Shivering in Spanaway

23 11 2011

The sixth and penultimate event of the Seattle Cyclocross series took place this last Sunday at Sprinker Park, down in the South Sound town of Spanaway. South it may be, but the weather was far from southern, as the frigid night temperatures moderated only slightly beneath a wan autumn sun, a sun progressively dimmed by the vanguard of the cloud banks conveying the next week’s rain. The early morning SCX set-up crew found a parking lot covered in black ice, and the first wave at 9:15 would set off across still-rimy grass.
This was the fourth year a race has been held at Sprinker Recreation Center, a course developed after the loss of previous venues such Donida Farm, Kelly Creek Farm, and South Seatac Park. Though it has the advantage of parking aplenty, the venue’s limitations – available terrain confined to a narrow greenbelt surrounding baseball diamonds and soccer fields – have required considerable experimentation and ingenuity on the part of course designers to transform a difficult site into an acceptable cyclocross course, and this edition continues the progress of the work. With long stretches of tarmac and straight lines on grass to their advantage, the power riders were hampered only by a single set of double barriers and a pair of forced trots up short embankments. Dan Norton’s signature style of multiple hairpin turns required some cornering skill and power, but only the neophytes found much of a challenge in the couple of gentle off-camber sections and the downhill sandpile.

With Alex the Red at the helm of the trusty Recycled Cycles Sprinter van, the RCR setup crew arrived to find a couple of spots still available for parking and tents relatively close to all the important features, such as the registration tent, the start line, and the sanitation stations. Shivering in the morning chill despite multiple layers, it seemed hard to believe that just a few weeks earlier we had been basking in the sun of a prolonged Indian summer.
With the inclement weather, the travel distance, and various extra-curricular obligations, participation did not achieve the heights of previous weeks. Nonetheless, the hardened core of cyclocross enthusiasts were present and accounted for.
Taking the line in the first wave, Rob set off on an excursion through the frosty wonderland to finish well in the top half despite finding his way impeded by a fair amount of cyclocross slapstick on the part of the other folks in lycra clown suits. His efforts done, his real work began as Rob fired up the grill for the first batch of links and sliders furnished by our grand meat sponsor Bill the Butcher, purveyor of fine meat products from all-natural locally-raised beef.
With long-time RCR-board-member-and-cx-stalwart Tyler stepping down from the Supreme Council after years of valiant service, Rob’s stepping into his galoshes to take on the responsibility for managing Team RCR’s vast financial holdings, and he looks forward to visiting the Cayman Islands in the near future (note to the IRS: that’s a joke – we know of no cyclocross races in the Cayman Islands).

It's not this sunny in Belgium

The early arrivals for the later races had plenty of time for lollygagging and strolling the course beneath the pallid sun as the next wave went off, bereft of blue-and-gold jerseys.

The elite categories took off at noon, with Alex joining the open 1/2 field. The generally flat course with its low degree of technical challenge didn’t play to Alex’s advantage in a stacked field easily dominated by international-class sub-23 rider Zack McDonald, but he still managed to hang on to his 9th place in the series rankings.

Alex ignores the paparazzo

The 13:30 contingent was up next, David taking the line amongst the single-speeders, Andrew starting with the Cat 3 45+ crowd, while Beth and Julie sped along in hot pursuit with the rest of the elite women’s field. David had his best result of the season with a 5th place that sits him nicely in 6th place for the single-speed series. Beth almost closed her minute handicap on Andrew, dashing home for a 5th place on the day and a solid grasp on the sixth spot in the general classification for the elite women.

Carl runs for the hills

Liam in a field of yellow tape

The final event of the day beneath an overcasting sky saw five Recyclers line up at the start of the open Cat 3 race. Nick A took advantage of a course more suited to his characteristics to open a gap on Nick B, the latter still managing to cling to his top-10 series placing. Returning to the races as a newlywed, Liam pedaled his velocipede of bright orange beneath matching foliage for his first race as a Cat 3, managing to hold off NewCarl’s valiant pursuit, while Jeff chased around after racers young enough to call him “sir”.

And then the burgers were on their way to their final resting place, the tents folded and loaded with the grill, and the van was north-bound. But we’ll be out next Sunday for the finale of the Seattle Cyclocross series at the Evergreen Fairgrounds in Monroe WA. The double points on offer should make for fierce battles as racers struggle to shuffle the series standings in their favor.

As ever, we extend our gratitude to the wonderful folks at our long-time title sponsor Recycled Cycles and bicycle partner Raleigh Bikes for making this all possible; Schwalbe Tires helps keep us rolling along, Bill the Butcher meets our after-party protein needs, with pre-race glycogen top-ups supplied by PowerBar energy gels.


Jumping at Woodland

17 11 2011

In recent years, the mid-Puget Sound region has confirmed its status as a hotspot of US cyclocross, supporting not one but two race series that combine to assure racers their weekly fix of cx, with a couple of double-headers thrown in for good measure. This last Sunday, the MFG series drew to a close with its season finale at Woodland Park in the Greenlake neighborhood of Seattle, an actual honest-to-goodness in-city race that drew close to 900 participants throughout the day, along with throngs of spectating family, friends, and passersby.

The course designers took advantage of the size of the park and its varied terrain to lay out a fun course that offered a mix of pain and flow, as racers sped through open meadows on gravel tracks and grassy arcs that lead to woodland paths winding beneath the autumnal foliage. This year’s innovation forced riders to dismount before a set of wooden steps which led to a decision fork: would it be better to keep running to the top of next embankment with its mid-slope log, or should they remount and attempt to hop the aforementioned log for the entertainment of the spectating throngs and their own potential advantage. Though the course lacked the wheel-trapping bogs of previous editions, handling skills found themselves tested by sweeping off-camber loops through the fallen leaves, and speed sections that snaked among the trees while crossing the dirt-tarmac boundary.

The urban location prompted a good turnout of Recyclers throughout the day, with the usual crew augmented by some who couldn’t pass up the opportunity for great racing with little travel, and some more who came to cheer. With Busto at the wheel, the trusty Recycled Cycles brought over the tents, the grill, and the Raleigh carbon demo bikes, while Rob picked up our weekly supply of all-natural organic grillables from Bill the Butcher, purveyor of fine meat products from locally-sourced grass-fed beef. The rain held off, as temperatures remained in the upper 40sF (8-10C), allowing the hardy to remain in shorts.

Rebecca got things off to an early morning start with the Cat 4 women, turning in a sparkling fourth place that put her on the third step of the podium in the series final classification.

In the next wave, regulars Rob and Rip, along with neophyte Ben, joined one hundred and sixteen other men in the open Cat 4 field to form an enormous lycra snake that eventually swallowed a bit of its own tail. A fun time was had by all, including the park-dwelling members of Sciurus carolinensis who all managed to dodge Rob’s wheels of squirrel-death. Eric had it a little easier among the veterans in the Cat 3 55+ field, finishing ninth on the day and claiming fifth place in the final overall standings, in a field dominated by the ever-young Cosmic Miller.

Eric jumps!

Things got busy in the third wave as five Recyclers joined the cat 1/2 women’s field. Joined by Julie, Jamie, Liz, and Ali, Beth led the Blue-and-Gold charge, finishing with a sixth place that solidified her claim on the third step for the series podium. Julie was happy to be in the mix, taking advantage of the climbs to scoot past some of her regular rivals for an eighth place on the day. Recent upgrade Jamie rode the last race with the 1/2 field to pick up some experience following the fast wheels; but she must be well on her way to pretty fast, as she already had a lock on the Cat 3 women’s series WIN. Allez Jamie! Liz and Ali had a fun day in the park, as did Andrew among the Cat 3 45+ men, while Kevin and Carl joined sixty-two fellow racers in the Cat 3 35+ field.

Noon was family hour, as Julie’s son Sam hammered away among the Juniors boys, while Jamie’s husband Mark got some more exposure to the cyclocross bug with the novice men. Meanwhile, there was grass-fed meat on the barbie, as the Raleigh demo bikes were on the grass. In cooperation with Raleigh Bikes and MFG, we’ve been able to make a set of carbon cross velocipedes available in a variety of sizes for testing purposes under real live cyclocross conditions.

Busto hops!

Busto feeds!

The afternoon saw the start of the open Cat 3 men, with the dual Nick attack of Nicks A and B, joined by Jeff, Erik, and Liam and fifty other cyclocrossers for forty-five minutes of pain and entertainment. Though he felt as if he had a somewhat [unsatisfactory] day, Nick B still managed to rack up enough points to hold onto a fourth place in the final series standings. Following a minute behind the Cat 3 men came a horde of ninety-five single-speed men. David felt he had his best race of the series, putting the hurt to his nemeses. He was joined by Rob for his second race of the day, the new-born aficionado of single-speed still managing to avoid rodenticide on his second go-round. And Busto tore himself away from academic pursuits to put in a rare appearance on his old stomping grounds, going 1 for 3 on bunnyhops but managing 3 for 3 on post-race frankfurter ingestion.

Alex runs!

In the day’s elite headliner , the remaining Recyclers gathered at the runup to cheer on Alex as he expended himself with a valiant effort in a pro/1/2 field stacked with out-of-town talent from as far away as Bellingham, Bend, and Vancouver, eh.

Thus concludes the MFG series for 2011; thanks to Terry, Zac, Rich, and the rest of the MFG crew for an outstanding series. Complimenti and felicitaties to Jamie on her win! But cyclocross isn’t done yet for the year, as we still have two scx series events and the state champeenships. Recyclers will be doing it all over again next week down in the South Sound at Spanaway’s Sprinker Park. As ever, we extend our gratitude to our long-time title sponsor Recycled Cycles and bicycle partner Raleigh Bikes for making this all possible; Schwalbe Tires helps us keep the rubber side down, and Bill the Butcher keeps us in post-race protein, with glycogen top-ups supplied by PowerBar energy gels.

Second verse, different from the first

11 11 2011

Last Sunday, Puget Sound Cyclocrossers visited Fort Steilacoom Park for the second time this season, as the Seattle Cyclocross series returned to Lakewood WA for its fifth installment. Seattle Cyclocross #2 had taken place under grey skies and occasional drizzle, but today’s event began with a chill, as the morning frost had barely melted away beneath a declining autumn sun.

Course designer Dan Norton more or less reversed the course from the previous Steilacoom event, coming down where it had gone up, turning right where it had gone left, swerving here rather than there. But in keeping with Dan’s philosophy of hardening racers as the season progresses towards Nationals, he’d made a few additional tweaks to dial up the pain: instead of a double set of double barriers on the meadows at the base of the hill, the course now had a single barrier on the flats, with the remaining three barriers placed on the hillside runup for the further sufferation of the short of leg; riders now had to fight for the single smooth line up the gravel road before plunging down the winding dirt track all the way to the base of the knob and the hairpin turn at Casebolt Corner (scene of Jason Casebolt’s memorable ankle-breaking wipeout a few years back).

With Alex on chauffeur duty, the Recycled Cycles Sprinter brought the team gear along with passengers David and Andrew to Steilacoom in time to claim a prime course-side spot scouted out by dad-and-son team of Rob and Thomas.

RCR was represented in the 9:15 time slot by Rip (fortunate that he and Andrew share a shoe size) and David in the open Cat 4, with David getting a morning warmup on his single-speed for the afternoon’s single-speed race, while Rob took the start on his geared bike in the second wave featuring the cat 4 35+ Masters. Rob would not only find himself enforcing the laws of natural selection on the squirrel population, a rolled clincher would force him to run for the finish – but he still managed to stay a step or two ahead of DFL.

Rip gallops with the pack

After they’d managed to catch their breath, the morning racers assumed grill duties, cooking up some links and sliders furnished by Bill the Butcher, our outstanding meat sponsor, purveyor of all-natural products from locally-raised grass-fed beef. As Julie arrived with her boys and Liz brought her dogs, the RCR cx family picnic got rolling…

The women cat 4 field took off in 10:15 slot, with Heather storming to the front to lead the field through the barns and on to the hill. But an inopportune mechanical problem dashed her hopes, when she had to come to a complete halt to fix her brakes. Heather nonetheless soldiered valiantly on despite the aggravation.

Heather charging to the front

In the noontime main event, the open cat 1/2 race, Alex struggled to overcome mechanical contre-temps, clawing his way into the top-ten, a result that’s raised him into 10th place in the series standings.

It's only a bike race

As usual, the 1:30pm event is the busiest of the day, as successive waves of single-speeders, masters, and women sped down the tarmac from the starting line towards their first encounter with the grass and mud. Following his morning cat 4 race with an afternoon start among the singlespeeders, David proved that success is often just a matter of showing up, as his consistency propelled him to 8th place in the general classification for the series. He was joined at the start line by Rob, who’d decided to investigate this single-speed madness for himself, fortunately avoiding a second untoward encounter with wildlife.
Andrew suffered from the error of underinflation on the extensive tarmac and the hubris of overgearing on the hill, his running legs unable to exercise their slight advantage as the non-runners clogged the lanes on the runup. But he managed to retain a dignity momentarily threatened by a mishandled last turn through Casebolt Corner.
Jamie took her first start as a newly-minted Category 2 to join Beth, Julie and Liz in the Category 1/2 Women’s field. Just emerging from several weeks under the weather, Julie was happy to find her slot and stick with it to finish 7th, just behind Beth whose sixth place keeps her in ninth place in overall standings, despite a missed race. Jamie weathered the shock of the new, as she discovered the higher categories select for both fitness and bike-handling skills; Jamie notes that the Cat 3 women aren’t nearly as aggressive through the corners.

In the day’s final event, the open Category three men, we had Nick A and Jeff showing the blue-and-gold to finish off the proceedings with worthy efforts, as Nick just nosed out former teammate Matt Beers in a hard-fought contest, while Jeff was happy to be back from a hiatus of a couple of seasons to turn the pedals in anger once again.

Nick in the barnyard

...followed by Jeff

Then the day was done, and the van was loaded. Next week, we’ll be at it again in Seattle’s Woodland Park for the season-closer of the MFG series. As always, we are grateful to our outstanding team sponsors: As always, we’re grateful to our outstanding sponsors: Recycled Cycles; Raleigh Bicycles; Schwalbe tires, FSA; our grilling was made possible by Bill the Butcher, with additional energy furnished by PowerBar Energy Gels.