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'Cross Mania!
By Staff
Date: 11/11/2003
'Cross Mania!
New Page 1 - by Laura Weislo

Race #1 - Greensboro, NC 

When the road season draws to a close, riders will ask each other "are you doing 'cross this year?"  I have always answered this with a laugh and some flippant comment about how only crazy people do 'cross.  Like "I only run if I'm being chased by an axe-murderer".  Usually I am so burnt out from the road season that the mere thought of pedaling through mud and running up hills in an hour long fit of hypoxia is enough to make me pull down all the window blinds and plant myself on the sofa with a beer and the remote control.  But for some reason, this year was different.  Maybe it was the beautiful weather and the lack of mud?  Maybe it was the fact that I took a break earlier this year and wasn't burnt out...  Maybe after a year of racing NRC events with all those scary women, I was ready for something a little more "low-key," but this year I decided to give 'cross a try.  

I didn't really intend to try 'cross, I just wound up going out with my husband, Emory, to keep him company while he practiced.  At first, dismounts were pretty easy, but the jumping back on the bike part was really hard.  I had to do a little two-step before I could get on the saddle.  But after a couple practice sessions, I started to get the hang of it, and leaping onto the saddle was fun!  It felt kind of liking kicking up your heels in an Irish jig - and that always makes you feel happy, right?  We had a blast practicing together and laughing when we tanked.  So before I knew it, I was driving off to Greensboro, NC, for the first race in the North Carolina Cyclocross Series. 

A few days before the race, the weather forecasters were predicting clear skies and mild temperatures.  Considering it hadn't rained in over a week, I prepared for a dry course by putting my semi-slicks on the mountain bike.  Yeah, I don't have a 'cross bike, so what?  Of COURSE, as we pulled into Bur-Mill park, the clouds descended and covered the area in a fine misty rain.  Perfect.  On the warm-up lap, I became covered in bits of grass and mud.  This was going to be fun.  I checked the start list and there were only four names.  Then six.  Then eight.  Then, when I came to the staging area there were TWELVE women.  Holy Cow!  

I was pretty surprised, considering last year's series had an average of three women in the A race. I was really surprised again when the whistle blew and all the other women took off like rockets while I was still trying to clip in and get rolling.  I was sucking wind through every pore in the first 100 meters just to catch up.  I bounced clackety clackety down the course past the registration area and bombed down the little hill toward some twisty switchbackey things they organizers had introduced.  I had just caught the pack when I realized, very close to the first 180, that I needed new brake pads.  I grabbed brake and very little reduction in speed occurred.  Women were getting big in a hurry!  I yelled "NO BRAKES!!!" and careened through the pack like a cannonball, bouncing riders out of my way as I hurtled down the course and into the gravel road section.  It was here that these women were first able to take revenge on me.  On the first barrier section, I tip-toed over the barriers while the rest of the pack charged like a herd of startled deer and disappeared into the distance.  By the time I got back on the bike, I was dead last again, and had to go deep into the red to catch back up to the shattered pack.  

Preparing to take a tight turn into the woods. 

Photo courtesy of Bob George

A similar scenario occurred on the run-up, the next barrier section, and on each subsequent lap.  At every obstacle the pack was sorted into those that knew what the hell they were doing and, well, me. Each lap my shoes got clogged with more and more of the screenings that were mixed in with the gravel on the first barrier section, and with a couple laps to go, my foot was cemented to the pedal when I tried to dismount, resulting in an ungraceful spill just before the run-up.  Whoops.  I got back up and got on with the race feeling better now that I got that crash over with.  After a while, my fitness won out, and my skills got a tiny bit better and I managed to pass a couple women, but I had really made a poor choice of a course for my first 'cross race ever.  If you're bad at barriers and have a heavy bike, a rolling course with three sets of barriers and a run-up is not for you.  I was covered in filth when I came across the line in 8th place, but I was smiling anyhow.  It's hard to be unhappy after doing something this ridiculous.  Splashing through the mud is pretty fun, at least it is when it's warm.  I can guarantee that I will feel quite differently about this when the temperatures are hovering around freezing... 

Candice Blickem continued her decimation of the Southeast and creamed everyone, but my new friends and teammates for next season, Mandy Lozano and Daniele Staskal came in 3rd and 4th!  Add to that, Mandy had a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts to share after the race.  There's nothing like a fine glazed confection like that after a hard race. 

Race #2 - Cary, NC 

OK, are you sure it's November?  Because it sure doesn't feel like it.  It is not cyclocross weather when it is 85 degrees and sunny.  That's just plain wrong.  The Cary course was much flatter than the Greensboro course, with just one hill - the run-up.  And, because there was only one, it had to be really really steep and kind of long.  And to make it more fun, the organizers placed a barrier at the base that had to be two feet high.  I swear, by the end of the race, I needed a rope and harness to get over the damn thing. 

The nice weather only served to increase the field size, 15 women in the A's alone and 149 total riders competed at this event!  This is another record for NC, but cyclocross is booming all over the US of A.  I attribute this to the maneuver Lance made to avoid Beloki's crash at the Tour de France this year.  All must do as Lance has done, and gosh, you never know when you might need to take emergency cyclocross action like that in a road race, right?  So 'cross has replaced spinning as the Lance-wannabe preferred training method. 

This time I was determined to get a better start, and I nearly succeeded.  I was about 5th place at the first barriers, but had a bad re-mount and was passed by a few women.  I was right in the thick of the action when we hit the long, flat, barrier-free wooded section, but got caught behind a Fuji rider who was either blocking or blowing up.  She wouldn't let me pass - every time I tried to go around on one side, she'd move over that way.  By the time we emerged from the woods and I was able to get around her, there were six women off the front and only one of them was within shouting distance. 

When I hit the second set of barriers, I actually RAN over them instead of tippy-toeing.  I blasted through as much of the course as I could, taking all sorts of risks (as Phil Liggett would say), but made absolutely no progress toward the front pack.  I settled in for a 35 minute time trial.  When I came out to the run-up, which was more of a "push your bike and try to run up," I could see the leaders heading back toward the first barriers, and each lap the fourth and fifth place riders stayed in about the same place, while Candice, Alisha Little and Kathleen Billington were way out ahead never to be seen.  Mid- way through the race, I managed to catch the sixth place rider and pass her, but never made any more progress than that the whole race.  I count that as Cyclocross lesson #1, the race is pretty much sorted out in the first lap.  You have to kill yourself to get ahead of everyone you can and then settle into a manageable pace until the end.  It's kind of like a combination of a criterium breakaway and a mountain bike race, which is probably why Candice continues to kick everyone's behind in every race... 

All in all, 'cross turned out to be a lot more fun that I could have imagined.  And when you don't crash, you're a whole lot less sore the next day.  The atmosphere at a 'cross race is more laid-back than at your typical criterium or road race.  Everyone is friendly like at mountain bike races, but the racers are more, well, normal.  No tutu or rainbow-'fro wig wearing 24-hour type freaks.  It's just a nice day at the park... with a couple hundred friends... going hypoxic... occasionally falling down... winding up with all sorts of strange bruises the next day...

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