Winter Wonderland at the US Open of Cyclocross - Boulder Cup
The UCI circus came to Boulder this past weekend for the annual US Open of Cyclocross race at our beloved Valmont Bike Park. Unlike the previous few years when Colorado’s summer was sticking around for a few extra months, this year was a bag of mixed fall-like conditions. Saturday was a short sleeve skinsuit kind of day with sunny skies and mild temperatures while Sunday was, well, it was a shit show.
Murky conditions rolled in over the flatirons just hours after wrapping up our race on Saturday afternoon. With the temperature dropping as quickly as the snowflakes, we quickly had a slip ‘n slide cyclocross course on our hands for day 2. Muddy ruts lined by snowy, off-camber terrain made for a seriously ‘crossy’ kind of fun. The only downside was the finger-freezing 20-degree temperatures to deal with.
In real ‘cross conditions like Sunday, equipment choice can play a pivotal role in the race outcome. What tires to use, how much pressure to run, should we use toe spikes, how the hell do we keep our feet and hands warm without sacrificing fit and function? Here are a couple quick thoughts on certain equipment choices and racing hacks that Dani and I used to survive the tundra conditions on Sunday.
Tires and Pressure
Despite the dry condition on Saturday, I ran Donnelly PDX mud tires on both days of racing this weekend. I’ve been using a mix of MXP and PDX lately and I felt like the PDX side knobs dug into Valmont’s off-camber hillsides and the bumpy backside terrain a bit better. For Sunday’s slip ‘n slide race, the PDX muds were a no-brainer. The biggest decision came down to pressure. While the oily, slippery mud called for super low pressure, I found some nasty rocks camouflaged by mud during the pre-ride so I didn’t drop it too crazy low. Running 21psi up front and 21.5psi in the rear, I had a great balance of grip in the slippery sections and protection through the rocky bits.
Dani ran slightly lower pressure than I did. She’s a lighter rider and has more experience riding at super low tire pressures. I’m still working on feeling comfortable and confident when my tire feels like it’s going to fold in half.
Clothing, Shoes, and Gloves
Clothing - Sunday’s race was COLD! The course was wet and sloppy and temperatures were far below freezing. So, Dani and I had multiple sets of clothes, gloves, and even shoes on hand to swap into after our pre-ride. It’s a pain to lug around so much gear but it’s all worth it when you show up on the start line with a clean, dry kit and warm hands and feet.
Gloves -Picking the right gloves can be super challenging in cold conditions. Too thick and you can’t grab the bars or the brake levers. Too thin and your hands will freeze and stop working all together. I tried wearing rubber gloves under some thinner neoprene gloves during pre-ride and my fingers nearly froze off. So, I swapped to some thicker gloves, which were far warmer, but they were too bulky. Feeling a strong bond to Goldilocks, I finally settled on a set of lighter weight gloves with a little wind protection right before the start. These gloves ended up being the perfect fit, must be the rule of three or something, right? I’ll have to ask Goldi. But this experience helped me learn that wind protection is the key to keeping my hands warm and hopefully this will come in handy should we encounter more 20-degree races or training days. Ugh.
Shoes – Dani uses little heat packs in her shoes to keep her toes warm. I accidentally took her on a Colorado winter mountain adventure ride last year and nearly froze her toes off. Ooops. So now she has to take extra care in conditions like these to keep her feet happy. I had some extra thick socks on and I made sure to keep my feet dry and clean during the pre-ride. I paired neoprene toe covers (thanks Blueseventy from my tri days!) with wind resistant shoe covers during the warm up laps to keep out the mud and cold. That way I showed up on the line with dry feet and that seemed to do the trick for most of the race. With about 1 lap to go, I passed another rider by going straight through a puddle of icy muck and my feet started freezing up after that.
Spraying down pedals with WD-40 can really help with icy conditions like Sunday’s race. It helps prevent mud and ice from building up so it’s easier to clip into your pedals. Sometimes, however, on really cold, snowy, or muddy race, nothing will prevent your pedals or cleats from caking up with ice and grit. I had to ride down a steep, slippery descent unclipped on most laps on Sunday, which got pretty exciting at times. Being able to ride technical terrain with your feet unclipped is important to practice because learning to do it mid-race is not the ideal situation… trust me.