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Chris Jones Diary: Christmas arrives, right on time

Christmas is forbidden until Thanksgiving in the Jones household. But the Jingle Cross weekend warmed his heart.

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Editor’s Note: Christopher Jones is a member of the Rapha-Focus cyclocross team as well as the road racing squad Team Type 1. He is a true all-around rider, frequenting podiums on both the professional road and cyclocross circuits.

I am a firm believer that we, Mr. and Mrs. America, are starting the Christmas holiday season much too early. Walk into any superstore in mid-November and Christmas-themed merchandise is stocked and ready move. Let’s enjoy the fall and all it has to offer before we rush into the hustle and bustle of the holidays.

Early in our marriage I had to institute a no-holiday-decorations-up-before-Thanksgiving policy. This was partially to delay spending $50 we didn’t have on a tree until it was too late and we were headed home for winter break. Our best tree experience ever was the time we were suckered into buying a $10 tree from the Boy Scouts of America, topped off with some lights from the 99-cent store. Ten days later before we headed home for the holidays we debated what to do with the tree, leave it, sell it, trash it? We decided to set it next to the dumpster still fully trimmed. As we headed out to the airport a couple of hours later we noticed a homeless man pushing our tree in a shopping cart down the street. Perfect.

One of the few nuggets of knowledge I have retained from college came during Etiquette Class; every good party must have a theme. I have since made a minor amendment to the rule: some bad parties have a theme (think Tupperware or Mary Kay). Any good ‘cross race usually involves a festive atmosphere. With this rule in mind I set off for Jingle Cross in Iowa City, Iowa, thankful that the Christmas-themed race and festivities didn’t violate my pre-Thanksgiving rule.

Jingle Cross is unique for a few reasons, one being the fact that it is one of two U.S. cyclocross festivals hosting three consecutive days of racing. ‘Cross races usually come as standalone events, like CrossVegas, or two days of racing, like the USGP. The Cincinnati Cyclocross Festival is the only other three-day UCI event we have in the States.

When I competed in the Cinci’ event it was interesting to see how racers approached each race. On the road, stage racing is a game of conserving energy each day until the right moment to capitalize on another’s weakness. Completing each stage is required in order to race the next day. Unlike the road though, cyclocross races are only one hour and done, so a three-day event is closer in nature to a road omnium, where each day is scored separately and days can be skipped without penalty. In Cincinnati riders employed a variety of strategies, racing hard each day, sand bagging a particular race, skipping races, and dropping out if not in contention for the win. How would the Jingle weekend play out was the question on many riders’ minds.

With urging from Troy Wells, I decided to fly into Iowa on Thanksgiving. T-dubb had raved for weeks about how great the Thanksgiving dinner at the host hotel was and that he and the rest of the Wells contingent would be there so it would be a good time.

The racing started Friday night under the lights. The lights are the key here. The company that did the lighting has provided light set-ups for the X-Games and the Vancouver Olympics. Temperatures in the mid-teens, wind, and frozen ruts were the order of the night.

Thankfully the new shipment of winter clothing from Rapha had arrived earlier in the day included a thermal skinsuit and a Nau down jacket, two pieces vital for warmth throughout the evening. As we sat queued in the start grind the official’s countdown from 3 to 2 to 1 minute seemed to take forever and at 30 seconds to go time I was frozen still. I don’t think a person’s hearing could freeze, but that must have been what happened to me as the gun went off and I found myself standing still as the third row of riders was coming past me.

After some self-talk to stay focused and steady I slowly worked my way through the chaos of the treacherous icy decent off of Mt. Krumpet towards the front of the race and somehow found a podium place by the end of the race, next to the winner Jamey Driscoll. As one would expect for a Friday evening ‘cross race, the crowds were thick and raucous.

Evening races are usually difficult to calm down from. There is a delicate balance between letting one’s self unwind, fueling the fire for the next day, and sleeping. Friday night was a perfect example: finish racing at 8:30, podium 8:45, cool down spin 9:10, shower 9:30, dinner 10pm, sleep 1am. Iowa City seemed to shut down early so the hotel restaurant was packed with racers. The elite men’s cyclocross community is pretty close knit and we all enjoying hanging out post race. Jabs were thrown from one table to the next we replayed the evening’s race. Fortunately we had Ryan Trebon, who had crashed out of the race, at our table and the witticisms regarding his misfortune kept us entertained.

The second day began minus one familiar face on the front row. Friday night’s winner Mr. Jamey Driscoll had decided to take the day off in favor of resting for Sunday’s event. Rumor from the Vermont backcountry was that he spent too much time skiing earlier in the week and was fatigued. Was it smart to skip the race? Maybe, although only time would tell. It appeared like the day’s decisive course feature was the run up Mt. Krumpet. What was more of a slog through heavy goopy mud than a run, looked like it would favor those with long legs.

Interestingly enough a seemingly benign part of the course with a standard 90 lefthand turn provided the most drama. In an incident that will now be referred to as “Course-cuttingate,” Ryan decided to go straight through the left. It caught the rest of us in the lead group off guard and wondering what he would do next. He decided to sit out a “few” turns then hop back on course with us. “A few” was defined by him as one or two, but I think he meant one or two minutes because he was gone for a long time.

When he did wake up from his siesta and hop back in a lap or two or three later he proceeded to take advantage of the run-up and left Todd and me to fight for the remaining podium scraps.

That night I received a call from Herriott Sports Performance World Headquarters in Seattle, Washington. What I thought would be a congratulatory phone call from TH, was anything but. Coach was calling to provide me with some inside information on how I could perform “Ten times better” during tomorrow’s race. Like you, red flags immediately went up.

“Dude there is this place, let me google it, hold on… Yeah here it is, the Hamburg Inn.”

“The what?”

“Yeah man, when I lived in Iowa City I loved this place. You have to go there for breakfast. Best place in the midwest. Tons of politicians have eaten there before they won their elections. Get the sweet potato pancakes and make sure to protein up.”

”Uh, OK. That is your strategy for winning?!”
“Yep, guaranteed. Stab the Beast. TH out.”

Sunday morning #1 and I set out for the Hamburg Inn. True to Todd’s word, the Inn served up a fantastic breakfast and there were pictures of politicians who had eaten there donning the walls. Presidents Clinton and Obama had posed pictures hanging near our table.

After completing the easy part of TH’s plan, it was time to move on to the race. The third and final day would show whose strategy paid off: those who took a day off, raced full gas the entire time, or those who cut course.

It didn’t take long for the answer to the strategy to surface. Jamey stretched his fresh legs and was gone half way through the first lap. Adios.

The rest of the podium was filled with those of us who had raced the entire weekend with the course cutters not making the podium. The post-race awards ceremony was standard fare with rider interviews, podium kids, and a wardrobe malfunction during a photo op. Some bikini-wearing female fans had painted Todd on their stomachs and wanted to have a picture with the former national champion. What seemed like a good idea quickly turned into Superbowl halftime with Janet Jackson. Hopefully the pictures are dealt with appropriately.

The promoter of the Jingle Cross weekend pulled it off: a good holiday-themed party that included appearances by the Grinch, a Christmas-light illuminated sand section, and plenty of people to enjoy the festivities. Thanks John and crew for inviting Team Rapha-Focus to the 2010 edition of Jingle Cross. It was a great way to kick off the holiday season as well as the lead up to Nationals.

Time to head home and harvest a Christmas tree.

Related: VIDEO: Jones’ Focus Mares | All Chris Jones diaries | All Louisvile USGP weekend stories and photos