In the week leading up to this race, the Facebook page for Kutztown Cross showed a video of a course feature they were building, a series of 4 monster sized mounds of dirt. “That’s cool” I thought. “Nice to see them putting in the effort to add some interest.”
Now Chris and I are rolling out on our orientation lap and arrive at the mounds.
- They look bigger in real life. Almost daunting.
- A fellow crashed between the 2nd and 3rd mounds. He’s looking a little crunched, lying there, not happy. He’s not writhing nor moaning so it isn’t too awful bad. There is someone with him and I can see that more assistance is on the way. He’s going to be OK but it serves as notice that this section deserves some respect.
- They’re too massive and closely spaced to do much with. You need to go fast enough to maintain momentum but if you go too fast you will miss the timing and end up badly in a valley. I admit to being bummed that there is no way to catch air and add some rad to my lap. Always add rad whenever possible.
The rest of the course is boring as snot.
Speaking of snot! It is a little chilly. Temps are right around freezing. There is a thin layer of crunchy snow on top of the grass. My fingers are frozen and I think I lost my toes a mile back.
After a couple warm-up laps I’ve decided to switch to my usual thin gloves for the race. I don’t like how much tighter I need to grip the bars with the heavier gloves and it feels they’re going to be all sweaty after a couple race-pace laps anyway. Chris sticks with the winter gloves though and we both keep all our thermal base layers on under the skinsuit. There’s nothing I can do about my toes. They’re lost.
Why aren’t we racing??? We’re all called up to the line but race time was 9:00 and it is 9:15 now!
The officials are telling us that they had to put a chicken-run (my name for it) in as an alternate to the rhythm mounds. This is partly due to the crash and also (probably more-so) because some of the juniors said they were going to go home as they were too scared to ride it. The course had to be changed and that’s taking some time.
Oh, but we are miserable now. Then the offical tells us that the beer will arrive before we are done our race. A cheer goes up “Yay!” BUT, they don’t start serving until after 11. “Boo.”
Everyone is shivering when they finally let us loose!
I’m cleanly clicked into my pedal but I can’t find any room to race. I’m boxed against the fence. We round the first corner and I try to make a little room but this guy in front of me keeps hugging the fence while the guy next to me keeps it all very tight. Dangit, everyone is getting away!
Enough is enough. There’s a tiny river of gravel between the hardpack and the tape and everyone is avoiding it so THAT is where I am headed! I grab two quick upshifts, piston the pedals, and power forward. The rear wheel slews on the loose gravel but the front tracks true as I growl past Mr. Courseblocker! After that push I’ve got more speed on than the pack and (of course) leave my braking later, grabbing another spot at the first corner. I do enjoy a good outbraking maneuver.
Now that I’ve got the hysterics from the start handled, my plan is finding a tiny gap where I can have a couple of bike lengths in front of me, if possible. The rhythm section is early in the lap and I don’t want to be right on the tail of someone and have them suddenly check up at the top or do something stupid to take me out. Lucky me! A spot of air grows around me I can take the mounds at my own pace without worry.
The mounds have been successfully negotiated! The important thing now is finding my race-pace as the field stretches out. I have to feel out how my body is reacting today. I’m still “cold” and my heart rate isn’t peaked yet because all the traffic I am negotiating keeps me reigned in just a bit.
I want to go as hard as my body can tolerate, but not so hard that I start to make stupid mistakes. The course is simple for sure, but there is always a chance of stupidly overcooking a corner. There is ONE rooted and rutted place where my technical skills can gain me a second or so. I’ll keep that as a weapon for later.
Grrr! A guy in all-white kit just chopped across my line, forcing me to slow and lose momentum. Dirty trick. I expect it at a higher level, but this is the first lap of a lowly Cat 4/5 race. I ask politely for a little room and he ignores me. He’s not much faster than me and I try to keep in touch but he is slowly getting away. Next time Mr. All-White, next time. I hope your Mom washes your kit with a red sweater.
The snow is melting and on the straights the fast line is the muddy groove but the corners are interesting. You can still run the tight line in the mud, but you have to slow a lot to do it. I opt for the old auto racing trick of using the “rain line”, essentially running wider where there is still grip. I have a longer arc to travel, but my entry and exit speeds are higher meaning I save energy on acceleration.
This is all critically important right now because someone has ridden up behind me and is staying very close. I can tell his position by listening to the sticky sound of tires in the mud. I’ve figured out something else too… He’s either not too comfortable in the corners or not too comfortable following me closely because I can hear his freewheel heading into all the corners. It is loud and obvious.
I make a mistake at one point where I turn the wrong direction at a corner. My brain didn’t “see” the corner correctly and I find myself blinking at the tape in my path. CRAPS! I lose a couple seconds getting turned back and now I’m feeling rather tired. I can hear the freewheel closing in. My brain starts giving me “We’re caught!” “Why are you doing this ridiculous thing?” and “Just go at your own pace!” messages. How does that Jens Voigt thing go again? “Shut up brain!”
I concentrate on my lines, pedaling through the corners, and putting down all the power I can maintain and guess what? Guy Freewheelie is out of earshot!
I’m starting lap 3 and go past the announcer when I hear him say that I’m *just* in the top 10. I guess that means I’m tenth, eh?
There’s zero feeling of quit now. I can keep this up. In fact, I look ahead and see my co-DCCoD-practitioner Mark at the hairpins. That’s a good sign because I know Mark is faster than I am in practice and in the races all this year. If I’m still this close, I must be doing alright!
Oh, and I’m catching someone.
At the start of the last lap there’s a rider about 15 seconds ahead that I didn’t see before so perhaps he is struggling? Maybe I can catch him?
Caught him! Passed him! Finished!
9th place finish 7 seconds ahead of 10th and 39 seconds aft of 7th and 8th (Mark outsprinted Mr. All-White for the place but they finished on the same time).
I’m not sure how to read this result. Yes, it is my highest finish so far, but it is also the fewest number of riders in the race at just 39. So percentagewise, I’m not doing much better. However, it is the closest I’ve ever been to the 1st place finisher in terms of time with a gap of 2 minutes and 13 seconds. I’ll take that as a positive sign, thank you.