The final two weekends of ‘cross racing in the United States are upon us and when I think back to Star Crossed in September, just one week after finishing the Tour of Missouri and a long road season, it’s hard to remember all the racing up to this point.
This ‘cross season has been packed with travel and races every weekend. So, as we barrel down to the final and most important weeks of the season, it’s really awesome to think back on some of the great battles we’ve all had against one another.
So many guys have been up in the mix this year, which has made the racing great and it wasn’t because someone was injured or their bike broke: everyone had great days and the others had okay days and the races played themselves out, which in turn made the events exciting to watch and be part of.
I’m definitely looking forward to these last two weeks of the U.S season as they come up. This weekend we’re hitting the USGP finals in Portland, Oregon, which are typically pretty epic. And then we’re off to Kansas city where the weather can really do just about anything.
With that said, my season isn’t even close to being over. You’ll be able to read about my exploits in Europe until the world championships, which begin on January 31st.
I thought I would dedicate this entry to my young gun teammate Jamey Driscoll, who is an accomplished ‘cross racer and has had an awesome season. Jamey tends to leave a few things here and there on occasion, so I decided to dissect my travel bag and show him and everyone else what I’m packin’ when I hit the races every weekend, in an effort to hopefully help Jamey a little in the process!
First off, I have a huge duffel bag courtesy of Patagonia, which I’m easily able to stuff with 50 pounds of gear into every weekend. The bag is great, mainly because it hasn’t broken after 100,000 miles and when I’m really late I can huck everything in it and run out the door with out having to meticulously think about how I’m going to position everything to make it all fit.
Let’s start small though. I never leave home without a fresh bag of coffee. I credit my good friend and old teammate Andy Bajadali for this. So every weekend, I pack my favorite coffee, a small krups grinder, an electric kettle and a small aluminum french press. These could easily be the most important items I pack every weekend. It’s always good to have a little piece of home with you when you’re on the road in a foreign place. Who wants to start the day thinking about where the closest Starbucks or local coffee place is? Plus you get that at home taste you acquire over the years of being a bike racer coffee snob — right in your room, every time.
Equally important as the coffee you bring is your rain bag. If the only thing you want to do is sit inside and drink coffee, you probably didn’t pack a good rain bag. So to make sure that doesn’t happen to me, I pack a lot of neoprene: two different sets of neoprene gloves that come in handy in the really wet races. One set is really heavy for the coldest, nastiest days and then a little lighter pair for the in-between days.
I also pack my thick neoprene shoe covers to keep the feet warm, at least four sets of defeet wool socks, some thin, some thick. Moving upwards, I like those clear cycling jackets, some with sleeves, others without, sometimes it’s nice to start a really cold wet race in one of the clear coats without sleeves and ditch it as the race goes on and you get warm.
I also have the Patagonia rain suit, which is nice for pre-riding the coarse or just hanging out before the start to stay dry. I keep a beenie on my head to trap the heat in. And lastly I don’t mess around without embrocating the legs before wet races. I like the Sportsbalm kit, I bring it every weekend to keep my legs warm and limber.
I should note here, always put the embrocation on last, AFTER you have your skinsuit on. If you put it on first its going get drug up north as you pull your suit up and you’re going feel like you slathered it all over down there, so take that advice and write it on the bottle in permanent marker! I’m serious!
I hate wearing gloves but when I have to wear them, I like them to be thin on the palms but also keep my hands warm. The best glove I’ve found is the DeFeet Duraglove. It’s pretty simple but really effective. When it’s sprinkling or misting rain I’ll run the wool version. If it’s pouring, I hit the rain pack and break out the neoprene. I also keep around one pair of Marmot skiing gloves for the craziest days.
Under shirts, leg/knee warmers etc.: I have a slew of different undershirts that I bring with me for all those small temperature changes, short, long and no-sleeve undershirts of all different materials and thickness. I always find the right one once I’m at the race and I always go for more than I need, rather then less. I’d rather be too hot then too cold.
It’s also important to put on a fresh undershirt before your race so you’re not starting with a cold, sweat-filled undershirt. I also pack the DeFeet ‘bib.’ If I need a piece to protect my chest on those nasty days, I’ll break out the bib.
Typically with leg and knee warmers I’ll only wear them when it’s really cold out. If it’s raining, I usually don’t wear them because they get really heavy. But every race is different and I don’t say yes or no until just before the start.
Skinsuits are pretty straight forward, once you’ve picked the undershirt it’s pretty easy. Champion Systems makes three versions: short sleeve, long sleeve and long sleeve winter ‘cross suits. If you wear a ‘cross specific skinsuit, it better be cold out. The fleece-lined Champion Systems suit is a real oven, I’ve only used it once so far this season (which is a good thing!).
I usually pick the suit on the current temperature at the venue and the time of the race start. If we race at 3pm and I know the sun’s going to be going down around 4pm and it’s already 25 degrees out, you can bet that I’m wearing the winter suit and leg warmers! Excluding that, I always go for the long sleeves unless I know I’m going to burn up. You always have the zipper to help regulate your core temp.
I tend to bring too much training clothing: bib shorts, bib tights, leg warmers, long sleeve jerseys and winter jackets are must-have items for a weekend of ‘cross racing. Even if you overpack, it’s better to have too much clothing than be missing that one piece you really want and then not have it or it’s dirty from three days of riding before hand.
I bring at least two pairs of shoes, especially when it’s going to be muddy. If you warm up in one set, you can race in the dry pair and if you break a pair, you have a back up set, so you kill two birds with one stone by bringing two sets. I also like to warm up with shoe covers on during those muddy days to keep the shoes from getting super nasty. It’s way easier to clean if you just pull off a set of shoe covers. I grab lots of socks, some that go really high and protect my achilles tendon and others that are really thin, it just depends on the conditions on race day.
Lastly, I bring some tools to help keep my body happy. A foam roller for my I.T bands, a stretching rope for my hamstrings and ‘the stick’ to do a little light massage. These are all must haves for anyone on the road a lot. I use these pretty regularly in between the races to help keep me limber and loosened up after long travel days.
Of course I bring my toiletries bag, sunglasses, laptop and ipod in my carry-on every weekend and I love rockin’ new tunes on my travel days so I published an iTunes playlist that you can check out if you’re feeling like you need something new!
If you’re racing this weekend, stay warm and have fun!