This past Sunday, November 23, was the final race in the Vancouver Cyclocross Coalition (VCXC) series. A lot of people continue racing into the new year, especially down in the US, but for me this was going to be the last race in my Cyclocross season. The venue was Aldergrove Lake Park, and by some miracle, the rain was holding off. The course was still pretty soaked, and the wind was howling, but it was far from horrible CX weather. I always feel lucky when I can race CX without my hands (or entire body) freezing and going numb. I hadn't planned on racing my bike this deep into November, but I was leading the masters points series, and had a legitimate shot at keeping the lead if I raced Aldergrove. Plus...a hard anaerobic effort fit nicely in my final taper week into cross country Nationals on the 29th.
I got out to Aldergrove with plenty of time to do a couple laps of the course, and see what I was in for. As expected, the course was a serious grinder! It took all the power I had just to keep moving smoothly through some of the sections. This was a course that favoured the 'big-power' guys: long open sections, deep water, and hardly any corners. I would have to race smart just to survive. No crazy anaerobic efforts, just a smooth, threshold output (whenever possible).
The best part about leading the series is that I get called up first. Which means I was able to choose the fastest-tracked line at the start...and I sure needed it! Right from the gun, the guys with big power shot past me into the first corner. David Kvick and Matt Drown jumped ahead, and then Brad went after them. When I saw Brad go past me and up the first little hill, I knew he was going to win the race. He was just flying...it was that obvious.
Those three guys were gone after the first lap, and I settled in with two Atomic riders; Christian and Colin. I knew that there was little chance of me bridging up to the lead group of three, but I was pretty sure I could hold on where I was. Colin was right behind me in series points, so as long as I could finish close to him, I would keep my points lead (David, though ahead in this race, was just a few too many points down to catch up). Race smart, don't take any chances, and don't let Colin get away. Sounds like a simple plan...until I hit the long/fast descent, and it became obvious to me that I had no rear brakes...NONE!
How the hell did I wear through my rear brakes already?
I took a quick look and realized that It wasn't as bad as I thought...I must have clipped the brake calliper on a dismount, and popped the cable out. It was an easy fix: when I got to the top of the long run-up, I stepped aside and put the cable back in place. Both Colin and Christian went past me, but I got right back on their wheels.
We shuffled our positions back and forth for the next few laps until Christian fell off the pace (from a crash I think). Colin moved ahead of me, and stayed there. I was just following his wheel, and protecting my position. There really wasn't anyone close behind us, so I just needed to avoid a crash or a mechanical. I'd like to say that I had some heroic sprint at the end and got past Colin, but that's not the case. He put a small gap on me on the last half lap, and I wasn't able to close it. I definitely raced as hard as I could out there. I minimized my weaknesses and got the most out of my strengths, and managed 5th place. For me, 5th place on that course is a solid result. All the guys ahead of me were just stronger.
Leading the points series was never a goal for me...it just happened. I don't want to pat myself on the back too hard though. A few of the top masters racers didn't compete as masters this year. Bob Welbourne (our masters National Champ) and Kim Steed are the two big names that would have lead the series, but they raced Elite this season. Plus, Matt and James raced several Elite races, missing out on masters points. Both of those guys would have been right in the mix with me. Then there is Brad Issel. The guy is seriously strong. He raced one fewer races than I did (he missed Vanier and Mahon), and he had three wins this year. Had he gotten in one more race, we would have been within a point or two of each other....but most likely he would have taken the series title.
The interesting thing about competing in a series is how consistency usually wins out. I missed one series race this year, as did almost all of the other top masters (except Brad missed two). I had ZERO DNF's from mechanical issues, as opposed to multiple issues every other cross season. I didn't win a race (though I had my chances), but I was always near the top....consistency.
It's pretty impressive how strong the over 40 field is (actually, over 35 yrs old now). There has to be 10 guys (or more) who could win a race on any day. With several of guys moving up to Elite this year, it's most lilkely that I will move up to Elite next season. I am actually looking forward to it. I like the idea of longer races (60+ minutes, as opposed to 45), and having to work my ass off just to not get lapped!
For now though, my bikes are back into the dark part of the basement. I have some serious running to tackle. With The Coastal Challenge coming up at the end of January (kind of the running equivalent of the BC Bike Race), I need to start grinding out some big miles and some big vertical. I'll be getting VERY familiar with the North Shore mountains again!