Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bend

Alright - after much delay here is the final bicycle adventure of 2009 - Cyclocross Nationals in Bend, OR held December 10-13. After a relatively uneventful drive from Portland over Mt. Hood we arrived in Bend late Wednesday night. We had rented 3 homes for the Planet Bike team - 16 riders and associated crew made the journey. The area had gotten about 6 inches of snow a few days earlier and frigid temps had moved in since then. With nighttime lows below zero and daytime highs in the low teens I can't say we were looking forward to the cold, icy conditions. But, it was supposed to warm up - highs in the upper 20s to low 30s were promised. Ah - us Wisconsinites can take that, right?

The next morning we decided to acquaint ourselves to one of Bend's fine local restaurants.
Chow is an awesome little cafe and both the food and ambiance were very cool. My oatmeal blueberry pancakes were delish. It was then back to the house to kit up and head over to the course to get in a preride and spectate a couple of races that we had teammates in. Here's Jordan in the kitchen of our place.
We checked out the expo which had tons of cool vendors and tents set up. How cool is this bike? The Lantern Rouge was the creation of some talented local artists. Impressive.
We watched Greg and Gordy in the Masters race. The snowy course was incredibly slippery and some technical corners were causing plenty of crashes. For a more complete race write up of the day for the team go here
I rode a few laps along with a couple hundred other people. The course is open for only a limited time so everyone jumps on to get a look. It was hard to ride at speed but it was still fun. A technical course that was mostly flat. All snow covered and slippery in spots. We knew conditions were likely to change as the days went by and the temps warmed though.

After cleaning up we headed over to one of the houses for a fantastic pasta dinner made by Greg's girlfriend Kathie. Excellent food and a fun time to hang out with everyone.


Friday was a big day for the team. We had riders in every event on the day - 11 total. I raced my 30-34 masters race at 2pm but our first event on the day was Kaitie and Sarah in the junior womens races at 8:30AM. We were to the course by 7AM - it was still dark out.
Kaitie, Jordan, and Sarah warm up in our glorious tent. Walls and a heater sure are nice!
I had a blast watching the girls race. It was like 20 degrees out and the course was pretty slippery. They were in different age categories but raced at the same time. Katie Compton came out to cheer them on as well which was awesome - here she is encouraging Kaitie.
Kaitie had a great race and finished 2nd. Sarah smoked the competition and won her race easily. Check out the full day's race recap here.
The spectating didn't end there. It was then time for the boys. Ian rode a great tactical race and held on to win his race also.
Jordan raced after that and took 8th. I got on the course to preride a couple of laps before hopping on the trainer to warm up. While I was in the tent Planet Bike was winning more races. Here is Diane taking her third straight National title in the womens 55-59. Sweet! Go team!
And finally my turn had come. Due to my 5th place finish last year I was the second seeded rider. A little bit of pressure comes with that for sure.
I knew this was going to be a tough race given both the conditions and the competition. Some very strong riders were lined up like Howe, Winfield, and Studley. The temps were warming and a thin layer of mud was now covering several stretches. The technical course certainly didn't play to my strengths - sure it's a blast to ride but all the slippery corners scare me and I tend to ride too conservatively. Plan was to go out and race hard and have fun.

I had an alright start and was in the top 10 as we took the first corner. I was definitely riding a bit cautiously and taking the 180 degree corners pretty slow. I was riding some slight hills and the off camber after the stairs that were giving a few riders trouble.
After a couple of laps I was a little more comfortable and was sitting right around 10th. I wasn't too surprised when my rockstar teammate Linda - who was racing the age above me and started 20 sec. behind my group - passed me on the third lap. She was sitting in second place in her catergory - awesome.
With one lap to go I passed another rider or two and was hoping to move up as much as possible. This was it - all in. I knew there was little chance of me making the podium but I wanted to try to finish as high as I could.
On the back section in the woods I'm trying to power through when all of a sudden I slip and ride into a wooden post . . . hard. I don't even really know what happened but my bars are caught in the course tape and the tip of my right middle finger is throbbing. Several riders pass by as I try to untangle myself and I hop back on to finish off the race. What little confidence I had is now shaken and I am disappointed in my race. I end up finishing 15th. The crash really didn't change the race for me. Had I stayed upright I would have finished 10th or 11th - still further down than I feel I was capable of. But so it goes. Not my greatest race on a day when it matters a lot but I try to look to my teammates and share in the many victories on the day - 3 gold medals, and 2 silver. After being on the podium last year it's definitely a bit tough to watch from afar but it was awesome to see Planet Bike represent. My finger was gushing blood after the race - I'm still not really sure what I did but I had a pretty good cut near the nail and it was swollen. Thanks to Kathie for being the team doc and helping me with it!

What goofballs!
Kaitie and Linda with their silver medals - way to go!
The three National Champs - Diane, Ian, and Sarah - awesome performances!
After the podiums and cleaning up we headed out to a team dinner at a restaurant nearby the course. Question - how do you fit 10 people in a minivan? Answer - put the juniors in the trunk. Just a note that each had a parent present in the main cabin!
We had a great dinner together and took a womens team shot sans spandex.
Saturday was going to be a little more low key with fewer PB riders racing and a bit moe time to relax. Team write up here. Right away in the morning though we all rallied to watch Bob in the Masters race.
He was looking great the first few laps and was in 3rd place before a crash brought him down on the slippery course. A great ride nonetheless and he certainly had the best cheering section out there! It was nice for both Jonathan and Katie C. to come out to support Bob and chat with other Planet Bikers.
Since we were all together and that rarely happens we took a team photo with the crew.
KFC also presented Bob with one of her UCI World Cup Leader's jerseys. How cool is that!
We have such a great womens team that spans the generations - 3 stars and stripes jerseys and 2 silver medals in here - Planet Bike women rock!
After a bit of relaxing at the Old Mill shops and getting some coffee it was time to preride the course at the usual noon hour circus. The warming temps had made the course even muddier. Fenders recommended.
My finger was still really tender and I worried about shifting and braking with it and decided I'd ride the trainer instead. I enjoyed watching the afternoon U23 race and doing some people watching. There were a lot of dogs out there - several of them in messenger bags.
The spectators were wild - there were soooo many people out to watch and there was a very talented drum corp as well. The 8 or so drummers were rocking some chest shaking beats - it was incredibly cool.
A low key dinner with most of the team and then we decided to check out the Clydesdale race that was going on under the lights. A layer of frost now covered the course and quite a few spectators came to see the spectacle. Lights, costumes, crashes - what more could you want.
The 15 minute race was soon over and it was time to go home and get ready for the final day of racing. No need to get up very early as we raced at 11:15. This was it - final race of the season for most riders. All four of us (KFC, Kaitie, Linda, and myself) set up on trainers/rollers in the tent, music in our ears, and minds trying to focus on the gravity of the race
The rack of Ridleys waiting to race
It was time. With KFC obviously ranked #1 we were just pleased to fill spots 12-14. We lined up behind her and the sight of all of us at the start was pretty cool. Turning around to see over 80 women behind us was a bit scary. Over 100 on the line - biggest cross race I've ever been a part of.
Had an okay start - not perfect but good enough to be in the top 20 or so through the first corner. In the line and just trying to keep position and ride smooth. As expected, KFC was rocking it solo off the front.
With Kaitie and Linda both in front of me I settled into my position and tried to stay upright. I was feeling okay but was definitely taking a lot of the corners slow and getting passed by some riders. A few went down in front of me on the off cambers or other corners and somehow I stayed rubber side down.
Up in front of me Kaitie A. was having the ride of her life. She was in the group going for 8th place.
Linda wasn't too far behind her.
When all was said and done KFC won by over a minute on nearest chaser Meredith Miller. Well done.
Kaitie ended up an impressive 12th, Linda 14th, and I was 22nd. I outsprinted former National Champ Ann Knapp at the line and then nearly ran into the pile of racers/media that had converged just past the finish. I suppose sprinting for 22nd is pretty silly anyway.
All in all a great experience. Again I was a little disappointed in my race but this course certainly didn't suit my strengths. I was ecstatic to see Katie C. win and Kaitie A. have such a great finish. Linda's no slouch either - my teammates sure know how to set the bar high!

It was then time to join the ranks of the superfans and spectate the mens race. With Jonathan, Mark, and James all racing for Planet Bike there were plenty of guys to cheer for. Here they come - JPow in the lead.
The fans were unreal. They filled the course in the grassy area - it was so cool. An estimate put the crowd at 5,000 folks.
Jonathan was looking good and was sitting in second before a couple of bike changes pushed him back to 5th. He kept fighting though and finished 3rd for the second year in a row.
Mark was plagued with some bad luck and had 4 flat tires. Bummer. More photos and report on the team blog here

We stayed to cheer on our winner and podium finisher.
The guys
The ladies
And my awesome road teammate Ashley James won the U23 race which was within the Elite race - she was the top finisher under 23 years of age (for the record because Kaitie A. races the juniors 17-18 race she's unable to also race the U23 category). Nice job Ashley!
And so concluded Cross Nationals for 2009. Another couple folks flew out after the races and then we packed up and headed over to a party for Jonathan held by his sister. It was fun to chat with folks and a nice way to close out the weekend. No after parties for us though - we were tired and had a drive back to Portland in the morning. I helped Chris and David pack up the van in the morning - 15 bikes inside the van - I think that's a new record! Then Jordan, Jim, and I made the drive over Mt. Hood and to Portland to catch our flights. It was snowy but beautiful over the pass - and the minivan deftly handled the conditions.
And that's it - season wrapped! What a fantastic year it has been. I'll do one of those recaps - of course it will be after the new year but that seems to be the way I roll lately. The cross season especially has been incredible - lots of fun and all in all a pretty successful year. Thanks to everyone who made Bend and the entire season roll smoothly - Chris, David, Jim, Gordy, and Hans were all super helpful. Huge thanks to Bob Downs of Planet Bike for his commitment and encouragement of this team. It is an honor to be part of such a talented, hard working, and respectful team of people. The fact that this team has a strong presence of both men and women across all ages is unique and truly special. Check out this article by Milwaukee Journal blogger Tom Held which highlights the team and accomplishments at Nationals.

Thanks to all the sponsors who made it possible - Planet Bike, Edge, Ridley, Lazer, TRP

I hope this finds everyone enjoying the holidays and spending some quality time with family and friends. Thanks for reading!