Written by Michael Green Monday, 30 October 2017 00:00
The debut of my 2018 Kona Super Jake occurred at the Ann Arbor Velo Club's Vet's Park cyclocross event. Generally, in the past, I haven't been a huge fan of this venue but over the summer I used this site as my "home base" for group rides on the dirt roads surrounding the city and it had become to feel a bit like home. Still, with close to 2000 feet of climbing for a day of CX, it's not a racing location of choice for a big guy.
Iceman Cometh is just a few short weeks away I and I felt the need for a little more high intensity and so instead of racing the usual one event, I entered back-to-back races: Elite Masters and Singlespeed - just a minuscule 15 minutes to swap bike, number and re-stage. What was I thinking?
My call-up placed in me the third row, but the opening stretch of the track provided plenty of space for moving up with a sweeping left turn. I selected my place on the outside right hoping to find plenty of space to make up the necessary spaces. Sure enough, on the whistle, everyone moved left leaving plenty of space. Usually I focus solely on SSCX, so this was my first geared cyclocross race for at least two years and was excited to put my new 2018 Kona Super Jake through its paces. I clicked through the gears and placed my self into the top 8 for the first winding climb. I cut a few corners shallow and made up a few more spots as the "lemmings" followed the leaders wide turn. With a fast descent followed by a long run-up the racers strung out and slowly but surely the selection was made. With the leader off the front by 10 seconds I was in a group of four trying to make a dent into the gap. I tried to spare as much energy as I could and followed wheels, trusting that the work would be done by others on one hand, and because I'd be racing for another 45 minutes when this race was done.
Two seconds on the next lap, 5 in the third, by lap four of six the top three on the track were together. With two laps remaining, there was a lot of jockeying for position and a general slowing of pace. I was confident to rely on a sprint if we all ended together, but because of a gravel left hand turn into the finishing stretch, I felt I needed to have the lead heading into the turn. I was second wheel: I'd gapped the third by not braking on one of the winding descents and allowing the stiffness of my Carver wheels and tires to grip on the long grass, wide in the turns. Just prior to the final sections another winding climb was going to be where I'd planned to make my move, but I caught my pedal on an off-camber and gave away a couple of crucial seconds due to my dab. That forced second on the day: no sprint but now was time recover and race again.
Fifteen minutes later, after a gel, drink and new number I was still huffing and puffing as I lined up for Singlespeed. I was hoping for a slower pace because of the single cog and hilly terrain, but it was fast and another six laps was scheduled - I was hoping for no more than five!
I settled into a groove after the start and was very concerned about being overgeared. I was using a sixteen tooth cog on the rear instead of my usual seventeen. I hadn't been able to adequately tension my new 2018 Kona Major Jake and was relying on the "magic gearing" that the chain length had provided. The first climb was fine, not ideal, it hurt, yet sure enough on the bumpy downhill I dropped my chain and quickly slipped from top six. I jumped off, got my chain back on and ran. Again, on the next downhill the chain dropped again. My first react was "I'm out" but I sucked to up and joined the back of the race.
I was tending to ride cautiously, and not my typical more aggressive lines. As I threw my bike down to remount after the run-up on lap two I noted that my rear through-axle was loose - is this why I was dropping chains? I'd ridden singletrack and test rode this beauty and dropping the chain was not even a thought coming into the race. I tightened it up, "loose" noises disappeared and my chain was perfect for the remaining five laps. From the back of the race I clawed myself through the crowd. It turned into a fun ride with plenty of rabbits in front of me to chase. My lap times got faster and faster with my last lap fitting respectfully in the first race, but not enough to catch the podium - now I was begging for one more! Finishing eighth, some good riding on a hilly course with ninety minutes of intensity, my day was done. I tucked into the food and coffee I had brought with me, sat down in the warm autumn sun and contemplated the drive home. Perhaps I’ll do this again someday!?
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