Monday, November 8, 2010 sponsors me for my first UCI elite race weekend

After my first weekend of spectacularly fun 'cross racing with the cat 2-3-4 group, an emotional breakup ensued and I decided it was time to face the semi-big boys of the cross world, the elite UCI men C2 category - don't ask me to explain. I just finished reading an essay trying to grasp the UCI's convoluted point system. It's enough to know C2 means bottom of the barrel as far as cyclocross eliteness goes.

Northampton, MA & Look Park were the gracious hosts of the 20th anniversary for the Cycle-Smart International 'Cross Race. A fun filled weekend of 'cross racing in the heart of New England was sure to excite all, me included. I headed up from CT in the 'rents SUV Saturday AM flying solo and arrived 3 hours early which gave me plenty of time to do the proper cyclocross race preparation. What's the ideal race prep? Well, it's still a soon to be released masterpiece in the works, but it goes something like this: sign in 5 (I was already way behind!) hours before your start time, doff your warm clothes for a flattering skinsuit immediately so the chill sets in early, then pre-ride the course 17 times before the race so you know the intricate corners, that magical line that floats you through the sand pit, and what rock or root to step upon next during those dreaded run-ups.

Currently I'm not partaking in my own game plan, and I chose to sit in the car with the heater on high, and eyed my new skinsuit (thanks!) with trepidation while I tried to figure out how to attach the three numbers to the hyper stretchy sleeves and back. I ended up following Mr. Dan Bonedeth's, NYC cyclocross extraordinaire, lead and illegally trimmed my sleeve numbers since my puny biceps are nowhere near large enough to support the 6" wide numbers. The rear I guesstimated, and only tore one corner when entering the lycra cage. My best job yet.

Saturday was a beautiful and sunny fall day, albeit a bit chilly, but I'm sure it classifies as warm in the cyclocross handbook. I drew my number enclosed in an envelope from a big box, and ended up near the back of the grid. Not surprising. Starting in the back sorta sucks in 2-3-4, but I had a hunch it would really stink in the elite category. My hunch didn't let me down.

After getting my tires checked to make sure they conform to the UCIs max tire size, I entered the corral and awaited the whistle. I didn't have to wait long, thankfully, and then it was all out war. A full blown sprint with 50+ guys down a narrow grass track. I got a bit lucky and managed to pass a decent chunk of guys. I probably rolled in to the first bottle neck around 25th place.

The first thing I discovered about the elite men is they are significantly more aggressive. I was elbowed a few times early on. I had a few guys cut me off around corners only to gain nothing. Those same guys dropped off the radar only minutes later never to be seen again. The second thing I learned was they do not like to be passed, and will do everything they can to make the pass difficult.

The first two laps were brutally fast, and I was thinking an hour of this is going to be extremely difficult. Fortunately, it seemed after two laps everything settled down, and a much more sustainable pace began. I was with a group of 4 or 5 guys and we traded positions off and on for the entire race. The leaders were long gone after the first choke point, and I quickly learned catching them was simply not going to happen. The chase group ahead of us was not in sight either so I ditched my aspirations of a top 10 finish, and focused on a top 20. A few guys here and there throughout the race would crash, or go out with a mechanical so my chances were pretty good.

By the end of the last lap we had dropped one guy from our group and another was dangling off the back. I tried to sprint to catch the guy in front of me but could not catch him so settled for 17th place. In the money, $31!

Day 2 can be summarized in a few short paragraphs:

I went to a cyclocross race that was colder than the day before, hated my warmth stealing skinsuit (it looks GREAT though, thanks even more than the day before, and was seriously lacking motivation to get out of the car. Today I had JPOW embrocation to test out on my chilled joints, courtesy of Jeremy Powers himself, who hosted me at his place for the weekend. And does it indeed JPOW! when applied, it's like, mmmm, DAMN, pow!, my skin is on fire but at least it smells nice. I guess that's a good thing. It helped me feel warm and safe.

Anyways, I warmed up a bit then hit the grid. Started in the very back today. Was near dead last going in to the first bottleneck. Passed some guys then my rear tire decided to pop off the rim and burp a heap load of air. Tubeless treated me nice for 3 races but failed miserably Sunday. I went to the pit but entered it from the exit point and was told I'd be DQ'd if I went back out on the course. How many rules this year am I going to break???? Not this one. One does not mess with the Union Cycliste Internationale!

And thus ends the illustrious story of Sunday's race. DNF!

My very first cross race.

Throughout the road racing season this year I was told numerous times by fellow racers I should try out cyclocross racing since I have some modest mountain biking roots. After my final road race at Univest this year, about the last thing I wanted to do was continue training and riding, especially as the temperature dropped and the days grew shorter, but the bug was already caught and I couldn't get 'cross out of my mind so I ordered a frameset and slapped some components on it.

I hate cold weather, and do not fare well in it. So what better sport to try than one that is raced in a warmth leaching skin suit on a course designed to purposely create poor conditions for a bunch of wannabe mountain bikers to muddle around in for one miserable hour, or if you're lucky 30 to 45 minutes, and even better, during the transition months to winter so it's freaking freezing most the time? I'm game. What the hell.

To make things even more interesting for my cyclocross debut, I refused to train for the month leading up to the first race, and was also adamantly against practicing dismounts, run-ups, or barrier hurdles. It seemed incredibly lame, in my eyes, to be in some random park in the city while cool people playing flag football stink-eyed me jumping over rocks, or even worse, imaginary barriers that only I could see. I also haven't run for 27 years, but wasn't about to begin this year.

Ok, a few of you probably rolled your eyes when I said I wasn't going to train. I admit it. I raced Iron Cross for four hours two weeks before my first true cross race, and also commute to work daily for about 40 minutes each way no matter the weather, and, uh, sometimes do intervals on the way to and from work. And then there's that group rocket ride I did a few weeks back, that 70 mile ride I did with a few teammates, and that century ride to Bear Mtn where I went as hard as possible up every hill...and, yeah, well, you get the point. I stopped doing "structured" intervals but never really stopped riding.

Last weekend I signed up for my first two 'cross races in Jersey. They were part of the MAC series and I was scared shitless I would trip and fall on my face going over the first barrier so I signed up for the 2-3-4 category instead of the UCI elite. So on Saturday, my first race, I nervously lined up with 70 or so other guys in the 2nd to last row and decided I would just have fun and see how things went.

The gun blasted and immediately I forgot the fun part and entered race mode and started sprinting up the side passing a good chunk of people, perhaps 20 or 30. When we hit the...hole shot? I think that's the technical cyclocross term... there was immediately a crash that I managed to avoid, and it was in to the woods we went. I picked off a few guys here and there and was maybe in 30th place.

Then came the sand run. Some guy in front of me hit the sand and face planted. I thought it was hilarious and almost stopped and said so, but decided that would further reduce my tiny fan club when word got out. Running through the sand was an awkward experience. It was deep and very loose. I'd liken the action to cross country skiing. After a few of these, my legs would be screwed, I thought.

After some more trail action next came the dreaded barriers. I went around the corner, hopped off, jumped over them and hopped back on. What the hell? Why do people train for these? Anyways, next was a run up an amphitheater. Huge steps, perhaps a foot and half tall. A bit wider than my stride so I was forced to lope or double step it. I live in a walk up so these were no big deal, but they added some spice to the mix and had me struggling to catch my breath each time I hopped back on the bike.

Eventually I caught the lead group and rode behind them in 5th place. They were going kinda slow but I didn't really know if it was a good idea to go solo so just hung around on the back. We putzed around for a few laps, and it was in to a sharp corner and up the road for a sprint finish. Being in the in very back, I had no time to catch up to the 3 guys who really gunned it. I passed one guy for a stellar 4th place finish.

Woo hah.

Day 2. Still stuck in Jersey, this time a little closer to the city, at HPCX I drew an even more awesome position a few rows deeper in to the masses. 90+ guys lined up to ride around in circles on some grass in a fantastically gorgeous Jersey park. No sand this time. Only those not-so-fearsome barriers where the crowd mingled heckling the riders as they passed.


The gun blasted for the 2nd time in two days in my ears, and more of the same happened. Sprint, pass a bunch of guys, and ride very aggressively passing people as quickly as possible. By the second lap I was with the same lead guys as yesterday. I sat on the back for most the lap recovering and when we hit the small climb I passed all of them and kept the pace high. One guy came with me, and I managed to drop him a few minutes later. I rode the rest of the race solo besides one incident where I crashed going around a corner before the barriers. This enabled me to be caught for a bit but I quickly pulled away again. A few laps later I managed to crash in the exact same spot but was far enough away it didn't matter. After 45 minutes I cruised over the finish line for first place. Anti-climactic...I know.