Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My Blue Sky Cup - KBK Style

If you are reading this, good chance you are probably a cyclocross racer and you are most likely a stronger racer than I will ever be. I’ve never been on the podium. I'm not even sure where the podium is. So,with that in mind, here is my report:


I’m a 35 year old guy who races somewhere in the bottom half of my Cat 4 35+ group. I’m just slow, but I love to race. If you ever wondered what it’s like to do a cyclorcross race, or what goes through the mind of that guy who comes in a half lap behind the leader or if today is a day to put plastic bags over your toes to keep them from freezing, this article may be for you.

For those of you who missed “the Cup”, Blue Sky threw our very own race this year. It’s what, the second year of the race? Also, if you are not familiar with Colorado ‘cross, you probably don’t know that we live in a world of racing on bumpy, dried out grass and dirt (bag feet if temp is near freezing, race with booties on if below about 25 - coldest race I’ve done: 14 degrees). Sometimes, for an exciting change, we get snow and ice (definitely bag the feet those days, use booties, toe warmers, sit in car before race as warmup). I’m sure this sounds very “exciting” to you summer roadies, but trust me, it’s heaps of fun.

For this race, however, Norse Gods smiled upon our weary town and blessed us with about 15 inches of snow early in the week before the race and sunny weather on the weekend. This created “once-in-a-decade conditions”! It was truly as if Belgium or Portland rained mud on us for the race! By the time the pros went on, it was easy peasy - hardpack. But for my race, it was time to get out the bikinis and oil for some good mud wrestling in the 4 inches of thick, sloppy goodness covering most of the course.

My race:

I come from a world of mountain biking. I like my personal space. All those bikes and handlebars and people who I’m not quite sure are in control can get kinda freaky when you stack up 100 riders at the start. I watch the pro riders; they are straight and fast. My class is much more exciting! People are weaving, bobbing and sliding. I wish I could say this was all tactics, but I think for a good portion of the riders it’s a fair bit of white-knuckling as we try not to get trampled like a drunken 14 year old at the Running of the Bulls. The paved holeshot was about 1/4 mile long at the Blue Sky Cup this year. It lead into some grassy muddy goop where everyone started stacking up and squeaking brakes to weave through pine trees and an off camber traverse over a drainage ditch (you really don’t want to go into a freezing drainage ditch. Trust me from experience). From this point on, it was just alternating mud, muddier and muddy swamp with occasional sand volleyball court or pavement thrown in for added insult. I rode through the sand on the first lap, because, “Hey, I’m cool and I have mad skills”. Okay, it did look cool, but then having a good layer of sand mixed in with the mud in my drivetrain was like switching the sticky mud in my drivetrain for sandpaper and maybe a metal file or two.

If you are Katie Compton (who won the women’s elite at the race), you have three bikes and a bike monkey to clean them, and you change bikes every lap. If you are me, and not only are really slow but look horrible in a skinsuit, you cannot garner bike monkeys to wash your bike nor sponsors to give you bikes and thus ride your bike in increasingly limited gear ratios during the race. I started on 18 and by the end had about 4, and the bike was in automatic shift mode constantly choosing the gear I least wanted to be in.

The best part for me was the heaps of mud. Yes, it made all of those moving parts not so great, but it really put a challenge into every turn. People were wiping out everywhere. Even the pro racers had to do some serious ballet to keep from going down (and many failed). I spent a lot of time in my lowest gear, weight all the way back on that rear wheel cranking past people who were sunk to their waist in mud pleading for someone to throw them a rope. Once, I nearly went in, but I lay flat on my stomach, distributing my body weight evenly and pulled myself on a tree branch to safety. I forgot my knee warmers the day of the race and borrowed a teammate’s (Señor Dan Farrell). The best cheer I got for the race was “I didn’t say you could get the warmers muddy!” Sorry Dan.

My race was about passing “that guy” or being passed by “that other guy”. I passed and was passed by the same dude five or six times in the race. He’s got some great hill strength. I dismounted and ran better there. He distracted me by shouting “Look a flying saucer.” I frightened him by nearly falling in front of him so he backed off. These are the tactics in the back of the pack. When I pass the announcers, they are shouting their heads off... about the leaders of the pack on the back side of the track.

Coming into the sand pits on the last lap, I hear the announcers saying, “Here are the winners! Think, there are still riders out there, minutes behind these leaders.” Talk about a morale builder. But, with a whining like a jet engine in my brain, I put the hammer down into the muddy stairs of doom and ran my way past “that guy”! Then, he took me as my foot slipped trying to clip in and I ran it into my rear wheel. Then I got him again as we hit the pavement and by luck of the Irish my bike chose to shift into a gear I could spin out up the hill and to the finish line. I won the race! ... for 50th place!

I wouldn’t trade this race for anything! It was a great day for a ride and the mud was epic. We had a cadre of some of the best riders in the US show up and make it look easy (well they are professionals after all). Everyone I talked to said that this race was really fun and that the atmosphere around it was great. If you want to come to Colorado for a ‘cross race next year, come to this one. If you find me, I’ll be happy to tell you where the free beer is hidden and to loan you some muddy knee warmers.

Good times,



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