Giant Factory Off-Road Team Carl Decker wrapped up his 2017 racing season at the CXLA cyclocross event near Los Angeles. After a long year of duking it out in a variety of off-road races on all kinds of different Giant bikes, Carl checked in to give us his recap:
CXLA is a perennial stop on the International Cyclocross calendar, and one of only a couple on the West Coast, so it's worth traveling the 1000 miles from my home in Oregon to race it.
This year, as in most years for CXLA, it was held at a new venue. The greater Los Angeles area is a huge and diverse region, so I think it's cool that racers get a different experience every time they attend CXLA. Whether that's their intent, I don't know, but maybe it should be.
For riders from the Great White North, like myself, a trip to SoCal in November is also a last chance to wear shorts and flip-flops for the year. And another chance to ride in the slippery, dusty conditions that are usually limited to the first part of the CX season.
I love loose, sandy cyclocross racing. Most ’cross racers profess to love mud, but dry, dusty conditions can be nearly as challenging—and I don't have to wash my clothes in a Holiday Inn bathtub every night. Count me in!
This year's event was held on some vacant land near the March Air Reserve Base way out east of the city. What at first glance might have looked like a rather ugly place to ride a bike quickly showed promise during some practice laps Friday night. The CXLA crew had made a fast, twisty, and mostly flat course featuring three staircases and a couple of barriers in a brief, but sluggish turf section.
Saturday's races would be held at dusk for the Pro Women and in darkness (at 6:30 pm) for the Pro Men. Though there was extensive use of rental flood lights along the course, I decided I'd visit a local bike shop and pick up a headlight—just in case.
With an International ranking of 236th, I was called up last to the front row, which was a stroke of good luck. It's hard to overstate the importance of positioning at the start of a cyclocross race. And any spot on the first row is a great spot.
From the gun, I was in the top 10 and moved into 6th place in the first half lap. Cody Kaiser was just ahead of me in the final podium position. And I knew that he was on good form, as he'd won the UCI race the previous weekend. On the corners, I'd gain, and on the straightaways, he'd pull. Occasionally, he'd make a mistake and I'd get hopeful. Then he'd slowly pull back out of striking distance.
It wasn't exactly a Mano-a-mano battle. We were separated by 8-10 seconds all night. But the course doubled back on itself several times per lap, so we were constantly confronted with the truth. And the truth was, Cody had my number. And that last podium spot on day one. I'd have to be happy (and I was) with 6th.
The next day, the course was almost identical, save one changed corner and one less "Belgian Staircase" per lap. A Belgian staircase is a low-angle set of steps that are roughly a wheelbase apart. When you're approaching them, they look impossible to ride up because of the spacing—but if bunny-hopped properly, they are rideable. Last year I built a set of these stairs at my house so I could learn how to ride them. At CXLA this year, one of the staircases was nearly identical to the one I'd built. I was pumped! If you can ride a feature on a CX course that forces others to dismount, that’s good for your head, and your legs. And most of the key players would be riding those stairs at CXLA.
With the same start position, I had a similar start and a similar race on Sunday, moving into 7th on the first lap and maintaining it through the finish. I'm proud of how I rode, but it wasn't particularly exciting.
It was, however, a great way to finish the season: scoring UCI points that will serve me well for most of next season. Early-season points (and improved starts) help secure late season points. Late season points help secure next season's points. The cycle of cyclocross life continues.
CXLA was my last race of the year, and it's been a very good year. But I'm ready for some rest. Here's to eggnog and skis for the next couple months! Thanks to the Giant Factory Off-Road Team, and my mechanic, Drew, in particular, for the immeasurable help all season.