed Cyclocross Race Series. Cathy and I have been riding and racing SSCX for years but until recently, the dedicated SS events were relatively few. That all changed last year when some local cross fanatics (mainly Chip and Matt) got together with Zanc and dreamed up a string of events. Many of the local promoters jumped on-board and the series was born, complete with awards, a series point system and eventual winners.

For last season we did a fair number of the events but didn't take the whole thing too terribly seriously. Let me qualify that a bit. Whenever I pay someone money to race and put on a number, I take it seriously. I'm not there to drink beer or eat waffles, I'm racing and I have exactly one goal. That goal is always the same, though the exact definition of that goal may change somewhat. I take that part very seriously, otherwise I wouldn't be there. The part that we were less serious about was the race prep. Most times, the SS race would be the second race of the day. This is good training but doesn't necessarily lend itself to the best performances always. It also has the tendency to make the second race of the day pretty darn miserable.

Many of those who were beating me in the SS race last year were coming into the SS race fresh, choosing to only do a single race. Over the course of the season I realized that they were wise, much wiser than I. Cathy learned this lesson about mid way through the season but it never really sunk in for me. I've also loved the idea of more suffering for the money given that the second race of the day at most events is typically discounted. As such, I would often opt for that. This year however I have vowed to stay away from doing the double.

So finally, for the races last weekend, we had a SS double header with local events both Saturday and Sunday. The Saturday Roll in the Hay with BoB event was new this year, was held about 40 minutes north in West Newbury, MA, and was promoted and run by our friends at BoB and the Speed Merchant Wind Tunnel. This was a new course in a new venue. We rolled in with mixed feeling late on Saturday as we had the final race of the day. The mixed feelings were on the late afternoon/final race of the day start time, mixed as you sort of blow the whole day waiting for your race while trying not to do anything too terribly taxing, like moving the lawn or going for a 3 hour bike ride.

Regardless we got there, grabbed our numbers, chatted some, sweated a whole bunch as it was out in the wide open fields and the temperature was like 95 degrees and then suited to check the course. I liked it, a mix of switchback climbs, a death spiral and some wide open cruisers, reminiscent of the Green Mountain cyclocross races. The start was uphill on loose crushed rock and we were in order of registration. Cathy and I registered late so were probably four rows back. Not to worry, it doesn't matter that much. Out of the start Doug was killing it and went immediately off the front as people madly followed through the finish and into the first switchback climbs I managed to settle into a top five or so spot. Through the stair step run and around the grunt switchback that led to the death spiral I probably gained some more and was sitting in pretty good position.

Down the back stretch I picked up a couple more spots and moved into third behind Doug and then Jeff. Then my chain popped off. SoaB! No surprise as that back stretch was fast and choppy which meant the chain to bounce around a bunch. I was also doing well over 20mph which meant big RPMs. I had also loosened the chain slightly to try and smooth out the drive train the night before. I got the chain back on but lost a few spots. Frantic pedaling and I regained a couple of spots including Matt. Unfortunately just after I passed and was gaining on the lead group it blew again sending my knee into the stem. Off the bike and replace the chain once again, this time lesson learned. It isn't going to take the abuse of any violent pedaling. Steady pressure and an even stroke is all it will accept. Sigh!

With that I switched to constant steady, primarily seated power, which made for a hard race, but allowed me to continue. I was making progress and gained back a few spots including Matt who was not loving the course or the heat, and previous race leader Doug, who also dropped his chain. Stupid dedicated single-speeds! There were now three people ahead of me, Chandler who was on his geared race bike with zip-tied shifters to keep it in one gear, Jeff who had a SS 29er MTB with drop-bars and 1.3" 29er tires and Curtis on his converted to SS with single cog and fixed derailleur as tensioner carbon race bike. The setup Curtis runs actually had chain guides as well which means you almost never have any chance of a chain drop and the chain flows smoothly, if not silently, around the drive-train while accounting for imperfections in the drive-train that hinder a dedicated single-speed setup that relies on a fixed vs. variable length chain tensioning system.

I continued to close the gap to Jeff and Curtis but never saw Chandler after the first lap or two. He had a really good race for sure. By the end I was almost within striking distance, almost, had I had another clean lap but it was not to be. The best I could muster was fourth place. Still, I was satisfied as the fitness felt good as did the power. I was confident that I was on target and with some mechanical help, I should be in better shape for the next race, which was of course the next day. That story will come shortly.

Cathy had a solid race and despite not liking the course as much as I, still rode strong, ending up on the podium. Very nice indeed. Her bike held together just fine and she had no issues save the heat and vertical nature of the course. Many thanks to the folks at BoB for putting the race on and for the Zanc series for legitimizing the equipment choice.

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