O.K., so I’m pretty much going to skip talking about day one at the Baystate Cyclocross Weekend in Sterling, Mass. Besides having a strong first few laps, for most of the hour I went backwards. There was a super-steep, icy run-up, which did a number on my back. I considered pulling out at one point.
But Sunday was a new day, even though we woke up to rain. So far this season, it has been unusually dry in New England, and our stock of slop-loving Limus tires has sat idly in the car largely untouched.
Now, I’m not usually all that psyched about racing in the mud, because I’m lazy. You see, a muddy race means lots of extra work—washing, lubing, re-cabling the bikes. Multiple wardrobe changes to stay warm and dry between pre-rides and the race mean extra laundry. Then there’s the prospect of sitting in the car on the long drive home with mud in unspeakable places. So that we’re clear, spandex is not mud-proof. Did someone say mud butt?
With that, here are some tips from a lazy person on how to get through a mud fest.
One: Get a clip-on fender and rain tights. Keeping your ass dry while you pre-ride keeps you warm—and helps save your car seats from ruin.
Two: A second pair of shoes is swell to have, not to mention a totally pro move. They don’t have to be nice, either. I pre-ride in my beat-up shoes from last season. This way I can slip on some dry socks and warm shoes before the start. Having dry feet on the start line of a muddy race is a serious morale booster.
Three: Consider using toe spikes. Steep, muddy, slick run-ups usually mean spikes will be a big advantage. They’re cheap, and you should have some in your toolbox.
Four: Before you head off to race, get your car ready for your dirty return. Have lots of towels and a bunch of plastic bags for your filthy kit, shoes, and everything else within easy reach. Digging through your car for this stuff while caked in mud is hardly ideal.
Five: You’re going to be cold after your race, so have a plan of action to efficiently get all the heavy, wet, muddy clothes off and get clean enough to get into your warm ones. And don’t stand around after your race; get to work pronto. Besides, hanging out is way more comfortable once you’re warm and relatively dry.
So, my race on Sunday I approached apprehensively. Historically, mud has not been my friend, and the course at Baystate on day two was, by many accounts, dangerous, and all that on top of the challenging weather and course conditions. Several off-cambers along with a nasty, bumpy, and steep drop made certain that almost everyone spent some time on the ground. I was not excluded!
About halfway through the race I slipped out and had my brake jam, leaving me standing there cursing. I’d been riding eighth, and that setback put me in 10th with a 20-second deficit to make up. With three to go I made it back into contention for eighth while fighting it out with Sam O’Keefe and Robert Marion (the other bearded guy in the elite field who’s been killing it lately).
Here’s the part where some simple tactics paid off. Early on in the race, I found it to my advantage to run the entire off-camber leading to the run-up; others were riding it. Yes, it saved energy to pedal, but it was slower to do so and the risk of crashing was higher. Thankfully, I had my spikes! Plus, the running I’ve been doing in training paid off. I get a gap running that section every lap.
With one to go Robert gapped me and Sam caught me. We went into the final corners neck and neck, but a well-timed acceleration and some good exit speed out of the last turn allowed me to edge Sam for ninth, my third UCI top 10 of the season and my first in the mud. (I’d like to think it’s thanks to all the mountain biking I’ve been doing.) As for Sam, I’ve been racing him since our days in the Mid-Atlantic Conference Series’ B field, back in 2009. He’s made a ton of progress this year and has been consistently in or just outside the top 10.
We now look forward to the final New England UCI race, and then the gaping hole in the schedule before U.S. nationals. Hopefully my coach will figure out how to keep me entertained while I train through the holidays.
Maybe more mountain biking is in order.