One thing Lee carries while racing - his bike! ? Annette Hayden

It takes a special type of person. © Annette Hayden

Masters racer Lee Waldman reflects on the Masters World Championships at Mol, and what it might teach him in preparation for Louisville. Missed Lee’s last column? Catch up on his musing of what makes us cyclocrossers unique.

by Lee Waldman

WHEAT RIDGE, CO – I just stumbled in the door, legs wobbly, from an incredibly windy ride. Logged on to find stellar results from the American contingent in Mol, Belgium at Masters Worlds. Over 30 American riders finished, representing US cylcocross admirably.

By now you’ve probably read the reports and know the results. You might also have viewed the video commentaries of Johnny Bold, Steve Tillford, Kevin Hines and Peter Webber. Anything else that I’d say would be redundant. But…I’d like to write not from the point of view of a participant, but of a hopeful. And that I am – a hopeful, planning already to experience the thrill in Louisville next January.

It’s a difficult task, writing about an event that you haven’t yet participated in. I thought it would be easy…but the more I thought about it, and the more I tried to write, the more I realized that I needed more information. I needed to know just what it feels like to race in what’s arguably the hotbed of cyclocross. To race with riders who have grown up with ’cross, who have raced at the highest level and who, listening to the reports of those who were there, are intensely physical. I wanted to know what I should expect. How fast is it? How aggressive? What should I do differently, if anything, to train? So I contacted Myrah, Ruseckas, Tillford, Webber and to Dan Seaton. What, I asked, were their thoughts on the race, the crowds, the course, the event in general?

Waiting for their replies, I viewed Pete Webber’s YouTube course preview. I hadn’t watched it, mostly out of jealousy. I wanted to be there too, experiencing the atmosphere, the course, the whole environment that’s cyclocross in Belgium. After reading his pre-race article and seeing the pre-ride, all I can say is I wish I’d had the time and the money to attend. So instead, I’m refocusing my work, my planning, and my imagination on Louisville. Between Peter’s comments and his pre-race video I felt that I had a pretty good idea of what the course was like.

It is true that there are courses that fit each individual rider’s technique and personality. Courses that fit best for me allow for some technical skill, smooth dismounts and remounts and a lot of fast riding sections that allow me to call on my background on the road. I prefer courses that have a rhythm to them; that require effort but also flow nicely. Probably my favorite course is Roger Williams Park in Providence.

Looking back on my results this past season, including Bend, I find that the turny, twisty courses, interspersed with long, hard riding sections yielded the best results for me. The harder the better.

So how might I have faired in Mol? Judging from Peter’s comments, and from simply watching, it looked like the strongest rider, the one able to put power to the pedals, would fare well. I don’t know how I’d stack up against the other riders who were born in the early 50s but I think I’d hold my own.

Some things stood out as I learned about the course. First and foremost the sand sections. We don’t have a lot of it in Colorado, with the exception of the Boulder Reservoir races which define sand racing for me. Sand saps your energy and puts a premium on power. It requires speed and the finesse to keep the bike upright against the forces aligned to stop forward progress. I think that I have as much of that as any other 60 + rider that I know.

It’s difficult to really get a feel for a course from a video, though. Although the Mol course looked to be peppered with direction changes, many of the turns were of the type that a good rider with good balance could pedal through. If you’ve been following my columns this year, you know that cornering is something that I’ve worked on all year. It feels as if it paid off since I no longer find myself getting dropped in corners.

Dan Seaton was able to cast some light on the personality of Belgian courses. I was surprised to find that they vary from one part of the country to the next. I shouldn’t have been, considering my experience here. We race completely different types of courses in Colorado than those I find when I travel to either coast. So why should I expect it to be different anywhere else?

There were some things that stood out from his comments. First, he corroborated what I regularly hear about the style of riding and racing. It’s much more physical there – less quarter given and taken. (note to self: start working on that now! i.e. Don’t be a baby, buttercup.) So I wonder, what will it be like next year? I know what it’s like to race in the States. Will enough foreign riders make the trip over to impact the style of racing here? If so, should I plan to race down another category in preparation? I already race in the 45+ category for most of the year. Should I really push the envelope and race down even further?

Dan had much more to say, but I’m saving that, along with thoughts from Peter Webber, for my next column.

Questions about courses seem irrelevant considering the fact that we will be racing not in Belgium but in Kentucky. Maybe my questions about the course would be better answered by riders who have raced in Louisville. Anybody out there want to share their experiences this season racing there? I know lots of us would be grateful. Feel free to comment.

On the other hand there appeared to be plenty of hard fast riding in Mol as well. On the courses I’ve ridden this year that have had long riding sections, I’ve been able to make up time and pass riders while on the bike. The only thing that bothered me about Mol was that it appeared to have a lot of relatively narrow sections in the forested parts of the course. It isn’t that I don’t like trees, but I have a physical problem that compromises me on those really narrow courses – double vision. It’s tough to pick a line when you see it almost separately out of each eye. Even after a lifetime of adaptation it’s still the one thing that negatively impacts my ’cross racing. But I digress. All in all I wish I’d been able to take the time away from my job as a reading teacher to go. That’s the bad news. The good news: Louisville is less than a year away. I’ll write more when I hear back from the guys that were there.

Time to go ride. Get out there.