Cyclocross Update with Rebecca Gross

 REBECCA GROSS | ZERO-D RACING

 

2017-2018 U.S. CYCLOCROSS SEASON
– NOVEMBER –
#3

The last full month of east coast racing also featured a detour west to Kentucky for a sample of the new Louisville December 2018 cross nationals course.  Having grown up in the northeast I have a number of friends and family I get to spend time with while I’m up visiting which is made even better by their excitement to have me stay.  It’s empowering to become intimately familiar with so many different areas across the country and be able to leave for a training ride knowing where to find happy riding.  There has been a wonderful feeling of welcome this season with each area I’ve been to and it really helps to set the tone that my adventures are valuable.

SEASON SCHEDULE:

3&7 Sep – Qiansen Trophy – Beijing CHN
15-17 Sep – Jingle Cross – Iowa City, IA
20 Sep – Cross Vegas – Las Vegas, NV
22-23 Sep – Trek CXC Cup – Waterloo, WI
30 Sep-1 Oct – KMC Cross Fest – Thompson, CT
7-8 Oct – Charm City Cross – Baltimore, MD
14-15 Oct – U.S. Open of Cyclocross – Boulder, CO
21-22 Oct – DCCX – Washington, DC
28-29 Oct – HPCX – Jamesburg, NJ
4-5 Nov – Derby City Cup – Louisville, Kentucky
11-12 Nov – The Northampton International – Northampton, MA
18-19 Nov – Supercross Cup – Suffern, NY
2-3 Dec – Ruts ‘n’ Guts – Broken Arrow, OK
9-10 Dec – Resolution ‘Cross Cup – Garland, TX
14 Jan – U.S. National Championships – Reno, NV

Heading up from D.C. to New Jersey included stopping for an evening dinner with a friend who has for two years now brought his family to come see the racing.  We discovered that not only had we gone to high school together we were also in the same class in 4th grade when the old elementary school year books were brought out.  It’s really incredible to feel connected over the love for cycling after so many years going in different directions.  I was also re-introduced to board games and got schooled repeatedly at Candyland in some friendly after dinner competition.

New Jersey is a bit of home for me. I spent the first few years of my life there, the riding is plentiful, and have family that I get to stay with when I come through.  Varying widely from my traditional lifestyle however, the experience can be throughly entertaining.

Um.. the cleaning lady folded my pajamas and left a 30 sheet toilet paper rose in each bathroom.

I can’t figure out the internet, I’ll be at dunkin’ doughnuts

When is it okay to wear a pink leopard print onesie in public?

It’s not just taking 20 pillows off the bed to sleep, it’s also 10 pillows off the chairs to sit down.

Why am I worried if I get a hair cut in NJ I’ll look like I stepped out of the 80’s?

 

The New Jersey race seems fairly flat but is deceivable climby.  This suits me just fine and I spent some time working the course in on Friday and getting the lines dialed, especially the stairs feature.

Day one was picture perfect weather and my front row start was marred only by a worn out cleat causing me to pull out of a pedal a few strokes into the sprint.  The length of the start climb worked to my advantage and even with the setback I managed to get back in the top ten and cruise until my futile attempts to ride the stairs proved to be too costly.

This was good reinforcement to quit trying to look cool and focus instead on maintaining momentum, making reliable choices, and going fast! With the days racing complete it was time to spin out and feed the resident deer!

Day two in Jersey brought rain.  Only 21 races into the season and mud was still an anomaly rather than a consistency.  I had a new cleat on my shoe and was hoping for a drama free start. The officials announced 1 minute to start before I realized I was still fully dressed in rain gear and had forgotten to shift into my start gear.  It took me the full 30 seconds to get my layers off and with the start coming at any time after the 30 second warning I opted to hope for the best.  The best was pretty rough as I missed the pedal and got way behind the groups momentum. I did what I could to make up ground and did manage to move forward the whole day but the front and was way gone by the time I made it through the crowd. Still it’s always a good day on the bike when you get to slide around in the slop!

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Jersey
What’s that in your leg band? Oh, just half the course
It’s extra watts if you wear your avocado
If only I would stop trying to be cool
I’m pretty sure that was borderline inappropriate
I’m waiting for the final race to be over so I can through the start and up to the registration tent
Where did the start official go?
Are those people really feeding the deer whole loaves of white bread?
That fluffy sandpit is not my muddy bikes friend
Theres something incredibly satisfying about cleaning up after a muddy race.
With Halloween a few days away I spotted a large pumpkin patch near my host house the previous week and had vowed to go visit.  I had every intention to just take pictures but I couldn’t resist.  Fortunately I had a few dollars on me and my picks were small enough to fit in my pockets!
While I was trying to avoid long drives for individual races, I’ve always enjoyed Louisville and who could resist getting a preview of the December 2018 National Champs course?! I made the drive from NJ down to Kentucky with stops along the way to ride, explore, visit with friends, and get swarmed by lady bugs.
While there was no rain for our race weekend, the Kentucky course had had plenty of it. You wouldn’t have known that a good portion of the course was flat because it felt like the entirety of your time was spent struggling up or across the super slick hills. There were enough features to keep it interesting but it felt like it took a really long time to get to them!
By the first days race the course had largely dried out, the irony of the weekend was that without the bike wash dumping water on the course we wouldn’t have actually needed to wash the bikes. The mud was still heavy and mode for slow going – the course laps were on average in the ten minute range (it’s usually around 7-8).

I had an amazing start necessitated by the first corner being one of the few remaining mucky spots and the high likelihood of a crash resulting. I couldn’t hold onto my effort though – some races you just don’t have it – and I let the majority of the field slip by while I continued to go through the motions and churn out slow circles. 

Sunday the course was much drier and tacky.  Having a penchant for climbing I was stoked that I was maybe going to get to do some more of that and less slow grinding up sticky hills. The only spot left wet on the course was from the power washers but a lot of ruts had formed to make the course more interesting. I didn’t quite have the start I had on Saturday but I made some solid passes to move back up, felt like I had something in the tank, and managed to hold on to a much more respectable spot.

L’ville
Irony of the day is the only mud left is coming from cleaning the mud.
Ever try eating a banana upside down?
Is that what it feels like to get run over by a dump truck?
The epitome of grace is falling on your face walking on the stairs in the pre-ride lap.
My dump truck turned into a bus and then a cement truck.
Are those hecklers drunk at 10 am?
I’m impressed at the degree the port-oopotty people underestimated the game here.
Pretty sure the neighbors think from the sound of things we’re getting it on the driveway.
No matter how I race it’s rare I’m not happy on the finish.  It doesn’t just feel good to push limits, it’s important to find those little things during each race that you improve on or are proud of yourself for.
I will confess I did an awful lot of complaining about how hot it was this weekend but man it was not bad bike cleaning in the dark with shorts on.
I decided to stick around a few more days to get some rides in and like that the temps plummeted to the point I broke out all my thermal gear for the first time of the year.
After a few days it was time to head back north.  I found some areas to explore in during the drive and squeeze in some training.  A roller coaster concrete jungle in Ohio was fun playground to explore on a cold but clear afternoon and I scored an endless dirt towpath along a canal in northern New York while also making friends and discovering a common bond with the lone folks out walking their dog on the path on a frigid day.
I made it back to Massachusetts to prepare of the Northampton Race.  The cold had definitely settled in at this point, the sun was out but the littlest breeze was biting.  The house was warm though with plenty of good company and snuggly fuzzy friends.
The NoHo course was dry on the pre-ride and I kept it brief to ensure all my fingers and toes stayed glued on.  Snickerdoodle the cat had the right idea to stay curled up in bed, it was bitterly cold out there!
On Saturday I suited up and joined the pre-riders for laps between races.  The temps were so low they had delayed the start of the day by 30 minutes and each of those spare minutes was spent putting on more layers.  I was feeling good on the first lap around, the sun was out and giving off an illusion of warmth. I moved passed a few masters guys, rounded a corner, and in slow motion slipped my front tire out and laid the bike over.  My brake lever hit the ground so hard in dug two inches into the turf and wedged there, stuck.  When I gathered my witts and went to pull the bike up I couldn’t, it had to be backed out the way it went in!
I shook that one off and hopped back on, I had to pause to right my twisted handlebars straight and then proceeded up one of the shallow stair, wide-open run-ups.  I promptly tripped on the first stair and landed on it with the full length of my quad against the edge and all of my body weight.  Wow. My ears were ringing. I had to step to the side and take a few breaths before continuing on.  I was wearing shoe covers and hadn’t fully tightened my shoes under them, I’m guessing that and numb feet from the cold was making me sloppy.

I was a bit worried about my leg, longterm I was sure it was fine but it sure didn’t want to do work just then.  I kept it moving on the trainer – set up out of the cold in the van.

This race features a pancake flat course that dives in the woods a few times to keep it interesting.  I could stand to have more woods and less pancake but it’s a good opportunity to challenge myself to stay strong on the grass flats.

I started getting cramps in my good leg towards the end of the race, I’m guessing it was compensating for the ouch on the other one.  I felt okay otherwise but without much pep or enthusiasm to attack. I stayed in a respectable spot in the top fifteen but was a bit bummed I didn’t make more happen.

The second day felt a bit warmer… it was a whole 37 degrees at the start! I opted no leg warmers which I regretted immediately after starting as the cold air was distracting me. The course was reversed which happily added more time in the woods and after an okay start a few riders started closing in on me.  I realized I was going through the motions to get around the course without really putting in an effort so I worked to refocus.  It worked well enough for me to hold my ground and score the exact same finish from day one.

NoHo:

Fish sticks? I can’t feel your fingers, I can barely feel mine.
That didn’t involve my head but it hurt so bad my ears were ringing.
“Hey, watch out for that spot, it’ll get you.”
Whoa it’s warm today.
Way to work on your tan lines in Nov!
The other guy wearing a child was going faster…well this one isn’t my kid!
That was completely dry yesterday, there’s got to be some science under all that mud.
One of my favorite parts of staying in Massachusetts is the huge garden my hosts have.  I love veggies and it was even fun to bundle up in the cold, grab a flashlight, and go out after the race to pick some kale for dinner. I also ate more sweet potato that I care to admit but with how large they were there was no shortage!
It was onward to New Jersey for the Suffern, NY race. There’s a lot going on so close to the city but there’s a fantastic park along the Hudson River that provides space to open up the pace a bit as well as scenic views of the George Washington Bridge and the city.
The weather was crisp with a few sudden rain showers but open space in what feels like chaos to a country girl is a welcome relief on the bike.

The Supercross cup is notoriously grassy and features impressive elevation changes but the real fun comes when the course gets wet.  Friday’s pre-ride was chilly and dry but rain was in the forecast for the weekend.

The precipitation was just getting started an hour from the start of the elite women’s race.  The grass had burned off from the earlier races and morning dew so the moisture was just enough to get the corners nice and slick.  I rode well, the climbs suit me perfectly but didn’t handle the bike as well as I could.  I did reel a few riders in after finding a new round of motivation the last few laps and it came to a sprint finish at the end, one of the few I didn’t hold on to for one sad spot out of the points.

The rain fell all night and I had high hopes for a legit mud race on Sunday. Alas, the wind picked up during the day and by the time we raced, the course was completely dry except for one or two isolated spots and a few wayward puddles.

I had a very clean start this round and was determined to hold the watts high from the beginning rather than kick in on in the last few laps.  This worked to hold me in a decent position, while the course was dry the corners had some added terrain variability and these are conditions I excel at.  I had a lot of fun going fast and riding smooth and held on for another sprint finish that I was able to maintain, this time for 7th.

Super NY:

And…, I just tried to stick the headphone jack plug in my ear
Get it, Fly girl!
The hills are my friends
I think the wind just lifted me up by my helmet
Did the waffle truck just park next to me?
I see why forks are becoming biodegradable, I might have just swallowed a piece of it.
Supercross wrapped up the tenth straight week of UCI racing and it was time to break for Thanksgiving and head west! I choose Hot Springs, Arkansas as my target destination this year as the weather had promises of temps in the 70’s and plentiful sunshine.
The drive was fun and I stopped each day to explore a new area.  First up was the north end of Shenandoah National Park and up the scenic Skyline Drive.  The ride was beautiful with few cars, well maintained roads, and the perfect sanctuary from the crazy east coast holiday traffic. I was inspired to drive to the south end for the following day and climb back up the other end of the park.
It was a bit higher elevation on the south end and consequently a bit colder but I stopped into an outdoor shop to ask if I could park the van and rode up the hill from there.  I rode out for two hours thinking it would be downhill all the way home and I must have missed all the descending on the way out as it didn’t quite work out like that.  It doesn’t get much better than running into a black bear (that doesn’t try to eat you) on the road!
Day three on the road I left Virginia and headed west through Tennessee, I picked a spot to ride near a lake with a cool bridge.  I detoured down to the water to look around which resulted in my very clean bike and shoes suddenly being less than clean.
The temps rose while I was out enough that I could clean up the van a bit when I got back.  It was a nice break and I got back on the road and continued to head west until later in the day.
 
The traffic became a lot lighter as most folks were having their turkey dinner and when I stopped I finally busted out the camp stove I’d been carrying around and had never used to make some ramen noodle and tea for my Thanksgiving Day dinner.
I finished up my drive on Friday with a stop through the Shelby Farms trails.  It has likely been 15 years since I had raced the Tour De Wolf in the late 90’s and the minimally techy trail was a perfect woodsy cross spin in the mild weather along side all the families opting outside.
I made it to Hot Springs later that evening and set up camp in the park near the race for the following day. I planned to ride a few hours in the morning before racing at 1pm.  I had some good sleep in a middle of nowhere/completely deserted park minus waking to an animal walking around on the top of the van in the middle of the night. I still can’t fathom how it got up there but I did see the silhouette of a cat slide sideways down the windscreen so it had a fun ride down. 
I made it out on my ride at a reasonable time with a two hour loop planned.  The weather was perfect and I had to shed a few layers along the way.  It was a bit late to turn around and backtrack when I realized my course was taking me onto dirt and through a designated hunting grounds to loop me back to the park.
Getting a bit anxious to get back and prep for the race and knowing I was on the most direct route I continued on through the woods until the road turned into a path and then faded out completely in the woods.  Sometimes being stubborn isn’t a virtue!
I shouldered the bike and continued through the trees and underbrush in the direction I thought was right but as I was getting stressed that I might be on the complete wrong course, I opted to hike a few hundred feet up to a ridgeline.
I had cell service up there and could see that I indeed was two miles (as the crow flies) from the van.  I started to hike back down on my original side but gave in to the feeling of claustrophobia and the urge to get back pedaling as I could actually see a road from the ridge top. I retraced my steps up and scrambled down the rocks on the other side of the mountain.
Besides having an actual tree fall on my head when I grabbed at it to steady myself (thanks for the helmet Kask!), I emerged from the woods in a backyard with more than a few posted no trespassing signs.  I was holding my breath for dogs to come running at me or an unhappy homeowner brandishing a shotgun but I gave the house as wide a berth as I could while tiptoeing (figuratively) through the crunchy leaves and enjoying the wave of relief to be wheels down and pedaling again even if it was on a sketchy private dirt driveway.
I amazingly showed up with ten minutes to spare for the start line albeit covered in scratches, blood, leaves, and carrying more gear than I could possibly need for a cross race, to the wide eyes of the registration folks. I pulled off my bottle cages, swapped into some jorts for an extra does of fun but it was significantly too warm to be racing in the flannel I had laid out.
Without a preview lap I got a bit lost after the first few turns and then I flatted on some rocks the first smashy time down them but I nursed the front wheel and managed to eat an entire giant jelly doughnut with one lap to go.
I was easily convinced to join the men for the next race after adding air to my tires and took the initiative to win the hole shot before I started tasting doughnut again. I then bonked hard from not practicing very good self care in the last few hours.
I asked my doughnut hand-upper if she knew where I could grab a shower and was immediately offered a place to clean up, wash some laundry, and crash for the weekend.  Bike people know whats up!!
We joined the rest of the local cycling community for dinner and drinks later that evening while I proceeded to be fully adopted into the Hot Springs bike family. This set me up for a fantastic week of perfect weather, long rides, backyard bees, hot springs breweries, coffee roasters, kitty snuggles, a Darth Vader shower head, and great company.
I vowed to steer clear of gravel from there forward but my four hour ride the next day took me into a whole lot more of it.  I have to say I was quite impressed by the riding there, not a lot of traffic and what cars I did see were polite enough.
The gravel would have been endless if I had wanted it to be, it was a bit chunky in spots for hard training rides and squishy cross racing tires but I’m already looking forward to coming back and riding more.
With some solid rest and training it’s time not head on to Tulsa!
WHAT’S LEFT!
Ruts N’ Guts – Broken Arrow, OK
Resolution Cross Cup – Garland, TX
National Championships – Reno, NV
Be sure to stay tuned for the season wrap up!
Photo Credits:
Laura Weisinger | Deghan Perker | Katie Busick | Sergio Garabito | D. Lowe | Rob Luikart | Karen Lynn | Angelica Dixon | Macon Conroy | Ethan Glading | Dejan Smaic | Meritt Harrison | Dirtwire.tv