Monday, January 14, 2019

Outspokin' Dirty 55 Video Recap

I'll type up a full race report from this past weekend soon but, for now, sit back and enjoy this silly video I made.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Back to the fall line

It's pretty easy for me to find an excuse to go back home. This time, I found a few.

I've wanted to race the Outspokin' Dirty 55 mixed terrain race for the past few years but never made it out. It's early in the year and I usually haven't gotten much riding in after a break from cyclocross season. I'm not going into this one flying but at least I've done more than look at my bike this month, so it seemed like the best time to get back up and support one of the shops that helped support the Gamecock Cycling Club all those years ago.

I needed to make the trip up to Columbia to pick some stuff up pretty soon, anyway, and when Low Country Racing offered me a guest spot, I was all in. Plus, now I get to make my return to the creek crossing on Muddy Ford Rd.

You remember that time I was a model?

In all seriousness, I'm super excited about this race. Not because I think I'm going to win. But these are the roads where I learned about cycling. We're going to be racing on the same roads where I fell in love with bikes. The dirt roads where I decided that I NEEDED to buy a cyclocross bike ten years ago. All my old training roads and the hills that I hated (the hills that I miss every day, now).

Plus, the high school where I graduated. But whatever.

It's going to be a pretty sentimental race weekend. I'm going to try to soak it all in while I can.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Passing the Time

Do you remember when blogs were a big thing? Yea, I miss that.

I miss recapping mid-pack cat 3 cyclocross races for my tens of followers for the first month or so of the season. I miss giving up on it sometime around midterms. I miss the frantic recaps of three months of races in two sittings.

I'm going to try to bring that back. I don't write enough. Maybe writing about myself will help get that started again.

Welcome back, everyone. If you didn't miss me enough, here's a silly video I made this afternoon instead of actually riding my bike.

While you're looking for stuff to do, go buy a sticker:

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Hendersonville that wasn't and the season finale

The decision not to go to Hendersonville the weekend after the state championship sucked, but it was definitely the right one. I felt bad for bailing on my friend, who probably wouldn't have gone if I hadn't encouraged him to. I wasn't too upset about skipping the UCI race, though. I knew I probably wasn't cut out for it, and probably would have done the single speed race again anyway.

Plus, my face was full of snot.

 I didn't ride for most of the week after the race in Conyers, trying to get better and finish out the school year. I rode on my birthday on Thursday, and then didn't touch my bike again until I ran off to Gainesville, FL on Sunday to race. I figured I was still relatively fit, so if I couldn't make a full weekend trip, I could at least drive a few hours to a "close" race. I needed the day on Saturday to study for finals, but still wanted to get some 'cross racing in before the season ended.

Gainesville was a lot of fun. Good course, and very down-home, grassroots feel to the race. Everyone was calm and relaxed, and it was warm. Much warmer than Hendersonville.

It was a small Pro/Open race that morning. We settled into our positions pretty quickly and then stayed like that for the next hour. A local Florida racer rode away from Bryan and I pretty quickly and Bryan gapped me by the second lap. I rode around in third place all damn day and wasn't too upset about it. I struggled to breathe, and took breaks to try to drink, but still got to have my picture made on the podium again at the end of the day.

I decided to skip the single speed race that afternoon, even though I heard the winner got a tattoo. I needed to go back to sleep, and study some more.

The following week was much of the same- snotty and busy. Finals week was crazy at word and, combined with my own school work, I lost out on a lot of my normal riding time. I didn't get back out on my bike until Friday, but managed to ride three days in a row!

The season was set to wrap up the next weekend in Macon at the Thompson factory. This was my second race at Thompson this year, and it went way better than the mountain bike race I did in the spring.

I decided again to do the single speed race. I was still struggling with the cold and knew that I was rapidly losing fitness. I could pretty much guess where I would finish in the P/1/2 race, but figured I could compete in the SS.

I started on the second row, yielding to the de facto call ups claimed by the guys with series points. The thing about splitting my time between P/1/2 races and SSCX races was that I didn't quite accumulate enough points to make the top 8 in either category, not that I should have in the pro races anyway.

After getting caught in some traffic in the first wooded section, and the death spiral (ugh), I settled into a chase group of four riders. One guy was already up the road and gapping us like we were barely moving. I went to the front of our group, working my way around some less than motivated racers, and tried to close down on the leader. We rode like this for most of the race, with one guy going horizon, me on the front of the chase, and two guys on my wheel. Coming to the last lap I yielded my chase duties and settled in third wheel.

On the last lap, the group leader used some traffic to create gaps in our group, passing lapped riders in narrow or technical spaces and leaving us to try to squeeze through the same space without killing someone. I ended up closing down these gaps a few times and the settled back onto his wheel.

The death spiral was probably 3/4 of the way into the course, and one of the last major features before the finish. I couldn't manage to get around him in the spiral and even if I did, there was nothing I could use to create a gap. We came to the last turn, a 90 degree left hander about 300 meters before the finish, and had one more group of lapped riders to get around. He passed them in the turn and started to sprint out of it, and I got held up. I tried to close him down in the sprint, but it was pretty useless and I finished third.

It was nice to finally find some success at the end of the year, and the single speed races were a lot of fun. It's cool tinkering with your bike before hand, but not having anything to worry about during the race and it forces you to focus on your driving and skills, instead of just pedaling hard. Choosing the single speed races for the last two weekends of the series meant that I gave up my chance of finishing top ten in the Pro/1/2 series. I think I was 13th, which was consistent with my finishes, so I can't complain.

It was definitely a fun year and really, really hard. I'm excited for the break, but I know I'm going to miss 'cross pretty soon.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Closing out the season

As December approached, I had to take a big look at what my season goals were, and how they lined up with the end of my school/work schedule. I was looking forward to the break, but knew that I had a few key events coming up that I really wanted to crush.

One of those big events that I had circled was the Hendersonville UCI weekend. It was the closest UCI race of the year, and my last chance to line up for a ProCX race. It was also the weekend before my final exams, and easily the most stressful time of the year for me. If not for Hurricane Matthew, I would have been completely free this weekend and the week following. Mother nature had different ideas.

I was coming to the end of my financial aid stipend that I got from my graduate assistant position and traveling for a full weekend wasn't looking great financially, either. Unfortunately, the time came and I had to pull the plug on Hendersonville, sending my teammate Gregg to compete by himself in the cold. In the end, I knew it was the right call. I won't be able to say that I did a national-level pro race this year, but I got some decent experience and fitness out of it. There's always next year.

Hendersonville wasn't the only big race in December, though. The state championship race was the first race back after our week off, and it was a big one for me. I decided a month or two before to line up for the single speed race, as I knew I could be competitive there, and I hoped for some success. I didn't expect it to be a given, but I knew I would at least be near the front end.

The conditions that day were great. Sloppy, slimy mud covered the course, forcing us to make quick decisions regarding running or riding, and turning the first wooded section into a foot race between the top four racers. Three or four of us established a gap at the start, and I was sitting fourth. I dismounted and ran earlier than the rest of the guys around me, but managed to maintain my momentum, instead of getting bogged down and stopping as I hopped off.

I rode the first bit of the race in second place, with first place rider Murphy Davis still in sight and third place close behind. Coming into the last lap, Murphy still had a gap going into the wooded section, but I caught and passed him running. I worked to establish a gap, pedaling when I could, making the decision to dismount and run before I got into trouble, and trusting my Tufo Cubus tires to hold me down in the turns. I ran into a bit of trouble on one switch back turn and hit the ground, but managed to maintain a gap for the creek crossing and run up that followed.

I came to the line alone, and still managed to keep my hands on the bar so John Patterson wouldn't penalize me for not being able to read my number. It was pretty emotional, and strange. I hadn't won a race in almost exactly two years, and wasn't really sure how to act afterward. It was great to be able to set a goal and achieve it, and a rare experience I'll always appreciate.

Then I got sick.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Looking back on the mid-season slump.

The unfortunate part of cyclo-cross season is that it starts at the beginning of the fall semester, and ramps up in line with all of my school work. As the term grinds on, I find it hard to keep myself motivated to keep riding and I rarely have enough free time to maintain a blog. I have enough writing to do as it is, and writing for fun just isn't in the cards.

The end of October was the busiest time for me. We had a foster kids in the house for a brief bit and I had the Savannah Cyclocross Superprestige to organize. We spent so much time getting ready to host our race, that riding to train for the actual racing was a luxury at best. I begged to be pulled out of the Pro/1/2 race on Saturday night, unable to even maintain enough momentum to have fun in the process. The frustration and stress of putting together an event wore me down, and even a beer hand-up wasn't going to lift my spirits. Despite feeling like I was barely moving, I didn't get caught by the leaders until they were on their last lap. So, a relatively normal day on the course.

The next day was better despite barely sleeping Saturday night. I decided that I clearly wasn't fit enough to do the P/1/2 race on Sunday and sat it out in favor of only racing single speed. It was a tough call since I was hoping to still finish top ten in the overall series, but getting beat that badly every week isn't as fun as you'd think. I managed to actually race that afternoon in the single speed race and didn't feel like I was just riding around in circles. I pulled in a fourth place after thirty minutes of playing in the dirt, and then set about tearing the course down.

As the season trudged along, I kept getting similar results. I fought for lead lap finishes and pretty much always managed to stay just outside of the top ten. In my last post, I mentioned how I felt I had a little bit more direction and hoped to still have a go at some UCI races. ProCX races kept coming and going and I realized, especially given my performance in the local series, that traveling to race the big guns likely wasn't the best use of my resources this year. After my hometown race, it took some work to recover and focus on the next few weekends of racing. I discussed things with my coach and made a plan to try to regain some fitness going into the end of the season. The week immediately following my race was tough but I lined up for both the single speed and P/1/2 races in order to try to get some extra time in on my bike, and work on my technical skills after losing our local trails to the hurricane.

Despite my inability to perform, I was still generally enjoying the races. The new course at Atlanta Motor Speedway was great fun, and I edged my travel partner/pseudo teammate out in the sprint. It made for some solid banter, but completely drained me for my second race of the day. It was all about extra training anyway.

I chalked November up as a rebuild period and set my sites on December. There were three big weekends of racing all back-to-back after the Thanksgiving break, and I wanted to build up as much momentum as possible.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Catching up/race recaps

It's been a whirlwind few weeks here at home base. Work and school have been ramping up and the Georgia 'Cross Series has kicked off. Last week we had midterms, which I survived just long enough to evacuate for a hurricane. We lost a rug to some water damage and went a few days without power, but aside from that everything went smoothly.

A photo posted by Justin Bristol (@jbrstl) on

The beginning of October brought the beginning of the GACX series. Bryan Schoeffler and I decided to knock out some openers up in Greenville at day one of the Carolina CX Omnium before heading to the first Georgia race. The racing was hard and it was stupid hot outside. I finished a respectable last place after getting annihilated on the last lap by Chris Butler. There was too much pedaling for my taste.

Sunday marked a return to Grant Park. This is my third year in a row racing at GP and I think it's been improving every year. Last year it was a National Calendar race, like our race in Savannah was, and they continued a high level of race promotion and course design this year despite dropping off the NC.

I was excited for Grant Park as it promised a bigger field than the two races I had done so far in South Carolina. I wanted to see exactly where I stacked up in the Georgia scene, and I was happy to have some guys to race with who were in the same position as me. There were plenty of new Cat 2s out there still trying to find their sea legs this early in the season. I felt good on the course and had a clean race. Most importantly, I felt like I was actually racing the whole time, instead of just riding hard at the back.

GACX headed to Athens the following week. I missed this weekend of racing last year because of work, so I was sure that I wouldn't miss it two years in a row and no hurricane was stopping me. Jen and I loaded up and drove to my parents' house in Columbia Thursday, and then trekked over to Athens on Friday. Both races were at breweries, so it was sure to be a good time no matter how the racing went.

And the racing Saturday didn't go well. It was another pedal heavy course, with two pinwheels and a draggy uphill in the woods. On top of that, I botched a remount and landed on my back tire late in the race. In the process of embarrassing myself in front of everyone on "heckle hill" I also bent my rear brake arm into a rather odd angle. I took a bike change and limped in for 14th place, and got lapped for the first time this year. I was fine with it. One more lap would have been the worst.

A photo posted by Justin Bristol (@jbrstl) on

 I bent the brake arm straight in the parking lot, and managed to crack it in the process. That didn't stop me from racing it on Sunday though. I like that bike more. It's lighter and I feel like I have it more dialed in. Worth the risk.

Sunday I rode over to the course early to do some preview laps with teammate Gregg. After heading back to the hotel and packing up, it was time for day two. Again, I felt like I was actually racing today instead of just flogging myself at the back of the field. I could see the group I wanted to be with, but never quite got to them. Still, I was always racing with someone for the full 60 minutes, and constantly trying to move up. The course felt a little bit better today, and actually had some features I looked forward to. Ironically, even though I felt better today and finished on the lead lap, I actually finished one place worse than Saturday- 15th place.

Two weeks of GACX races have given me an opportunity to reassess where I am and set goals for the season. Some real-life stuff is preventing me from making one big trip I had planned to DC, and the budget likely doesn't allow too many trips outside of GA/SC/NC this winter. NCGP in Hendersonville is likely the only UCI race I'll be lining up for.

I know that I won't be going to Nationals this year, and that's both an odd concept to grasp after three years of making that trip and a welcome break. At least I can eat whatever I want at Christmas this year. I would have liked to be able to give myself more chances to get ProCX points and MAYBE qualify for nationals, but in my first year as a 2, I don't think that wading into the big races is a bad idea.

Moving forward this season, I've got my eyes on a top ten finish in the GACX Pro/1/2 overall standings, and finishing top ten is a realistic goal for each individual race I line up for. I've also got my eyes on a state championship jersey in the single speed race. I feel like I have a little bit more direction now after a few weeks of racing and even though it's not quite the direction I was hoping for, it's comforting having those goals in place.