by John Funke
Race: NCNCA District Cyclocross Championships
Location: Gibson Ranch County Park, Elverta, CA
Cat: 45+ A's
This was a truly epic race and the last of the CX season so I had to file an actual report. Leading into today I was worried because I've never been a great mud rider, and I knew it was going to be an absolute mess today. Furthermore the field was pretty stacked with not only the guys that have been tearing up the 45's all season like Chris Peck and Matt Shelton, but also Brian Finnerty and Murray Swanson, who have been racing and winning Elite races all season. I have pretty much been doing all 35+ races so I haven't really raced any of these guys this season so I was anxious to see how it went.
Leading up to the race today I was really worried about tires, especially knowing how much off-camber they had advertised on this race. A lousy tire will just keep bumping you down off the high line until you slide off the course. Hobbs graciously offered his bike with some decent tires for me to use today, and this setup, including the disc brakes, proved far superior to my own setup in these conditions.
Mud conditions were pretty much the worst possible - the course was 99% grass (mud), about 200M of pavement, and some sandy sloppy sections by the lake, and wound around in itself up and down hills and u-turns and long off camber sections. This was not a wet mud that slides off, rather it was the consistency of peanut butter but mixed with grass so it clogged up everything. In the Junior race, Liam's bike (old Serotta with very little clearance and canti brakes) was so choked up after 3/4 lap the bike was basically unrideable and he quit in tears. There were a zillion small climbs on the course that were rideable but we're so churned up they were smarter to run because your bike would collect so much mud if you tried to ride it. Hence the race was a balancing act of strategically choosing lines, hammering when you could, deciding when to hoof it to avoid gooping up your bike, and there was even a section along the lake where the smartest line was to ride into the lake about 4 feet from the shore to wash off some of the muck...which I did every lap.
So anyhow, I started in the third row because I haven't been racing USAC and didn't get a call up (3/4 of the 30 or so riders did), but made up for it on the turn onto the grass as some of the more tentative guys slowed down and I squeaked up to the top ten, then worked my way up to Murray's wheel after some other riders dabbed. Brian was already 5 sec ahead by that time and Murray and I started trading places and keeping Brian close. We caught the tail end of the 35+ race within 1/2 lap -way too soon - and the rest of Lap 1 was getting around guys while trying to ride the best line. I lost Murray but got him back and noticed we couldn't see Brian anymore - I thought he'd dropped us for good but it turns out he had mechanical and dropped out (which I didn't know until afterward). I was faster than Murray on the running sections but Murray was clearly superior on the corners and off-cambers - he's a compact guy and l think that helps considerably in these conditions. Plus he was getting fresh bikes every other lap (or more) as he had two identical bikes and a pit crew to wash them off. So I lost Murray in one off camber section and he got some daylight. I held him close for a couple laps but honestly the bike was getting heavier, gears were skipping (understandable if you saw the amount of gunk in the drivetrain and derailleurs), and I just kept focused on riding hard and smooth and minimizing mistakes while passing the 35A's, Elite A's, and Single Speeders - which kept me going because there was always someone to pick off and it felt good to be plowing through the younger kids. I passed Mark Howard in the 35s and even caught Rainier in the A's, among others. In the end I think Murray had a good minute on me but I think getting a clean bike every lap or so was a pretty huge advantage. Hobbs' bike was probably 6-9 lbs heavier at the end and the drivetrain was so mucked up I can't believe the gears still turned.
With 2 to go I caught Justin Morgan and asked what place he was in in the 35's and he said he was 3rd, so I'd managed to get through almost the entire 35 field and most of the A's and Single Speeders, who all started up to 2 min ahead of us.
Murray and I were minutes ahead of the rest of the 45 field, never saw any of the other fast 45 guys...
Approaching the hour point coming up on 1 to go, I saw Tobin Ortinblad coming up from behind as he was destroying the A field. He came by about 500m before the finish and I was done - mercy kill! Murray got to do another lap...