Racing Starts and Reality Hits – A Column by Lee Waldman

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Lee Waldman trucking along nicely - but the Bonk Monster is not far away © Annette Hayden

Lee Waldman trucking along nicely – but reality will soon come crashing down! © Annette Hayden

Masters racer Lee Waldman starts his season strong before reality comes crashing down, and he takes a minute to reflect on the courses – and course designers that he prefers. Missed Lee’s last column, where he makes the official transition from road to cyclocross bike? Catch up here.

by Lee Waldman

Here’s something that I rediscover every season: The very first race of the ’cross season usually goes well, then reality hits! Even though I’ve trained hard, it’s just not the same level of intensity as racing. I tend to forget, thankfully, just how painful a ’cross race can be. From gun to bell lap, it hurts. And it hurts for longer, it seems, with every passing year. There’s simply no disguising the fact that age has a gigantic impact on my recovery time. I realize that as I get older the length of time between races that I’m tired stretches further into the following week.

It’s Saturday morning as I write this. In 30 minutes I’ll load the bikes on the car and head out for my second race of the season. The course is one I like – it’s hard both technically and physically. Right now my mind is willing, thanks to the visualization and the mantra I’ve been practicing since Cyclocross Magazine’s Issue 10 arrived, but the legs are still heavy, complaining about being subject to torture again so soon.

I’ve been doing everything “according to Hoyle,” really I have. No extra training sessions just to get that little bit of extra work in. I rest as much as I can considering that, like all of you, I have a real job. I eat pretty well – with the occasional detour toward dessert. But all in all, I’m doing a better job this year of taking care of myself than I ever have in the past. And it shows.

Last week, the first race of the season, brutally hot (mid-90s when we raced), I had possibly my best start ever in a 45+ race. I’m sitting comfortably in about 14th or 15th place, riding with guys who were just born when I was entering high school, and feeling pretty damn good about myself. Cresting a really cool set of stairs, the rider behind me decided that the middle of my carbon rear wheel was a great place for him to rest his handlebars. Not a good idea. By the time we were untangled and I controlled my urge to curse uncontrollably, my chain had popped off. It took more than a couple of seconds and a loss of about 20 places for me to get going again.

Obviously the dynamics of the race changed for me and instead of challenging for a top-20 placing, my new goal was to see how many of the men in front of me I could catch. And like all similar situations, this one is a good news / bad news one. The good news – I actually worked my way back up to 28th out of a field of 45. The bad news – it could have been so much better.

Time out to go race #2. . .

Not a bad day on the bike. After all, as my friend Jim says, any day above ground riding and racing is better than the alternative. My start could have been better. Guess I really wasn’t recovered from last week’s effort. But that’s really no big deal.

Can’t say I loved the course though, since it proved to be more of a mountain bike course. Tape stretched 3m wide with one single track line through the majority of the course. I understand that there are lots of riders who are technically more proficient than I am at this sort of racing. They probably did, or would if they lived here, love the course. But like Len on Dancing With The Stars, it just wasn’t my particular cup of tea. Not good, not bad, just not my favorite.

Why is it that some promoters feel that all it takes to put on a cyclocross race is to string tape, put out a race flyer, and wait for the riders to show up? And we do! We’re so motivated or starved to race that we’ll happily line up and shell out the entry fee so that we can slog through the 6-inch-high grass for 45 minutes, even saying “thank you” when we’re finished.

I realize that there are a plethora of very good promoters many of whom, I hope, are reading this column. To you I do offer a sincere “Thank you.” I love riding your races, never complain about the entry fee because I understand how much work it takes. I’ve done it for years, still do. Your courses are challenging. They push me physically and mentally. I only wish that those other guys would learn from you, because there’s room for improvement in my humble opinion.

In a perfect world there would be standards with “teeth” that would ultimately filter out the mediocre ones, but there isn’t. Sure, the quality of a course is subjective, and the only thing we can do is to stop showing up, stop supporting races that are sub-standard. I know in Colorado now I can choose from almost 25 ’cross races between mid-September and mid-January. I made the decision today after acting as a human lawn mower to be much more selective in the races that I support. I know I’m sounding political now, but I encourage all of you to do the same. Of course I realize, there might be someone out there who’s writing about his cyclocross racing, and hating the courses I love, and loving the ones I want to avoid. For me the wider courses, the ones where I can chose my line and where I have the opportunity to pass on all sections of the course, are the ones I like. Then I’m faced with the challenge of “reading the course” and deciding which are the best lines.

I do believe in the adage that there are “courses for horses.”  Some of us excel on dry, hard, fast ones. Some love to slog through the mud. There are those riders who like sand, who love hilly courses, and those who shine on the truly technical, twisty, turny ones. The beauty of ’cross is that at some point there will be something for every one of us. So, please don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful for anyone who puts in the time and effort to give me a place to race.

I’d love to hear from you. What courses do you love? What suits you? What challenges you? What do you avoid?

O.K. It’s time for me to go race again; you should do the same. See you on the bell lap.



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I've always liked our huge 1000+ racers and the traveling carnival atmosphere that goes with it. By the time I race, the 6"-12" grass your talking about has been mowed down by the class before mine. 150 riders doing 4-5 laps equals 600-750 laps on the course. Love the courses without excessive climbing and technical challenging off camber muddy sections that puts the roadies on the deck.


This year was supposed to be my 'return to cross', but after attending a handful of races and not ever actually racing, I decided it wasn't worth it. I haven't race cross since 2005, and the courses have changed dramatically since then, so much that the sport I remember is gone and has been replaced with something foreign that I don't much care for.

Andrew's description of courses with forced decision making mirrors my preferences. What I see now in courses (and what I do not like), is the endless tape maze on a soccer field with a course that better resembles the small intestines. When did cyclocross become synonymous with "endless 180º turns on grass"? The barriers after hairpin turns and barriers at the bottom of hills are pointless (and the uphill barriers are especially cruel to the vertically challenged among us..I'm talking to you, Gloucester). The other thing that I find is reducing the quality of the sport is the number or races that are choosing either to run under a UCI permit, or adopt the UCI rules. UCI rules do not always make for an exciting course, and a literal interpretation of the pre-2010 rules meant that you could literally have one set of double barriers and a paved start and maybe one run up and that was it. Promoters - it's ok to deviate from the old UCI rules, especially if you are not under a UCI permit. Add in some more barriers, use them to break up the grass crits that we currently call cyclocross.

My absolute favorite course ever was the nationals in Baltimore, 2001. The course had everything, including a staircase and multiple level changes. Providence approaches the Baltimore course in excellent design, however the PVD course is way too long....this is a necessary evil, however, to prevent riders at the back from getting lapped. The longer courses, however, make for a less fun race, IMO. I remember back in the day we would race 6 or 7 laps in a 45minute we're doing 4 or 5 (3 if it's muddy).

I've turned into an old curmudgeon, as my favorite courses and races are now long gone or dwindling into obscurity, with few participants, as people now prefer to save all of their eggs for the UCI race basket. Here in New England a classic course like the one at West Hill Shop in Putney, VT was an integral part of the cross the race barely gets any entrants due to the popularity of the Big Races that are run under UCI permit.

Andrew Yee
Andrew Yee

Personally, I love courses that force decision making and offer a technical challenge. Do you attempt to ride the really steep hill? Dismount at the bottom, or half way up? Hop a log? Ride the sand pit? The features I like the least are the barriers right after a hairpin (little advantage for those with good technique as speeds are so slow) and barriers at the bottom of a hill. I don't mind some singletrack but having room to pass for much of the course is nice.

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