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Today was the first cyclocross race ever at Stafford Lake Park in Marin.  There were other races in the area, but many racers from San Francisco, Santa Rosa and Marin made it out to show their support for more cyclocross racing in the North Bay.

I volunteered for course setup Saturday, which gave me a chance to check things out before the race.  The course shaped up pretty well and I rode a few laps before the rain came Saturday afternoon.  The terrain was bumpy in places, and thick with grass in others.  There were many long fireroad sections that were wide open and fast.  There was a long stair studded run-up and some bumpy and hilly traversing.  We rode through a couple of whoop-de-doo creek beds, which were fun, but there were relatively few corners on the course.  No real chicane, which made the course pretty fast, despite the long distance of just over 2 miles.  I estimated the fast As would do each lap in around 8 minutes.  There were two sets of two barriers, only 12 inches high, and a unique "farmwall" feature that race organizer Murphy Mack dubbed "the barrier of unusual size".  The farmwall was a few feet high and a couple of feet accross the top - kind of like jumping over a bar.  In a last minute decision to limit casualties, bails of hay were placed in front and beyond the farmwall, and a barrier was placed about 10 feet in front of it to slow the approach.

The two sets of barriers were low and spread out enough to jump, and I could leap over the farmwall from haybale to haybale with my bike in my hands.  I would definitely be running the long stair section, though the steps were spaced too closely to run aggressively and too far apart to double-up.

The basic course layout was a fast and long fireroad start with a slight rise and drop to a narrower bridge section, then through some bumpy and wide pasture to the runup.  The first flight of stairs could be ridden on the left, but the longest flight had to be run, though there was a dirt section on the left where you could avoid the oddly spaced steps.  We remounted at the top and traversed the off camber hillside on bumpy and grassy trail to a dip through a dry creekbed to a steep short climb.  More bumpy traversing led to a sweeping, leafy off-camber left to a drop to a double dip dry creekbed.  From there we were back on flat fireroad with a slight bumpy diversion to more flat fireroad.  A short climb led to fast fireroad back to the festival area, where we circled it counter clockwise, crossing a double barrier section to a left turn and more off camber grassy trail to another double barrier section.  We finished the lap with pavement to the last barrier and farmwall, which were a mere 20 meters from the finish line.

Despite (or because of) the abundant rain Saturday evening and night, the course was in excellent condition after the other classes raced Sunday.  I prerode one last lap just before our 2pm start and it was tacky and fast!  I made it to the start a little late and everyone was already lined up 4 or 5 rows deep.  I lifted my bike above my head and worked my way up to the far left in the second row, but I knew it would take extra energy to get to the front on the first lap.

The gun went off and I started moving up aggressively.  By the end of the first fireroad section I was in the top ten, and by the stairs I had gained a few more spots.  It looked like Mitch Tux of City Cycles was in the lead, with Brian Astell and a few others between us.  I was able to get closer by the time we were back at the festival area, but I carried too much speed into the first barrier set and couldn't get up well enough for the second barrier.  Over the bars I went, but I was up right away and only lost a spot or two.  My heartrate was pegged from the effort to move up through the field and the excitement of crashing, so I tried to calm down and told myself there was plenty of time to make this happen.  I probably came through the finish area in 5th place, and we got the 6 laps to go signal.  Over the next couple of laps, I gained the lead and many racers started to fall off.  I was riding into the wind by myself much of the time, but trying to get enough of a gap to break the other racers.  I knew this wasn't the wisest strategy, but I sure prefer riding by myself to being in between others, especially in the technical sections.  I put some attacks in and got away a little from Mitch, but he would get some back on the long fireroad section after the start.  Mitch did a decent job on the traversing hillside, but I usually would come through the creekbeds and back onto the fireroad ahead of him.  After a couple of laps of this, Krishna Dole had bridged up and was in the mix.  I figured I could'nt really leave these guys with all of the flat riding, so I didn't fight it too much when they wanted to ride in front.  We rode like this for a couple of laps, on the gas enough to sap the energy, but nobody really getting away.  Krishna and I worked together a little on the last couple of laps to put it to Mitch, and we pulled away from him enough on the last fireroads that it would be between the two of us on the final loop around the festival area.  Over the first set of barriers, Krishna was off and back on right beside me as I jumped, but I was able to sprint into the next corner a little ahead.  Krishna closed the gap and I opened it a little more through the next set of barriers.  On the paved section, Krishna dug hard and gained on me.  I came into the farmwall barrier just in front and Krishna was clean enough on his dismount to land on the other side right there with me.  I remounted and gave it one last kick to beat him by a nose!

The race involved a bit more drafting than most of the bay area races, but it was a lot of fun and conditions were perfect.  Thanks to everyone that made this one happen and I look forward to at least one more here next fall!

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