This is not going as planned.
It is 2:23 AM and I am dialing 911 for the first time in my life. Relax, its not an emergency, the @ssh@le circus across the street (our neighbors) are setting off fireworks… Still. Halloween was done hours ago and who ever heard of setting off fireworks for Halloween anyway? My dog is shaking with fear, my cat is hiding under the bed, my wife and I are both awake, and my alarm is set to go off in about two-and-a-half hours. What great sleep I am getting!
The alarm goes off and Chris is sick with “flu-like symptoms” so I am NOT picking him up this morning. Rest and get better dude.
It is raining frogs and logs and my bikes are getting soaked on the roof of the Viggen as I trundle on up Rt. 202 with my DunkinDonuts caffeine and calories.
Amazingly, a few minutes before I arrive the rain stops! That is unexpected. It is still a chilly 43 degrees, but the rain hasn’t touched the race course. It is in perfect shape.
I registered 33rd so I’m lined up in the middle of the 5th row. The start is strongly uphill and as usual, everything is bonkers for the first half lap or so. I can make up a few places by being aggressive here and there, and so I do so. Then I nearly kill me.
I should mention that the course is on the Pennsylvania Renaissance Fairgrounds and that there are all sorts of interesting structures, fences, paths, gazebos, a pirate ship, gallows, and who knows what else. I *do* know that we’re racing through a gate now and one side of the gate is slowly swinging shut as I approach… I jink right, shoulder into the guy next to me, and the gate just misses my left foot. There’s a course marshal fixing a ripped section of tape and I yell to him “Your barn door is closing back there!” He yells back a thanks. Phew, that was a close one.
This course is challenging! Never, in my extensive experience of four (well, three-and-1/5th) cyclocross races, have I been presented with so many types of racing surfaces and cross-typical obstacles.
- Grass (naturally)
- Gravel (deep mushy pea-sized gravel)
- Gravel (large crusher run stuff)
- Carpet (unnatural grass)
- Wood (steps)
- Dirt (super fine and soft dusty stuff that wanders about)
- Dirt (just normal dirt or “soil”, as The Lovely Annalisa would call it)
- Sand (deep sand for armored knights to fall off their jousting horses into)
New (to me) obstacles:
- Pump track
The first new obstacle thing is a set of wooden stairs on the side of a hill set at an angle so there are more stairs on the left than on the right. Naturally, with the other riders around me I am on the left the first time we get to them. My brain registers this as a disadvantage and reminds me that I will be on the outside of the turn when remounting, but on the inside of the two turns after that. I do the best remount of my life (pure dumb luck) and pull off a huge pass of at least three riders, then another one or two as we approach the flyover.
The flyover is no big deal on your own but can be a huge mess if someone in front of you screws it up. The approach is poor, as you have first negotiate a turn on nasty crunchy gravel. As a result, you can’t carry any speed at all. During practice I’d told myself that if the guys in front of me took the flyover, I’d take the chicken-run (bypass) instead, just to be safe. I figure at least one of those dudes is gonna make a mess and I don’t want to get caught up in it.
As we are approaching it I see a few guys take the chicken-run and that’s good for me! So I start to brake and dedicate myself to the flyover at the split when I realize the three guys directly in front and to the side of me are all taking the flyover. Crud. It is too late to change course now. I square the corner off to get as much traction as possible for the sprint up the incline and sprint up to it. Luck is with me and all the guys in front of me clear it OK. Rolling down the backside accelerates me like crazy. I’m clicking upshifts as fast as I can but it feels like ages before my pedals catch up. Stupid Shimano single-upshift-at-a-time shifters.
Down into the “town” again we’re racing along some of the footpaths and YIKES! My front wheel washes out on some gravel but a quick foot dab puts me right and I get to pedal away with just a minor scare. I may or may not have said something ungentlemanly back there.
What follows that scare however, is just pure fun. There are a few fast flowing grass turns that lead to a downhill run on a dirt-gravel road and I’m grabbing another gear, and another gear, and wheeeee, sail right on past an unsuspecting victim before braking hard and sliding into the next turn onto the grass in a shower of gravel and dust. I bet that looked awesome. It sure felt awesome.
Then… Pump Track! It’s only three little bumps and valleys but its fun fun fun over each one and at the end I get to catch a bit of completely superfluous air. Enjoy it while it lasts buddy, because here comes the sand.
Honestly, I am disappointed in the sand. It just isn’t as much fun as I had expected. I rode it in practice and it went fine. It is not that hard. I probably won’t crash, but I’m not certain my bike will survive. It made my drivetrain all crunchy and I had to go back to my car and clean my chain before the race. I have no confidence that riding it every lap will leave me with a functioning bike at the end.
So now, I’m getting off and struggling to do my first competition shoulder-carry! I fumble it up onto my shoulder and do my best to jog on through. Pretty much everyone is running it, so I figure I’m not losing much time. The guy next to me says “Man, running in sand SUCKS!” and I heartily agree with him. We’re almost out of the sand when someone who clearly has more money to throw at his bike than me comes riding up along side of us, aims for the exit, and promptly falls headfirst into the fence. I quip to the guy next to me “Beats the hell out of that though!”
After the sand running my heartrate is redlined and the course goes uphill, of course. There’s dismount for a single barrier to negotiate and I get back on my bike clumsily and promptly put my shoulder right into the corner of a building. It might have been an outhouse. I don’t know. It didn’t move. I bounce off and continue on my unmerry way.
Things seem to be going OK now. I have no idea where I am in the race because there are so many obstacles and blind corners that you can’t really see whats going on up ahead. Its like driving in the city, there’s stuff in the way of everywhere you want to look. So of course someone four riders ahead of me takes this opportunity to make a wrong turn. I see it, I know it, but I’m trying to pass this guy here and he decides to follow Mister Wrongway which forces me to do the same or crash into him. I’m yelling “Right! Right! Right!” but everyone is going left! I brake hard and quickly turn around then nearly take out one poor guy who rides into our cluster of confusion completely unaware of what is going on just beyond this fence gap. We avoid the crash though, and I’ve lost about 7 seconds I figure.
Shortly after that, there’s this section where we’re racing on pavement and there’s an “on the limit” corner with a bit of gravel that’s been dragged to the apex. So, I stay off the apex a bit in order to really maximize the corner and that is SUPER critical because it leads onto the uphill finishing straight. I’m faster than the guys around me here and despite not being the strongest on the hill, make several passes because I carried more speed out of the corner. That feels good, yeah.
We’re a few laps in now and I’ve been battling back and forth with this one guy. I think I’ve got him covered because the last two laps have gone exactly the same. He leads me onto the flyover but I carry more speed and pass him on the brakes into the next hairpin turn. Then he goes by on the twisty section of gravel where I had a dab. Then I go by under braking at the bottom of the fast dirt road. Then he goes by when he has more energy coming out of the sand. I then pass him up the start/finish hill as I carry more speed through the preceding turn. I’m thinking that I can do that same little dance on the final lap and out-sprint him at the line.
Halfway through the penultimate lap and, um, wait… I’m slowing down! Or he’s speeding up? I don’t know which but I’m not feeling very energetic and he’s clearly pulling away now. My plan only works if I am close enough at the end but I just can’t close the gap and I lose his wheel. I think that maybe my endurance isn’t so good because I was sick with a cold last week. I’m dying on this last lap, ugh. I keep looking behind me, but I can’t spy anyone closing in. Thank goodness.
I cross the line an exhausted 13th out of 57 racers and 1st in my age group (40-49).
I was about 22 seconds behind the guy I was planning on racing to the end. It is my best finish yet, but I really wanted to go after him on the final hill. Dangit.
Below are a couple pictures I shot with my phone before I left. I know Lisa from the DCCoD (Delaware Cross Coalition of Delaware) and my wife knows her from one of her former jobs. I cheered her on a bit, but couldn’t locate her after the race and it was time for me to hit the road.