|This racer demonstrates why I was content to run, not ride, through the muck hole!|
Today the Wisconsin Cycling Association’s cyclocross series went to rural Waukesha County for Tough Udder CX, a race around Oak Ridge Farm, a popular place for city kids to learn about livestock and agriculture. This was the third running of Tough Udder but my first participation, and I felt the joy of a schoolboy on a field trip as I discovered the many features of its unique course.
The start, for example, was narrower than usual, and downhill on a gravel path into deep sand. So, it was fast and dangerous but we all got through it without incident and I couldn’t have asked for much more … except not to be in last place. But there I was, and there I would stay for the first half of Lap 1. I made my first pass at the water crossing, choosing to run through a muck hole that was straight out of Hillbilly Handfishin'. I might have taken the bridge, but the approach to it was winding and slow. With wet shoes and socks that will never be clean again, I pressed on and began pulling back a couple of familiar age group rivals. Dave Dineen (MOSH / Team Wisconsin) and Sean Shields (Hampshire Cycling Club) were just ahead. We could easily gauge the time gaps between us through a series of 180-degree turns that played along the course’s biggest hill.
On Lap 2 I passed Dineen and thought I was pulling away, but I made a tactical error when I tried the bridge. Dineen ran through the muck hole like a champ and was right on my wheel again. But he didn’t take back the position, and I opened a new gap by hitting the hill even more aggressively than I had on Lap 1. Early on Lap 3 I stretched that gap to a comfortable margin on a pair of long straightaways joined by a 180-degree turn. It was there that I could tell I was getting close to Shields. I ran through the muck hole again and I was quick through the deeply rutted mud that followed. Bit by bit I was gaining, but Shields wasn’t going without a fight.
By the time Lap 4 began I was feeling good about the way I was managing my race. I was good on the gravel, good through the sand, really good on the long straightaways, good enough through the muck hole—no more detours to reach the bridge!—good through the deeply rutted mud sections, and good up the hill. I was not good on the downhill legs of all those hairpins, but they were short and weren’t costing me too much time. My only remaining concern was that I would get passed by the leader of the singlespeed race that was running concurrently. That group started ahead of mine, and my race would be over if I were passed by the leader on Lap 4. I could see him coming late in the lap, so I hit the gas super hard on the straightaway that led back to the starting grid. I had to take a right-hander a little harder than I would have liked, turning from one gravel path onto another, then I sprinted past Shields across the finish line just in case the race referees decided to pull us.
They didn’t; we had one more lap to do. For a moment I wondered whether the big effort I had made in the last minutes of Lap 4 would leave me defenseless against a Shields counterattack, but I opened a good gap on the long straightaways that suited me so well. I locked up 11th place out of 15 in the Cat 1/2/3 Masters 50+ race. Series points leader Arlen Spicer (BELGIANWERKX) was today’s winner, followed by Brent Rohrs (Diablo Cycling) and John Lirette (Ben’s / Milwaukee Bicycle). A race that had begun so poorly for me turned out to be terrific fun and a real fight from the first lap to the last.