Cyclocross Crusade!

It's been so long since my last post, so much has happened that it's impossible to really catch up. Our internet situation has been sketchy at best and often nonexistant. But, cyclocross season is in full swing and Sunday has quickly become the one day of the week that makes the other 6 livable. It's the hardest and the easiest day of the week all at once. Physically, it's brutal. I could never put my body through anything close to the stress and trauma of a 'cross race on any other day or in any other place. Mentally, it's incredibly easy. There is absolutely nothing to think about. No work, no money, no rent or bills, no loneliness or frustration, depression or confusion. Any physical or mental processes that don't make the bike go faster get turned off. I'm not hungry, I don't need to pee, I don't care if the snot runs down my lip. All mental energy is directed towards straightforward tasks like choosing lines through corners, timing passes, dismounting and remounting and hammering the pedals with everything that I am and everything that I want to be. Mistakes in judgement are obvious when your wheels slide out from under you and there's no time to stop and deliberate in a 45-minute race. You keep going, you persevere, no matter what happens. Anybody who DNFs in a 'cross race has some serious explaining to do.
The Cross Crusade is a very different beast than the Georgia Cross. I suppose that's so obvious that it should go without saying, but here are some of the unique features of the Crusade:
HUGE fields!
Seriously, it's crazy! My field of Mens B and Singlespeed riders has averaged around 200. I think the biggest field I raced in all last year was about 80, less than half the size of the smallest field we had this year. The first lap is a totally insane cluster-coitus where anything resembling a curve or narrowing of the course causes an 1-285 style pileup, and by the 2nd or 3rd lap when the slowest riders start to get caught by the eventual winners, there are no gaps anywhere on the course. I could fight my way from the very back of the group and catch the leaders last year, but even with an extra 15 minutes added to my race, by the time I make it through the scrum, the lead group that took the holeshot from the start is long gone. I've yet to see the front of a race. The first race of the season had a total participation upwards of 1,400 riders including everyone from the elites all the way down to unicyclists and kiddie crossers. Tons of women too! According to my eyeballed estimate, the women's field at that first race (one single race) outnumbered the cumulative number of women who raced over the entire 8-race series of Georgia Cross.
No Podiums or Prizes for the Victors.
This one really threw us for a loop when India finished second (cough! sandbagchough!ger)in the Rainier High School race. We hadn't seen any podiums or award ceremonies or anything, but maybe we just hadn't stuck around long enough... I asked one of the officials if there were podiums or single-race prizes or anything and she told me, "nope, but there's a big party at the end of the season." Hmm. We were disappointed at first. If I had worked my butt off to pass people and work my way up to finish one of these highly competitive races in the top three spots, I’d want some damn glory please! A small token would be nice also. An inexpensive medal or even one of the little ribbons they give to the kiddie-crossers would be fine, thanks. I’d like something to show for my efforts, similar to a bruised hip or swollen elbow after a hard crash, something to take home and hang up to remind myself that I managed something special on that particular day, something to take to the shop on Monday to show my boss, coworkers and customers that I can ride as well as I can wrench, something that I could show to friends or family that proves that all this time I spend riding, building, fixing, and suffering over bikes is worthwhile, something to prove to people who know or care nothing about bicycles or bike racing that I’m good at what I do. But, there are no podiums, prizes, primes, medals or other material rewards for a good showing in a Cross Crusade race. The race organizers certainly try to discourage sandbagging, so perhaps this is part of that plan. It's not a series for the glory hound that stays in the lower categories so they can feel like a big shot. That's not to say that the series isn't competitive. Even in the lower categories, riders fight tooth and nail for every position, whether its first or forty-first. I guess having a good ride and doing your best is its own reward.
Really FREEKING Fast!
This may have more to do with my category upgrade than the geographic location we're racing, but I was blown away by the speeds in my first couple of Mens B races. I was hauling ass through bumpy, loose, dusty, rough-as-all-hell sections of course, way outside my comfort zone just trying not to get passed and stay in contact with the riders ahead of me. I've started to get used to the speeds and realized that I'm much better at carrying speed around corners than a lot of the guys I'm racing against. That might be a skill carried over from riding a singlespeed mountain bike on long trail rides where any momentum lost requires a ton of energy to regain. I'm not the most powerful rider, but I've gained some quickness out of the corners that helps me get the jump on some of my competition. What worries me is the speeds that the guys out front are hitting. My best finish so far still keeps me out of the series points and I've yet to see the front of one of these races. That's no surprise, but has taken some adjustment after soloing off the front to a handful of wins last season. Right now, I'd just be stoked to finish within sight of the leaders, maybe get myself in the top 18 and earn some points.
Anyway, if you want to get a feel for the races and a taste of the energy that surrounds these races, check out pdxcross.com. They have a ton of awesome black-and-white photographs that seem to capture the spirit of these events.
The halloween-themed race is being held in Astoria this weekend, so expect to see some spooky and bizarre costumes. We'll do our best to get some good photos, especially since we managed to forget the camera altogether at the super-fun mud fest that was the Hillsboro Fairgrounds race last weekend. I did manage to poach a couple of photos of us from happy hunting grounds that are the interwebs, so check them out on Facebook. More photos too on the Loose Nuts flickr page, so check those out. Can't wait to get those race kits!