Pete's method for getting some water to wash his bike. © Pete Webber

Hello Cyclocross Fans!

It’s Friday here in Belgium – I mean Madison – pre-ride day for myself and lots of other masters who’ll be racing tomorrow. It is a day of preparation and strategizing as we recon the course and make final equipment adjustments. I’m feeling great and made some hard efforts to “put some tension in za legs” and get my body ready for tomorrow.

The course is dominated by two huge climbs of the “KoppenBadger,” my nickname for the prairie-grass covered hill that towers over the venue here at Badger Prairie Park. The first trip up the ‘badger is the hardest, with a solid minute of red-zone climbing. The second ascent is shorter, but comes toward the end of the lap and really stings the legs.

Other than the climbs, the main challenge here is the mud. The whole distance is covered with three inches of grassy, greasy mud. The ground underneath is firm, and semi-frozen, creating a pretty slippery track. The mud is never deep, but you need to be really focused to stay on line.

The combination of mud and climbing creates a very demanding course, and gaps have been huge in the races so far. Many of the fields have seen five minute spreads between the top five finishers, and these are great riders at the top of their game.

The rest of the course layout is pretty straightforward, without many sharp turns or dramatic features. There are three brief dismounts per lap, a long set of railroad stairs, a double set of planks, and a short sandpit with a tricky chicane that’s usually faster to run. But it is the KoppenBadger that really tests the riders.

For tire selection, everyone is using their mud treads, or “profile” as the Euros say. I’m running the Clement PDX tubulars at about 22 psi. The weather is mild, with temps from 35-45 and no wind or precip in the forecast, so I’ve got no concerns with staying warm.

There’s a serious lack of water for bike washing at the venue [Ed. note, USA Cycling says the fire department will be refilling the tank during the weekend], and riders are scrambling around with empty buckets or waiting at the sole power washer. Not wanting to stand in line, I channeled some Wisconsin ice fishing and filled my buckets at the walleye pond (see photo). Sometimes the best tech is low-tech!

Well, its time to put za legs up and throw darts at photos of my rivals – check back for the post-race report tomorrow!

Check out Pete’s first column, about his uncertainty when it came to the new Nationals course and date change; and his second column, in which he interviews Bolder Cycle Sport owner Brandon Dwight. And stay tuned for more!