Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Nittany Lion Cross 2012 2/3/4 Race Report

Ok. I admit it. I'm a junkie and I just took a massive hit off the cyclocross crackpipe.  This past weekend was the MAC series opener, Nittany Lion Cross at the Trexlertown Velodrome.  I had been looking forward to this race since my last race back in December.

Day 1:
We arrived early, set up the tent and I pre-rode the course before C's stampeded off.  Gave Allison a little beta regarding sketchy turns (that gravelly nightmarish left) and pinchflat dangers. Then I grabbed the child and watched baby-momma kick ass in the W's 3/4 field.  She had an unfortunate start but moved up steadily throughout the race--smooth like ice--finishing 6th in a deep field. Here she is looking like a gazelle!

(photo credit: JShort)

Did a few more warmup laps including a hot lap in which I washed out the front Fango no fewer than 3 times so I stole the Clement PDX off Allison's bike which felt way better. The mullet (FMB filetread rear, PDX front) was a killer combo for this course.

Line up: I had exactly zero points in the MAC 2/3/4 series last year so I was relegated to starting something like 7 rows back. Normally I'm a start-fast-then-implode-on-lap-six sort of guy so moving up through traffic would be a bit of a change for me.

Now for the all important starting grid question:do I or do I not have time to make one more run to the bathroom?  Do I even really have to go? Yes. Wait, 5 minutes to start? Nature is just going to have to wait for 45 minutes.

A 7th row start is never ideal but definitely not for this course, with this many people, this early in the season. The green light changes and in the prologue I get boxed, pinched, then finally crashed out in the first turn.  As I crest the hill heading down to the start/finish  I see the front of the race already heading up the hill into the upper field section.  I'm sitting probably close to 50th+ at this point.  This is definitley not what I had in mind.

So what to I do?  I turn into a caged squirrel.  I'm thrashing and shaking and climbing and I'm sure making all sorts of furry woodland creature noises trying to move up in vain. I wash out my front wheel in the least difficult corner and lose a few more spots in the process. At some point during all this the eventual winner passes me like I'm a signpost.  Finally I get my head together, calm the fuck down and conquer the freak-out.

After I finally settle in I make smarter passes, sit on wheels when it makes sense, anticipate the cluster-fugkcs and it starts to pay off.  My awesome teammates are calling out positions for me.  30th, 25th, 22nd, 18th, 14th, 12th, 11th...   I start to feel better as the race goes on and feel a little disappointed when I hear 1 to go.

10th place is dangling in front of me like a pork-chop on a string and I slowly close the gap from 5-4-3.  We enter the rough elephant-trampled section (that smelled like elephant feces too) and I hit it hard.  As soon as we're out I make the pass, sprint hard for the the top of the hill and never look back.  10th!  In the money...well actually I got a burlap bag with some expired Gatorade mix and a couple water bottles.  Still better than nothing! 

Day 2:
I watch Allison have another great race, finishing 6th for the second day in a row. She has great technique and was consistently able to pass girls on the tricky remount after the log.  Then I watch Norm have The Worst Start in Cyclocross History and come back to finish 19th on the day with a truly inspiring ride in a talented field.

Don't want to sound like a complainer but MAC series rules state that call ups are based on series standings and you would think that this being the 2nd race in the series start order would be determined by yesterday's results? Nope. Move to the back of the bus young man. Oh well, time to go back to work.

Today the start is superfast and supersketchy, especially MACH 1 right hand sweeper into Elephant Poo Alley.

I knew everybody would want the smoother right-hand line so I went far left (I had scouted this line in warm-up) and passed a bunch of people there. Then my teammate Ilya got tangled up with some dude who tried to occupy the same space as him at the same time. This ended badly for both parties: Ilya's derailleur was sheared off by the offending rider and Ilya being a Russian hockey player does not take kindly to being body checked and sent the the offending rider into the course tape, and he ended up dragging probably 30 meters of it along with him. Undaunted, Ilya runs a half marathon back to the pits and heroically finishes the race.

I narrowly squeak by this mess, put on my axe-murderer mask and go to work.  At this point I'm probably sitting 30th and now it's time to move up. Having scouted the course I know all the spots I can make passes and take advantage of the few open stretches to really dig deep.  The log section is less of a shit show by the time and I consider riding it but hear Allison's voice yelling "be smart" so I run instead, which turns out well because the guy who decided he needed to pass me right before that section trips and falls into the log.

The middle of the race is mostly a blur. I see a target, pick off target. Repeat.  I focus or riding smooth, burying it out of corners to close gaps so I can sit on wheels during the power sections then riding the log smooth.

Last lap I think I'm somewhere around 10th with nothing but daylight ahead and about 4 chasers 3-5 seconds back.  After bunny-hopping the log the last time I wash out my front wheel, unclip and smash my manly bits on the top tube but the little heckler is yelling "you got it man, be cool" which actually helps me regain my composure.
Now the gap is smaller so I gas it through the rooty section instead of tiptoeing to avoid flats as I had been doing and hit the open field with a decent margin. Into the drops on the field then smooth through the last few corners and I'm able to hold off the chasers.  I thought I was fighting for 10th but actually end up 9th.

In the money again and earn valuable MAC points so sopefully I'll be on the front row at Charm next weekend!

Oh, and we unveiled the new MTBNJ.com team tent (designed by Capers and facilitated by yours truly) which quickly became the epicenter of beer drinking, babysitting, bike fixin' and just plain old good times. Come hang with us at a race near you.

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