Team Gates Carbon Drive riders roared into Seattle last weekend, dominating their qualifying heats and then putting Mitch Westall on the podium at the Single Speed Cyclocross World Championships! Remaining home in Colorado, Carlos Casali took another win on Saturday and a hard-fought fourth-place on Sunday to extend his lead in the Colorado Cross Cup Individual and Team standings.
Five members of Colorado-based Team Gates Carbon Drive, packed up their belt drive Spot Brand bikes and made a pilgrimage to the Single Speed Cyclocross World Championships . There was no question, even from early in the week that this was going to be an epic test for the Carbon Drive System, as the forecast was calling for monsoon conditions.
This event gets more popular every year, and SSCXWC organizers were forced to hold qualifying heats on Saturday to see who would win entry into the championship event. Garrett Davis, Ben Ollett, Derek Strong, Mitch Westall and I met up at the start outside Schooner Exact Brewery to discuss our race strategies for the qualifiers.
Everyone agreed that this was going to be the most stressful part of the weekend, and the pre-race
jitters were high. After coming all this way, nobody wanted to go home without qualifying for Sunday’s championships. In a straight-up cross race, we’d have no problem qualifying. But the qualifiers were an alley cat-style event on rain-slickened streets, bike trails and staircases that wound through the parks and industrial areas of downtown Seattle. Armed only with a vague map of the “course,” little knowledge of the city or where the three checkpoints were going to be, the plan was simple: Find the fastest local in your group and grab his wheel.
All our team members were in separate heats so we couldn’t work together, but each rider provided intel to those in later heats. When my group started, I hammered with a couple other guys to cause a split, thenc0nvinced them I would work to maintain the gap in exchange for local knowledge and guidance.
The on-course challenges were quite curious, to say the least. First up was 30-seconds with Shake Weights, then 30-seconds of thigh-sculpting on a
Ben Ollett and I won our heats, and Derek Strong and Garrett Davis were among the first riders in theirs. But some timing issues with the organizers meant Mitch missed his start time. He roared out onto the course alone in hot pursuit and managed to claw back nearly a minute to catch his group. The guy can hammer. That is, until a slippery transition from city street to single track caused a crash and then a flat.
He struggled back on his rim but had missed the cut. Luckily there was a Last-Chance-Qualifier consisting of roller-sprints that night at one of the
sponsoring bars. Determined to make the cut, Mitch crushed the competition in the 30-second power sprint as the rowdy crowd cheered.
The championships on Sunday were held at a raceway 30 miles from Seattle. Due to the heavy rains, the course was a quagmire of mud, slop and puddles. Everyone was in a great mood though, committed to the fact that the course was in truly epic conditions and buoyed by a last minute burst of sunshine as the field staged.
The starting area was a colorful combination of 170 racers, varying from the serious hammerheads to serious partiers in costumes and masks. When the gun went off, the field sprinted up a steep grassy hill before jumping on their bikes for the first lap. The large crowd cheered and there were loud battle cries from the competitors as we charged up the 50-foot hill. The racers and spectators (many of them fueled up on PBR, which they sprayed liberally on the racers) were all pumped.
The next 45 minutes of racing was mayhem, a muddy, beer-soaked, laughing, anaerobic good time. Positioning at the start was key, and Mitch had a perfect start, getting up the hill quickly and dodging the barrage of water balloons that pelted the first racers up the hill. He settled into a group of six that quickly opened a gap. The rest of us smashed through the mud, over the rollers and worked our way up through the massive field.
The course consisted of a two steep drops, countless switchbacks across a saturated “marsh”, a BMX-style rhythm-section, a fly-over obstacle and a steep run-up that led into eight barriers. Winning this race is secondary to just completing it and having fun. I grabbed a bacon hand-up, got soaked with beer splashes and began stealing beers out of the hands of spectators. Ben’s wig was seducing the spectators and racers alike into falling in love with him, and Garrett was pulling “X-Ups”
and getting mad air through the BMX section. Derek stopped to get down on the ground and pull a cash prime from a pile of empty beer cans at one point.
Up ahead, Mitch was battling the riders around him and a deteriorating course. Mitch traded back and forth in the lead, until the loss of his rear brake caused him to miss a turn, forcing him to chase again. But with a huge effort, he made it back up into third to snag the last podium spot. Way to go old man!
Behind, Ben and Garrett finished somewhere around the top 15, and then it was myself and Derek, not far behind in the twenties. Race results were unclear and the organizers didn’t log results for anyone past the initial finishers. But judging from the smiles and war stories afterward, everyone had an incredible time.
And the Carbon Drive System? Spectacular. It handled the grit and grime and slop with ease. The same can’t be said for other competitors. I pedaled harder every time I passed someone with a chain drive who had to stop along the course to tend to their drivetrain. I’m telling you, you’ve never ridden anything like this in the mud and slop! And lest we forget, a big shout to our other team sponsors: Easton and FSA .
So prepare yourself, you have one year to get your new belt-drive and get to San Francisco, host city for the SSCXWC in 2011. Who knows, maybe we’ll compete to steal the race and bring it to Colorado in 2012 where it rightfully belongs. After all that mud, I’ll never complain about sandy, rocky, sketchy Colorado cross courses again.