Double Crossed

Posted by on Oct 27, 2011 in Bike | 8 Comments

I’ve filled this space with glowing, hyperbolic praise for cyclocross several times over the last year.

I love ‘cross.

That’s not a secret.

But I’m also competitive. Overly so. I don’t just want to race. I want to win. That I almost never win at all is an obvious, glaring, bald-faced reality that I happily ignore. I’m new enough to cyclocross, and delusional enough about my own fitness and ability, that that reality is easy to hold off and evade. It doesn’t help the delusion at all when I finagle myself to a top-10 finish in a crowded and deep field, as I did a few weeks ago. Like golf, one good shot will keep a hack coming back again and again. And so I continue to race. Again and again.

I was overtly excited about racing twice in two days last weekend. Friday night under the lights, and Saturday morning at Wheeler Farm. Double cross.

The first race started well enough. But just when I was feeling strongest, I flatted. And then flatted again.

The second race never really started at all. On the first lap, I attempted to make an inside pass on a tricky, high speed corner. In hindsight (naturally) that was a remarkably ill-advised move. I crashed. Crashed out.

Double-cross weekend: 2. Grizzly: 0.

Afterward, I was ready to retire.

And so I did. For about an hour.

Nevertheless, I was grumpy.

Why was I grumpy?

Because there is an aspect of cyclocross racing that has always irked me. That has always seemed forced, or unnecessarily manufactured. The hole shot.

More specifically, cramming 50 racers onto narrow, technical singletrack 30 seconds into a race can be disastrous. Especially so at Wheeler Farm, where the racing is notoriously cramped.

Now, I know that the hole shot and fast, furious, chaotic starts are a part of bike racing. And especially a part of cyclocross. But I don’t believe that the first moments of any race should define the race itself. I am terrible off the line. Really, really terrible. And while I don’t mind working my way through the field, I do get frustrated when that opportunity is rendered almost impossible. When a 50-minute race is all but over after 60 seconds, it’s easy to become irritated.

Wheeler Farm is a great ‘cross venue. And the folks at UTCX do a fantastic job designing the courses every time we race at the farm. But I frequently struggle there. Races at the venue can quickly become a clustered conglomerate of wheel-to-wheel, stop-and-go crashes, dabs, dismounts, and all other manner of mishaps. The chaos that cyclocross readily encourages is one of my favorite attributes of the sport. But chaos, I think, does have a point of diminishing returns.

There are two remedies: Start faster. Make the course wider.

I have control over one of those remedies.

And so, you can probably guess what I’ve been working on recently.

Although, perhaps there is a third solution: Patience.

My crash on Saturday was my fault. I was trying to make up far too much ground, too quickly, and too soon. Had I been a little more patient, I could have used the parts of the course that did allow for passing and chasing, to pass and chase. But instead, I attacked where I ought to have waited. I was impatient, and that cost me my day. But that is yet another reason I love cyclocross. The strongest rider does not always win. The fastest rider does not always win. No, ‘cross races are won by the smart and the skilled. Which sadly, are two attributes that have rarely applied to me.

Alas, I can learn. If slowly. And slow is faster than crashed.

Meanwhile, the cyclocross season marches onward. This Saturday is another race. Another chance to improve (or not). Another chance at that elusive podium.

And the venue?

Wheeler Farm.


utah cyclocross

Photo by Greg Norrander


  1. Papa Bear
    October 27, 2011

    Hey, Grizz. I love your posts about ‘cross racing. Keep it up! You guys are crazy tough to be able to do that!

  2. Flahute
    October 27, 2011

    Hence the reason why I keep pushing riders back back back … to give you room before you barrel into the first turn.

    When I say “line up at XXX”, don’t line up 100 feet in front of XXX, unless you want the start to be a fustercluck.

    Not directed at you, but at everyone … sometimes officials do have riders’ best interests in mind.

    • Grizzly Adam
      October 27, 2011

      Last week our start started to get comical. “Back up guys.” Then we’d move six inches. I don’t know what the course this week will look like, but if we use the grass again, I’d start the bigger categories on the opposite side by the line of trees, so the first 400 meters or so are on the wide grassy area.

  3. will
    October 27, 2011

    Hi Adam,

    You articulated exactly how I feel about the Wheeler races. Back in the days of 20-person B-men’s fields, Wheeler was the best course of the season. But this last time I found it a constant dab fest on the small climbs with recovery periods in the singletrack (because invariably you get stuck behind someone…), followed by intense sprints on the few wide-open parts. While that presents special challenges that are fun in a way, but its not really a race that you can contest unless you get a call-up—not that I’m saying I’m worthy of one, because I’m not. However, it would be great if they went off-course and used a wide-open space for a (much safer) mass-start field sprint to make the initial selection. That’s essentially what happened at the fairgrounds race (and I did much better), and has not happened since in the races I have done this year.

    This however this is moot because the Wheeler venue’s days are numbered because its too small for other reasons…


    • Grizzly Adam
      October 27, 2011

      I hope we can work out a happy medium for parking at Wheeler. I really do enjoy racing there. It’s the closest venue for me, and by far the most fun for my family to attend. My kids had a blast last week.

  4. mark
    October 27, 2011

    At CX nationals last year, the start was on a city street–full width. In the 100+ rider Men’s 35-39 field, there was a huge pileup in the first 50 meters. Which is to say I don’t think it matters how wide or straight the start is, it is always going to be chaotic. Wide, straight starts just mean you are going even faster when you hit the first turn. There will always be mayhem in the larger fields. But as you mention, that’s part of what makes cross fun.

    Starts are a conundrum. I’m a great starter–if I’m on the first two rows, I can usually get the hole shot if I want to. But I inevitably implode on subsequent laps. And the faster I start, the sooner I implode.

    There’s no simple solution, not in course setup, not in tactics. That’s a big reason I keep coming back.

  5. will
    October 27, 2011

    One other option I’ve seen at eastern cross races is to set up a wide open grass circuit that riders do a couple of short laps on before you enter the real course. The circuit has some corners so people dont go too fast, but there are no constrictions that squeeze riders either. The circuits are long enough that nobody feels they need to open up an aggressive sprint, but its a good test to get people thinned out and in the right order—-effectively a pre-race qualifying heat… But whatev. I’ll have fun at wheeler no matter what. Even when I flat, like I did last week…

  6. Bob
    October 27, 2011

    nut up, buttercups.

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