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Cyclocross Basics, Sandbagging, and a Virginia State Championship Race Report

December 2, 2011

Eric’s turn.

I have a lot of ground to cover today.  There are three things I want to accomplish: first, clarifying and defining some of the more technical and procedural aspects of cyclocross; second, explaining how and why I came to be the biggest sandbagger in the state of Virginia; and finally, I want to tell you all about last weekend’s Virginia State Cyclocross Championships.

Hold on.  Hands and feet inside the blog at all times.  Ok? GO!

First, what the hell is cyclocross and why should I care?  Great question.  It’s been asked this question every family and friendly gathering since my addiction to the sport began.  Meg did a great job explaining it in Tuesday’s post.  I just want to add a few things.

Cyclocross, like other cycling events in the U.S., is governed by USACycling.  In the U.S., cyclists are grouped into categories by ability, fitness, and experience.  Cat 5 is the lowest category, Cat 1 the highest.  This is a good thing because you don’t have to line up for your first ever cyclocross race next to this guy: (Jeremy Powers – pro cyclocrosser and Eric’s man-crush)

Cyclocross has a few unique features, two of which I’ll probably mention in every race report because they’re fun, humorous, and result in a high probability of me falling on my face.

The first are “barriers”.  Every cyclocross course has them.  They’re basically two planks, placed about 10 feet apart, that require the rider to dismount, jump over them on foot, and remount.  

The second is the “run up”.  This is an absurdly steep hill.  One so steep that very few riders are able to ride their bike up it.  Even when one can ride up it, it’s often faster to “run up”.  The run up is often populated by the most vocal spectators.  They’re a tough crowd. 

Moving along.

2011 is my first year racing ‘cross.  I’m a Cat 3 on the road, where I’ve raced for a number of years.  I’m a Cat 1 on the mountain bike.  Sadly, though, I have never won a race on the road or mountain bike.  I’m a big believer in “upgrading until you suck,” so I always moved into a higher category once I was consistently finishing in the top-10 or so.  Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

When it came to ‘cross, I decided I was going to start at the bottom, and not start sucking wind in the elite field until I scooped up a little glory.  So I started the season in Cat 4.  Cat 4 is the lowest ‘cross category.  The category of uninitiated, unmotivated, most likely intoxicated racers.  It’s a rowdy and friendly bunch.  They’re fun, but not in a hurry to get to the finish line.

This is how I became the biggest sandbagger in the state of Virginia.  Which brings us to the ultimate point of this post (I know – it took me forever to get here), the Virginia State Cyclocross Championships.

The state championship race is part of the VACX series of races.  I had won all 5 of the races leading up to the state championships, and the kind, easy going attitude of the Cat 4 field was starting to fade.  They were sick of my shenanigans.  A new face, rocking a lime green skinsuit, was even so kind as to ask me if I felt bad about sandbagging.

When the whistle blew, my accuser took off like a pro, handily gapping me.  Halfway into the first lap, I had worked back up to him, and we had a considerable gap to the field.  Going through a tight, off-camber series of turns, he lost his front wheel and caught a mouth-full of dirt.  Approaching the run up, I gassed it, putting time into the field and never looked back.  30 minutes later, victory!

Anti-climactic, right?  I thought so, too.  As it turns out, an easy victory is sometimes an empty victory.  My sandbagging was a nice experiment, but I’ll be racing with the big kids from now on, getting lapped and sucking wind, but finishing feeling satisfied.

Tomorrow, Meg and I are off to Virginia Beach for Mount Trashmore CX.  Stay tuned!

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