In early October, Patrick issued a challenge by writing on the white board at the warehouse: “DTS Office Challenge #2: Complete a Bike Race this Fall.” Katherine, always one to get excited about a challenge, tried to organize as many folks as possible from Discount Tri Supply and Kyle’s Bikes into doing it.
(Our website used to be named Discount Tri Supply.)
Now that the season is over, here are our Complete a Bike Race Challenge race reports.
Oakley Night Cap Cross, October 19, Des Moines
For me, Oakley Night Cap is one of the high points of the cyclocross race season. The course is fun, technical, loud, and weirdly lit. You race along the banks of the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers under portable stadium lights with a live band playing in the center of the course and hundreds of yelling spectators.
Nervous with one night of cross practice and nothing but slow bike path miles under my belt, I got ready for a mass start and some bumpy and twisty riding! The field for Cat 4 was huge and, with my decision to place myself towards the back of the pack, I was left with only bad lines to follow. As the group left the straightaway on top of the levy and went down the sloping, off-camber side, almost immediately my bike kicked out from underneath me and I started to slide towards other racers and the river.
Flustered, I reminded myself that cyclocross was about finding a comfortable speed and holding it as other racers hopefully wore themselves out. The field started to string out as the spectators got rowdy urging the racers on with dollars and beer hand-offs while the band rocked on. Racers wore themselves out going up and down the levy and leaping over barriers and a rather large log. I felt my dismounts and remounts got better as the race went on, and I didn't come in last!
My day for the Night Cap race began at 7:00 a.m. Saturday morning to help design parts of the course and do the actual setup. Chances are, if you’re riding a really goofy switchback or some weird geometric pattern, I had something to do with it.
I chose to race the masters class for a variety of reasons, but the biggest motivating factor was the scheduling of the masters race: right before sundown, ahead of all the big-boy and big-girl races. I could race a full race without getting pulled, spectate, and drink beer. Reverse order of importance, by the way. While I do like racing ‘cross, it’s not for the actual racing value. I like to focus more on my mountain bike racing. I race cyclocross for exactly the reason ‘cross got started in the first place: to stay in some sort of shape during the fall and winter months.
The race went ok. I started out like I always do (at the back) and by the end I was 21st out of the 25 or 26 riders in my class. I ride once or twice a week this time of year, and if I passed anybody in my class, they probably had a mechanical failure, failed to make the start, or suffered some other horrific (but equally hilarious) fate. That being said, the rest of my night went great!
The moment I walked into work and saw Patrick's challenge on the white board, I knew I was going to do it. Mountain bike race season had just ended for me and it'd be fun to do a race I didn't care as much about doing well in. Oakley Night Cap Cross was held after dark on October 19th.
My only goal going in was to race as hard as I could from barrier to barrier. (I’m one of those who stops, gets off, picks up the bike, and walks over the barriers.) I pretty much stuck to this plan, but I found a short steep uphill where the hecklers were trying to goad everyone into jumping. Well, my mountain bike and I tried to give them a good show, getting bigger air each lap. That probably didn't help my results, but I sure had fun! I decided to sign up for another race this fall.
Having come from triathlon I need to throw all of my training and racing principles out for cyclocross. It’s all about ripping your legs off for an hour—not a lot of focus on staying below threshold or supplementing nutrition.
Oakley Night Cap Cross takes place outside of a local bar in downtown Des Moines, so it’s the perfect venue for bike racers. My race began fairly normal. A group of me and four other guys took off at around the second or third turn. This splintered the field and we maintained about a 30 second gap which we held until about the last two laps.
Sticking with the group worked out well until we began to lap the juniors and cat 5s. This made it very difficult to see whom you were racing against, leading to a couple near crashes.
The race went well and I ended up 5th. I love that regardless of how you feel about your performance, you’re going to have a great time at a ‘cross race whether you’re a spectator or racer. A friend of mine came up to me after the race. Seeing my red eyes and lack of energy she said, “You know finishing a cyclocross race is kind of like having a kid. Right after, you say you’ll never do it again. Then once the pain goes away and you forget about how much it sucked you find yourself signing up again for another… Oh, and beer helps.”
Spooky Cross, November 2–3, Altoona
On the Sunday of Spooky Cross I raced both the Men's 55+ and Women's Cat 4. Pulling my daughter's cross bike out of the back of the garage and using it without giving it a thorough look-over was rookie mistake #1. The chain kept slipping. Bringing my mountain bike but not putting it in the pit was rookie mistake #2. I was unexpectedly waaaaay off the back of the field in the first race because of these mistakes.
Two hours later I raced with the women on my mountain bike. It went more smoothly, but I was pretty tired and finished well out of contact with the leaders of my category. However, since I had never before done two races in one day, I feel that I really succeeded in challenging myself!
Jingle Cross, November 15–17, Iowa City
I am not sure what prepares you for carrying a bike up stairs, pushing it up Mt. Krumpit, or riding through a barn with a sand floor, but I am sure it is not marathon training. From the gun in each race my heart rate was through the roof, and by the end I could taste the burn from my lungs.
It is really fun and nerve racking to go into a race questioning fitness, skill, and preparation. Coming from a background of meticulously preparing for specific races months in advance, just jumping into something like this is a great way to remind myself that racing should be fun and sometimes it is better to just sign up and go for it.
Jingle Cross has a fun atmosphere, great courses, and numerous challenges. Climbing Mt. Krumpit was probably the hardest obstacle I have come across in a race. I can't imagine what it was like in past years when snow or mud were added in the equation. It was really fun to see the super fast guys hanging around their team busses and warming up on course. It makes for a much different feel than most small bike races I have been to.
Would I do it again, heck yeah! Do I hope there is less sand? Yeah.
Survivor Cross (and Iron Farmer), November 23, Living History Farms
Even though I’m not a huge fan of cold weather events, no one that has entered this race has perished yet. I cannot differentiate if the name “Survivor Cross” is ironic or right on the money, as it consists of nothing but actual survivors.
I signed up for the one lap event and chose to ride my single speed mountain bike.
I don’t know if people were holding back from maximum effort on the flats because of the ice, but when I came upon the first field crossing, the leaders were still in view. At the first water crossing I skipped up and over the rocks and didn’t even get wet. I wondered if the rest of the race would be this easy. Big surprise: it wasn’t.
I think the most significant part of the race was my mistaken hill climb from the 2nd to last water crossing. Other riders chose to go long and left while I chose to go short and to the right. Bad decisions have consequences, as I found myself completely red-lined by the end of that climb. Everyone else just got on their bikes and rode away.
I was 14th out of 96. I’m ok with that, but the real feel-good moment came a few minutes later. I got back to my truck, dumped all the wet and crappy clothing I had on, and jumped into dry socks and heated boots.
The Living History Farms race is the biggest mass-start off-road running race in the nation. Survivor Cross is the same day and follows the same course. The Iron Farmer is awarded to the best combined run and bike time. I like events that are difficult and combine running and biking. I’m pretty good at both (mostly the latter) and love to be off-road adventuring in the woods.
I woke up uneasy; temps were in the single digits and it was windy. Honestly, I usually like hard events but with wind chills below zero, I had to goad myself into doing the run. “C’mon, you wimp, embrace winter.”
I had a nice time chatting with people at the run start line and checked out some of the crazy costumes. I focused on trying to make smooth creek crossings and climb outs. The running water was better to hit then the rocks because the footing was better and splashes froze instantly. I knew I was toward the front of the race and imagined how nasty the course would be for the people behind me. Then I thought, “Oh man, the bike race later will be bad.
The bike race was windy and COLD! I went with my mountain bike for this one for traction. The first lap was pretty fast. I settled in with the first group trying to draft. I felt my wheel slip a little bit in an open gravel section. I rode it out but there was a domino crash behind me and I didn’t look back. Going up the frozen banks while wearing stiff-soled bike shoes presented difficulties particularly in the arches of my feet. After the race my pants were so frozen to my bike shoes that I could not get my zippers unstuck.
I am happy that I can compete in these sorts of tough competitions. In the end I was 7th in the “cross” race and 210th in the run (5511 finishers). This put me 4th for the Iron Farmer. I can’t wait for next year as I know that I can and will improve.
Iowa State Cyclocross Championships, December 7, Altoona
State Championship race day had a balmy high of 14°F according to my car thermometer. Some do, but I don’t mind these conditions. I geared up accordingly and stayed in my running car, heat blasting, waiting for the course to clear from the preceding race. I did one lap pre-ride and was ready to go.
As a new Cat 3, I get shuffled into the far back of the Cat 1/2/3 race in seeded starts. Today though, I had a killer start and was able to slide through a huge chunk of the pack smoothly. I like the frozen conditions, and my new Co-Motion CX Rex that Kyle’s Bikes equipped me with was destroying the course and accelerating like a gazelle. The first lap the field came back together in the technical sections, but by the second lap everything had sorted out and gaps began to form.
In the end, I was closing on two riders in front of me and if I had known that they were both Cat 3, I could have been more motivated and reeled them in, possibly. On the day I was 11th overall, the 3rd Cat 3 to the line, and first Iowan Cat 3. I didn’t expect to do so well and to lay claim the title State Champion. This is a confidence building experience and I hope that next year I can rise up to the pointy end of bike races.