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Three Big Tips for Racing Cyclocross in the Mud: Whirlybird Race Report

Three Big Tips for Racing Cyclocross in the Mud: Whirlybird Race Report

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!

Heading Back to the Road: Kathryn Cumming on Bear Mountain

Heading Back to the Road: Kathryn Cumming on Bear Mountain

Last weekend, Kathryn Cumming jumped into her first road race of the season, and grabbed a podium spot at Bear Mountain. The owners at Jalapeno Cycling are committed to only supporting equal payout races, which is why they both participate in the road races organized by the CRCA, who we feel are a leader in the NYC area. You can read Kate's full race report below. Interested in her power numbers from the race, you can view her data from her Strava file here.

by Kathryn Cumming

It took me a while to sign up for my first road race of the 2018 season. I’ve been spending most of my time on my cyclocross bike and trying to hit as much gravel as possible. Big thanks to CRCA though for hosting an incredible race on some of my all time favorite roads; seeing the Bear Mountain Classic on BikeReg was enough to get me on slick tires. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to support a good organization and get in a killer workout. Roadies are strong and after seeing how much of my field had crushed the Women’s Woodstock Cycling Grand Prix the previous weekend, I knew it would be a solid day of riding.

I may be a cyclocrosser racer, but I am not a fan of the cold. When the forecast at Harriman State Park called for temperatures in the 40s and rain, I started pulling all of my clothing options out of the closet. While I did not want to freeze, the course has enough climbing that overdressing would definitely mean burning up on the hills. I opted for long sleeves and leg warmers, and fortunately, on a last minute phone call with Andrew, he told me not to wear my heavy gloves. While I was mad at him on the descents, it was the right decision.

It started pouring as we rolled out, and with a long, steep downhill to start the race, my teeth were literally chattering by the time we hit the bottom. With a narrow road and a neutral start to the three mile climb up Tiorati, the pace stayed reasonable. Everyone was riding safe and the group seemed to plan to stay together for the first lap. As water kicked up from tires, I found myself getting colder and my thoughts starting to turn towards the negative.

Throughout the entire first lap, I planned how I was going to quit. Could I somehow get a flat? Would I just simply pull off into the parking lot at the end of lap one? I was cold and honestly kind of bored. Conditions were wet and the field was smart and strong, so I didn’t want to make some stupid attack at an inopportune time, but I don’t particularly enjoy sitting in the group.

Pack mentality kept me rolling past the parking lot to start lap two of three. I really appreciate how cautious everyone was on the way down the hill. As we turned onto Tiorati to start our second run up the long climb, the pace started to quicken at the front. I had one woman marked after seeing the awesome results she has been putting up lately and I figured I would just get close to her wheel and see what happened.

I am pretty soft about this whole being cold thing, and I was still freezing even though we were climbing. It was time to pick up the pace and try to warm up! Plus, I figured now was the time to have some fun. I really enjoy climbing and went to the front to start driving the pace. When I stood, my legs felt like lead and my feet seemed as if they were missing. Women were holding strong to my wheel, so I couldn’t see if we were dropping much of the group. As we started to come over the top, it was refreshing to at least hear some heavy breathing and a quick analysis of the situation showed we were down to a group of five.

As a cross racer who is used to going it alone, it was cool to see how quickly our breakaway group got organized with a paceline. Communication was there, pulls were quick, and we were starting to open up and solidify a gap. The group continued to ride together, taking turns at the front for the remainder of the lap. An added bonus was the friendliness of the group. I’ve been in enough road races where someone in the paceline is barking less than constructive criticism at a racing companion, but this crew just seemed to be having a great time putting down some watts and riding together. If you’ve chatted with me, you probably know I embrace a positive atmosphere, and the breakaway was sharing the same vibes. 

As we descended to start our third and final lap, I started to think tactically. Not surprisingly, when you haven’t done a road race in eleven months, tactics are not something that come to mind quickly. The group was made up of strong climbers and my legs were feeling cold and heavy. I’m not sure if everyone was in the same boat or not, but all accelerations on the final Tiorati climb seemed like half hearted attack attempts. We either couldn’t commit to the big watts needed to create a gap or just didn’t want to. Everyone continued to ride well together and I found myself trying to plan a time near the end to get away. I won the Cat 4 Bear Mountain race in 2015 with a jump on the final climb to open up a gap before the downhill finish. It seemed like a great idea, but I had some feelings of insecurity about whether or not I could pull it off in my current company. I found myself wanting a podium result, and therefore played it safe and stuck it out until the sprint. Cat and mouse started on the final climb and I tried to stay off the front (thanks to the crazy strong triathlete in the field for pulling us all the way up) and started marking a wheel. It has been so long since I was in a sprint finish that I was unsure of where and when to start the sprint. I decided to follow wheels and as we all wound it up on the downhill towards the finish line, I tried to give it a kick but was outmatched and couldn’t contend with first and second. 

Rolling in for third, it felt great to be racing again. Unlike a cross race where I can pretty much say after every race that I gave it my absolute all, road leaves you wondering about where and when you went hard. Should I have attacked? Did I start my sprint soon enough? Then you remember that it was a great time and that you need to get out of your wet clothes, and everything quickly moves forward. 

Thanks to the CRCA and the awesome women racing, I may have caught a little bit of the road bug. I don’t plan on becoming a true roadie any time soon (I will continue racing in my muddy mountain bike shoes), but more CRCA events will be on my summer calendar. I may or may not have come straight back to the shop to check BikeReg and start planning a bit of a racing calendar. See you at the Dave Jordan Central Park Classic!