Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Art of the Start

The art of the cyclocross racing start is something I have NOT mastered.

In the past 4 Verge races I've had a second row call up.  So, what, 10 riders in front of me on the line?  And a whole slew of racers behind me ready to gun me down.  (I know that's nothing compared to the 150 riders the boys had to contend with in the cat 3 race but it was more than I've ever raced with).  I've been finishing good enough to get a call-up... so you would think I'd be strong enough to keep up with my peers on the start.  Hell no...   I'm getting slaughtered...

On day 1 in Maine about halfway through the first lap I see Alix next to me "Hi Raina!".  WTF!  (Sorry Alix - no slam intended)  She was on a mtn bike!  And there were 30 riders between us on the starting line and somehow we were next to each other.  Either I was doing something really wrong or she was doing something really right.

On day 2 in Maine I was determined to have a better start.  No go.  On lap 1 my place was in the mid-20's... more than 10 places behind where I lined up on the start line.

On day 1 at Northampton I was DETERMINED to have a good start.  I powered through the first few hundred yards and felt I was holding my position starting the run-up.  Yay!!  Halfway up the hill someone hooked my rear wheel in their handlebars.  Got all turned around and by the time we were untangled and moving again we were WAY back in the pack.  Damn-it.

On day 2 at Northampton I tried again for a good start.  I can do it.  I can do it.  My pep talk to be aggressive and hold my position.   I picked a bad line (yet again) and came to a dead stop behind a few girls who got crowded into the inside post on first hard turn.  At the end of the first lap I had slid so far back in the pack Eric wouldn't even tell me what place I was in (he gave up counting).  He just kept saying "what are you doing?" "hellloooooooo.... are you racing?".  I think about halfway through the race when I was still tagging along in the same pack of riders Eric gave up any hope of me moving forward.

Soooo...  I've got lots of homework to do before next cross season.... figure out the art of the start.
A few quick notes on the men's sunday race (Oliver was with his grandparents so I could really pay attention to what was happening).

Kudos to George for improving his race strategy over the past year... instead of starting out gangbusters and slowly sliding back the rest of the race, he's had really good starts (strong, but not getting to far into the red) and then holding steady the rest of the race or moving up.  He had a great finish passing a few riders on the last lap and then a good sprint finish to hold his position.

Kudos to Eric and John for making the most starting in the back of a field so large that if you are not in the first few rows you don't have any chance of a decent finish.

Eric decided to have fun with it anyway and give it his best shot.  On the first lap there were maybe 10 riders behind him (out of about 150) and he spent the whole race just trying to move up in the pack... picking good lines conserve energy and making some aggressive passes on the straights.  He passed about 70 people during the race to finish in the top half.  Maybe I need to take some lessons from him on how to ride aggressively on my first lap.

John also decided to have fun with it to, but in a different way.  John took a beer hand-out with a few laps to go.  And had a good finish... picking off a handful of people in the last few laps and then another rider in a sprint finish.  Hmmm... maybe there is some strategy to taking the beer handouts?


  1. :: Stepping up to soapbox ::
    If you want to learn how to start, the best event to watch are the roadie crits. So I know I'm not competitive now, but I have a bit of experience to draw upon. During all four years in college, we would be doing 20-24 races during the collegiate season and then hit up the USCF circuit in the summers. With 85% of those races being crits, I had to quickly learn how to start fast. If you weren't in the top 10% of the field, there was a good chance you would be wrecked to the curb by the end or (most importantly) you would miss the breaks as they happened. So a few points that may or may not be helpful:

    1.) The first big choice is deciding where (and who) to start behind. This is huge. I know you're limited to a specific row in CX, but you have the option of where you start laterally. I always go middle. It makes you the most flexible to be able to maneuver around the inevitable dropped chain, missed pedal or entangled handlebar.

    2.) Look at the people in front of you. I try to not put myself directly behind or in-between teammates, because they're already going to try to stick together and edge you out.

    3.) It may be a bias, but I also prefer bigger girls because... well... it takes a little more to push out a 160lb girl compared to a 90lb girl.

    4.) beeeeee AGGRESSIVE, be be aggressive. You never get another chance like this in a race to pass so many people in such a short distance. I borderline on bully but (review point #3), I'm a big girl and it's one of my few advantages. Especially crucial in CX!!

    5.) Don't be afraid to call your line. If you're on the inside and you're going to stick the inside, call it out and don't let yourself get pushed out. You also can't be afraid to be bumped around (or through the tape) when doing this.

    And don't beat yourself up about the Maine start. We kind of met in the middle. Further evidence that it doesn't matter what you start on, but how -- even a mtn bike would do.

    After saying all that, starting well also takes a lot of good luck. And Raina, I know you have what it takes and I think most of your starts have been the result of bad luck. A lot of the girls next to you in your call-up have probably had years of roadie experience even though you're probably waaaay more fit, so don't be too hard on yourself. It's hard to learn how to start in a pack when most of the CX races we do are <20 women. Just be persistent and it will pay off. If you're serious about making headway with this, doing a few of the Tuesday night crits next summer wouldn't hurt, either. But then again, it's only your first year in 3's so it's good to have something to work on!

    BTW - I think you have a great style of picking them off throughout the race. You're like the Great White shark of the Women's 3/4 field. :)

  2. thanks for the tips Alix. I'll see what I can do.