Thursday, October 25, 2012

Race Report: Marty's Cross 2012

As much as I'd like to believe that the Men's Elite/A's race is the main event at a local "small-time" cross race, the reality of the situation is that nobody really give a crap about it.  Inevitably, 40 minutes into the Men's A race, bored spectators start thinking out loud "How many more laps do these idiots have left?  Put them out of their misery and let's get the show on the road."

Sure, everybody enjoys Women's Elite/A race because, frankly, who doesn't like watching bad ass ladies beat the snot out of one another (and themselves).  But since we already know that cyclocross is really a participation sport, most of the spectators are either a) racers waiting patiently for their own start time, or b) the family members of other racers waiting even more patiently for their wife/husband/father/mother/son/daughter/grandmother to race, or  c) officials/waffle vendors/event organizers to just want to get home and have a beer. Besides, most of the A racers have long ago used all of their excuses to con family and friends to attend races.

The only thing more boring than watching an A race is  reading a poorly written recap of a race!  It's your lucky day because I have just such a race recap for you!

Since Marty's CX was at a new location this year, I sent my people to recon the course and they reported back about a fast flowy course with lots of climbing.  All good things.

Unfortunately the National Weather Service forecasted 1-2 inches of rain on friday.  Now, I know its customary in cross to idealize epic mud conditions, and at the risk of sounding like a big weeine, I can admit I was pleased to learn that the actual rainfall we received was much less than expected. Also, the entire course was set on a tilted plane, not unlike those wooden marble labyrinth games, which allowed for quick drainage.

(bottomless holes were not present on the course)

There was talk of it being the HILLIEST COURSE IN CYCLOCROSS HISTORY. It wasn't, but it certianly had a lot of climbing.  Nonetheless, after doing an initial pre-ride it was clear that it would be a race which would weight power over technical ability. And since it's the State Championship race, it brings out a few of the big guns: Bill Elliston, Maurice, Gavi Epstein, Roger Aspholm to name a few. Coffee is for closers only, and these guys get to drink coffee.

I get to watch Allison race and take a few pictures for the first time this year.  She has an amazing start but drops her chain over the barrier and loses a few spots on the second lap.  By the end she has clawed her way back into 4th overall and 2nd on the NJ State podium!

Despite the fact that I have more time between Allison's race and mine I lose track of time and basically forget to to warm up. But it's an hour race so I figure I've got plenty of time to warm up during the race, right?  I just need to start sensibly and not go out too fast.

Since I virtually nailed the registration holeshot, I get a front row call up despite not having any series points.  Soon enough, the whistle blows and I do the usual start sequence:  pedal-clip-pedal-pedal-drop 2 gears-pedal-pedal-drop another 2 gears. By the first turn 200-300 yards in, I sense that nobody is near me and I immediately think that something is wrong.  There is no way I can take the hole shot with this bunch. I must have false started. At the top of the first climb, I take a look over my shoulder and see the group is a few seconds back. Yeah, I definitely must have jumped the gun because there's no way I'm ahead of those guys. But, did I hear a whistle or not? Now I can't remember. Wait a munite....the referee was standing right next to me when she blew the whistly and my ear is still ringing.  This means I'm winning the race!  What could possibly stop me now?


It's at this point I remember that the race is actually an hour long, not 3 minutes and that maybe I should chill out for a little bit. I try to dial it back but being in the lead feels so magical it's hard to slow down.  I know that at some point the time-space continuum will re-align itself and a group of very fast guys is going to catch me. I know that I have to recover a bit if I'm going to have any chance of latching on to the chase group.

Predictably Gavi, Roger, Bill and Maurice catch me on the long power section on the last 1/3 of the first lap and drop me like a corporate sponsor dropping Lance. Well that didn't work. On to plan B.  The group of Fred, Neon-Kit-Guy and Dag are charging hard and look like they are going to catch me.  I plan to latch on to them as they catch me and have them pull me around for a few laps.  Then, that group proceeds to blow by me.  Ok, I've got more tricks up my sleeve. On to Plan C.  The group of Andrew, CRCofA and Northeastern Hardware are closing fast.  I'll just stick with that group for a while.  Finally I'm able to hold position in that group.

For a lap or two I sit in this group. Northeastern falls off pace.  Then I gap Andrew and the Century guy after I ride the run-up and they are forced to dismount.  I drill the climby section to make the gap stick and begin to count seconds to the next group.  The group of Fred, Neon-Kit-Guy and Dag has shattered with Dag out in front and Fred behind (not really sure what happened to Neon-Kit-Guy but I think he has abandoned the race near the pits).  So I start counting seconds to Fred and realize I'm closing the gap pretty quickly.  I catch Fred, who is clearly having a bad day, with maybe 3 to go and sit on his wheel for a half-lap and make the pass right after the run-up. Somebody tells us we are 6-7.

I start counting time gaps to Dag and I'm seadily closing the gap. With 1 to go I give it everything to catch dag but never get closer than about 12 seconds and end up 6th.

After the race Maurice says to me "dude, you have to be careful starting like that".  I think this might be the understatement of the season.  I may not be smart but I am slow. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Providence CX 2012 Race Report

I don't consider myself a particularly religious person but cyclocross "holy week" is an idea I can get behind. The week is bookended by Gloucester and Providence with a Wednesday night witch burning/race thrown in for good measure.

Though I generally try to avoid going to church (and religious metaphors in sport for that matter), I happly make the annual pilgrimage to the hallowed temple of cyclocross that is Roger Williams Park in Providence. If racing bikes constitutes communion with the gods of cyclocross--namely Grifo he god of grass, Limus the god of mud, and Fango the god of tacky dirt--then consider me converted. The stacked fields, crowds, and great course make the long drive worthwhile. So we loaded up the Ark with two bikes of every size,embrocation smelling of frakincense and myrrh, Nuun tablets with which to turn water into holy electrolyte water and set off for Mecca.

The drive through Hades (a.k.a Connecticut) was as you would expect so we arrived late and had to rise early on Saturday. But at this point in the season we've got our routine pretty much dialed: arrive just in time for Allison to pre-ride, I child watch, get my act together, take her bike to the pit, eat, drink...the list goes on. Today we have the luxury of grandma to watch the child so I get to work the pit for the first time. 

Allison is especially nervous today because her field has over 90 women registered, which is the largest she has ever raced against. Like church on Easter Sunday, everyone shows up for this one. She has a decent start and uses a crafty line on the downside of an off-camber she learned two years ago to pass about 8 women. By the time she passes the pit for the first time she's sitting maybe 14th. She rides a great race and passes a few more people but washes out her front wheel on the techy off-camber turn after the beer garden barriers to lose a spot ending up 13th. A really great ride nonetheless. Later we learn that during the race her headset has worked itself loose because her mechanic is an incompetent asshat and also that trying to drive a bike on a technical course with a sloppy headset is like bringing a wacky noodle to a knife fight.

In New England, "Killer B's" races are limited to Cat 3 only which means I'm only eligible to race UCI elite or Masters of the Universe (35+ 1/2/3).  While I have ambitions of racing UCI at some point, I have absolutely no business lining up against the likes of Johnson, Powers, Trebon and The Euros so it's 35+ for me. Apparently I'm not alone in this thinking because most of the front row is comprised of guys who not only race elite but who regularly do pretty well in UCI C2 events. That and a couple of guys who happen to be wearing National Championship jerseys for their respective masters fields.  

It quickly becomes clear to me that there will in fact be three races:  1) the actual race, 2) the battle within the cream-filled center, and 3) the race not to be DFL. But everybody here, even the slow dudes, know what they're doing: put on the suit and tie, catch the 8:15 into the city and go to work. All business.

I do my usual warmup which consists of futzing over tire pressure, going to port-a-john confessional about a dozen times, chat chatting too much, then finally riding around for a few minutes. Then I realize my number is pinned on the wrong side so I scramble to find Allison to quickly re-pin my number. Like I said we are all professionals here.

Today I'm seeded 32nd of maybe 65, which puts me squarely into the nobody-gives-a-crap-about-you zone but I'm determined to give it a good effort. My starts have always been my best asset and today I manage to clear the first pinch in the top 20 or so.  Passing is nearly impossible until halfway through the first lap and I make a few advances and get passed by a few guys. During the race the wind picks up and I get abused by it every time I hit a long road section. The course flows really well and I just sort zone out and go to work solo. Send a few emails,  make a couple copies,  hit the flyover,  ride the double stairs,  file the TPS report and hold off the two guys surging from behind to finish 24th.  Honestly I'm thrilled with a top 25 in this field.

For the rest of the day I do everything possible to avoid sitting down and resting my legs. We go for a long beach walk, chase the child around, make a big dinner, then do a bunch of chores to close up the house for the winter. Neither the wine nor the apple pie stops the morning from coming too soon and before we know it another racing day is upon us.  I briefly consider bailing but one must not upset the gods of cyclocross so I dutifully suit up and head to Sunday service.

 The Day Lord Fango Hath Made

And unto the faithful the cross gods have bestowed sunny skies and a course with lines of pure gold. Again Allison's field is huge but she is undaunted by a poor start and she rides steadily and smoothly, passing ladies the entire time including a couple of ladies who beat her yesterday.  One of her best results to date.  

By the time my race goes off skies have darkened but the course has firmed up to tacky perfection. The lineup today is virtually unchanged at the pointy end but the middle is than yesterday.  Somehow despite being seeded around 30th I find a 3rd row spot. Score. The officials send off the children and give us the 1 minute warning and with perfect movie-soundtrack timing, the loudspeaker positioned 15 inches from my head begins to blast "Paint it Black." It's on bitches.

We start fast as usual but I get boxed and hit the dirt around 20th. Suddenly around the first sharp turn I see a cloud of bodies-it's Maurice curled up and rolling like a hedgehog. I sneak by on the outside and for once I can count the bodies between me and the leader.  13.  I sit in and hold wheels. At some point Auer passes me with another guy in tow (Langlois I think) and I grab that group for a lap or so. Surprisingly I feel good sitting on them and belive I can stay connected. As we hit the rideable run-up, Auer fumbles the ride-up and has to dismount but knocks me off my bike into the tape. I'm back up and running in no time but a small gap opens and that's all it takes.

For the rest of the race I battle with a guy who beat me yesterday.  I make a couple of attempts to pass but he pinches me against the tape each time so I'm content to sit on his wheel and get pulled around for a while. The dude tries a bunch of times to shake-n-bake me off his wheel but I know he's not going to drop me. I also knew I didn't have legs to drop him.  With 1 to-go there's nothing but daylight behind us so we both know it's all about the end game--basically whoever hits the pavement first wins the battle and whoever hits the last grass section first hits the pavement first. Dudeman murders the penultimate road section and is just able to block my pass and hit the last grass section first and easily wins the sprint. Well played. He and I end the day 17th and 18th respectively and I'm really stoked with a top 20 finish.

All in all a great weekend. Sunday's course was the most fun I've done in a long time. The promoters really nailed this event.

Lastly, what would a holy week be without a little inspiration? 
 1) Ernest Gagnon competes in the Cat 4 race on Saturday wearing spandex. This makes me happy on many different levels.
2) Emma White (racing age 16), who won't be eligible to race UCI for another couple years, enters the very competitive Cat 3 men's field and finishes better than mid-pack. 
3)Zach McDonald warms up in the mud and rain while the rest of the pros warm up on their trainers under their team tents. Then he puts on an absolute clinic in bike handling and line picking and earns his first ever UCI win. He's was only guy who able to ride the run-up and was able to peddle through sections other guys could hardly ride. Oh and BTW, he's still actively pursuing an aeronautical engineering degree.
4) Approximately 150 (147 to be exact) unique women raced during the course of the event. Hopefully this trend continues and someday the term “equal payout"  will seem as antiquated as "co-ed".