Brooke Hoyer suggested on a post a few weeks ago that after Portland I should come up with a top 10 list of things that I noticed from that weekend, which would help the lower category racers improve, so here goes:
1. Keep dry and warm. In weather like that experienced in Portland, its vital that you keep as warm and dry as possible, before and during the race. In the race dry is impossible so it has to be wet but warm, otherwise you will simply freeze and stop fuctioning. Read about Lynne Bessette falling in one of the deep puddles? She froze and had to stop.
For your pre-ride use as many layers as you think appropriate and top it off with rain jacket and pants, and overshoes. Plus always something under your crash hat...
Then as soon as you are done with the pre-ride take all the wet stuff off and replace with dry. Don't start the race with anything that is wet and cold from that pre-ride, which means dry gloves, socks, shoes, base layers and skinsuit/bibs, jersey. I appreciate this means a lot of kit, so put it on your christmas wish-list!
I saw riders warming up in shorts, racing in t shirts, wearing cotton gloves... the list is a long one, and its so uncomfortable. Watch the Pro's; Trebon in full legs, Wells and Craig in waterproof gilets over their skinsuits, cotton caps under crash hats.
2. Line selection. A lot of riders I saw were riding with their heads down looking at the few feet in front of them only and had no "big picture" view of the course, which was changing every lap due to the extreme conditions. Look in front every few seconds and make a fast decision about which line to take; watch other riders in front and if they stall switch lines, don't follow them blindly.
3. Shortest is not always fastest. The racing line around a corner in bad conditions is not always the fastest. It is the line which gets the most traffic so becomes the most cut up and rutted, and because its the tight line it means you can't pedal round it, but because its slow you can't freewheel, so you stall. Go very wide, its likely to be less used, so firmer, and on a sweeping arc you can continue pedalling.
4. Keep your bike clean. When its very muddy and sticking to your bike, like saturday at Portland, you need to keep your bike clean especially if you only have one and can't take advantage of a bike change in the pits. On saturday Adam Craig was going off his racing line to ride through a deep puddle on the start/finish road section to clean his bike. Ride through standing water where possible and consider running slow, muddy sections which although rideable, will add mud to your bike. A down-side of modern lightweight componentry, especially derailleurs, is they only have a limited ability to function when clogged with mud. Watch the World Cup from Spain on cycling.tv and see the race leader snap his derailleur and have to run a road section, then see Bart Wellens lose 2nd spot on the last lap with the same problem. Todd Wells did it at Portland... You have to pay for your stuff so look after it, even during the race!
5. Dismount early. On saturday at Portland there was a barely rideable climb, and too many people tried to ride as far up it as they could then stopped, unclipped, slid back a foot or two, struggled to get off and then had to start pushing or running from a dead stop. Great entertainment for the crowd but bad news for your finishing position. Its not a sign of weakness to dismount early.Remember, momentum is your best friend.
6. Carry don't push. Way too many people were pushing their bikes instead of carrying them, and that mud was thick.
7. Tyre pressure. 80% of the tyres I pushed were too hard! If you run tubulars and don't have a pressure gauge stand over the wheel with both hands on the tyre and put all your body weight through them. If you bounce hard you should just feel the rim. Do the same on the front but let a bit more out as you dont have so much body weight over your front wheel but this is the one that washes out when its slippy. If you use clinchers then you need to do the same but they should feel harder (if you feel the rim its too soft). Clinchers "fold under" when too soft which tubs don't, you also risk pinch flats with a soft clincher.
8. Think ahead, change gear. A lot of people were approaching an obstacle (hurdles, hill, corner) and not changing into the gear they would need to exit it, so way over-geared. In mud you have to be on top of the gear so if you slide off a line you don't lose speed or time getting back on it. Think ahead, change gear more often.
9. Be a stalker. Warm up behind a Pro; see which lines they use, which gear they are in, when they dismount. They will be faster and stronger than you but usually on early pre-ride laps they are going easy just checking it all out. You will learn a lot, I guarantee!
10. Learn from your mistakes. Think about your race when it is done and you are back home, warm and dry. Think about where you lost time, where you were good, and learn from the experience for the next weekend.
11. Go to the after race party! Hang out, enjoy yourself; you are doing a great sport with like-minded people, have fun and don't take it too seriously.