This year’s edition of Kringle Kross brought the present that only cyclo-cross racers wish for (and dream about during the off-season), truly crossy course conditions. It was not just mud, but the sticky clay-mud that after a single wheel rotation results in a half inch layer of mud coating on both wheels.
The Kringle Kross course followed the typical Eagle Bike Park pseudo figure eight layout with the upper loop on grass and the lower loop in the dirt, but on this day, most of the dirt was sticky clay-mud that ~tripled the dirt loop “lap time” as compared to dry dirt for the average rider. The race started with the dirt loop, and everybody’s bike accumulated significant mud load before they entered the first grass loop. In addition, there were several sticky mud slogs, so each rider also accumulated mud loads on their shoes before they entered the first grass loop.
This sticky mud caused numerous problems. The accumulations between the fork and front wheel, and between both the seat stays and chain stays and the rear wheel, prevented the wheels from turning freely. My carbon frame has a very fat down tube, and it quickly caused mud to accumulate between it, the seat tube and the chain rings, and this also increased pedaling difficulty. The front derailleur was engulfed in the mud pack, and it was totally useless. The cantilever brakes were still functional, but they sounded like coarse sandpaper on my alloy rims, a good reason to utilize disk brakes with carbon rims.
However, the biggest problem with the mud was clipping into the pedals, and this became more difficult as the race progressed. In the best of circumstances, clipping into the pedals in muddy conditions is more difficult, as you have to plow through the mud while you are trying to get started. The degree of difficulty increases when mud binding of the wheels and chain rings is included, and then there is the need to kick-off enough mud between the shoes and pedals to enable clipping-in. By the last lap, I had to ride the entire dirt loop unclipped.
The course had frozen the night before the race, but it was obvious during the preview ride before the first race that the course was thawing quickly in the low 40F temperature and warm SE breeze. The first race, the Men Cat4-5 race, started with a combination of mud and frozen mud and saw increasingly muddy / slippery conditions. The second race, the Women and Master Men, saw the mud in “full bloom” for the entire race, causing the longest mud slogging lap times. The third race, the Men Cat1-2-3 race, saw upper 40F and increasing SE wind drying conditions with two un-ride-able sections becoming ride-able: the downhill slalom; and the two-step climb out of the “velodrome”. It is clear from the race photos that there was significantly less mud accumulation on the bikes of the Men Cat1-2-3 racers than for the earlier racers.
One of the signature features of the Eagle Bike Park venue was included in the Kringle Kross course, the railroad tie stairway run-up, but it was dwarfed by the 75m mud slog that followed the run-up before it was possible to re-mount.
The grass loop was wet with several slippery turns earlier in the day, but the “lap time” for this loop was not significantly longer than for dryer course conditions. A double barrier was included in the grass section. It featured a small barrier placed closely in front of a full legal height barrier, and nobody attempted to ride this barrier arrangement.
This year’s Kringle Kross course provided more than ample opportunities for the skilled riders to separate themselves. The lighter riders also benefited in that they did not sink into the mud as deeply, nor accumulate as much mud. The heavier riders were at a disadvantage in the slippery downhill slalom and slippery climbs, as they were more likely to have to dismount due to inadequate traction.
The course also emphasized the importance of mud tolerant bicycle design. My bike quickly became too heavy to suitcase carry through the long and numerous mud slogs. I attempted the modified suitcase carry with the front wheel rolling / plowing through the mud, and this seemed to work initially, but in reality, it concentrated the mud accumulation / binding between the front wheel and fork preventing any further pushing of the bike through the mud. Either the bike continued to gain weight, or I grew weaker, as I could barely shoulder the bike on the last lap. At this point, I saw people attempting to clear mud from their bikes by bouncing them on the firmer ground in the pit and even against the wood rail fence, but the sticky mud prevailed. Numerous people commented there would be disk brake converts resulting from the day’s Kringle Kross course conditions.
Several racers either started on mountain bikes, or switched to a spare mountain bike in the pit, but they quickly found that the already heavier mountain bikes accumulated even heavier mud loads. In hind sight, it is clear that I should have inspected the course conditions the preceding afternoon and brought my mountain bike for the course preview ride, and then lined-up for the race with my clean CX bike. It is also clear that any “pushing” of the bike was deleterious in the sticky mud conditions, especially in the downhill slalom.
Many of us were disappointed with our Kringle Kross performance, but in reality it was a tremendous opportunity to expand our CX experience and grow expertise.
Author: Fritz Stafford
Published: December 11, 2015