Storming at Steilacoom

13 10 2011

Fort Steilacoom Park, south of Tacoma, is the last of the classic Puget Sound junglecross venues of the last millenium .  Since the sport has taken off in popularity, the increase in bicycle traffic have forced the course directors to abandon some of the gnarlier features of yore: the vertiginous downhill through the dirt-filled trench, the original brutal 3-story Knapp-time runup and the slightly kinder gentler Knapp-time runup Mark II, the single-track ramble through the brambles; with the disappearance of the ruins which once overlooked the course, the park has recovered a bucolic aspect more suited to its purpose.  But the recent course layouts have retained the basic character of the site: a long climb up the butte, followed by a furious descent, accessorized with a sinuous path among the autumnal trees and the faux-antique red barns.

The Pacific Northwest fall had arrived in time for this week’s cyclocross extravaganza, the second event in the Seattle Cyclocross series.  The cloud banks rolling off the Pacific Ocean had brought a dank chill and just enough drizzle to grease the grassy corners, turning the course into a test of skill as well as power.  At the base of the hill, a maze of yellow tape led riders to and fro through the fields, where the course included two sets of barriers, approached at speeds that imposed precise timing on the riders’ dismount.  A long straightaway led to the beginning of the leg-sapping climb that would repeatedly suck the oxygen from the brain.

RCR Base camp, Steilacoom

The Recycled Cycles Racing team set up their base of operations at course side, in proximity to facilities and conveniences.  Taking the start line for the 9:30 race, Rip and Rob represented the blue-and-gold among the open cat 4 men and the 35+ cat 4 master men, finishing respectably mid-pack in the most crowded fields of the day.  As they noted, position was established shortly after the start, and you tended to stay with the same little cluster for the rest of the race.

His race done, Rip stepped up to the RCR grill to throw down some sliders and links from Bill the Butcher, purveyor of fine meats from grass-fed organic livestock.

Next up, RCR’s new Category 4 ladies Rebecca and Heather joined a Category 4 women’s field that numbered over thirty starters, testimony to the sport’s increasing attraction to women (your correspondant remembers when total female participation at a race barely surpassed a third that number).  Unleashing her aggression from the start line, Rebecca was sitting in the catbird’s saddle when a treacherous curve took her down.  Then she had to struggle to extricate a jammed chain while most of the remaining field passed by.  Downed but not out, Rebecca responded with determination and vigor, managing to regain a good chunk of lost ground and finish just outside the top ten.  Heather in the meantime kept plugging away at a steady pace, finishing very respectably for a recent intiate to the discipline, with a lot more riders behind her than before her. 

Rebecca hi-stepping the barriers

Following the junior and tykes races which featured some future Recyclers, it was showtime for the elite Category 1/2 racers, with Alex displaying the Blue-and-Gold, relying on his exceptional handling skills to hold a valiant tenth place as the national-caliber leaders imposed a punishing pace.

Making it look easy...

The 1:30pm race is one of the most crowded of the day, as successive waves of single-speeders, masters, and women set off.  And we have a Winnah! as Jamie stormed to the top step of the Category 3 women’s podium, no photo finish here, and she should soon be moving up to the next level.  Jamie gave props for some of her success to the advice from the veterans Alex and Beth which improved her approach to the barriers, her power coming out of the turns, and her use of the slower men as inadvertent blockers.

Jamie going for the win.

Beth and Julie, RCR’s starters in the Cat 1/2 women’s field, had spent the previous week field-testing their immune systems, and consequently weren’t quite at the top of their game.  Beth had her usual blistering start, but a rare transition from the vertical to the horizontal positions robbed her of her impetus.  Nonetheless, the combative pair persevered, Beth and Julie riding together to finish respectively eighth and ninth in an always strong field.  The y-chromosome carriers in the single-speed and master 45+ fields couldn’t quite manage to equal the outstanding efforts of the distaff side, as both David and Andrew finished mid-pack, but happy to be there.

David singlespeeding through the woods

Meanwhile Alex was working the grill, feeding the hungry racers, officials, worker bees, and random passersby, eager to sample Bill the Butcher’s organic sliders.

RCR’s double warhead of Nicks, known hereafter as Nick A and Nick B, took to the field as the horde of Category 3 men sped off for the last gallop of the day.  As mature & responsible adults, the Nicks suffered a disadvantage in a field dominated by some hormonal adolescents barely old enough to use a razor anywhere other than their legs.  As the youth wave trusted the first few positions, the ever-rowdy barrier crowd took to encouraging riders with shouts of “first adult!”.  Despite his handicap in years, Nick B hung on for a seventh place, with proud new papa Nick A showed the effects of his new paternal responsibilties as he slid just out of the top-ten despite a gung ho attack from the gun.

Dual Nick attack!

Thanks once again to our outstanding sponsors at Recycled Cycles, Raleigh Bicycles, FSA, and Schwalbe tires for their support in this season’s cyclocross campaign.  We’ll be doing it all over again next Sunday by the sandy shores of Silver Lake Park in Everett WA.