Cyclocross Racing with Craig Spencer

Spencer CX

What is the secret to winning a Cyclocross race?

The final race of the SoCal Prestige Series was in one week. I have come in second four times. What skill, technique, or strategy am I missing? I’ve been watching all the UCI races this year. I watched dozens of videos on how to “do everything” in cyclocross. I couldn’t find any new information. My bike handling is good, my nutrition is dialed in, and fitness is in check. No holy grail to winning has been spotlighted.

Maybe the answer is in the past. Let’s review my season, or at least my four 2nd places. The first 2nd place came on the 5th race of the series, SpookyCross. I was in second place when leader Dave crashed with 2 to go. Bummer, but hey I’m in the lead now. On the long climb on the last lap I got passed by Peter and couldn’t keep his wheel. The very next day at El Dia de Los Muertos Cross I was feeling strong and comfortable. With a clean start and through the first corner I settled into second, staying on Travis’ wheel. At one and a half laps to go we passed slower riders in one of the sand pits. Travis made a clean pass but I bobbled and had to dismount. The gap opened and the race was over. My second 2nd.

Not too shabby! Two second places, I must be in good shape and on the verge of reaching the top step of the podium. Race #7 Anza Crossing, a technical course with a long off camber “S” turn grassy section, steep dirt climb, and lots of loose dirt hair pin turns. I made the first corner in the top 5. The group was staying together until somebody ahead of me rolled a tire and crashed on the grassy S turns. I was able to make it around him cleanly and move up a couple of spots. Lap 2 I passed my friend Josh to take the lead. Unlike a road race, there isn’t much drafting so I didn’t mind being on the front. I stayed there until the dirt climb when Bill passed me on the last lap, and I couldn’t close the gap AGAIN. Damn It.

Races 10 and 11, UCI CXLA, were at El Dorado Park. Race 10 was awesome. I got the hole-shot and settled into a lead group of three. Travis, Josh and I worked together to stay away. But, with less than a half lap to go I dropped my chain. I was able to pick it up quickly but they were gone. I held onto 3rd place. Race 3 was a calamity. I arrived late, rolled up to start line with a near flat rear tire, had a terrible wheel change, came out of the pit in last place, worked my ass off to pass 11 guys and finish 12th. Oh ya, I almost forgot, at the start when we came on to the grass I hit a gopher hole super hard and my handle bars rotated down about 3 inches. That was an unpleasant position for the entire race. No hidden secret to these losses; better bike maintenance.

I’m in the groove. Got my race preparations dialed in, my bike is a fine tuned machine, and we are back at Verdugo Park for race #12, TurkeyTrot Cross. I know the course, which of my competitors to not let get away, and it’s another warm sunny SoCal day. The whistle blows at the starting line and I immediately fall into Josh and almost crash us both. But I quickly recover and at the end of long starting straight away he takes the hole-shot and I’m only 2 spots back. I move up one on a grass section, then Travis bobbled an off camber turn. YES! I’m in second place. Josh has a small gap but I know he was sick this week so I’m not going to panic and chase him down immediately and risk blowing up. Famous last words! He held his lead and I did all the work in the chase group. My friend JP helped with these words of encouragement late in the race, “for God’s sake Craig, Put some power down”. And with that we dropped the wheel suckers and I got my fourth 2nd place.

So, here we are today, the series final, SCPS#15 Santa Cross at Irvine Lake. My 45+B category races at 10:40AM but I want to get some good course recon and warm up in so I sign up for an earlier cat C race. The payoff comes on the first lap where I over-cook a corner and go full speedway style 20 feet into the tape. Memo to self, slow down for that turn!!! But it came with a price; I rolled my rear tubular off the rim. It’s not the end of the world. I throw on my training wheel and still have a spare bike in the pit area. I also figure the strongest rider will win today because the course is not technical. Josh gets the hole-shot and I’m right on his wheel. Every time I look back, the field gets thinner and more gaps are forming. He is setting a blistering pace and I’m wondering if he knows there is more than one lap in this race. As we start the second lap I feel the urge to pass, take the lead and push the pace. I soon notice Josh is fading back, series leader Travis is having an off day, and a split group of three are chasing. Race assessment time: Bill is real strong but has crashed in several races, Ara also has a great motor but new to CX, and then JP who can out climb me usually but not today or he’d be in front of me. I keep it full gas and put all my skills to use. But with 3 laps to go, Bill is on my wheel. My only chance of winning is to not let him pass. But he sees a moment of weakness after the sand pits and passes me. I stay with him and retake the lead a few corners later.I keep him at bay another lap.He passes me again at the same spot but this time I’m gassed. He opens a 5 second gap as we start the bell lap. I make some big efforts to bring him back but it’s over. Runner up again.

Maybe you know what the secret is to winning. I think I do too. Strength, stamina, skills, and good equipment all play a pivotal role. Luck or lack of it is an intangible asset that is an excuse for not having enough preparation and training. Most important is desire. I really did want to win and I did the best I knew how every week. I’d like to thank Dorothy Wong SoCal Prestige for putting on such a great series of Cyclocross. Also, the guys in my category who pushed me to the limit, Travis, Josh, JP, Bill, Dave, and Matt.

Thank you to our sponsors: KHS Bicycles, Maxxis Tires, JLVelo, Serfas, Shimano, Velo Saddles, Praxis Works, Xpedo Pedals, Kali Protectives, NDXSports, Bike Religion, Bicycle Blue Book, WD-40 BIKE, Chamois Butt’r, Cycling Illustrated, Rennie & Associates, Kramp Krushers, Ultra Cycle, 360 Camera, and Q2.

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