Tijeras Moonlight Cross Race Report

I have thus far avoided riding cross this year due to a combination of sickness, wedding prep, wedding and honeymoon. But the NM cross scene keeps growing in leaps and bounds and the variety of races seem to be thinking outside the fast grass track roadie festivals. So how could I resist driving down to Tijeras (just east of albuquerque on I40) for a night time cross race under a full moon with generators powered lights filling in the gaps. The prospect of racing on snow and muck was hard to resist as well.

Chad all crossed up on the run up

By the time we got over to the race course, at about 5:40, it was cooooold and dark and the moon had peeked over the mountains. I am going to guess it was 25F or so with a bit of a wind. I ended up putting all the clothes I had on, Elena and I grabbed some cowbells and cheered on the B race. I am really proud of my buddy Chad, who came out to race his first cross race ever on perhaps the least beginner friendly course and conditions ever. I am also really impressed with Elena and Jill for cheering in the intense cold. Well done.

Chad and Jill post race

The course had a nice mix of grassy chicanes (two sections), a single trackclimb and off camber descent, a long paved section and one triple barrier, a icy slushy wooden bridge of potential death and under it, a nasty creek crossing frozen slippery run up. It was pretty technical, made a bit more so by the frozen ground, snow covering and ambient moonlight on the single track section.

Start of the A race

After spending a few laps watching the B race and cheering for chad, I went through the long and laborious process of figuring out what to wear for the race. I decided on a insulated cycling cap, wool tank top with two long sleeve wool jerseys, bib shorts, wool knee warmers and wool ski socks. I also wore my super warm commuter gloves so I could keep my hands from going numb. I warmed up a bit with a trainer on and was cold. Really cold. I was kind of sure that the race would keep me warm, but not positive. Brrrr. The B race ended, I hit the course for a couple warm up laps and was pretty happy with how I felt. The snow, power sections and run up suited me well, but the long pavement section was half downhill which was problematic.

Patented flailing duck technique on the run up

Now it was time for the A race. About 20 or so of us lined up at the start, shivering and shedding layers. Race Director Jamie Ryan White, resplendent in a Loyal Order of Water Buffalo Hat, gave the pre race direction and offered a $200 first lap prime. The race started too soon and off we went. Apparently cross wunderkid Taylor Layne nearly killed himself on the first lap coming onto the icy bridge of death too hot. $200 prime will done that to you. Thankfully there was no hope for me to even be anywhere near the front at one lap, so I could avoid crashing on the sketchy slush death bridge at my leisure.

Crossing the slushy death bridge under the full moon

I had a really good start for once and held a pretty decent postion through the first lap. Then I actually moved up 4 positions or so through the second and third lap. I felt like I was powering through the grass well, making up a ton of time on the barriers and run up and the single track section. I was even holding on pretty well on the paved section. I was not really cold either. My face was a bit cold and my toes as well, but otherwise I was feeling good.

Not as slick as it looked, hardly any snow/ice/mud buildup on the bike

I was running a 36x17 gear on the single speed and it seemed pretty good given what shape I was in. A little warmer or a bit more training and the 36x15 would have been the ticket so I could keep up better on the paved part. The singletrack section was kind of nice. There was a big berm speedbump at the start of the climb, a brief powerclimb and then a really fun snow covered off cambered descent which looked like a ribbon of silver lit by the moon. This transitioned into a somewhat sketchy steep short downhill then a hard right onto pavement. Everytime I let it go on the downhill I came close to loosing my front wheel at the bottom, so I decided to err on caution side as I was in no danger of contesting for anything.

Thankfully no wet feet

Around lap 3 or 4, it all started going wrong and the complete lack of training, hard efforts and racing caught up with me. My back started seizing on the running parts. I slipped a few times on the run up exacerbating things (note to self, replace toe spikes on shoes), my power in the grass dropped to zero and I was getting dropped badly on the pavement. I lost 30 seconds on the barriers at this time when I had my worst remount in the last decade. I almost missed the saddle completely. Missed my pedal. Came to a complete stop. blindly tried to clip in a few times, finally dismounted again, ran to the pavement and then remounted. Crap. To make matters worse, as soon as it was going wrong, I got a verbal "9 laps to go" as I crossed the start finish line. crap. Long night ahead.

My complete superfan support club, Elena

At this point I changed my race strategy a bit. Instead of powering through everything, I concentrated really hard on not using my brakes ever in the chicanes. Instead of attacking the barriers and run ups, I tried to be smooth and non back jarring. This worked pretty well, but I was not really going that fast. As the race progressed I loosened up a bit and put the power on, but by then it was merely damage control time. The bottom line was that 4 people passed me and two people lapped me between lap 3 and the end of the race. Usually I am able to pass people as they fade in the second half of the race, but I was going completely backwards this time. I think I finished last of the finishers, but it was hard to tell. Attrition was pretty high. I assume results will be here eventually. I won ten bucks for finishing. Thanks pals!

Pretty long video of me smoothly and slowly getting up the run up with a minimum of slipping, 18MB quicktime:

After the race, I changed, got some delicious veggie chili and hot cider provided by the organizers. Then I realized how very cold I was, so Elena and I boogered off and met chad and jill at the flying star for coffee, cookies and a breakfast burrito as big as my head. It took about an hour after the race to stop shivering. We then bid our adieus to albuquerque and made the long drive home, arriving just after midnight to a 10 degree F los alamos.

So very cold post race

All told it was a great race. My lack of form was starkly revealed by this race, but given that starting condition I am pretty happy with the race. It was an excellent course, well organized race and overall, now that I am warm, a complete blast. Big thanks to khsnm for putting this race on. Big thanks to any and all spectators out there too. It was a pretty rough day for racing, but a really rough day for standing around in the snow.

Race Photo set on Flickr


Charlie Choo said...

I feel like half a man next to you....

Marrock said...

Some people only thought you were crazy...

Now here you go and give them proof of it. ;)

Tarik Saleh said...

No no, there were lots of crazy people out there, not just me. There were much faster crazy people than me as well. It is possible that they were not quite as enthusiastic as me about the whole endeavor, but I think most people had a really good time.

And charlie, dude, you are soon going to be lifting a calf every day as it grows until you are strong and twice as big as me. So no worries...

Anonymous said...

That event sounds great! Full moon riding is majestic (?!) and that sounds like an awesome night in the slush. Thanks for the story and pics


Chad said...

Elena is the superest fan! How she managed to stay warm through the B and A races is beyond me. Jill and I had to flee to warmth shortly after the B race ended.

It took me about 3 viewings of the picture before I realized what was 'crossed up' in the run up. Shows I'm very much a newbie. I did get slightly more competent as the race went on, albeit much slower.

I like to characterize the racers/fans as _adventurous_. Now if this was a regularly ocurring event, crazy would be apt.

Matt said...

Reflective gloves equal awesome pics! Rockin!'