Lee Waldman training with Nationals in mind © Annette Hayden

Lee Waldman training with Nationals in mind © Annette Hayden

Mother Nature has forced Colorado’s Lee Waldman out of his comfort zone, but he knows that this will only help his preparation for master’s nationals. This is installment #5 of Lee’s regular column, catch up on #’s 3 and 4 here.

by Lee Waldman.

The weather gods have spoiled us here in Colorado for the last couple of cyclocross seasons with relatively dry winters.  It has been good for mid-winter tans but not for building those ‘cross skills of slip-slidin’ through the mud. Most of us have become proficient at riding dry, loose, dusty conditions – but then we go somewhere wet or frozen like Kansas City. It just doesn’t work. Just like anything that isn’t used, those skills have atrophied.

Granted, we always have the one or two cold, snowy and sloppy races, but they’re typically few and far between. This season, however, has been different. After the first September weekends it seems as if every passing cold front has timed itself to leave us with a plethora of mud and snow. As with everything in life this has been a good news / bad news scenario.

The bad news – racing with the 45+ group in those extremely challenging conditions has given me my comeuppance. I was feeling pretty good about myself there for a while, making the front group. OK, it was the very back of the front group but, hey, let’s not split hairs here. Bottom line is that I’m a better dry course rider. But that’s changing thanks to the weather gods.

It’s not so easy to crack the top 10, or even the top half, when you have mud the consistency of peanut butter sucking at those expensive carbon wheels. I just don’t have the power that the younger guys do. What I do have though is savvy. When the going gets tough like that I look for the best lines. I may still get dropped, but I don’t get dropped so badly. I always marvel at the riders who show up for a race and just ride the course without having inspected it for the primo lines. That’s one of the aspects of cyclocross that I love, the thinking part.

So, I’ve revised my strategy and my expectations in the build up to Bend. Instead of worrying about overall results, I’ve begun to focus on getting better at specific parts of each race. I’m gauging my success by how I meet those challenges. By improving specific segments, I’ll improve as a complete rider and turn faster lap times as I progress.

For example, take starts: the bane of my existence. I’m always working my way from the back to the front and it’s getting annoying. My basic personality is pretty laid back and relaxed. It works in my job and my life, but it doesn’t fit the frenzied nature of a cyclocross start.

I’ve been challenging myself each week with the mantra “start hard.” That, along with some focused visualization, is beginning to work. I’m not going backwards and I’m continually looking for those places to move up by a bike length or two. Day one of the Colorado UCI weekend, was possibly my best. The riders who passed me were either those with better lines or those who were more willing to sacrifice their bodies than I was. It’s only racing and hospital stays are boring and expensive.

My other historical challenge has been riding in sketchy conditions. I still have nightmares about the ruts at Kansas City two years ago. But, because of Mother Nature’s obstacles this season, I’ve even been getting better at that.

Those of you who follow weather patterns know that we got dumped on in Boulder recently. When the temperature finally started to rise on the Friday before the Blue Sky Velo Cup, I knew what the race would be like: a greasy, slick, nasty mud bowl. By two laps into the race my beautiful Van Dessel with the Belgian flag paint job had gained about 10 pounds, making smooth shouldering a virtual impossibility.

Despite it all, I loved the conditions. I found myself floating over the slick sections and rolling through chicanes that would have scared me to death a year ago. I was actually catching guys on the sketchy terrain! That never happens to me.

My personal victories these days are coming in different, but equally encouraging, ways. They may not make me faster yet, but I have faith.

Thanks for reading.