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Race report: STXC

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Race report: STXC

Old 07-13-10, 02:09 PM
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Race report: STXC

It's a long time until the first CX races, and I don't like the MTB forum so I thought I'd post a race report on my first short track mountain bike race here.

Looking back at last season's CX races, I decided that my lack of technical ability hurt me at least as much as my lack of speed, and I'm hoping that some mountain biking will help with that. The local STXC series has been underway for a few weeks, but for various reasons I wasn't able to get out there until last night.

I wasn't really sure what to expect from STXC. On paper, it looks like cyclocross without getting off your bike, but I thought that must be a gross oversimplification. The course for the local series is about half motocross track and half grass and woods, so at least half of it is very, very much like something out of a CX race, and the motocross stuff didn't look too bad in the pictures.

The closest things I have to a mountain bike are my '89 Rockhopper and my Muirwoods 29er, both better suited to commuting than racing, but both my CX bikes are disassembled for maintainance, so the Muirwoods got the call.

It actually turned out not to be too bad. While it's a good seven pounds heavier than my CX bikes, the fat tires definitely make that worthwhile.

I got to the race about an hour early so I'd have plenty of time to scout the course. Typically with a CX race, I do one slow pre-ride lap just to get the lay of the land. I tried that here and one of the big differences between CX and STXC immediately became clear. Three times within the first two minutes I had to dismount and walk because I didn't have enough speed to clear rollers. Then I picked a bad line approaching a little two foot high dirt obstacle and grabbed the brakes just in time to avoid injury when I hit the flat side of it squarely and came to an abrupt stop.

As I watched a guy on a mountain bike cleanly ride the bad line that had just stopped me cold, I was thinking to myself, "I'm not a mountain biker. Why the heck am I doing this?" But I pushed on (still pre-riding, mind you) and soon got to the grassy wooded area, where I was much more comfortable. By my second warm-up lap, I started finding myself able to ride everything.

I was racing in the Category 3, 19+ class. We started first, followed about 30 seconds later by Cat 3 women and then a field of assorted juniors. As we line up for the start of the race, I pick my nemesis. There was a guy I recognized from last year's CX races. In CX I usually beat him just based on pure fitness, but he had better technical skills that I did, so I thought we might be evenly matched here. I don't start aggressively and quickly fall to the back of the bunch, but so does my nemesis and I latch onto him as he passes me...just before the front of the women's group start passing us.

We move into a long winding section through the grass. A few women get between me and my nemesis and one of them crashes in a hairpin turn right in front of me. Fortunately, I manage to steer around her and avoid the ensuing bottleneck. I chase down my nemesis and manage to pass him just before we enter the motocross section. It seems he had been pressing to stay ahead because once I pass him he drops back quickly.

About midway through the second lap my watchband breaks, leaving the watch hanging loosely on my wrist. Why didn't I leave the watch in my bag? I manage to slip it off and was riding with it in my teeth trying to figure out how to get it into my zippered jersey pocket (stupid MTB jersey) without crashing when I hear a woman behind me shout, "on your left." I glance to the right and there's another rider there so I decide to hold my line. She yells a couple of more times and I eventually figure out that the other rider is a junior who has no intention of passing me. As I let her pass on the left, I discover it's impossible to apologize while holding a watch in your teeth. As I get to an outer edge of the course, I spot a distictive tree and toss the watch.

Through the motocross section again and into the woods, I come around to the third lap and suddenly realize that I have completely bonked. I look for Chris Horner and Jani Brajkovic to carry me along, but I'm on my own. I should have eaten a bigger lunch. Now it's really seeming like a CX race as I look at the time on my cyclocomputer and curse it for not reassuring me that this will be the last lap. As I enter the winding grassy section, I see that one of the junior riders is chasing me, but looking across the course I can see the finish line from here and mercifully they are, in fact, waving the checkered flag now. There's still about a mile left before we get to the finish, so I fully expect the junior to beat me, but with the grassy section ahead of me I decide I'm going to make him work for it.

Leaving the grass and coming onto the motocross section, the junior is still behind me, but the finish line is close now so I go deep into the red zone to keep him back. I cross the finish line, having successfully defeated my new pre-teen nemesis.

Final result: 50 out of 62

I can't wait for next week!
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Old 07-21-10, 01:13 PM
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I did my second short track race this Monday. The location was the same, but the course was routed very differently. This course was a little less like a CX course. The course weaved in and out of the motocross track, so that felt more central. It was good fun, but there were a lot of bottlenecks.

I decided after last week that since I am just doing this to get some more experience with different technical scenarios I would intentionally ride at the back of the pack. That turned out to be a fairly big mistake, as I spent about half the race working around the few riders who had even less idea what they were doing than I did and were getting stuck half way up berms or in the middle of stretch of very loose dirt. On the other hand, I suppose getting around stuck riders is an important skill in its own right.

In 14 cyclocross races last year, I only crashed once. I'm pretty sure this is a sign that I wasn't aggressive enough. Nevertheless, I'm two-for-two in short track. Strictly speaking, both crashes were during pre-rides, but I am crashing. This week's was spectacular. There was a place in the motocross area where I had the choice between making a sharp turn and coming down a steep incline across the grade or making a wide turn with a more natural path. I chose the steep drop and halfway down my wheels went out from under me and next thing I knew I was on my back looking up at the bike. I think maybe I should have taken a different angle so I was going a little more directly down the drop and less across. In the race, I chickened out and took the safe , but slower, line.

Final Result: 53 out of 64
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