Adjustments: The Duplicity of Racing the ‘18 US Open of CX (Thanks, Stages Cycling!)
All images courtesy of the great Adam Koble ©
Cyclocross: the sport that begins in September and ends in February, spanning late summer, surprise summer in late-Autumn, unprecedented winter in early-Autumn, warm rainstorms, freezing rainstorms, hail, and sometimes proper mountain sport-level conditions. It has it all. And, in its lap-based format, the course can mutate its features and gifts as rider after rider passes over the track—the victor isn’t guaranteed their victory until the line is crossed, as a large, seemingly concrete lead can come apart in a series of mistakes while riding the redline, or simply disappear in an accumulation of unforeseen misfortune.
Team S&M CX experienced two starkly different race days at the 2018 US Open of Cyclocross in Boulder, with Mother Nature ultimately calling Saturday’s sunny bluff and dumping 6-inches of snow on Sunday’s course, requiring both riders and pit staff to put their very best collective effort forward to capture a good day. It is a weekend that is sure to be referenced for years to come, with such a fun, ridiculous change in conditions. We will fondly remember it for this, for the incredible care from our rad sponsor Stages Cycling, for the gritty rides from our complete team, and for the wins Clara posted both days—her first UCI victories.
Enjoy Beth Ann & Clara’s perspective and seasoned advice, alongside these beautiful images from our friend, photographer Adam Koble.
Part I — words & ice-conquering tips by Beth Ann Orton:
Two weekends ago, we raced the US Open of Cyclocross in Boulder, Colorado. The demanding course at Valmont Bike Park is an American classic, home to 2014 U.S. Nationals, and purveyor of multifarious autumnal weather. This year, we experienced the duplicitous nature of a Colorado front range October with a 50 degree temperature swing between Saturday’s race start at 3 PM, and the beginning of Sunday’s snowy afternoon race. The changing conditions presented logistical challenges both feigned and adored by cyclocross athletes: freezing mud, ice-filled pedals and cleats, and frozen drive trains. We were traveling without our team van this race, and without the standard creature comforts proffered by a 2015 Dodge Promaster. Lucky for us, our friends and sponsors at Stages Cycling call Boulder their home, and saved us with their generosity. As such, I will tell you how…
Saturday gifted us an 75-degree cyclocross race. If summer cyclocross is your jam, you might like this, but I dread hot fast races, and willed myself to a lackluster feeling 11th place finish. No, hot cross has never been my forte, but it seems to be a new fall standard. And so, we persevere. Sophie had a strong ride starting in the last row and finishing in 12th place. Clara persevered in the heat and won the whole kit and kaboodle. That means 1st place. And that, my friends, is the best way to welcome fall. We are all very proud of her first UCI win.
Day 1: sunny, dry, carefree? Maybe. Fast? Absolutely.
Clara welcomed fall, and fall welcomed us overnight. I woke to the soft pattering of snow at 4 AM. Not really, but if you love snow as I do, you have a sense for these things. I actually woke at 9 AM to find a generous blanket of wet snow covering Boulder. Yes. Reprieve! Two cups of coffee later, I began to wonder how we were going to keep ourselves warm without the comfort of our team tent, walls, and heaters. Stages lent us a pop-up tent on Saturday, which was plenty for race prep on a warm day, but what would we do on Sunday?
I’d settled on a “stay in the car with the heat on” warm up plan when Stages Cycling came to the rescue by offering their headquarters – conveniently located across the street from the race course – as a warm space to warm up. They even gave us access to their employee indoor cycling studio. Mind. Blown.
I cannot over emphasize how much I love snow. I love it. What I do not love are frozen balls of ice for feet, frigid waxen fingers, and the general panic that accompanies racing cyclocross in sub-freezing temperatures. I experienced none of these things thanks to the generosity of Stages. We were able to preview Sunday’s snowy course, ride across the street to Stages, change back into warm clothes, have our bikes washed by a warm water hose, warm up on the indoor Stages bikes (or do jumping jacks and run up and down the stairs, as I chose!), race, then return immediately to the Stages building to warm up our frozen everything. Even so, I admit to experiencing approximately 10 minutes of sheer panic during post race shoe removal. But it could have been so much worse!
Sunday was also a much better race for me, a testament to the importance of our support crew. I rode into 7th place at some point, finally finishing in 9th place, with Sophie close behind in 10th place. Of course I always want better, but I’m carefully learning to accept small victories and be present in my racing. Most of all, I am having fun. Our pit crew was flawless, passing frozen bikes between three riders each lap: we had no mechanicals during a frozen, twenty-degree race day. This is huge – a testament to our team and the smooth running schralpability of the Kona Bikes Major Jake. And Clara? She won again. We are all very proud of her second UCI win.
I cannot express enough gratitude to Stages Cycling for making our Boulder weekend comfortable and flawless, and their power meters? We use them, on every bike, in every race, in every type of weather, and they are remarkable.
If you find yourself racing in horrid, snowy and wet conditions, here are a few things I’ve found to make life easier:
Vaseline and Bag Balm: apply them generously to hands, feet, and face. They provide a moisture barrier and retain heat.
Thin wool socks with aforementioned foot slather. Thick socks tend to inhibit circulation, especially if your shoes run small.
Hand and toe warmers – I don’t know if they help truth be told, but they make me “feel” warm.
Appropriate gloves: we wear the Castelli Scalda Elite and Spettacolo gloves, and they perform brilliantly in the cold. Before discovering these, I raced and trained in straight-up ski gloves, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that!
Warmer mittens: try wearing over-sized mittens over your race gloves, and removing them just before the start of the race.
Over dress at the race start: pack it on, don’t be cold before you race – start warm!
Wear something on your head: a helmet cover, headband, or hat will do the best job retaining body heat.
Drink warm fluids before and after your race, as soon as possible. I like to put my normal CLIF drink mix in warm water.
Do whatever you need to do to be warm before the race: this may, in fact, just be sitting in the car with the heat on high and running some laps in the parking lot!!
Have fun. Racing in gross weather is the best part of cyclocross.
Part II — words by Clara Honsinger:
In the few years that I have been racing cyclocross, the most essential tool I’ve developed is how to plan well for all the different features of a race. The night before a race, I’ve dialed in all the potential clothes I’ll need to wear, I’ve memorized the schedule of the day, and have visualized important traits of the course. The following most important aspect of racing I’ve learned is how to take a plan, turn it completely upside down, and adjust to the new conditions. A fantastic example of this phenomenon is our last race weekend in Boulder: on Saturday, we prepared for 60 degrees and bountiful sunshine. We arrived in time to pre-ride the course, slip into our race kits and roll around a moment before the race. I rode a paced race and studied where I could take advantages over other riders. Ultimately, I found myself with a solid gap and carried it in for my first UCI win. Then Sunday morning, we awoke to frigid temperatures and 5 inches of heavy snow—not the squeaky fluff typical of the Southwest, but the damp and sloppy crud more closely associated with Oregon. Thoughtfully, Brenna took cool action, reaching out to our solid sponsor and fantastic hosts, Stages Cycling, to edit the race day plan. In the meantime, I frantically repacked my race bag. Through the kindness of Stages, Brenna was able to secure us a warm place to dress, access to an entire studio of Stages’ indoor cycling bikes, and a hot spigot to rinse the mud off our shoes after the race. During this time, I was able to determine that I would need to wear my thick wool socks over the standard-thickness wool socks. When it came to the racing, there were still adjustments to be made: lines in the course froze and thawed, ruts gained depth, and our solid team of support kept bikes clean and shifting in the pits. Through the majority of the race, I carried momentum and focus, even with a few bobbles. Eventually, with a lap and a half to go, I found myself with a delicate lead. In those last few minutes of the race, I charged on while trying to keep as clean as possible as the frozen mud accumulated to my bike. In the end, I got my second win and we left Boulder feeling even greater gratitude to our friends at Stages. Last weekend was a great reminder of the planned uncertainty that is quintessential to the sport of cyclocross: temperatures can plunge, equipment can break, and ruts can change, but we just try to be ready to adjust.