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The Ring: A Collection of Voices

In Cyclocross, All Fun Is Local

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The last time I road-tripped all the way from Brooklyn, New York, to Louisville, Kentucky, I managed to compete for a grand total of 15 minutes.

Words by Dan Chabanov // Images by Jen Nordhem

Both days I got tangled up in race-ending crashes in the first lap, so this past weekend I just couldn’t persuade myself to go back there to do the UCI races.

Bike racers spend a lot of time in cars …

So I used the weekend to look ahead, and I decided I’m going to be doing more mountain-bike racing next year. Thing is, the past few seasons on the road have left me feeling tapped out, and cross-country racing seems like a cure.

Saturday I hooked up with my future MTB teammates, and we headed to Blue Mountain Reservation, which is across the river from Bear Mountain, an hour north of New York City. And we tried not to fall of a bunch of big rocks for a few hours. And then there was a pizza feast. So I’m definitely feeling good about mixing up my pedaling more in 2015.

Sunday it was back to racing cyclocross.

Seeing that there was quite the abundance of local races, I scanned the prereg lists of all the events to see which had the most people signed up for the A race, and which race had the most of my friends. I decided on a new event, Sly Fox CX. It’s part of PACX, a series of local races in Pennsylvania near Philly. This particular race is held on the grounds of a small brewery called, you guessed it, Sly Fox.

A bonus of going to this race was that I got to carpool with some fun people. The downside was starting on the last row.

Now, sometimes I really hate UCI points for the hold they have over my season, but other times I do see the appeal. At any UCI race I go to, I can count on having a consistent start position based on previously earned points.

When I go to a local race I typically start pretty far down, especially at series races where I haven’t been participating and therefore have zero points. Maybe that’s what I get for showing up at a local race. Certainly a few hecklers let me know their feelings about my participation, with what I felt were not very nice words.

sly fox cx cyclocross beer race

My start position usually causes anxiety. I picture the worst-case scenario: getting taken out in the first-lap scrum because I’ve started so far back. Also, I like to do well at the smaller races, so starting on the last row is a challenge. Nonetheless, because it was a small event, I soon realized last row just meant third row.

A good thing about having raced cyclocross for a while is that I’ve accepted that I get nervous about starts. I’ve learned to ignore it as something I have no control over and remind myself that 10 seconds into the race I won’t have this feeling anymore.

Right on cue, by the time I reached the first corner, 10 seconds after the whistle, I had forgotten all about being nervous. I went through the holeshot third. Exiting the first set of tight, muddy corners, I was sitting right behind the leader, and I was content to stay there. We hit a wooded section and shot down a bumpy chute toward a big log run-up. After a few turns at the top, the course shot us back down another chute and into an uphill barrier. And there, as I made a move to pass the leader, I heard his chain drop.

Unfortunately, there is no waiting in cyclocross, so I stayed on the gas and quickly established a gap on the rest of the field. I ended up taking home the win, a case of beer, a hundred bucks, some local glory, and a sweet belt buckle.

Next weekend I’ll again be staying local and forgoing a long drive to Iowa. Then it will be three back-to-back weekends of UCI racing, in New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, after which I guess I have to make up my mind about going to cyclocross nationals.

Mostly that hinges on whether I think one one-hour race is worth the five weeks of training by myself through the holidays —  that is, staring at a wall while riding my trainer.

I go back and forth on the nats question each year. On the one hand US cyclocross nats is The Big One. On the other hand it’s one race in a long season.

I do miss the old date. If the race were still in mid-December, as it was in 2010, it would be no big deal to just add another big weekend to my season. But after three years of mid-January nats, I’m finding it harder to convince myself that the extension of training is worth it. It takes a lot to keep up your form and motivation.

Anyway, right now I’m happy to keep racing, locally or father out.