Tuesday, November 25, 2014

MudFest - Coupe de France Cyclocross

Liam - Coupe de France Cyclocross
 Four and a half years ago, when we first arrived in France Liam tried out a few cyclocross races.  We didn’t have a cyclocross bike, so Liam just took along his road bike with normal tires and winged it.   It was rough.  The races took place around rocky goat fields, or on hillside trails that were better suited for hardcore mountain bikes. Many of the courses were near impossible to ride on with a standard road bike.  I talked to many of the other French parents and they assured me that Cyclocross was fine on a regular bike “ just think of the skills he will develop”…. Funny, that as I looked around at the bikes at the races, not one of their kids had a road bike.  In fact, they all had the latest Cross models with light frames, fancy wheels, and super grippy tires.  Uhmmm…

Cyclocross Mud - nothing like it
Mud – mud is a key feature of many, if not most, cyclocross races.  I’m not talking about just a little bit of mud, I’m talking five, six inches deep mud.  Mud that clumps and sticks to the bike and gets into the brakes; mud that can stop a regular road bike right in its tracks.  You see, another feature of a cross bike that varies from a regular road bike is the brakes.  Cross bikes have open wire or disc brakes that leave a lot of clearance for the wheels.  This feature allows the wheels to continue to turn even when caked with mud.  Ultimately, after about a month of frustration, it was this feature or lack of having this brake feature that led us to buy Liam’s first dedicated cyclocross bike.  Liam raced that bike for 5 cross seasons, until, finally, at a race in Marseille last month it died.  It was the first race that Liam has ever had a DNF (did not finish) in.

After the bike broke beyond repair, we were faced with a tough decision…skip cyclocross this year or invest in another bike.  Cyclocross is not exactly Liam’s strength, but he has grown to enjoy it more and more, and it has become a major part of Liam’s “off” season in the winter.  It actually gets more complicated, because as the racing has gotten more advanced Liam now needs two bikes for most races.  In really muddy conditions there is a pit on the course where riders are allowed to change bikes every lap or so.  Between laps their crew frantically tries to get the bike as clean as possible before the next exchange. As a side note, guess who gets the dirty job of pit crew at these mud fests? Voila c’est moi.  To make matters more pressing, Liam had the opportunity to race on the Provence Cyclocross team at the upcoming Coupe de France in Sisteron.  It was a big race with the best cyclocross racers in France competing, and it was coming up in less than three weeks. We had to make a decision quickly.  After a week of debate and some cyclocross soul searching on both Liam and my part, we committed to this year’s cross season.  I say “we” because remember I’m the pit crew. 

Liam Rolling on the New Crockett
A week before the Coupe de France we found a sweet Trek Crockett 7 Disc Cyclocross bike at a local bike shop ( it was last year’s model so we got a pretty good deal on it).  We got the bike on a Friday and the next day Liam was tearing it up at a race in Saint Tropez.  He was 5th place in Saint Tropez. Not a bad result.  After Saint Tropez the rains came and they didn’t let up for a continuous week.  Liam had a second race during that week on the Armistice Day holiday in Le Tour with another great top ten result.  It rained continuously for the entire week.  It was looking like the Coupe de France was going to be a real mud fest.  We went up to Sisteron the day before the event to pick up the race number and to recon the course.  We needed fly fishing wading boots to even get around the course. It was crazy.  There were nearly 200 kids that were going to be in the Cadet race the following day.  I had seen some muddy courses, but this was going to be insane.  The following day they had a draw for start position.  Liam had bad luck with a last 18th row start position.  This meant that the race for a top spot was literally over before it even began.  In a race with such a large field on a narrow course it is very difficult if not impossible to do well if you start from the very back. Liam would have to look at this race as an opportunity to get some great experience, see how many people he could pass, and have some good fun in the mud. 

Mud Fest - Sisteron

 We had borrowed Liam’s brother’s CX bike as a second bike, and I was having a joyous time in the pits during the race.  Liam would come through and we would flawlessly get the bike exchange done.  After the exchange all hell would break loose.  200 people were frantically trying to clean off derailleurs, chains, pedals, wheels, and the frames in general.  I’m not sure who was more muddy : the racers or the pit crews.  It was a learning experience. Liam finished 115th.  He was disappointed, but I told him to look on the bright side : he didn’t break his bike!  With all that mud, derailleurs were popping of like bottle caps.  Liam passed about 40 racers on his own, and the other 40 that he passed were a result of broken bikes.   Frances Mourey, the Champion of France and one of the best riders in the world, broke his bike in the final lap of the elite race.  He had built an incredible lead.  He started running with the bike to get to the line, but at the very last moment, inches from the finish, he was passed and lost the win.

Frances Mourey in a sprint for the line

Devastated to have lost the win - it was tough out there!
Even at the highest levels cyclocross is crazy and unpredictable sport.  It kind of grows on you.  After the race, Liam and I were already talking about the next one.  I'm sure I will be cursing in the pits, but come the next weekend I'll be ready to dive in there and go for another round!

Live Strong, Train Safe and Live Well!

This is Bill and Liam Signing out

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