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Race Report: U.S. Cyclocross Nationals
January 11, 2009 - Jesse Bell
Sometime around August or September I began entertaining the possibility of heading off to Kansas City for the cyclocross nationals. I only had one year of cyclocross under my belt, but would have two seasons in by the time December rolled around and was having a decent biking season. I figured it would be a good excuse to ride late into the season, make a little road trip, get some sushi and fly the flag for my buddy Matt and his company, Sisu Cycles. I was the 71st Masters 30-34 racer to sign up.

The UP CX season wrapped up on November 1 and I still had a month and a half before Nationals. I did a couple of CX races in Wisconsin as well as the Iceman in Traverse City to try to stay motivated and to keep fitness up, but admittedly my training dropped off, almost completely. In fact, when I hopped on the bike on Friday, December 11th to pre-ride the Nationals course, I hadn't touched a bike in 18 days. As it turns out, the low expectations caused by my lack of training made my results much more tolerable.

Michelle and I arrived in Kansas City on Thursday evening, after the first day of racing had been completed. Early Wednesday morning we headed out to the race venue, Tiffany Springs Park. The beautiful morning sun belied the sub-freezing temps. I was very thankful to not be racing this frigid day. The black ice on the pavement nearly sent me horizontal as I made my way to the packet pickup area. A large tent had been erected to offer shelter for peddlers of bike swag, racers warming up under propane heaters, packet pick-up, food vendors and such. Admittedly, I was surprised by the scale of the event. There were not thousands of spectators or a huge demo hall. The whole thing seemed smaller than I expected.

We watched the Junior Womens and Junior Men's races, which had kids aged 10-18. It was unbelievable! Just about every kid was suited up like a pro--wearing race suits and riding high end bikes. It was really great to see so many kids out there riding CX, and competing for a national championship, no less.

Later that afternoon I went out to preride the course. Temps had improved a bit and the ground had thawed. The course was laid out almost entirely on grass. After a few hundred racers rode the course, the grass was pretty torn up and could better be described as dirt. There were a couple of 180 degree turns. One can be seen in the photo on the right. At all points, the course was wide enough to pass. There were lots of off-camber turns, two sets of barriers and one set of stairs. Conspicuously absent were sand, singletrack, rock gardens and snow. They clearly didn't have us Yoopers in mind when they built the course. If a spectator stood in the middle of the course, they would be able to maintain a visual on their favorite racer for the vast majority of a lap. To me, that was a pretty cool feature of the course.

Saturday was race day for me. We had a nice breakfast, I got geared up and headed back to the race venue. The Men's U23 race was getting underway as we arrived, so I snapped a pic at the first turn. Wow, they were cruising! I wondered, “are we 30-34 guys supposed to be faster than the U23 guys?” I would think so, but there is no way in hell I can ride as hard as them. I knew I was in for an ass-kicking.

I warmed up on the trainer for about 30 minutes and headed over to the staging area when they called for us on the PA. About 80 racers had signed up for Masters 30-34, though I'd guess that 20-30 didn't show up. Andy Jacques-Maynes won this race last year and got the lowest number--500. The rest of us were numbered by the order in which we registered, and were staged in numerical order. I got staged in the very last row because I was one of the last to register (note to self—remember this next year). The good news was that starting at the back offered only one direction to move--up.

The race director gave us instructions: “slower racers will be pulled from the course, but will still receive a finishing position as long as they complete half the distance of the winner, if you leave the course you must re-enter at the same point, I will count down to 10, after which I will signal the start of the race, yada, yada, yada.

The start was signaled and the sprint to the first corner was on. Within 5 seconds I heard the unmistakable sounds of brakes locking, bikes tangling and bodies hitting the deck. The crash was right in the middle of the pack, so people were swerving to avoid the crash. I was nearly pushed into the metal barricades by another racer, but managed to stay upright and get around the wreckage, which looked pretty bad.

For the rest of the first lap, I could hear the announcer on the PA, “RACER DOWN AT TURN 1, WE NEED A MEDIC. RACER DOWN AT TURN 1, WE NEED A MEDIC.” Scary shit.

I can't remember too many details from the race. I just picked off riders as I could, bridged gaps and tried to maintain my position as I moved up. I dropped my chain while dismounting once, but was able to fix it as I ran with the bike.

I settled in with racer #546 and stayed close behind him. Early on my last lap I was kindly warned that I was about to be passed on my left. As the rider went by, I realized it was Andy Jacques-Maynes lapping me. I was also lapped by the second and third place finishers.

As I came to the last turn, leading to the finish line, I was directed away from the finish to the staging area. I figured they only wanted racers who were finishing on the lead lap to go through the finish line.

The race was over, and I was pretty damn happy about that.

There was a water truck hooked up to a power washer and a friendly guy there to wash bikes. It was great to leave the race with a sparkling bike. Especially since the bike was going in the backseat of my car.

Without checking results, we headed back to the hotel so that I could shower and we could be out of the hotel by checkout time. We got on the road and made our way to Minneapolis where I indulged in some delicious sushi. Although I would have loved to watch the elite races on Sunday, we would have had to drive through the night Sunday to make it back in time for work.

Two days later when the results were posted online, I learned that I had been DNF'd. I don't think I'll ever know why, but I was very disappointed. Mitigating my disappointment are the fact that I didn't have high expectations and that I know where I finished (37th).

All in all it was a great experience. It was pretty cool to compete against professional racers and to see so many people amped up about cyclocross. The 2009 CX Nationals are in Bend, Oregon on December 10-13. I've got it on my calendar, do you?

For photo gallery, click an image.

Author Jesse Bell laying it down in the U.S. Cyclocross National Championships, masters 30-34 age class.
Morning sun working its magic on the black ice.
Start of the U23 race.
A racer clearing one of the two sets of barriers.
The 2009 CX nationals course.
Bell waiting for the starting gun.
ntn kmk cycling Red Jacket - BlueSky Health xmatic the bike shop