Great races not always occur when you have a good result...

Race Report Sucker Brook Cross 09-25-11
by Jorge

As many of you know, back on early 2010, I began experiencing some knee pain to the point I stop training and later that year I got knee surgery resulting in a long recovery. This year I finally was able to train again (mainly ride and run) and decided to focus on cycling while laying down a foundation with easy running (and eventually swimming) for a triathlon comeback on 2012.

My only short term goals was to get in shape within my own limitations to let my knee heal 100% and try to be in somehow ok shape for the coming Cyclocross Season which started this September. At the end of 2009 I did my first ever race and went to complete 10 races total becoming one of my favorite sports.

For those that doesn’t know what it is, cyclocross is a mix of road racing and mtn biking; from Wikipedia: “Races typically take place in the autumn and winter (the international or "World Cup" season is September–January), and consists of many laps of a short 1.5–2 mile course featuring pavement, wooded trails, grass, steep hills and obstacles requiring the rider to quickly dismount, carry the bike whilst navigating the obstruction and remount. Races are generally between 30 minutes and an hour long, with the distance varying depending on the ground conditions. The sport is strongest in the traditional road cycling countries such as Belgium (and Flanders in particular), France and the Netherlands."

After my very 1st race I was hooked. Why? Well, coming from a triathlon background, riding cross was so much of a challenge I went from finishing on the front of the pack at tris to the back of the pack on cross. The races are tough, the level of intensity is pretty high, the technique skills are pretty important and quick thinking is a must to ride through the course. All this elements are not as important in something as Tris where the efforts are controlled and the races are usually over 1 hr long that quick thinking is not something is needed often.

I like cross very much because somehow I relate it to soccer, a sport I grew up playing and which I practiced semi-professional. I think both sports require similar competitive treats even though the sports themselves are pretty different. You must think I am crazy, but hear me out:

In soccer it is required a lot of practice to master skills handling and controlling the ball. In cross, you need to practice handling your bike to ride through corners, mud, mount/dismount, ride through rocks, roots, rain, hairpin turns, etc.

In soccer you also need quick thinking skills to make quick decisions when making a pass, striking or defending. On cross, you need the same skills to attack a corner, defend your position, pass a rider or prevent that rock that might make you shoot you over the bars.

Finally in soccer, you require the endurance to last 2 periods of 45 minutes each of constant back and forward with efforts where you are flat out sprinting and others that you are going through a steady jog. In Cross, you also need endurance to race 40+ minutes, but also you require explosive efforts to start the race, pass a rider or attacked a steep short climb.

I remember from my soccer years, my best performance days were those were I not only had the necessary skills and endurance to compete, but also, I was able to develop the mental skills to outperform the competition. By that I mean, to be able to make decisions faster than the opposing team and beat them to the “punch”. It was like all of the sudden I had this ability to slow down the game in my head and while everything was occurring in a blink of an eye, I could see things happening in slow motion in my mind.

I mentioned this because yesterday I had a similar experience when racing cross but I am getting ahead of myself. After my 1st experience on 2009, I ended the season with a few good races and hungry for more. But to be honest, back then I never really felt comfortable on my bike. I think I needed to go through the process of learning the races, equipment, etc. This year, I’ve made a point to practice as much as I can to get comfortable on my bike. Having great endurance can only take you so far on a race, if you lack the skills a slower rider can stay ahead of you because he corners better than you.

Some weeks back I bought some stuff at home depot to create small cross courses at a local park and I have been practicing it all as well as riding my cross bike on trails. On my race on Saturday two days ago, it is the 1st time I felt comfortable on my bike and I ended up having a good result. Yesterday I was excited to see what I could do in a big and seemingly competitive field. My fitness is still lagging a bit but I’ve been feeling stronger each week.

Fast forward to yesterday’s race, I somehow miscalculated the started time so I made it late to the staging area hence instead of starting on the 3rd lane as I was supposed to I was only able to squeeze into the 5th lane,which was my 1st mental mistake! Nevertheless I was able to gain ground at the start and made my way to the top 20ish and within the first few corners I was able to pass like another 5 riders.

At that point, things were going well, but then, my mental skills were still lacking and I made my 2nd mistake! Instead of focusing on my race choosing my lanes and seeing the corners, I was focusing on those behind me trying to pass me. It is important in cross racing to remain in touch with the front of the group to have a chance, otherwise, within a lap you can lose a lot of ground with those ahead. While I was trying to stay with them, I was doing it in the wrong way by focusing on what others were doing. This affected my ability to make good decisions with wide turns, excessive breaking or even unclipping to save going over the tape. That cost me a good 5+ spots in a blink of an eye.

I refocused and when I guy that I know is pretty fast passed me, I stayed with him and in fact together we began passing riders again; it seems like things began to turn around and I was ready to attack as my legs were feeling incredible good. Then, back luck stroke; after the run up stairs, I mounted my bike and to stay with the fast guy (and new pacer) I went wide on the course through grassy dirty terrain and just before the hairpin turn all of the sudden I was airborne and picking myself off the ground.

I didn’t know what happened, at first I thought someone touched my wheel but then when I tried to mount my bike again the chain was not moving at all and I realized a branch got caught up on my rear derailleur. I had to take that off, I had to put the chain back on and sort of adjust my breaks before I could keep going. All that took me what it felt like an eternity and quickly saw how a good 40+ people passing me. I went from like top 15 to like 60ish? (This is a guess based on some people I re-passed and how they finished). Still, I knew I was out of contention for a top 10 and quickly became rather disappointed. While riding I began considering quitting the race as there was no reason to ride and finish with a mediocre result.

As I was riding my way back to the starting line to DNF, all of the sudden a rider passed me and touched my front tire. I was going slow and to the outside staying off the way of coming riders, hence all of the sudden I got really mad because there was no reason to pass me that close on a straight. That turned "on" a switch in my head and my only mission was to catch and pass that guy. Within a few turns I was on him like a "fat kid on a cupcake" and within the next turn he was behind me. I then saw a group of 5ish riders ahead of me and soon enough my next goal was to catch them too.

I can’t tell you why but I kept pedaling as hard as I could and every time I would see someone ahead of me I was thinking: “catch that SOB”. I kept hammering; I kept feeling my legs were screaming and my lungs were burning but I didn’t care, I just wanted to pass more people. That’s when I had my 'soccer like' moment; while I had this burning desire to catch people ahead of me, I also had a calm moment. All of the sudden the race was slowing down. I knew I was going hard, I knew I was catching people, I knew I was having a great ride because I was bridging gaps with riders ahead of me with relatively ease, yet I could see all this happening in slow motion.

Usually I catch people on the straights to loose them on the turns, but yesterday it was different. I could see the turns before I was on them, I could tell where the course was heading and I was able to see what I needed to do before it actually happen. It is like I was riding in this tunnel and all I could see was the way to keep moving forward. Granted, I might have not been passing the fastest or most skill experienced riders since I was far behind, but this time around I was gaining ground on the turns, I was passing people cornering and I was able to see a move ahead before it happened.

That was the best feeling I’ve ever had in a race. At that moment, with nothing to lose, with a good placing out of reach and not afraid of going down (again), I just felt I could have been going. I honestly think if the race would have lasted another lap, I perhaps could have made it to the top 20, but it is easy to talk after the fact. The reality is that I finished 28 out of 84 riders on the 35+ Cat 3/4 and while I didn’t have the race I wanted initially result wise, I can say I had the best race ever in my relatively new cross experience in terms of effort and execution.

I still have more races to come and I am very excited to compete as I am still riding the 'high' from yesterday's race. As a coach I understand the physiological demands to train for cross specific fitness, yet as an athlete I feel very much like a newbie in this sport! I don’t know what the results will be, but I am going to try my best to get on the podium at least once before the end of the season. Still, if I continue to have races were I feel so f-ing good like I did yesterday, the result will be the icing on the cake.

Cyclocross, it is a challenging sport that makes me feel like a kid again!

1 comment:

Anne Signoret said...

Ese es mi hijo, y se llama Jorge Amine Martinez Signoret.
Estoy muy pero muy orgullosa de ti. te mando un abrazo!