This weekend at Whirlybird, Kathryn Cumming grabbed a first place in the Women’s Elite Field! It was a power-sucking course, forcing riders to churn at low cadences, as you can see from Kate’s strava file from the race. This week, Kate offers three major tips on how she was able to approach the course differently from the standard dry and grassy race day. (Title photo taken by Lauren Twombly).
by Kathryn Cumming
Whirlybird was awesome! After suffering in the heat in Virginia over Labor Day weekend, I was pleasantly surprised to see rain and cooler temperatures in the forecast for Sunday’s race in PA.
In the past, this race has played out like a grass crit, complete with drafting and tactics. While I completely respect this style of racing, I was excited to experience a race with heavier conditions so early in the season.
By the time my field was going off, almost everything between the tape was wet mud. We would be slogging through every stretch of the course and would even be pedaling the downhills, trying to maintain traction and forward momentum anyway we could.
A long straightaway at the start gave me time to find my pedal and get the holeshot. I was overtaken by two riders after the first corner and followed them downhill. As we flipped a 180 and started trudging up a muddy climb, we all began picking our own lines while climbing as quickly as possible.
After a few corners and climbs, gaps began to open and I drilled a long straightaway heading towards the pits. This gave me enough room to focus on riding the slick sections smoothly and cleanly and then apply big power when I could to gain more time.
It was fun to catch up with the local race scene and to grab my first win of the season!
There were three deciding factors for me in the race:
1. Seated Power: Being able to maintain power while pedaling seated at a low cadence was essential. If you needed to stand to generate power or your saddle height was too high and you could not get enough leverage on your cranks, you would lose traction with your rear wheel and forward momentum would be lost. This type of pedaling is something we train ourselves and with cyclocross coaching clients to prepare for heavy, slick conditions.
2. Proper line choice: Cyclocross courses are usually pretty wide and choosing where to ride between (or pushing against) the course tape saved a lot of time and energy. The center of the course and the apex of each corner was a muddy mess. My entire focus was on looking for green anywhere I could. Frequently this meant pushing against the course tape with my handlebars, elbows, and hips to expand the course and get some extra traction. It also meant taking less conventional lines through the corners to avoid the slop. The goal was to find green wherever I could: grass = traction.
3. Riding vs running obstacles: I decided to run the log and off-camber obstacles. Both of these obstacles were rideable, however, I felt riding would be slower and less consistent. The approach to the log was after a really slick section of mud in the woods. You had to clear several roots en route to the log and your legs would be heavy when you went to hop. Furthermore, the easiest point to hop the log was on the right, but the ideal entrance and exit were on the left. While the dismount may have cost me a second, I am confident I made up more time by approaching the log with speed and exiting along the ideal line which had the most traction. Similarly, the off camber was slick and sketchy. A dismount at the top of the downhill guaranteed you would clear the section smoothly. In my field, this is where second place was decided, with one woman choosing to ride and falling while the other ran cleanly through the section and opened up a gap.
These were three great tools to have for a constant-power muddy race, but they are not universal for all cyclocross races (which is a part of what makes this sport so fun). Looking ahead at the weather, the Nittany Lion UCI weekend is looking like a return to a hot, fast course!
There will be loads of tips, power files, and cyclocross advice for both sides of the race tape to come. If you’re interested in being the first in the know, be sure to sign up for Jalapeno Cycling's weekly newsletter!