There will be Mud

2 12 2011

It seems hard to believe that a scant two months have elapsed since the Seattle Cyclocross series opened beneath in warm sunshine of a Pacific Northwest Indian Summer. Time’s wingèd chariot flying on as it ever does, halcyon skies turned to gloom and dank, the mercury gradually slid from balmy to chilly, the rough and knotty ground became muddy and sloppy. Sic transit gloria aestatis…

The grand finale to the 2011 SCX series took place for the third year running at the Evergreen Fairgrounds in Monroe WA, home of the annual Snohomish county fair known as the Evergreen State Fair. Though featured in previous editions of the event, the moto racetrack and the animal barns played no role this year’s proceedings. Since the dirtbike aficionados and their RV’s weren’t competing for space, the course designers were able to take over the whole of the north field and parking area to create a 99% tarmac-free event – the knobby wheels would roll through almost nothing but mud: grassy mud, sandy mud, lumpy mud, soupy mud, and a very few traces here and there of slightly dehydrated mud. The additional space allowed teams to mount their tents course-side, whose proximity to the startline became a prized amenity given the weather.

The course began on the flat field with a few tight turns leading into a long straightaway for the roadies before climbing into the upper meadow. Once there, the course snaked back and forth through some tight turns and fast corners before arriving at its exit point from the meadow: a steep plunge straight down the embankment. The descent curved around a tree and back up to an off-camber path along the hillside that led back to the main field through a swooping 180-degree turn. Racers then had to shoulder their bikes for a struggle up a second muddy embankment that called for deliberate foot placement and occasional hand support. And then it was on to stretches of frothy ankle-deep mud that demanded a light pedal and a fast churn. Riders emerged from the bog onto the course’s single solitary and short stretch of pavement for a quick spurt to a double set of barriers, returning off-road as the course zigged and zagged through two paddocks on its way back to the main field and a short straight dash to the finish line.

The descent of the embankment figured as a decision point for most racers: should one risk mishap on the way down, only to be forced to dismount as a result traction failure on the following upbound segment, or was it better to dismount at the top of the precipice for a run down and back up? The miscalculations and conflicts, with their inevitable consequences, proved a source of hilarity and schadenfreude for the gathered spectators and bell-ringers.

Oh what a beautiful morning

A faint simulacrum of dawn had barely broken somewhere above the leaden skies when David, Andrew, and Alex gathered at the shop for the trek out to the Snohomish valley beneath a constant drizzle. Once again, Alex piloted the trusty Recycled Cycles Sprinter safely to its destination, and we obtained a prime location right by the start line.

It was a day for miseries and lots of dry extra clothing. The rain kept falling until the early afternoon, along with the temperature. It was a day for hard-core fanaticism and commitment to cyclocross (or perhaps to an institution). Rob showed up for the early race in the still-warm rain, cheered on by wife Amanda and young ones Charlotte and Thomas, who seemed unfazed by the weather, sure sign of a cx destiny.

Slipping and a-sliding, weaving and a-riding

His morning race done, Rob took over the controls of the grill, and the air was soon filled with the smell of beef on the barbie, thanks to our fabulous meat sponsor Bill the Butcher.

Arriving with Julie for the afternoon event, Beth found her vehicle unexpectely locked, a problem only because the key was of course located on the wrong side of the door. Drama was avoided in extremis when her husband evaded the highway patrol’s vigilance to arrive with another key and moments to spare. But in the meantime, Jeff had secured new numbers to pin on borrowed jerseys, and both ladies were thus seen dressed in white well after Labor day.

In the meantime, Alex had taken off at noon with the other elite racers for a hour of fun in the mud. But he was to returned unexpectedly and all too soon to the tent, wearing a stoic grimace after a bruising encounter with the ground forced him to abandon his pursuit. Despite his misadventure, Alex showed a consistency through the season that yielded a ninth place in the series final standings.

When you're wet, you're wet

The rain had slowed to a thin drizzle by 1:30pm, when the successive waves of single-speeders, the cat 3 45+ men, and the elite women fields started off. David had another fine outing with the single-speeders, with a ninth place on the day that put him in the fifth slot in the final standings. He was joined by Rob who started and finished his second event of the day, a man on a mission to secure the ten starts that will allow him to upgrade into a field where the sandbaggers go even faster but don’t fall down quite so much.
Starting with the 45+ men, Andrew didn’t fall down, but his knee warmer did. Forced to stop to remove it, he eventually wound up losing another sprint for a mid-pack placing to the same guy as last time.

Beth came roaring past Andrew on the upper meadow, and he had a front-row position to watch her spectacular tumble when some other old guy forced her off her line down the embankment. Fortunately nothing was hurt, not even dignity as that gets left behind with the jackets on the start line. Beth finished with an outstanding sixth place, and a fourth place in the final standings. Dispensing with knee-warmers despite the increasing chill, Julie rode to an excellent eight place on the day, finishing sixth for the series.

You've got to accentuate the vertical

Finally, it was 2:30pm and Cat 3 men took the start of the final race of the 2011 SCX series, with RCR’s 2 Nicks joined by Jeff and Liam. By this time, the beer tent had opened and the festivities were in full swing, fueled by quantities of Nieuw Belgie’s fine brews. Thus we can only report seeing Nick A’s focused expression as he came down the hill, followed by Nick B. Jeff looked happy to be there. And we noticed Liam making an unscheduled service stop at the pit. Published results would later indicate that Nick A obtained a very fine ninth place, and an outstanding eighth place on final gc, where he’s followed by Nick B who hung on to his ninth on the final standings.

Liam made up for a disappointing day of mechanical challenges by scoring a pair of wheels in the post race raffle.
Andrew managed to spill half his second beer, which turned out to be inadvertently clever since he would occupy the driver’s seat in the van for the drive back to Seattle. All too soon, the party was over, the tents were folded and loaded, and the van set out into the fading twilight for the journey back to Boat Street.

For many of us, the season has drawn to a close, and it’s time to take up winter sports such as skiing or knitting; but a few races remain for those still jonesing on cx and willing to travel to the far north or the far south. We offer our thanks to our fantastic sponsors who help make this all possible: our long-time title sponsor Recycled Cycles and bicycle partner Raleigh Bikes; Schwalbe Tires gives us great tread, Bill the Butcher keeps us fed, and PowerBar gets us gelled.


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.

Hang on tight cuz it’s blowing hard

29 09 2011

Seattle-area cyclocrossers gathered last Sunday at Marymoor Park for the opening event of the 2011 Seattle Cyclocross series beneath unexpected sunshine, courtesy of the high winds that drove the storm clouds before they had much of a chance to unload their cargo of moisture. But any unanchored tents were at risk of suddenly sailing across the parking lot, while the normal race-day hubbub was periodically punctuated by the percussive vibration of the course marker tape whipped into harmonic oscillation.

The course had been knit around the Marymoor velodrome, reprising some lines well-known to veterans of the Seattle cyclocross scene. Long straight sections outside the velodrome grounds led into a twisting maze of yellow tape that rose and fell along the velodrome’s exterior embankment, in a mix of off-camber swerves and swooping hair-pin turns. A summer under the sun had roughened the dry ground into a knobby and rutted surface that rattled and jarred joints and bones. Two pairs of barriers forced riders from their bikes: one set at the end of a stretch of tarmac required a dismount at speed; the other, placed right after a hairpin turn, forced the riders to a near-halt as they tried to hop off before the impending encounter with a large piece of wood; not all attempts met with success.

The Recycled Cycles crew had set up early enough to score a prime piece of real estate along the course close to the start line. The mounting wind forced an early removal of some banners that threatened to become sails, and we soon had to anchor the tents to the Recycled Cycles van with a variety of ad hoc lashing.

Ready to go sailing

First to set off from the RCR contingent, Tyler represented in the ever-growing Cat. 4 Men’s field, winding up with a mid-pack finish, but happy with the improvement in his sensations produced by his increased training load. His race done, he fired up the barbie for the first round of sliders from Bill the Butcher’s grass-fed organic beef.

Tyler, hurt those pedals!

Team members drifted in over the course of the day as the event progressed through its schedule. Ian, though not racing, spun over on his road bike and lent a valuable pair of hands in support during the day, schlepping wheels to the pit, helping to anchor the tent, ringing bells… Julie arrived with young Sam in tow for his cyclocross intiation with the 10-12 junior field. Alex showed the RCR colors in the noontime 1/2 race, while his lady friend performed yeoman’s service with the tent anchoring crew.

The 1:30pm race featured six different fields, with the largest rcr participation of the day: David showed off the blue-and-gold amongst the single-speed crowd, his kit accessorized by some awesome skin ink; at the start line for another season with the Cat 3 45+ men, Andrew spotted a few faces remaining from the old Master B days; Beth and Julie joined the Cat 1/2 women’s field, and Jamie took up the challenge with the Cat 3 Women. The black wall of cloud which had been threatening off-stage southeast finally arrived to hide the sun; the cold drops began to spatter jerseys, raising gooseflesh and shivers among an under-dressed crowd. But a lap into the race, the clouds passed, the sun was out, and though we were all wet, ’twas in a good way.
At the end of the first lap, Andrew barely managed to get out of Beth’s way as she muscled through the old men on her way to a convincing win in the women’s field, while Julie hung tough for a ninth-place finish. Sent off a mere thirty seconds after the start of an overstuffed masters field, the elite women had had to thread their way through the whitebeards before moving on to overtake the graybeards. Jamie overcame some tangles with the terrain to finish with an excellent showing in fifth place among the Cat 3 women, though ruing the mishaps that pushed a potential spot on the podium just out of reach.

The closing race of the day beneath the increasing sunshine featured the men’s open Category 3 field, with CarlA and NickB.

Carl gets ready to high step

Racing around the course amid a select cluster of riders, Nick improved on his showing of the previous week with a seventh spot on the results board.

Nick puts rubber's coefficient of friction to the dirt test

As all the fun and excitement was taking place out on the parcours, the post-race post-mortem and hoedown was going strong back at the tents, fuelled by some more grilled meat from Bill the Butcher, and whatever else folks happened to bring. Finally, it was time to stow everything back into the truck and leave planet cx for the trip back to Earth.

Next Sunday, October 2nd, come on out to North Bend as the fun resumes with the MFG race presented by the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. We’ll have the fleet of Raleigh demo bikes on hand for a test-drive under real racing conditions.