Jim Horner GP of Cyclocross and Hardcore Hop'n'Hurl Race Weekend.
I really should be faster is what I keep telling myself when a CX race rolls around. Although for the first time in a long time, I haven't actually prepared for cyclocross, it's just too much fun to skip. So I've been eagerly watching the calendar, penciling in all the Edmonton race dates, weirdly keen to get demolished by a fast, and seemingly getting faster, Elite category.
Photo Credit: Caitlin Callaghan
As I touched on before, I haven't been doing the kind of training that fits with the profile of CX racing. Close to max level wasn't in the program in the late summer, and even now, it's really only at weekend races or training races midweek that I'm putting in those kind of efforts.
So this past weekend, I fed my addiction with a double-header weekend, hosted out of the Argyll Park near the velodrome. I've always enjoyed the course out of Argyll, and with what has generally been a windy weekend, has always made for some fun, tactical racing.
Saturday's race started off with myself falling off the back - apparently my starts are lacking this year - before finding my legs and making my way up to a pack of 4 riders that were placed around the middle of the race. With the long straightaway leading back to the start/finish each lap, I knew it would be key to find and hold a wheel, as the headwind was blistering, so I did everything I could to hang on to the group. There was a few sections where I almost lost contact, only to find the ability to dig just a little deeper to bring them back. The last thing I wanted was to be stuck out on my own with some serious wind to contend with.
Photo Credit: Caitlin Callaghan
At the halfway point of the race, things got exciting. Keeping in contact with the group had paid off as the pace started to slow while we entered the long straightaway into the headwind towards the start/finish. There was a group of 5 ahead with what was only about a 30 second gap, and I was watching them sit up, each rider refusing to put an effort into the wind. I knew if there was ever a time, it was now, so I launched off the front, opening a gap between me and the group I had been riding with. It was an all-or-nothing dig, if I made contact with the group ahead, I could hopefully hold on and look to leapfrog a few on the last lap. It was one of those tunnel-vision efforts, and as the vision started to go blurry, I could see the gap closing. 20 bike lengths. Then 10. Down to 5. I was so close now, yet totally maxed with not much left in the tank.
And at this point, the group ahead finally got tired of playing cat and mouse, and someone attacked off the front. It sent a domino effect through the group, and they all stood up out of the saddle, and sprinted to catch on. I could only watch as my max effort started to take its toll and I couldn't hold my pace, right as the group ahead was accelerating. So close!
Now I was stuck in that no-man's land that I feared. I thought for sure the group behind me would work together and pull me back, but as I rounded the corner to double back on the course, I could see the group I had launched from had blown apart. I might be able to make my lonely position in the wind stick!
After watching some fun battles take place in the group ahead, who I couldn't seem to get within a minute of, Jay from Bicisport caught up to me from behind. He came up on me so fast it was startling. It looked like he had closed a massive gap to me with relative ease, and I struggled to catch onto his wheel as he passed me. We came through the start/finish with 2 laps to go as I desperately held his wheel.
Even though I had been on the rivet, I spent the 2nd last lap watching every line as I held his wheel. Through the twisty sections in the 'bowl' of Argyll Park, I found myself holding his wheel and spending a bit more time on the brakes than I wanted. I'd have to be ahead in that section on the last lap if I wanted to win the battle for 9th place. Glamorous, I know.
I spent a long time trying to figure out where I could make a pass and attack and realized that it would have to be at the very beginning of the lap. So after holding his wheel through most of the long headwind section, I launched an attack with about 50 m to go before turning around and getting a tailwind on the straight. I looked back and realized I had opened up a large separation, just like that. Definitely not what I was expecting, but I'd take it.
I rolled through the rest of the race smooth and at my limit, coming across the line for a Top 10 finish in 9th place, which was definitely past my expectations for any result I'd have this CX season.
Day 2 went much differently. After getting chopped hard in an off-camber on the first lap, I landed hard on my hip and started to experience some low back pain/tightness. I made contact with a big group in the mid-pack a couple laps after, only to drop my chain. Back in no-mans land it was. As I pedaled around in circles, clearly going backwards in the field quickly, my back started to get worse. I decided to play it safe and pull out of the race.
It's been a long week of working on that back pain/tightness with the crew at the Base. (Pro tip - if you're getting deep-tissue work done and your RMT says "I'm going to try to work on your QL from the front" get ready for some pain!). Things are starting to loosen up and move better, but it will be a few more weeks before I'm back to 100%. The good news is I'll still be racing as long as it doesn't get worse, so hopefully I won't be missing any events. Like I said, CX season is too much fun to skip!
Next up, the Dark Knight. Possibly the most fun you can have on a cyclocross bike...
Thanks for reading!