Friday, October 24, 2008

Iron Cross VI - finally!

So it took me 2 weeks...but finally an Iron Cross report.
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I have come to realize after racing Iron Cross for 6 years that it is currently in fact my favorite event on the calendar. A great course, promoters, swag, prizes and tons of fun make this a must do ...even if it means skipping the 3 big uci cross races that were even closer to home that weekend :)
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Usually I hit up a cross race in TN the day before IC, but this gets me to the venue late saturday night and with a 9am race start sunday, this year I decided to forgo racing saturday and just make the drive up to PA earlier. I got in at dusk and had just enough time to do a bit of a leg opening ride before darkness fell. I stayed in one of the bunkhouses right on the course this year which sure makes morning preparation easy....as well as fun hanging out with some old (and new) friends. One of my race kit essentials is ear plugs.....unfortunately we had a snoring bunk mate and I forgot my ear plugs! Oh well.
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Race day weather was perfect...sunny and warm....not even as cold as usual as the 300 riders lined up for the start. Off we went and I took 2nd or 3rd wheel as we headed around the "traditional" cross course then out onto the big loop. The pace was not as fast early as in previous years...which was fine with me because I almost immediately developed a nasty side stich. I am pretty sure this was caused by my poor last minute decision to take a gel just 5 minutes before the start. I had one of my normal pre race meals (granola w/ soy milk and a banana), but for whatever reason paniced and thought I needed more calories for the 4 hour event. Not a good decision.
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Up the first climb, across a rolling dirt road, back onto pavement and onto the KOM climb we had a large lead group of almost 30 riders...the biggest I can remember. We shed some of them after the KOM, but it was still a big group. As we approached the turn for the technical lippencote trail climb there were 3 riders just dangling a few seconds off the front. I saw them sit up and start looking around (for the turn) as we got close to the trail. I had a good idea where it was so I blew past them and was able to get the lead as we hit the trail. Perfect! This trail is quite difficult on a cx bike and guaranteed to be frustrating if you get stuck behind other riders. I was able to take my line at my speed. I was not in too much of a hurry, more just concentrating on being smooth and not making any mistakes. As the trail leveled out, Ray Adams came around me and I was able to follow his good lines as we descended to the pavement. Out onto the road we now had a lead group of 7 which quickly became 9....with no other riders in sight behind.
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Down route 30 and onto more up and down dirt roads, Cameron Cogburn attacked as the group was setting a moderate pace (a good move). I was not in a hurry to follow (still battling my side stich at this point) but 2 riders did ...one of whom was eventual winner Chris Beck. Not long after that we hit the big wig wam run up .... which is really a very steep "slog" up a rocky grade. I love this part of the race and, one foot in front of the other, pushed the pace as best as I could. Over the top of the next "run up" we had a group of just 3....chasing the 3 already up the road. We were 3 chasing 3 with a time gap (that held for quite a while) of 3 minutes....interesting.
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As we traveled up and down the dirt roads, then some pavement, I was feeling pretty rough. In fact, the other 2 guys seemed to be going a little better than me and I was preparing myself for a tough battle to hang on going up the next long climb. As we hit this climb (one of the toughest on the course ...I think it is calld hog back) I went to the front, set it in my easiest gear and just started churning out my "I can ride like this for a long time" pace. After just a couple minutes things got quiet. I didn't allow myself to look back for a few more minutes, but when I did I saw I had a sizeable gap. Nice. That was a dangerous point though....go too hard and you blow up, get caught and can't hang on....go too easy and lose the gap. I was good and kept my comfortable, but solid pace. Over the top of the many false summits on this section and I was out of sight....onto a descent and the next long trail section. Everything was going well...I was riding smooth, then I hit a detour from the old course that shoots us down a rocky descent that we were warned about. I started down and thought I was ok, until the trail dropped away and I decided it best to get off the bike. A little too late as I ended up not only off the bike, but in a nasty sticker bush that tore up my legs. Oh well a little blood makes it look like a harder race....off again and back onto the regular course...into the groove and heading to the last section. I was flying down a grassy trail, looking ahead when my front tire hits a groove and next thig I know I am sliding on my back. Great , 2 crashes in just a couple I miles ....I need to get things straight. I got up and was a little worried about the bike as the shifters took the brunt of the impact, but I was able to twist them back into place and carry on.
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One more nasty trail section, a run-up and a really steep short ride up, a mile or so of gravel, then onto the downhill pavement! As I made the left hand turn at the bottom of the descent with just a mile or two to go, I looked back. Sweet, no one in sight....I could be a little conservative on the run in.... save just a little in case there is a last minute charge from behind. Nope....back to camp thompson and across the finaish line....for 4th overall...but wait! As I crossed they told me I was 3rd overall! Cameron had taken a wrong turn and lost a bunch of time...so I was in fact 3rd across the line and 1st for the old guys (>40). A great day.
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IC takes a lot of specific bike preparation to do right. I spent an entire day getting my regular cannondale cx bike "iron crossified". This year ...after 6 tries ...I finally got my wheel /tire combination right. I used huchinson bulldogs set up tubeless with stans on a set of spinergy x-aero wheels. I mounted top mount brake levers and changed out the right shift/ brake lever for a 9 speed. This allows me to run a MTB 11-32 cassette in the back (of course causing the need to change to a long cage rear derailleur). I happen to have 46x36 chainrings, so this gave me an easy gear of 36x32....perfect for sections like lippencote.
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The tuesday after the race I felt like I was recovering well...leg-wise anyway...but picked up a head cold. I felt crappy all week and while my legs felt fine, I was not well enough to do any real training (just about an hour a day). Leading into the first weekend of the NC cross series I was not feeling particularly "snappy". I did have a good race saturday for 4th on a sloggy / windy course in Raleigh. Sunday I blew it and missed the lead group on the first lap. I chased hard essentially alone the entire race with no hope of getting back to the front of the race. I finished a disappointing 7th. I was pretty bummed with that result....but I have to remember how I felt during the week and most likely what Iron Cross took out of me. Historically I don't think I have done well the weekend after IC, but still.....
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Next up: tomorrow a solo 8 hour MTB race near charlotte against some of the best in the business (Tinker, Nat Ross....etc). I hope to see where I stack up and have some fun in the process...hopefully the rain today will be through by race time tomorrow. Then a cx race on sunday in Boone where I know I will be suffering and exhausted......all in good fun eh?
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a2

2 comments:

Cogburner said...

Great report! I'm curious to see how the 8-hour went down! Can't find the results anywhere.

Yeah, Iron Cross is good fun. Dare I say it's how a cross race should be? Or more like it's probably what original cross was like back at the turn of the century: hopping over deadfall instead of 18" barriers; running up a mountainside instead of a steep hill... haha

Trek Bicycle Store | Charlotte said...

Two words.

IN

Tense.