The Cross of the North is a series of three events held at the Budweiser events centre near Loveland, Colorado. Rather than settling for the standard format of two races over two days, the promoters stepped up, rented some floodlights and made the main event a night race on Friday evening. I did some serious bike prep this week to get ready for the races. The forecast was terrible, and rain for most of the week guaranteed we’d be in for some mud. I built up my ‘B’ bike, my ever faithful Cannondale that has almost 15,000 miles on it now, just in case I needed to change bikes due to the mud. I also glued some new tubular rubber on my Focus – a set of Clement PDX’s, which are regarded as the best tyres on the market right now. I’m glad I went to the effort of getting things sorted for the weekend.
Christa and I loaded the car with all the things we could possibly think we needed, then set off for the hour long drive north from Boulder.
We arrived at the venue as daylight was fading, the huge floodlights warming the ground in concentrated spots as the temperature dropped towards freezing. The course was on the edge of a fairground on rough grass and broken up tarmac. The start straight was solid under the tyres, but then the course got softer as you went further it, culminating in a muddy bog at the pits.
The race started fast as always, but I’m finding this season that I can match the first lap speed pretty easily. I’m looking forward to some of the uber fast guys (Allen Krughoff, Danny Summerhill) racing in Colorado, as I want to see how I match up to their first lap speed. We strung out down the course with gaps starting to appear by the first set of tight corners.
By lap two, Mitch Hoke and I had pulled out a good 30 seconds or so on the chasers, and I was just starting to settle into a rhythm on the course, feeling smooth on the log hops and the rutted corners. That’s when I rode over perhaps the only sharp thing on the course – a block of concrete just off the racing line. My tyre sliced open instantly, and it was flat in less than 10 seconds.
Here’s where tubulars were an advantage. I hopped up the logs, albeit with much more effort, then made it to the pit to grab the B bike. Christa was invaluable, and I got back on course just 25 seconds behind Mitch. I thought at that point the race was over, but I was still in second, with Tim Allen catching me fast. I turned in a couple fast laps on the cannondale, and gave myself enough breathing room to pit again. The Focus was mind blowing on the hardening dirt. I closed 15 seconds in one lap, then finally got onto Mitch’s wheel when he pitted with two laps to go. It was cat and mouse now. I tried to string it out, knowing that I can’t sprint this year. Mitch wasn’t budging though, and the final drag strip towards the finish gave him enough room to open it up. I couldn’t get around him at the end, and I finished a second adrift.
Day Two opened up with a thick blanket of fog, which cleared to reveal much needed sunshine. A few course variations lead to new mud pits to deal with, but generally a similar course to the night before. After slicing my tyre on Friday night, I would be racing a rear clincher today, and I was a little nervous of keeping it inflated for an hour.
Once again I started in fourth place, then moved up at the end of the first lap to have some clear sight in front of me. With the thick mud and variety of barriers, there was no group advantage. I wanted to make it hard; I have the fitness but not the sprint, so I went as hard as I thought I could hold.
No one came with me for a lap, and I felt comfortable riding the muddy sections alone. By the 30 minute point, Spencer Powlison was closing in, taking a couple seconds off my lead each lap. I simply dug deeper, got out the saddle in each corner, tried to dig for a couple of seconds before getting comfortable on the straights. It paid off – with half a lap remaining I pulled out another 5 seconds on Spencer, enough to hold him off. To add to the situation, he crashed hard at the barriers, just to make sure I could celebrate at the line.
First win of the season feels really good! I made it hard for everyone, including myself. It’s the only way to ensure nothing stupid will happen in the heat of playing chess. Spencer Powlison is a really smart racer that always seems to have an ace or two up his sleeve. Fitness and skill are just two slices of the cross pie; the third is intelligence. That’s my homework for the next couple of weeks.
I didn’t end up pitting, but my bike suffered as a result. A clot of mud and grass wrapped its way around my brake rotor and actually undid the centrelock lockring! Even after 15 minutes getting friendly with the power washer, there was plenty of mud remaining!