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.


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.

Frolic at the Fairgrounds

2 11 2011

Here in the Pacific Northwest, the summer drought usually draws to a close round about the middle of October, giving way to the interminable drizzle of the Cascadian monsoon. That’s when the cyclocross season really starts jumping – and slipping and sliding, as the rains slicken the grass and coagulate the summer dust into oozing bog.

It was the eve of All Hallows Eve when Washington cyclocrossers reconvened at the King County Fairgrounds in Enumclaw WA, where the mountain mists meet the valley, as the fourth event in the Seattle Cyclocross series got underway on day two of a weekend double-header, following the preceding day’s MFG series race. Some racers showed up in scary costume, others wore the regular lycra clown suit. The day began and closed in rain, interrupted only when an evanescent parting of the clouds allowed the mid-morning sun a brief look-see on the proceedings.

Dan Norton, the Father Time of Washington cyclocross, laid out a true cyclocross course of turf and tarmac: sinuous lines through a grassy field led to an leg-sapping trudge up a near-vertical bog to one of the day’s two beer gardens, where a single-track through the woods led to a muddy fire-road that curved down into soupy flats. Following another excursion through the fields and into the woods, riders emerged from the trees to find themselves headed onto a steep off-camber embankment where the unwary might find themselves veering down the slope into the side of the neighboring football stadium. Opportunities for close encounters with the ground abounded as the course continued through mud and grass with some more tight turns and treacherous off-camber. A set of barriers forced a dismount in front of the other beer garden, and the lap concluded with a long grassy straightaway around and through the animal barns.

The RCR van with Ali at the wheel showed up in time to claim the last course-side position, and Jamie, Dave, and Andrew hustled to get the tents up, spurred on by the precipitation. It would turn out that we were right by one of the prime fall-down spots on the course, where oxygen-deprived contestants seemed unable to recall the correct line from one lap to the next.

The weather, the travel time, and the previous day’s effort combined to reduce all the day’s field sizes. Nonetheless, the Recycled colors had representation in most of the day’s events.

Recent cx initiate Dan spent his day off from his Recycled Cycles wrenching duties getting to know mud with the open Cat 4 field. Taking the start with the Cat 4 35+ masters, Rob continued his season’s progression with a steady ride into the top half of the field, before climbing off his bike to take over grillmaster duties, throwing down some sliders and links from our meat sponsor Bill the Butcher, purveyor of organic all-natural meat products from locally-raised grass-fed livestock. As Rob tended to the grill, his six-year-old dynamo, Thomas, was discovering warm-up and wind-trainers as he got ready for the tots-and-trikes competition.

Joy in mudville

In the noon-time elite race, conditions played to Alex’s strengths as a bike-handler as he avoided mishap and negotiated the field to a solid 7th place.

Alex follows the yellow tape

With four fields setting off a minute apart, the 1:30 event is the busiest slot of the day. RCR had two representatives joining the single-speeders as Illustrated Dave and El Presidente Josh took the line. Dave churned his way through the mud to a 15th place that’s slotted him in 7th for the series overall, while Josh had made the trip specifically to enjoy the seasonal weather. Setting out in the next wave with the Category 3 45+ men, Andrew had the distinction of being the last rider in the field to avoid being lapped by local single-speed phenom Craig Ethridge, thus gaining the dubious enjoyment of a further lap of pain; after registering his best placing in a couple of years, though still smack-dab in the middle of the diminished pack, Andrew figured if you can’t go fast, at least you won’t go too fast in the wrong places. Among the 1 / 2 women, Ali was cruising through the bog when she heard the awful sound of grinding metal as her derailleur hanger was ripped from the drop-out by an errant chain; her race unexpectedly abridged, Ali made a beeline for the consolations of the beer garden where she found suitable fortification to enable her to cheer on the remaining contestants. Suffering among the Cat 3 women, Jamie had an off-day, though retaining her hold on an overall 4th place in the series. Perhaps she hadn’t yet become rehabituated to our northern climes, perhaps it was that white jersey worn when Labor Day has receded into distant memory, or maybe it was just the price of the W she posted in the previous day’s event…

The day’s carnage concluded as four Recyclers joined the open Cat 3 men for a last gallop through the mud. From the shelter of the team tents, we saw Nick A go running by towards the service pit after a flat; Nick B paid for his previous day’s top-10 with a sub-optimal day as well, but retains his 4th place in the scx series overall classification. Carl and Jeff showed up to duke it out with each other at the blunt end of the race, with Jeff managing a stealthy comeback to nip Carl at the finish line.

Nick B remains vertical

Nick A running for the pits

As someone once said, a cyclocross race is like beating your legs with a rubber hose under a cold shower: it feels so good when you stop. But we’ll be back next week for Seattle Cyclocross #5 at Fort Steilacoom park, south of Tacoma. As always, we’re grateful to our outstanding sponsors: Recycled Cycles; Raleigh Bicycles; Schwalbe, FSA, and Bill the Butcher.