CX Race #2: Lottenhulle
My second race in Belgium was last Saturday. I scouted the race course on the prior Wednesday, so I knew roughly what I was in for. Two-thirds of the course would be on a gently sloping pasture, the other part of the course was flat, puddled pasture. Two short paved sections linked the various sections or the course.
The day before the race I picked up my newly shod race wheels. Peter Stevenson, a former pro crosser from Northern England and the proprietor of Fietsen Tempo, had glued a pair of Gommitalia 34mm tubulars to my Bontrager Race X Lite hoops. When I asked how long the job would take Peter told me, “Well, I will need two days, sorry.” As if that was a long time. He glued the tires perfectly straight and centered and charged nothing for service and threw in a generous helping of local knowledge.
My main logistical problem was getting to the course with my race wheels and gear. The only solution I came up with was riding with the wheels draped over the duffel bag that I wore backpack-style. So for the hour ride to the race the tires bumped my head and pulled my hair as I endured the oddest glances the Belgian passers-by could muster. It's a bird... It's a bug... It's fool! Well, the blog is called Con Huevos and sometimes this path ain't the coolest lookin', but hey, in the words of that sad, illiterate, fat man on TV, “Get 'er done!”
I arrived with about an hour and a half for prep. I got my rig race ready and went to watch the Juniors negotiate the technical sections – lots of running on off camber mud and dismounted hairpin corners. It is the habit of course designers here to maximize their space by laying out two or more hairpins consecutively. When conditions are slippery it is fastest to dismount before the corner pin, whip the bike around and make a running remount before sprinting to the next turn around. Repeat as necessary. This is where clean ambidextrous mounting skills pay off.
Prep went smoothly, I was ready and warming up at T minus 15 minutes. An aside, I got some Quoleum #2 Hot embrocant when I bought the new tires; it was a good day to try the lotion out. Embrocation, for the uninitiated, is the use of a cream or oil to seal the skin against the elements. It can serve many purposes – ease cleanup, make legs shiny, make legs warm, reduce windburn, etc. My embrocant is a favorite here for it's hot hot heat; in temperatures below 50F it makes the legs feel nice and warm and gives them that sexy sheen that's a must when running around in the mud in a unitard. I will simply say that it worked very well and I endorse Quoleum #2 for it's efficacy, ease of cleanup, and lack of staggering chemical fumes.
Time to get some. I was again a last row call-up, so I had roughly 50 riders ahead of me. Visualize a pool of swarming salmon and a very steep, technical fish ladder with room for only one - that's cyclocross. The start was nice: 200 meters across a grass plain, open corner up a gentle slope to 2nd corner, 200 meters on asphalt, then tight corner into the muddy abyss. I moved up to about the middle of the pack in the first half lap. That's also right where I finished, which is a good lesson. Talking 'cross with Reeb a while ago his main advice was to get ready for a fast first lap, because that's what determines the race. In the first minute of racing I passed 30 people, in the remaining 59 minutes I passed maybe five. Next time I'm starting more aggressively.
I found ample motivation to race hard in number 24, a big rider who swapped positions with me a few times, each time giving me a shove in the wrong direction. Basically an asshole. He got about 20 seconds on me and then slowly fell apart. The switchback layout gave me plenty of chances to verbally encourage him. When I did make my move past him I did it cleanly and far too fast for him to play dirty. He subsequently pulled out, oh sweet success!
My biggest disadvantage is that I am racing on only one bike, whereas the rest of the field has a second, clean bike ready every lap. This may seem trivial, but a light bike with a clean drive-train is much faster than one loaded with 5 pounds of mud and enough grass in the cassette to feed a small pony twice. I was overall very happy with my Raleigh's performance, shifting actually remained crisp the entire race. I put a stream on the course to use by running and pushing my bike along in the water, this helped keep the wheels turning, though it slowed me down a bit.
With two laps remaining I realized that I would probably no get lapped. I entered the last lap less the 50 meter ahead of the race leader. I ended up finishing 24th, not a number I found impressive, but since have found that locals consider it respectable. As a result a friend of my landlord will accompany my to the next race and work in the pit passing me bikes and cleaning, so things are looking up.
To follow along with my racing and other activities check out quinnkeogh.blogspot.com