Friday, October 30, 2009

Enter the Octagon

One of the most important parts--some would say *the* most important part--of any cross race is the start. The sprint is at the start and getting a good position early means passing fewer riders and having the choice of better lines, blah, blah, blah.

The UCI and USA Cycling both have rules, very clear rules, about things like the width and the length and the elevation and the surface and the arrangement of everything down the centimeter. The salient points are that the start chute should be 200 meters long and 6 meters wide. Most promoters, when they layout the course, take this into consideration and try to find the best arrangement for the start that ensure a fair and safe commencement to the race.

For the past two years at Rockburn, we have flagrantly cast these hopes aside.

There is a nice long road through the park, but unfortunately its curbed on both sides and really doesn't pass near the open areas where we want the race to go.  So instead we have had the starts in a parking lot, or as I like to think of it: The Octagon.  We would set-up a proper grid, 8 rows wide, in the back corner of the lot.  But when the gun goes off, riders would cut sideways into the lot that is actually 60-feet wide, but only 50 meters long to the sketchy hole shot that is maybe 12 feet wide.  Jim McNeely said it well,
"The prologue could have used a better start - the right hand turn off the tarmac was utter mayhem.  If you're funneling the course down from 20 rider's width to 8 wide, features that slow the pack down before the bottleneck might help avoid the wheel rubbing and rider shoving."
The first year this start ran through a long prologue loop that was muddy and downhill and out of sight.  The second year the prologue actually crossed the course (daring or dumb, you be the judge), which nearly caused wrecks in the stagger-start women and juniors race.

So the start and holeshot was short, narrow, and unsatisfying.  This year, its going to be long, wide, and black.  Both Schooley Mill and Rockburn have the same problem: plenty of road, but its all curbed.  So we're building ramps, 25-30 feet wide ramps, to get over the curb for the holeshot.  The ramps will be 4-feet deep, so the slope will be very gentle, and the surface will be solid, black grip tape--better traction than dry asphalt and and way more trustworthy in wet conditions.  By doing this, we get both starts over 250 meters, regulation width (or wider), with a wide hole shot.  Schooley Mill starts flat then slopes up hill.  Rockburn starts uphill, then levels out.

Now, should you still need to uncage your pent-up UFC aggression on the course, there will still be plenty of places to hog the line around a corner, pass savagely on a power-straight, and dive-bomb an off-camber.

So if you haven't done so already, register!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

3.3 km vs. 3.0 km

3.3 km is the current length of the Rockburn Cross course.

3.0 km is the distance from the Race Hotel to Rockburn.  That's right, its closer than the course is long.

So, now, you may be thinking to yourself, "Self, why would races 5-10 minutes off I-95, smack between the beltways, need a race hotel?" Admittedly, we're not expecting to fill the hotel, so we didn't reserve a lot of rooms, but we have had racers and their entourages from the far-flung hinterlands visit us for past races.  Those folks may appreciate such ridonkulous convenience.  You may appreciate such convenience too, so here are some reasons you may want to mull:

1. You want to make a family weekend of it (playgrounds in both infields, stuff to do nearby).
2. You want to get away from your family for the weekend.
3. The booking service has a better refund/cancellation policy than the hotel itself.
4. The booking service gives the promoter a cash-money kickback for every room booked.  Hey, this is what sponsorship is all about right?
5. The hotel will have a place to wash your bike (so will Schooley Mill Cross).
6. Somebody else has to wash the sheets and towels (please don't trash the rooms).
7. Unlimited ice for your recovery ice bath.
8. Free breakfast.  (FWIW, the chuck wagon also has awesome breakfast sandwiches, and there is a bagel shop between the hotel and the race, among other restaurants, like sushi.)
9. Free WiFi so you can plot vengence on your nemesis overnight.
10. You hate the beltways and you'd rather spend that hour sleeping.

Anyway, the rate is competitive, and then they give some of the money back, how cool is that?  A little symbiosis and they support our crosser community.  And you know we're just going to spend it back on you, our cross brethren and sisthren.  I mean, have you seen the cars we drive?  My car is definitely worth less than the prize list.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Endoplasmic Reticulum

In our inaugural 2007 season, Rockburn was the absolute last local race of the year, so we were doing everything we could to draw attention to our new event.  Generally speaking, a lot of our hype was pretty much par for the course, but we caused a little bit of stir with the press release below...

November 30, 2007; Conshohocken, PA, USA: Matt Brancheau and his Lateral Stress Velo crew have pulled out all the stops for the first running of Rockburn Cross in Elkridge, Maryland on December 9. Most impressive is the relationship LSV has developed with the government of Howard County, which owns the Rockburn Branch Park where the race will be held. Rather than the usual tenant-landlord relationship, Howard County has come on board as a full-blown co-promoter of the race. “They want to see more people using their park facilities,” said Brancheau, “and they’re excited about co-hosting this race.”
It’s clear that LSV has put just as much thought and effort into the course design itself. "From talking to a lot of racers, the most important thing to them is really the course. Is it fun and hard? When we first went to Rockburn, we thought, "What can we make of this place?" So, we utilized the octopus-on-shamrocks school of design which features large out-and-back loops as opposed to a tight, folded, endoplasmic reticulum layout." This, of course, is highly welcome and anticipated news for longsuffering racers who have been patiently awaiting a race that didn’t utilize an endoplasmic reticulum layout. 
However, and at the risk of appearing ignorant, we asked Brancheau if he might describe LSV's Rockburn Branch Park course using slightly more commonplace terms. Fortunately, Brancheau was happy to oblige. "Big loops make for a longer, faster, flowing course that covers a lot of different terrain. After a few recon trips we had strung together a course that was about 13 minutes or around 5km, give or take, before adding any corners. Of course, this was too long and not technical enough. So we had to start lopping parts off and adding corners and barriers and the like. Our coursemeister Bernie Shiao whittled the course down to 3.3km with the help of Chip Sovek, Kris Auer, Chris Nystrom, Chris Harshman, Shawn Downing, Elizabeth Harlow, a bunch of LSV-ers, and one race-speed scrimmage. The Elite Men should be able to turn it in 8 minutes. Visibility is better and the course is more compact."
Designed not only to be a great circuit to close the Mid-Atlantic season, but to also be an excellent warm-up to the following week’s U.S. National Championships, Brancheau is undeniably proud of LSV's layout. "There’s something at Rockburn to refine every skill, with surfaces ranging from tarmac to sand. There are tight corners and long flowing sections, lots of climbing but also active recovery sections, sustained efforts and explosive bursts, barriers and off-camber corners. This course has everything," says Brancheau, grinning, “except endoplasmic reticulum; its not eukaryotic."

The whole idea of "endoplasmic reticulum" actually germinated when I looked at a course map for Wissahickon.  But anyone who has ever attempted to design a cross course inevitably starts scouring other races' course maps, and when I looked at Wissahickon (long before I had raced it), I was taken back to freshman Biology (don't ask me how) and thought, "Huh.  That looks like an endoplasmic reticulum."  Wissahickon is really compact with lots of 180's and the famous Death Spiral, and I can tell you that the spectating is some of the best, made better by free beer.

However, as the release mentioned, Rockburn in '07 was anything but compact.  Not including the prologue, the lap was easily the maximum of 3.5 km, and that was after we had *cut* more than a km and a half.  On race day, I remember crossing the course and hearing an elite woman tell a friend "longest course ever!" as she rode by.  The layout had these immense, sprawling loops that looked like a shamrock or an octopus, so I dubbed it "octopus-on-shamrocks".  Someone was even so bold as to compare Rockburn to Granogue, which was just unvarnished flattery, but still another sprawling course--although Tom McDaniels and the DCCoD apparently have some new tricks up their skinsuits this year. 

Anyway, ironically, when folks read this release, they latched onto "endoplasmic reticulum" harkening back to their own memories of being 14 years old studying high school Biology, but we were actually trying to say we weren't using that design.  Not that it's a bad design idea because equally ironic is that since then, we've actually gravitated toward exactly that design concept.  Not much shorter, but definitely more compact.

2009 seems to be becoming a watershed year in Mid-Atlantic course design.  Charm City kicked it off consummate flow.  The changes made to that course alone have revolutionized my understanding of course design.  Ed Sander as always was totally unique, then BCA and Kelley Acres both stepped it up a notch by shoe-horning in more twists (and more length) than anyone would have thought possible in relatively small venues.  Plus KAX had a flyover.  Now Hyattsville has come on the scene doing a whole lot more than one would expect from a flat park.

But what about the HoCo2xCx courses?  Maps are posted here, but, look folks, those maps will leave you surprised on race day.  We can't help but dial the flow and nail the sequence and tweak and shift and bend.  Schooley Mill is an unknown commodity, but its a little slice of cyclocross heaven.  Wide open spectating, natural barriers, indoor bathrooms.  Rockburn has always been great fun, but this year we've finally fixed the sketchy start, the pit is huge, and the barriers will be in a different place.  Still plenty of up and down and all around.  We hope you like them, and, by the way, go register!

These are salad days of shamrocks and endoplasmic reticulum.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

PSA: Venue Preservation

We are all very fortunate to have the enthusiastic support of local government bodies who allow us to use public spaces for racing. Most of these agencies are delighted to not only allow us to use their roads and parks for races, but also to enjoy them for spontaneous, recreational riding. However, as good residents or guests, these municipalities will only permit our continued event promotions if we all exercise respect and responsibility toward the resources provided by all tax-payers.

Put more succinctly, they'll only let us race if the grass grows back.

Now that cross season is in full swing, please feel free to pre-ride or post-ride the public venues that allow it (and please also respect the private or public venues that do not allow unsanctioned use). However, stay a few yards wide of the track worn-in from racing--and avoid creating a new track--so that we can all maintain good relations with our coveted venues. It'll give you better training anyway.

Cheers, and happy and safe racing.