Man, last Sunday's 'cross was slick. Sick. Whatever. Both, probably.
I rode the course a few times on Friday, just as it started raining, and it was pretty bad, and by bad I mean hold-on-tight slippery (and not in a good way). Come Sunday morning, with a good 100mm of rain, well it was all the more exciting. Or is that exacting? Both, probably.
I'd heard that Garrett McLeod and Andrew l'Esperance where away at Nationals in TO. Great I thought, I won't get lapped five times this week. Later I found out exactly why it is I get lapped five times in 45 minutes; Garrett got Bronze in the U23 (his second medal at 'cross Nats I think) and Espy was 10th overall.
There was some uncertainty if the race would take place or not. If C'Smith couldn't get the van down into the park (which was a quagmire) then there couldn't be a race. Then there were the course conditions; can it ever be so bad that a 'cross race is cancelled? I figured we'd be racing unless the park had slid off down the hill into the basin. I'm not sure you wouldn't have bet against that!
It was on and we lined up in the pissing rain. Dan and Shamus have become Halifax's little 'cross mascots and they both got a little cheer as the RD, Andrew Feenstra, did the sign-in roll-call at the begining.
Dan (L) and Shamus (R)
Then we were off in a flurry (slurry) of mud!
Following Steve Elliot out on Lap#1
It was a course in two parts. You came into the the old road (or rail-bed, I'm not sure) through a dodgy bit of single-track behind the fence and then skittering the bike through some gravel. At least the gravel was downhill! The road/railbed/whatever was awash, literally, with several inches of water. I think that riding through this kept us realtively clean! This is the "sick" part of the course, where you get to "recover" at 160 bpm!
After the long "recovery bike-wash" the technical, hilly stuff started. I'm glad I wasn't wearing a HR monitor, the numbers would have been through the roof!
The carry was steeper this week, and as you can see at the top of this post, finally after five years I finally have my epic 'cross picture! Local hardman and winner of last Sunday's race, Terry Tomlin, commented on the original posting on Facebook that this had a touch of the Mount Surabachi's about it and Dan Utting wanted to know what would be the accompanying theme music. If one were in a classics mood, then Mozart's Dies Irae (Days of Wrath)
If you're feeling a little grungier (and things sure were grungy last Sunday) then think Just Like You Imagined from Nine Inch Nails would do nicely.
This is, of course, the music from the 300 trailer, so if four minutes of NIN was a bit much, then try this mashup; 300 Penguins.
Joshua and Daniel told me about that one and think it's hilarious. Now I know they've seen "Happy Feet", but "300"?
Anyway, back to the 'cross. There were three places where the obstacle was close to a really muddy section and where it was only marginally less muddy between the obstacle and the actual quagmire. As with many, I ran my bike the 50m or so through the mud between the obstacle and the really muddy bit (in two instances it was a climb with a curve half-way up and the third instance it was literally a swamp).
Remounts are my own personal 'cross hell; I can still only nail them 50% of the time, and even then the conditions have to be perfect and mid-'cross conditions are anything but perfect! So if your remounts are so-so then you actually waste time trying to clip in and get going only to get off again in ten seconds. It's quicker to run it. This is one of the climbs;
You were going to have to dismount and run the climb anyway (probably on the apex of the corner there) and there were only five metres between the barrier and the point just behind where this photo was taken. On average, the mid-packer who tried to mount after the barricade, ride half the hill and then dismount half way up it and portage to the top was invariably beaten to the top by the runner who just kept on running after the first barricade.
After this was a crazy descent, around a corner then down around the apple tree
Along with many others, I started this descent on the far left and even with full brakes and arse hanging over the back of the saddle for extra traction, I ended up in the vegetation at the top right side of the corner. Yup, cornering on rails this was not! It's a matter of pride that I never crashed here and even though I went sideways across the corner and into the grass every time, I was always able to rescue it and keep upright. I think this is why I like 'cross, for those moments when you redline yourself, not just physically but technically. Conversely however, I'm not sure what this has done to me as a triathlon official as it's hard for me to look at a bike-course now and say "nah, too gnarlly".
Speaking of it being faster on foot; at the end I was in a sprint finish with Dan Utting. He was on his bike through a very muddy corner and I was running. I won!
The not-quite-white tyres did very well; I was only running 60 psi in them and they felt pretty solid under me in conditions worse than last week. Maybe it was because Espy and Garrett were still in TO, but I was only lapped once by seven riders (of 50) and finished only one lap down on the leaders on 8 laps, the same as many riders, and ahead of other guys I usually fight with. I'm not sure it was the crappy conditions per se, but they do day that muddy conditions tends to sort riders out. It's not necessarily the fittest or the most technically competent who top out (because goodness knows I am neither) but it favours those who "deal" best and most consistently with the conditions (whatever "deal" means in this case).
Also, all that running on the course had to help; certainly at the end when the lungs and legs were burning and you had to hoof it up another hill! Remember how I said all those 10Ks help with 'cross? Case in point here!
I know what you're thinking; you're a big lad and can look after yourself, so how did Dan do?
Well, Dan rocked up on la belle's mountain bike, a Kona Firemountain (any more Konas at home and we'll have to get sponsorship). Hardtail with disc brakes and trigger-shifters. Dan felt right at home on it. We did a practice lap and he seemed very much at ease on the bike and on the course. We also discussed how to ride the course, and more importantly, when to get off and portage. I think part of last week's meltdown was having to get off and walk. As any good cyclist knows, Dan knows that walking your bike is an admission of defeat and can be seen as a "walk of shame" (try walking your bike up the hill on Quinpool Road with your head held high!). So, I don't think I'd prepared him enough mentally for 'cross. So, last week we frankly discussed out on the course "this is where you'll have to get off and walk" and knowing that made it easier on him. Plus he saw so many adults face down in the mud and walking, I think he finally realised he wasn't being crap, it was crap (huge difference!).
In the race, well I lapped him three times (he did 5 to my 8), something that emotionally isn't getting any easier to to! Unlike last week, the first time I lapped him he was plugging away uphill, not standing at the side in tears. I asked as I went by "How you doing" and he replied "Great, Dad" with a smile. I nearly screwed up the following descent because I had tears in my eyes. Tears of joy perhaps, but the aetiology of the tears doesn't matter when you're trying to slide a fully rigid bike with marginal brakes down a hill!
As you can see, we both finished happy with our races and happy in general but disgustingly muddy.
Now he's on "proper"equipment, he's loving it. I'm telling you, in a couple of years not only am I getting lapped, but I'm going to have to buy the Hoegaarden too!
Bring on tomorrow....