Los Angeles Triathlon Club
Race Report
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Club Member: John McLaughlin
Race: SoCal Santa Cross -- my first CX race
Distance: Other
Race Date: 12/23/07
Submit Date: 01/10/08

I did my first cyclocross race 12/23/2007. Actually this was my first bike race of any kind.

Last year I bought a Ritchey Break-Away Cyclocross bike. My aim was for a versatile training and traveling bike. But since I had the bike I figured I ought to do a race that it was designed for. My first chance was, unfortunately, one of the last races of the season. The SoCal Cross Santa Cross at Pierce College in Woodland Hills.

So I check all the online info – good – there’s a beginner’s clinic at 8:30, before the first race – the Cat 4 (beginner’s) race at 9:30. The day before, I think about what I need. Hold it – first panic – does anybody have a cyclocross check list? Apparently not. So I adapt my triathlon check list, which gets cut down to about 7 items. Seems silly, but as my wife knows from sending me shopping, any more than 3 items requires a list.

So I’m putting everything together and – next panic – cycling style questions. I know the reputation of persnickety roadies. Am I going to be sneered at, called names like “tri-geek”, and told to go home until I can come back looking like a proper cyclist. The questions:
1. Shaved legs? (I don’t shave. I have way, way too much hair. But I occasionally “mow”. Sort of the Don Johnson – George Michael look for legs.)
2. Warm up on the bike trainer in the parking lot?
3. Aero Helmet?
4. LA Tri Club Jersey? – Is being a triathlete cool or not cool in cyclocross?

I’m tempted to post the questions on the slowtwitch forum. Sure, they’d make fun of me, but no worse than anybody else that posts here. But I don’t have time for the advice, so I just make my own guesses. More on that later.

So – next panic – I wake up at 7:15 – yes I know, embarrassingly late for a triathlete. (My wife kept me up late, and not in a bad way. Is this TMI?) I need to get to Woodland Hills by 8:30 or I’ll miss the beginner’s clinic. I haul everything into the car, hoping I didn’t forget anything important – you know, one of those 7 items on the checklist.

Of course I’m used to a stop-and-go hour drive to Woodland Hills, but at 7:30 on a Sunday morning the 405 behaves like a normal freeway, and it only takes 30 minutes. So I find where they’re setting up, tell them that I’m new, and ask where the beginner’s clinic is. They tell me their running late, and I just need to wait for the announcement. I putter around and notice some other riders out on the course. I join them and start biking one of the hills. One of the organizers says we’re going the wrong way. So we regroup and try the course the other way, and somehow it makes much more sense.

As the countdown for the first race approaches (T-minus 10 minutes), a new sense of panic rises – no beginner’s clinic. Maybe I missed the announcement. Whatever. I’m just not keen on going into a race totally clueless. Mind you, I’m not looking for speed tips – like those cute flying dismount and mount tricks, just safety. I look for someone I know. Ian, Konrad where the hell are you? Probably doing something sensible on Dec. 23 – like hanging with their families. Finally, I go talk to one of the local vendors (from Jax Bicycle Center). He was very helpful – told me there wasn’t much to worry about, since the field thins out pretty quick. He recommended getting into the drops and keeping my weight back on the down hills, these and a few other tips get me to the starting line.

They call my group up – the Cat 4 (beginners) – a 35 minute race. I roll up to the start with the rest of the group and pretend that I know what I’m doing. Last panic – how does this race end? After 35 minutes do I just stop where I am – probably not. And what happens if I get lapped (actually more like when I get lapped). In the middle of these conundrums, the starting horn sounds – too late for panics. I figure I’ll just keep riding until someone says I’m finished.

After all that internal drama the race is a little anti-climactic, but lots of fun. The course was a mile long loop with a lot of terrain variety, none too difficult. Grass, dirt, pavement, a teeth rattling hillside, some short anaerobic climbs, and off the bike obstacles. I had no idea about pacing for this sort of race, so I nearly blew up after two laps, so I quickly learned to use the flats for recovery. Most of my encounters with other riders were pretty simple – basically me waving them past. I did pass a couple of people though. Nothing like a welcome ego boost powering past someone on a sharp uphill climb.

They announced my name coming past the finish line after the 6th lap, so I knew I was done. Except that instinctively I was looking for T2 and my run shoes.

Overall lots of fun. Much more laid back than any triathlon I’ve raced. I’ll do it again as soon as I can.

Oh, on the style questions: Shaving legs. I couldn’t be bothered. I don’t think that the cyclocross crowd cares a twit about this. (I got the feeling that some of the women don’t shave either.) Warm up on the bike trainer – no, better off pre-riding the course. Aero helmet – no. Even I am not that much of a barney. LA Tri Club Jersey – hell yes.


John McLaughlin

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