I was hoping one of the pro photogs would have some photos of my Best! Race! Ever! but alas. You’ll have to settle for pics of the bike and kids.
Chilly, muddy, foggy but dry. Staged second group (first semi-random callup immediately after the series leaders), perhaps 20–30 places back. Inaugural ride (not race) with my remarkable new Kona JTS SCR 1 (about which much more later). New rig, tired, zero warmup, grumpy, new course feature(s), aborted preview lap (surprise log crossing!) — everything wrong but the staging. Finished 4th of 154. Damn.
From OBRA list chatter I deduced that my callup group (based on the last digit of my bib number) had last-place semi-random callup last week at Alpenrose (a race I declined to contest, see last year’s report for a justification.) The reward for being staged dead last in a field of 200 guys is staging near the front, behind the series leaders the following week. This happened to me last year at Rainier — already my favorite course, perhaps custom-built for my particular strengths. Getting this lucky two years in a row is literally a one-in-a-hundred chance. My biggest regret from last season was that I didn’t seize this contingency, and let the points I built up at Rainier fade away.
So this miraculous staging forced every decision I made this week.
Foremost, I pulled the trigger on a bike I’ve eyed for a while. I was planning on waiting until next year to buy a race-specific rig but this flukey staging — and some nagging mechanicals on my leaden Gunnar — made up my mind. Thursday after work I tested several bikes at Sellwood Cycles to get a feel for the frame and the idiosyncratic Retroshift setup.
My goal here is straightforward: to hack my strength/weight ratio by minimizing the denominator.
Much of my morning’s grumpiness stemmed from this bike. Other than the 3 miles or so from Sellwood Cycles to my house, I hadn’t ridden it at all. It has a much more aggressive geometry than my Gunnar and radically different technology. Racing on a new bike like this a Bad Idea. Don’t try this at home, kids. Moreover, its purchase was a hasty, extravagant impulse. $1200 is a cheap race bike but a lot of money nonetheless. If I raced on it today, I knew I wouldn’t be able to return it to Sellwood. It would be mine for good or bad.
It is good.
The whole thing is easily 7# lighter than the Gunnar. Despite lacking the Gunnar’s wicked mountain goat gearing (34x32!) I never wanted a deeper gear. (And Rainier is a notoriously hilly course.) This is the lightest bike I’ve ever horsed at a cross race. It flies over barriers.
I had this rig built without a front derailer. Just a 40-tooth chainring and a custom-made bash ring. So my only gears are the (cross-standard?) 12-28 10-speed cogset. This was beyond awesome. First, because I never once lost my chain or had a bad shift. More importantly, having only one chainring means one less thing to worry about. What ring am I on? The only one I have. Am I in danger of cross-chaining and frying my chain? Of course not, idiot.
I could go on a long time about retroshift. This is a radically new-old idea that basically welds a bar-end shifter to the front of the brake lever. They are intuitive and positive. Never had to second-guess “what gear am I in? Should I shift?” I was always in the right gear at the right moment. I could come into a climb really hot and then dump a bunch of gears with confidence; and pull the reverse maneuver before descents or corners. Retroshifters kept my hands on the hoods (can’t retroshift in drops) which is not my style but obvs worked well today.
I’m already considering rebuilding the Gunnar with retroshift. They are that awesome.
Retroshift BURD derailleur
Worked just fine.
White-label TRP version of CX9 brakes, not discs but they were sufficient; cheap, reliable, and light. This was my one serious hesitation, because I’m pretty sold on discs. But I’ll be able to share wheels with my road bike (both have 11-28T cassettes), and neutral pit wheels are likely to favor rim brakes for a while.
New course starts higher on the hill and ends lower. Other than a smallish runup, a surprise log barrier, and no barriers by team tents, not all that different than past years. I miss the long climb to the finish. The shorter hill ends the race with a sprint not a slog. (I do much better at slogs.) Also miss the long start climb (let’s start the suffering right away!) but it’s still long enough to thin the field. Even without primo staging this would be a good course for me.
I knew I did well but no idea I was fourth. I was literally seconds off the three guys in front of me. This was the first race in my career I could theoretically have won. One of those guys (don’t know which) beat me cornering on a descent. Another example: I didn’t bring my toe cleats, on that runup I could have gained a few seconds and maybe another place. if only I hadn’t made a dozen small errors like that, or if my technical handling were like 5% better. I am good with my climbing & sprinting.
But I didn’t make a lot of errors. No crashes, no mechanicals, stayed on the bike mostly when I wanted to stay on the bike.
The Vanilla/Speedvagen crew are kind of extending the Kiddie Kross thing into a day-long rodeo with mini-events like “hot laps for 7 to 10 year olds.” This is brilliant. They had a surprisingly challenging rodeo course set up away from the main course. Between events the kids could just noodle around the rodeo. Iris rode a Kiddie A race on her pedal bike, with some assistance from Mom and Dad (like I said: the kiddie kourse was technical). Orion rode a “bell race,” a 15-minute timed event that played out surprisingly like a real ’cross race. He rode hard for 15 minutes, by the end his tongue was hanging out. I wonder where he gets that from?