Monday, November 22, 2010

Cyclocross...Lincoln Style

The house band rocked the 1/2's race
I'll try to keep this somewhat short as this post could easily go on for days. Why? Because the whole weekend rocked.

The Nebraska Cyclocross Championship weekend is one of those race weekends you look forward to as soon as the last one ends. You never know what's going to pop up on hooligan hill. This year it was a full on amplified punk band with my man DK pounding the skins. If you didn't come back on Sunday to see this you missed one of the most awesome spectacles in cyclocross.

The weekend started off much like my last weekend of racing in Nebraska with a rolled front tire, straight of the line. This time around there was really no room for error as I was lined up with a pretty staked field. In addition to the usual NE suspects, we were also joined by World/National champ Steve Tilford, his equally fast, if not faster, teammate Brian Jensen. Down from SoDak was speedster Jeff Kluck and belgie euro stud Aaron Pool.

The stupidity began when I opted for new shoes this week. The slightly different step in point on the cleat made me slip my pedal which jerked the bike and I somehow peeled the tire bead off the rim. The familiar sound of brake rubbing tire was all I needed to hear to know I was in trouble. By the top of climb the brake pad had cut through the tire and punctured the tube and I still had a 1/3 lap to go before I could get into the pits. I could actually ride the flat pretty well and didn't lose too much time. Jay and Josh, met me in the pits and I was on the spare bike in no time and on the chase.

Making myself dizzy
The next 8 or 9 laps were spent drilling myself into the ground to catch up. I was picking guys off left and right and running equal lap times to Steve who was off the front. I was really surprised to even see the gap to Brian coming down. But with two laps to go the effort was too much and I couldn't close the last 10 seconds down. Third place would be the call for the day.

State Championship Sunday

The lead group coming together on lap 1
Photo: Dan Farnham
Going into Sunday's state championship race I must admit I was pretty nervous. I felt really tired during pre-race warm-up, no doubt from my previous days effort. To make things more interesting, Teammate Matt Tillinghast had called it a day 30 minutes early on Saturday so I was expecting him to be fresh.

At the whistle, I again missed my pedal but managed to hold fourth wheel onto the grass behind Matt, Jeff and Nate. Within a lap we had an established group of us four as we were also joined by Matt Farnahm. My plan was to conserve as much as possible, which meant riding a tactical race. The pace was comfortable but the legs really felt the climb on the backside of the course. In contrast, Jeff appeared to be really strong, at my weakest point. I wasn't comfortable with our group of five as Jeff and I did the lions share of the work into the headwind on the road.

I began to test the group, with little accelerations, first popping Nate off and then Farnham. This made me more nervous as it seemed like Jeff and Matt were responding to everything pretty easily. By the time I saw five laps to go I had devised the plan. It seemed like I could always get a slight gap after the speed barriers, so the 5th lap would be spent getting the heart rate as low as possible with the intent of launching a full lap assault with 4 to go.

The plan materialized perfectly when as we started the 4th lap, Jeff pulled off the front and gave me the lead. Through the barriers and I got clipped in immediately and sprinted out of the saddle up to speed. For the next lap I forced myself to stand and accelerate out of every corner as well as drill it up the climb. I recovered enough by the time we got back to the road that I could drop all the way into the 12 and finish out the lap.

Splitting the front group on lap 3
Photo: Dan Farnham
My gap back to Jeff was still less than 10 seconds, hardly a comfortable lead. I set about trying to extend my lead where I felt I was quicker and limit my loses on that damn climb on the backside. With one lap to go I had almost built up a 30 second gap, enough of a lead to enjoy the last lap and all the splendor that was hooligan hill. I rolled across the line, finally winning a senior state title. Jeff rode amazing for 2nd as Matt took a spill some point after my attack and cruised in with 3rd. Matt Farnham and Nate would round out the top 5.

The days efforts were showing on Matt and Nate's faces, it was brutal out there
I can't begin to explain how great it feels to have finally won a senior state championship in the top division. I've been racing bikes for 27 years and I've never quite put it together on that one day a year to win a championship. Wins don't come around very often, I've learned to take every chance you get. I've got to give a big thank you to Anne for putting up with my obsessive cyclocross disorder that started about this time last year.

NE travel squad
A big thank you to these three guys too. It's a hell of a lot more fun when you can do it with a great group of friends. In two weeks, three of us are off to Portland and Bend, Oregon for the final USGP round and the National Championships.

Matt recovered well from a opening lap slide out.
And I leave you with, yeah.


mathguy said...

One word for Saturday (and the rest of the season): tubulars! Get the glue out and put together some tubies for USGP and Nats.

Awesome job this weekend, state champ-shame you didn't get a chance to duke it out with Tilford. Would have been epic.

I pussed out with a cold--spewing mucus all over the course would not have been cool. Guess there's always next year.

MG said...

you proved that dedication, persistence and hard training pay off, mark. congratulations on the achievement of a significant goal. you are a worthy champion.

good luck out in oregon next week.


Cornbread said...

Congrats! Your hard work paid off. Enjoy!