To Be Determined Journal

To Be Determined is a journal of cycling, adventure and photography, curated by a NYC-based cycling team known as TBD Racing or Team TBD. From criteriums to cyclocross to product reviews and travel diaries, it is all part of the TBD Journal.

Whirlybird CX Race Report

While some of the TBD squad spent the weekend is still trying to get used to dirt under their tires after a long road season, the CX season is here!  With the first weekend of racing taking place over last Labor Day weekend, Whirlybird was most of the team's first opportunity to race cyclo-cross in 2017.

Whirlybird CX 2017

Before we get started, a big thank you to Eloy Anzola (@groovylab on Instagram) before providing most of the images included with this post. We love every photographer willing to venture out into fields, through the woods, in weather good and bad, to shoot East Coast cross. Thank you Eloy!

The Venue

For a semi-local Mid-Atlantic CX (MAC) race, I was very impressed with the venue.  There was a sizeable race village with multiple vantages to spectate racers out on the course, in addition to a volunteer mechanic, food, an MC, and ample restrooms.  Pretty much everything you need to party in a field with a mix of strangers and friends on a Sunday afternoon.  

Photo by Eloy Anzola ( @groovylab )

Photo by Eloy Anzola (@groovylab)

Due to a calendaring conflict with a UCI C1 race in Rochester, NY, the Women’s elite race had a tiny field, and the Men’s elite race was not as competitive as some, but you would have never known it from the racers.

The Course

Whirlybird is a perfect race for racers surfing a wave of road fitness, with few technical challenges and long, windswept power sections that made the race feel mostly uphill. The morning dew made the grassy corners slippery in the early AM races, but the later races were treated to velcro-like grip.


Photo by Eloy Anzola ( @groovylab )

Photo by Eloy Anzola (@groovylab)

Whirlybird CX Race Reports

Clark Fredricksen (4/5)

Welcome to 'cross. That was the message in my head as my race number was called to the starting line. 

I'm new to TBD. Whirlybird was my second race for the team and it was my first time attempting the forty-five minutes of pure threshold that, as I learned, defines 'cross.

Clark Fredricksen (Photo:  Gerhard Stiene )

Clark Fredricksen (Photo: Gerhard Stiene)

Before the race, TBD's Clay Jones, Sebastian Vidal and I pre-rode the course. The takeaway from our ride was "this was going to be a criterium on grass." We weren't wrong.

The layout was 90% bumpy, dewy-covered grass, with only a series of S-turns near the start of the course and a short rooted section of woods (complete with ride-able log) to break it up. In other words, it was a perfect course for a roadie like me looking to keep up with more technically adept 'crossers.

Clay Jones, above, placed 6th in the category 4/5 race alongside teammates Clark Fredricksen and Sebastian Vidal (Photo:  Gerhard Stiene )

Clay Jones, above, placed 6th in the category 4/5 race alongside teammates Clark Fredricksen and Sebastian Vidal (Photo: Gerhard Stiene)

The race started with a sprint leading into a slippery turn that, rather predictably for a 4/5 race, caused the first big crash and bottleneck of the day. My low start position meant I was caught behind the crash; and had to fight most of the race to make up places. 

It turns out that crits on grass are still quite different from the road variety, as I found out when I slid out on an off-camber turn and later watched more experienced racers pass me on the S-turns. My road fitness helped though, and I was nearly able to chase back to the front by the end of the first lap ... until I dropped my chain for the first time. 

I'd go on to drop it four more times—not the way you want to start the season—because I hadn't converted my bike into a "1x" drive-train appropriately. The race thereafter took on a pattern of me passing several people during each lap, dropping my chain, and watching several of those people re-pass me as I fixed it. And so on.

Gear mishaps aside, I finished 24th out of a field of 105 and had a blast. It was an exciting debut and I'm excited to keep learning over the course of the season.

My biggest takeaway of the day: For those of you looking to build a CX bike and convert old Shimano Ultegra or 105 components into a "1x" drive-train, know this: You will need a Wolf-Tooth Drop-Stop Chainring. Simply removing your 53t "big ring" and leaving a 39t "small ring" in place is not enough. You will learn, as I did, that this set up will cause you to drop your chain no less than every lap around the course. The Drop-Stop is a requirement for anyone looking to setup a 1x 'cross bike. 

Ted Teyber (3/4)

I left my bottle-cage on after pre-ride since there was no feature that required a bike carry and the temperatures exceeded 80F. Probably didn't need the bidon, but it made the last lap much more pleasant. Photo by Eloy Anzola ( @groovylab )

I left my bottle-cage on after pre-ride since there was no feature that required a bike carry and the temperatures exceeded 80F. Probably didn't need the bidon, but it made the last lap much more pleasant. Photo by Eloy Anzola (@groovylab)

TBD’s Patrick Torpey, Steve Rousseaou and myself all lined up for the Men’s 3-field, the last race of the day.  The start call ups were based on a hybrid of MAC points and CrossResults points.  As my first CX race of the season, and having just upgraded after my last race of the 2016 season, I did not expect to be first row.  I ended up fourth row which wasn’t terrible, and tried to just keep it safe through the first turn.  I came into the first barrier section somewhere around the middle of the pack, ran the barriers to get ahead of a group, and then kind of just settled in for the rest of the lap through headwinds and gentle climbs.  I got caught in a little bit of traffic on the ‘single track’ section at the back, but didn’t have to dismount for the log.  Because of the long grassy straights and headwinds, it was definitely advantageous to work in groups.  Over the course of the the next few laps I would sit-in with a group, leave them on the downhill roller coaster section, come up on the next group, recover, leave them and repeat.  

Photo by Eloy Anzola ( @groovylab )

Photo by Eloy Anzola (@groovylab)

I came upon Steve during this process, and was excited to have someone to look out for me, but he went into the tape on a 180 turn and went down and I didn’t see him again. King Kog was in strong force so there were still some friendly NYC faces on the course to keep me motivated. Coming from mid-pack, it was a surprise when I found myself in 5th or 6th wheel with 2-laps to go.  I felt like we were catching Patrick Torpey in the group ahead of us, but they must have picked up the pace because the next time they came into sight was a lap later.  

Photo by Eloy Anzola ( @groovylab )

Photo by Eloy Anzola (@groovylab)

Me, Chris Ballard of CRCA/GF-Capital, and an unknown CS Velo rider worked together for the last two laps with King Kog’s Mark Steffen never quite able to make contact.  I skipped a pull on the last lap during the big grass dragstrip with headwinds, but out of the ‘single track’ came to the front and went full gas from there to the finish, quickly dropping CS Velo.  I lead Chris Ballard into the barrier section 100 yards from the finish line, and was successful in blocking him from passing, but he managed to out muscle me on the punchy climb immediately thereafter.  After such a competitive race, I was not gonna roll over for 6th and came into the final corner ready to pull around and sprint. Unfortunately, with my mind 5 seconds up the course, and perhaps coming into the corner a bit hot, I went down pretty hard. With fans cheering I picked my bike up and sprinted the best I could with bars and shifters askew, drive train emulating the sounds of a drowning cat, and my right shoe’s boa completely open.  

Photo by Eloy Anzola ( @groovylab )

Photo by Eloy Anzola (@groovylab)

It was almost worth it considering I only lost one position to finish in 8th, as the CS Velo guy we had left earlier was not far behind.

Photo by Eloy Anzola ( @groovylab )

Photo by Eloy Anzola (@groovylab)

Takeaways from Whirlybird 'Cross

  • Do arrive early to get a good parking spot. Wave to the parking attendant (the race is that well-organized) on the way in. 

  • Do pre-ride the course, but know that this will not be the most technically challenging of CX races.

  • Don't bring beers to the race. Bryn Athyn College is a dry campus, y'all. Keep those brews in the car for later. 

  • Do bring cash for the taco truck. (A platter of three tacos, chips, salsa and a Poweraide was $14)

  • Do make sure your gear is "race-ready." Clark was hardly alone with not being prepared at his first 'cross race. There were a number of folks who rolled tubular tires on the first lap (Remember: glue + tape for tub's, and give them adequate time to dry).

  • TBD highly recommends Palz Taphouse for refreshments and a post-race retrospective. This is primarily out of necessity: We had trouble finding any diners in the vicinity that served enough beer to satisfy us after a healthy dose of 'cross. Palz Taphouse is a ten minute drive from Whirlybird.

Next up is Nittany CX. See you in Pennsylvania.