Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Iron Cross X

Iron Cross
   The forecast for Iron Cross X was for cold temps and plenty of rain.  Conditions I usually excel in.  I think I actually ride faster in the rain.  I wasn't too thrilled about the 42 degree part for the start of the race, though.  It was gonna be tough to dress appropriately. The more clothes you wear, the more rain you can soak up.

   However, I woke up (before my alarm - always a good sign), looked out my Carlisle, PA hotel window to find the parking lots were dry.  Perhaps the course wouldn't be a muddy mess - at least for the start.  I loaded up the car.  No rain.  Drove to Pine Grove Furnace State Park (well, the wife drove but I didn't wanna give the wrong impression by saying that I rode to the park).  No rain.  Registration, bike prep, warm-up, pre-race meeting.  No rain.

  So we started the race (with a bit of confusion as to where and which direction the start actually was) with very overcast skys.  I actually got a call up for series overall rankings but couldn't find the front of the field to take advantage.  Turns out it didn't matter much.

   It was a mass start, so 300 riders all roll off at the same time.  I wanted to make my way to the front because I didn't want to get trapped behind a lot of slower riders thru the "death spiral" and the other traditional CX parts at the start.  I never did see a death spiral.  We did a small loop through the state park - including a sandy beach, and then onto the road and fire roads.

  There were KOM/QOM awards atop the first climb.  It must have been a pretty big deal because the lead group drilled it from the start.  I was having a hard time keeping up.  The pace never let up.  I was feeling overdressed with a long sleeve jersey, gore outer shell and knee warmers but felt that it would pay off when the rains came.  I checked my heat rate and it verified the feeling that I was pegged trying to keep up.  I decide to pedal along at my own pace until the terrain and climate suit me better.

   I typically don't get real good starts in these longer races and therefore I usually spend the day passing other riders as I work my way toward the front.  Maybe not the best strategy, but it's motivational.  So I was feeling a bit disconcerted as riders were occasionally passing me on some of the climbs on the road.  I decide to ride with a pace line.  It goes well, but it feels slower because I'm doing less work to go the same speed.  On a sharp right corner a rider goes down hard on the wet pavement.  It's all I can do to avoid running over him.  The side knobs on CX tires don't bite into cold, wet asphalt.

   The last part of the climb to the KOM is gravel road and I notice I'm pulling away from those around me.  When we hit the first rocky descent it's game on - I'm in my element.   I've got 40c knobby tires and I'm not afraid to use them.  From here we go to wigwam (I think) - a ridiculously steep run up that requires shear determination to keep putting one foot in front of the other to keep making progress.  I'm too tired to go on, but I feel like if I stop I won't be able to start again.  So I keep plodding along and actually pick up a few spots through this (literal) climb.
   At the top is a power line climb, complete with loose, big rocks that aren't easily navigated by bike or by foot.  At the end of the power line is aid station 2, where my wife is waiting for me.  It is my one planned stop.  I decide to drop my jacket.  The rain hasn't come and all the hiking and climbing is making me pretty warm.
   A chilly descent followed.  It's a blast on these gravel roads.  They are usually pretty smooth, so if you are careful to avoid the rocks and potholes you can spend quite a bit of time at 40+ mph.  Of course descending means more climbing, but the climbs aren't super steep and the miles click off rapidly.  Just before aid station 3 (or maybe it was 4?) there is fresh gravel.  The bike sinks in and it's difficult to find the traction to pedal through.  It also makes descending quite hairy.  The bike would start bouncing and bucking over the rippled  gravel and it would want to take the bike in every direction but straight.  But this section is short and it was back onto fast, smooth gravel road.
   With the miles winding down we are directed on to some single track.  It was miles of fast, flowy single track.  The only thing slowing me down is the fear of flattig on the few rocks that are on the trail.  I never realized they had this many miles of smooth single track in all of PA.  We never seem to ride on them at Trans-Sylvania...
   The trail does get more gnarly at the end.  It becomes double track.  I think every tree that has ever fallen in Michaux Forest fell across this trail.  There is endless bunny hopping of downed trees.  My arms are actually getting tired from pulling up on the bars to clear the trees.  One of them I didn't clear and I end up over the bars. 
   Then I get to the last run-up.  Well it's actually rideable with the right gear and motivation.  I didn't have quite enough of one or the other and I hike the bottom, but I hop back on to ride the last half.  It's ridiculously steep and it's all I can do to keep telling my legs to keep the cranks turning over.  It's not real technical, but it makes up for that with severe steepness.  At the top is "Larry's Tavern" and he's open for business - handing out beer to all takers.  I pass and prepare to drill the last couple of road miles to the finish.
   I learned never to let up because I got out-sprinted to the finish by a rider who I had been towing along the last road section.  Oh well, I had a good finishing time somewhere around 4:15/4:20.  Good enough for 7th in 40+.  Garth Prosser and Gerry Pflug would take the top 2 spots in my class.

   It never did rain until the 6+ hour drive (ride) back to statesville.

   My congratulations to all the finishers on this cold day.  It was a great event and I look forward to racing Iron Cross XI in 2013.

Sees you on the trail!

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