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Race Report: Cyclocross at Conlon Farms

I’ve been on TriRudy for years but never thought my race reports would be worthy of the daily email. I had so much fun writing my last race report, that I thought I’d do another.

This Sunday was week #4 on the cyclocross calendar and it brought us to Perth. I love the Perth area and I’m always looking for excuses to make it out this way. For one, Rick Hellard organizes a top-notch cyclosportive here every September. In fact, this week’s cross race shares a parking lot with the venue that Rick uses for his event. The roads around Perth (paved and unpaved) are nice, have little traffic and a great view. You’re always biking past a lake, nice cottages or wildlife. It’s a fun area to ride in. Plus, the Perth Brewery makes a really good maple beer. I’m not much of a drinker, nor am I one to drink anything too adventurous, but the maple beer at Perth Brewery is my favorite. Lastly, there’s a great retail scene in Perth. I always stop by for a meal in town when I’m here, and I try to pop into the local bike shop (Heritage Bikes).
Aside from the local bike, the beer, and the endless roads for cycling – Perth also hosts TWO cyclocross events at Conlon Farms. This week was the first one and we’re back again in a few weeks. I was told the course would be completely different next time but this week’s course was SO. MUCH. FUN.
There were 115 riders in the race I did. It was a little chilly, so with 10 minutes to start, everyone was on their bikes, doing loops of the parking lot to stay warm and stay close to the start line when we got called in. With 115 riders, it can be hard to get a spot near the front – if you’re a font-of-the-pack rider. If you’re a stronger rider, but you get caught starting too far back, it can be near impossible to climb your way up to where should be. For some people, a good starting spot is key. For me, I chose my starting spot with 2 things in mind:
1) Standing beside someone taller than me, so that I’m not standing directly in the wind.
2) Trying to be near the other cyclists that are my speed.
It’s fun to ride with people that are your ability. I find it motivates me to ride a little harder, and we all push each other to another level. When you’re constantly being passed, or if you’re constantly passing people, it’s less fun. So I lined up in the mob of cycling, stood beside a tall guy that could block the wind for me (not all heros wear capes!) and kept an eye out for the guys that I usually ride with. That day, I was mainly riding with Giacomo and Christopher.
The Race:
The gun goes off and the first half-lap was congestion enough that it was more about finding your place and settling into a pace. Once things thinned out a bit and we had our little pack of riders, the real race began!
This race was going to be approximately 50 minutes long and I estimated that I would do 6 or 7 laps. At the start of the loop, there were a couple of little zig-zags and long straightaways. Coming from a triathlon background, I was able to catch up to people on the straightaways and then I would fall behind on the technical stuff. Christopher and I went back and forth at least a half-dozen times. I would pass him on the straightaways, then we would pass me on everything else. After 5 laps, we were still riding together with Giacomo right behind us.
The middle part of the course was really fun. There was a long straightaway on the grass, that ended with a 270 degree turn onto ashphault. The only catch is that the turn had an inch or two of sand on it. It was hard to gain all that speed on the straightaway, then have to carefully do a kinda-hairpin turn, with sand under your tires. A nice challenge! After that, there was a rockwall that was maybe 18-24 inches high. I thought nothing of it and dismounted my bike, pulled my bike up onto the rockwall and kept riding. However, I heard that a couple of riders able to actually hop up onto the rock wall! I also heard that a couple more riders attempted to hop the wall, without success (more on that later). It was a good conversation starter after the race to see who blew out their tire on the rock wall, who crashed and who actually made it over.
After the rockwall was a sandpit that was shaped like a 3-leaf clover. Riding in sand is hard enough but the constant turning forced a lot of people to carry their bikes through the sandpit. I had to carry my bike through on the first loop but when I had a little more space, I was able to manoeuvre my way around the sandpit on all the other laps. I wasn’t sure I could ride that sand pit but I’m glad I gave it a shot!
The best part of the loop was the last section. It’s a little confusion but it had 4 fun components:
-Double barriers
-Two uphill hairpin turns
-A long and steep uphill grind
-An off camber section.
The barriers were back to back, so you could dismount your bike once, then jump over both wooden barriers.
The uphill hairpin turns were tough but manageable.
The uphill grind was long and steep, but I was able to get into my easiest gear and ride up every time.
The off-camber was interesting. Think of a steep toboggan hill, but instead of riding UP, you’re riding ACROSS. It was little nerve-racking and I was worried that my bike would slide out from underneath me, but it never did!
From there, it was a smooth course to the finish line.
The course was phenomenal and it had everything: paved parts, grass, gravel, sand, uphills, downhill, barriers, off-camber, technical bits, and long straights.
The only thing that was more fun that the course was the mini race that was going on in my little pack. With 2 laps to go, Christopher, myself and Giacomo were riding together, in that order. Giacomo passed me right before the rock wall and in an attempt to pass him, I got overly excited and crashed right into the rockwall. With nothing bruised but my ego and my hamstring, I got up off the ground, made sure my bike was still in one piece and starting trying to make up the distance.
I rode through the sandpit, over the barriers, up the toboggan hill and through the off-camber before I caught up to Giacomo, but Christopher was too far ahead to catch. This make-belief race in my head was now a battle for silver. It took almost everything I had in me to catch up and pass Giacomo. We rode back and forth through the zig zags, through the straightaways, then through the sandy hairpin turn. When it came time to go over the rockwall, I took my time, dismounted, went over the wall and got back on my bike in one piece. I knew Giacomo was feeling a bit fresher than I was, and that he would definitely out-do me on the tobogan hill, so I thought I’d make a break for it early and get some distance between us before he sprinted ahead of me.
I broke away and built a small gap, I went into the sandpit first and just as I was exiting, I saw Giacomo entering the sand pit. He was a lot closer to me than I thought, until he rode over a stick in the sandpit, which got caught in his wheel, broke the derailleur and ended his riding. I ended up cruising to the finish line with nothing left in my lungs or legs, but I was really bummed to not race Giacomo for a photo finish. Christopher finished one spot ahead of me, and he looked as fresh as he did before the race. I was hurting all over and Giacomo had to carry his bike (good thing it’s light) the final 400m to the finish line.
All in all, the weather was great (once you were moving, it was perfect), the volunteers and organizers were helpful, there were lots of spectators, and the course was really fun. My performance had me in the bottom 2/3 of the pack, and I got overlapped by 30 riders BUT I would call it a great way to start a Sunday! The only things that could have gone better:
-I could have not hit the rockwall
-Giacomo could have battled me to the finish
-Perth Brewery could have had the maple beer in stock. It was all sold out, so I’ll try and grab some next time we race in Perth.