Without an OVCX race this weekend, and me really getting back into cyclocross I found myself searching all over the Internet for a Cross-race within a respectable distance. Thanks to Big Dave I finally found a Sunday race outside of Cleveland through North East Ohio CX Association (NEOCX). It’s a much smaller series that takes only race-day registrations but Dave assured me they usually get about 30 men in the B race. So northward Harbaugh and I headed for the weekend. In true Harbaugh style he also found a Saturday race through Cap City Cross that we could race, albeit the A race; we would have to leave too early for the B race. As incentive not to bail out on the Sunday race and come back after Saturdays I had somehow coaxed my weekend warrior dad into racing Sunday in Cleveland with knobby tires on his road bike; never mind the fact that he’s only had clip-less pedals for 3 weeks and, not having mountain bike shoes or pedals, was planning on racing on flats.
After an uneventful drive we began approaching the Cap City racecourse. “Where are the hills they speak of,” I said as we got off the freeway. According to Cap City, this race, held on a Frisbee golf course, was the hilliest course of the year. We wouldn’t have to wait long to find them. After about 3 miles we dropped down this not insignificant hill into a small river valley surrounded on all sides by respectable road cycling hills. To our left was a hand written “parking,” sign on white poster board at the entrance of this tiny twenty-car gravel parking lot that looked more like a trailhead entrance than anything. “Just block people in and we’ll work on getting them out later,” said the parking attendant. It was a Rubix cube of cars.
We had been told that other CX series in the area were a “totally different scene,” than OVCX but I wasn’t quite expecting this. It was almost like we stepped back 15 years when cross was still this obscure fringe event struggling to make a place for itself. When we stepped out of the car there was Danzig and Metallica playing on the outdated PA system and an announcer in all black looking grimier than Harbaugh after his cross-country venture. There were no children or even cowbells. Amenities we’ve grown so accustomed to at OVCX races, forget about it. There was a single portalet without sanitizer in the parking lot corner. It was pure cyclocross.
Surveying the course, there was essentially a high and low portion, several power sections, and not a lot of technical features. The low portion, near the start had the barriers and a couple of redundant 180° turns before this massive steep run-up through the woods to the upper course.
The upper course had several more 180° turns on a long drag to the top of the hill. From there it was bomber double track back to the start of the 1.5 mile course.
I decided to sit out Saturdays race and save myself for Sunday. Harbaugh however took the line with about 15 others for the 60 minute A race while I documented from the side with a couple beers in hand. From the start it was clear that while the field was much smaller they were still legit. Harbaugh quickly and strategically positioned himself off the back for optimal video footage perspective. But seriously, the run-up was crazy and I was glad it was him doing the A race. I mostly stayed at the top of the run-up to heckle the riders.
I don’t think the riders are used to Hungry heckling as I got several sly expressions for my heckling. In particular, the Papa Johns rider did not like me asking him, “show him your better ingredients,” as he was being dropped. Ehh, that’s how we do it down here. Because the laps were so short the A group did the run up 10 times. My favorite comment of Matt’s during the race came as he was stuporously getting back on his bike after the run up, “I’m gonna puke!” Although Matt came in last he actually made money by pulling a George Washington from Tony Viton’s (still sick and not racing) backside. Noting how much pain Hardball was in, I am content to stay racing with the 3’s for a bit longer.
Back on the road Cleveland should have been a nice easy jump. It’s wasn’t to be though as about 20 minutes after we got on the freeway the coat of rust holding together my muffler failed. The pitch of my engine immediately changed and the sound of metal scrapping on concrete signaled we had real problems. We tried in vain to pull the damn thing out on the side of the freeway but it was hot, we were cold, and there were no tools. Finally we wedged it about 4 inches off the ground and, sounding like a sand buggy, praying we wouldn’t hit a bump that would force the muffler into the drive shaft, headed down the freeway another 8 miles before getting off in Chesterville OH. There we found Earls, this tiny general store, who’s owners kindly lent us a hack saw to cut it off. We repaid their generosity with a broken blade and a $5 bill to cover replacement. On the road again I had to keep the speed in check. We were essentially yelling at each other in the car and when it downshifted conversation was no longer possible. Two hours later, with a bit of a headache we arrived at our night’s accommodations; it was cold and raining outside.
We awoke to persistent rain and temperatures in the low 40s. This would be perfect cyclocross whether if we had prepared appropriately, we had not. I had at least brought my THC jacket and arm warmers. However, Hardball true to form had nothing but a cotton sweater. Lacking mud tires and essential warm whether gear such as gloves and knickers, it was clear this would be an interesting day. It was windy and spitting rain as we pulled into the course parking lot.
My dad was waiting for us with his 25lbs road bike and flat pedals expecting us to put knobbies on his bike so he could race. After confirming that 32mm tires definitely do not fit on a road bike, we outfitted Dad with Matt’s SS Breed complete with Egg Beaters and mountain bike shoes. I quickly gave Dad a lesson in unclipping and barrier crossings before sending him off to the start line to face certain annihilation.
Dad got off to a slow start as he fumbled to clip in. However, the going was pretty good once he got moving, he wasn’t last! In a reversal of roles I ran around like a parent encouraging and coaching him. Soon other people where cheering on “Dad.” Did I mention he is 60?
He washed out once on a super sketchy bridge crossing and at 6’3” 200lbs I was actually fairly worried that he had done some serious damage. He pulled himself up quickly though and got on with the business of punishing his body for the full 30 minutes. At the end of the race he confirmed what I had told him before he started, “It’s going to be the hardest thing you ever done.” Although his barrier crossings left something to be desired, considering we had essentially thrown him to the wolves, I’m super impressed with how well he did.
Changing into our gear I went to register for the B-race and pre-ride the course. It’s now 49 and raining and Matt, covering himself with a towel for warmth, is refusing to get out of the car. The course, on its way to complete destruction, was freaking awesome!!!
It started on pavement with an uphill sprint before a sweeping uphill right turn into some tree groves. It then shot downhill, off camber, crossing a golf cart path, straight into a sharp left muddy turn –read sketchy. This followed with a power section through rutted mud-grass before coming in hot to a deep soupy rutted mud section that threatened to endo and wash out all comers. The rest of the course followed the same theme with conditions creating 3 run-ups and off camber muddy ups and downs that were akin to riding on ice. Mud tires were essential. However, I was rocking Fangos up front and Grifos in the back. Matt had the same setup. I pre-rode only two laps as I had to power wash my bike after each lap, this was gonna be a slop fest. With course warm-up out, I resorted to sprints on the pavement to get loose. Matt meanwhile had made it out of the car to a course side shelter with an active fire, “Come get me at call ups.”
Call-ups were open. I pulled my obligatory pre-race ear buds and handed my soaking and filthy Hungry jacket to my dad. I was lucky enough to have a spot as the inside rider on the front row (my favorite) while Matt was relegated to the 3rd row in a field of about 30 riders. Though it had been raining essentially all day and the course was shredded, as Big Dave gave his usual pre-race blah, blah, blah, the sun came out and the rain stopped. I tossed my armwarmers aside, this is Cross afterall. We both got pretty good starts with me 3rd at the first corner and Matt in the top 1/3 of the field.
Coming down the first hill across the pavement was super scary. The field was still pretty tight and hitting my brakes would cost me two spots at least. Still, slamming into the asphalt transition was not appealing either. I got through that clean and hit the power section before the deep bicycle eating mud. Amazingly, I made through that section clean each time. There was really no safe place on the course, if you were off the line you lost time, but behind the next rider you got mud in your eyes and were blinded.
I fell 3 times throughout the race and lost a decent chunk of time with that. One particular fall was a stupid little off camber 180° left turn where I simply washed out. With each lap the course got worse and midway through I was essentially riding the tape on the off camber trying to find a suitable line. Did I mention I wanted my Limus’s yet? Even worse there was so much mud in my front derailleur that I had to force the shifter to get into the big ring. Meanwhile Matt was busy picking off a few less than stellar bicycle handlers while cursing his tire choice, or lack there of.
The fifth place rider caught me on the 3rd lap and he and I went back and forth the rest of the race. At one point, at the top of what can only be called the Tree Root Run-up, he dropped me and I thought he was gone for good. However, on the backside of the course on the last lap I caught him on a long flat drag. Taking James’ advice I drilled it and again passed him. I took the next two glacial up-downs perfectly. But, on the last off camber section I lost it and went off course. He passed me again and I was too gassed to chase him.
Matt and I crossed the line 5th and 10th respectively; he was no longer cold. After power washing myself and then my bike a third time we packed up, had some generic Mexican food with my dad and Linda and then got back in the sand buggy for the 4 hour drive home.
Overall it was a pretty sweet little weekend of rad getting with a few unexpected turns and a surprise showing from dad. What did we learn? Expect the unexpected in cross season and always plan accordingly (clothing and bike). You will fall repeatedly in the mud. Remember to remove the hacksaw when twisting a piece of metal. HTFU, this is cyclocross!
Harbaugh and TimmyD
Check out Matt’s helmet cam video on YouTube.
Special thanks to our photographer for the day and my dad’s SO, Linda Springer