GPCM Zaaldercross (Race #3)
It was my birthday and the race was Zaaldercross out at Alderwood park. I have a call-up now because of my 3rd place finish at Het Meer a week prior. I also had a lot more confidence in the 3’s having won Corn Cross and placing 2nd at Trophy Cup leading up to the race. I was super stoked to have nice weather for this race because last year it was an absolute mess of a torrential downpour. The run up was bypassed after 1 race for safety reasons and the mud was so much that I managed to rip my derailleur off, while in the lead, on the last lap of the race. That race was a roller coaster of emotion. It was my second race, and yes it was only CAT5 but I knew I was really close to winning and then BAM! To my luck, my lead was enough that I was able to run the last half lap and still win.
I expected a tough course, regardless of weather conditions and the Tireless Velo team did not disappoint in putting one together. The two bowls and power climbs were still there and the route through the double sand pits remained as well. However, the entire backside of the course was reversed. Instead of coming down an off camber section you were now to go up it. This was a 30 second climb and I mentally noted that this might play into my plan as the race unfolded.
A back section of road was a very fine dirt which wound around before transitioning into gravel road and the infamous drop to the creek. Last year it was super sketchy but this year, easily ride able and especially fast on the left side. Then there was the run-up which was pretty long and it transitioned into a small power climb before dropping back down into the bowl for a high speed finish.
I knew that my fitness would be tested in this race and that if I could finish well it would confirm that I belong in this field. This was my goal for the race, to ride hard and finish well.
How the race unfolded
I lined up in the front and chose to be on the right side. I pre-rode the start chute and found the right side to be less bumpy than center. Left side was already covered by other call-ups. Unfortunately, the 50+ riders went first…again. This meant that I would need to be near the front after a lap or have more risk of being stuck behind the slower 50+ riders. No issue here, as I intended to get the hole shot.
Start – not so great! At the last minute I decided to come off my seat and onto the top bar. I have really short legs and so its tough for me to sit and be ready to pedal. Unfortunately, I missed clipping in and fumbled with it for a few strokes before getting the power going. This was enough to put me behind. I also went waaaaaaay right and lost some positions heading into the first corner. The second corner was actually a bit tricky. I had been seeing a lot of people wash out there…I let a small gap form in case that happened in front of me, but it didn’t and then I accelerated out of the corner for a few positions. I had made it to the first pinch point in about 5th.
I continued to work, until the sand. I did not pre-ride this, instead choosing to keep my drivetrain clean and so I didn’t know that going right side was a bad idea until I got bogged down and had to dismount. I had too much weight on my front wheel too and fought the sand. Not a great sand pit. I worked hard heading to the climb and might have gotten a spot or two by then but most importantly, the leaders we’re still in view.
The first climb was fine, although I was not able to go much faster than the people in front of me. The line on the left side was fairly smooth but anywhere else it was super bumpy and hard to generate power without sliding. I had meant to really push it on the climb but I decided to sit in a bit instead.
The next obstacle was a tight right hander over a small hill which was really loose. A teammates advice was to ride it diagonally. For the first lap though I decided to run. I took the inside line really tight and got a few positions as others struggled and had to dismount. Good choice on the first lap in the pack.
Finally, the run up – I decided for some reason not to shoulder my bike and this turned out to be ok. For the first lap I also decided to run the small flat and hill back onto the gravel road. I had seen people struggle up that and I wasn’t confident the others around me could do it without disrupting the flow of things. This ended up being another good decision. I passed 1 or 2 more through this section and entered the bowl more or less 2nd.
For the next few laps I had to chase down the leader, Jeff Turner, a super fit guy on a mountain bike! Luckily, I was far enough behind that the announcer didn’t notice me but not so far that I couldn’t hear when Jeff went through the laps. I figured he was about 10 seconds ahead.
With two to go I had moved within striking distance of Jeff. I couldn’t tell if he was fading but I had watched him for a lap and noticed that I seemed to be able to do the longer climb quicker than him. I decided that I’d make my move there and see if he could follow.
I caught right up to him by taking a diagonal line across the sand and then caught my breath on his wheel up the stairs and over to the climb. Heading into the hairpin turn back to the climb I passed him. He didn’t seem to respond. I pushed it up the climb but then was slowed by other riders in front of me. I looked back though and had a small gap so I kept an even pace the last half of the climb and then pushed passed the riders into the dirt road. From then I tried to push the pace as much as I could but kept running into other riders. This stressed me the heck out.
Bell lap and I was really into the zone, pushing my limits. I had a gap and there was determined to keep it. I punched it through the bowls and hit the sand well again. I got the climb right too and opened up a bit of a gap. Then I ran into some traffic and just couldn’t get around. I followed him for a while, getting frustrated but trying to keep my cool.
I dropped down into the chute a final time and road his wheel out the other side. Finally, he let me by and I hammered it again into the corkscrew before the run up. I could look back and see that I had only a short gap now but I felt confident I could get up the run-up quicker than Jeff and his mountain bike. I was prepared to sprint once I got to the bowl. I hit a high pace but didn’t need to as I found I had opened up a decent gap on Jeff.
I finished in first with a little pump of the fist. This win felt the best yet!