Thursday, September 18, 2008

Amesbury Cross: 9.14.08

The kids are back to school and the wife is back teaching at Assumption again. Morning rides require a light and knee warms. The first few leaves have started to turn from green to yellow, and Hannafords finally has the good green apples from the USofA rather than the hog feed variety we get the rest of the year from Chile. It's time for cyclocross.

Those out of season granny smith apples are horrible, aren't they? No snap at the teeth, no sour at the tongue... a soulless fruit. It's unfortunate that the best fruits are seasonal in nature... sure we all love bananas, kiwi and grapes, but the strawberries and raspberries of early summer and the granny smith's and early macintosh's of early fall are worth the wait. I'd rather that the market not even stock them when they are out of season, because eating them the rest of the year is all about unmet expectations. You recall how a strawberry should taste. It's December and you buy the strange litttle plastic box with the slits in it, rinse thoroughly of course, then pop one in your mouth to find it is as dense as a warm marshmallow.

Same goes for corn... Fall only thank you. We can get by with the other veggies for the rest of the year, so long as our corn is think, juicy and sweet.

The season is here, and it is truly the most wonderful time of the year. We'll whip through this fall in no time, then look back and wonder where it all went. Amesbury is the first cross race of the year, outside of the August Blunt Park race in Springfield MA which doesn't really count. August is reserved as a time for roadies to 1) reflect on the fact that they were to anxious to race on snow banked roads in the spring and now have no desire to race during nice weather and 2) consider ways to change their behaviors for the next year. It never happens though, they do it every year and some of the nicest road racing weather goes unused.

Not this guy.... Your author rode his a$$ off in August, the aforementioned NH vacation was a central part of the plan. Ramp it up at the end of Summer to be humming along at peak fitness for the start of the season was the plan. Aww yeah...

I've had a keen eye fixed on the first two VERGE series races September 26 & 27 in Williston VT. Unlike football where you have to wait all year for the most important game, this is like NASCAR. The first race is the most important. My very own Daytona 500. This past Sunday in Amesbury served as an important step towards success in acheiving my goal of a good result in VT:

1) Shakedown the Ride: New post, two rings and SRAM components. I had to know it all worked.

2) Gague fitness: I've been working hard... but no racing this summer. All the big boys in the elite master's fields have been racing week in and week out. Don't these people have families? I'm just jealous.

3) Remember how to race: Not the riding the bike part... that comes pretty easy. It's everything else about the race that you have to relearn each year. Registration, course review, warm up, gear preparation, number pinning, staging, fueling and hydrating.

I recall the first hockey practice each year trying to remember which went on first, the cup, the garter belt, or the shin pads. Answer: always the cup.

Arrival: I arrived exactly one hour before my race... so ready to go, so proud of myself for being early. Then, errr, I realize/remember that the race right before mine is about to start, so I've left myself exactly no time to check out the course before I have to report to the staging area 50 minutes from now. Next time: get there an hour and fifteen minutes early.

It was rainy and cold, but not cyclocross cold. Cyclocross cold is shivering at the start line don't take your jacket off until the starter says "30 seconds" cold. This was a bit of light drizzle... short sleeve weather for sure. And once the race starts, you generate enough BTUs to power the Hadron Collider.

The race before mine ended on the early side, so I did end up getting two laps in on the course. About 50/50 grass and pine forest with a bit of paved and gravel road mixed in. The wet grass was not an issue, but there was some greasy dug up corners and the transitions from grass to pavement and back were dicey as well. The started warned us of certain death on the transition from pavement to grass after crossing a small bridge. This was going to be fun!

I backed into the starting grid like the bonafied Cat 2 a-holes do, but slithered my way deep into the fourth or fifth row because I don't have the cojones to pull it off for real. They called the field up a few meters, and I managed to hop back up to second row next to Hornberger and GeWilli. A few of the chaps give me crap for the Garmin, to which I respond that superior technology will allow me to crush their souls today.

At the whistle I worked clear across the field from right to left and found a bit of an opening on the outside of the right hand turn one. Ever have a chicklet sized peice of mud skip up directly into your open eye? Me neither, not before that moment at least. Despite the soily contact lense I moved up into 4th place after 1/2 a lap, with the usual speedsters (this guy and this guy) off the front never to be seen again.

Master's racing is my favourite. The guys are fit and theoretically a bit more mature and less prone to "youthful exuberance" (read dumb a$$ riding) during a race. This is especially true in road races, but the notion holds water in cross too. Funny thing , as the young guys get older, they become masters. So just when you think you've graduated some super fast 44 yr old guy to the 45+ field and that you'll finally crack the top ten, some 34 yr old slips into your class. This year, that guy seems to be Dan Coady. Happy Belated Birthday Danny. Whooptie-frickin'-doo.

So Coady, Bold and Boivin are stretching it out and I'm holding up the ENTIRE balance of the race behing me. Matt Krause is back there and he finally comes through with John Mosher after a lap. This is how all my races go... have a good/great start, then watch as I do the gentleman's slide backwards to my rightful spot mid-pack, perhaps as high up as one spot out of the money, but never higher than that. Two years ago at Nationals I was third man off the pavement on to the grass in Providence. One lap and 8 minuets later I was 58th. If cyclocross races were 10-15 seconds long, I could be a serious contender for the rainbow stripes.

After a few laps the pressure of the entire field being right behind me is off as they largely start to fade with the exception of Hornberger, Coleman O'Connor and a Bike Barn rider.

By now it is clear that the bike is working fine, thanks mostly to my expert mechanical care which consists of adding air to the tires, making sure that the bar ends are firmly in place and deciding if the set back on the thomson post adds to or takes from the overall asthetic of the bike. I'm not feeling or looking quite so good. Checking the HRM reveals some scary stats... 18 minutes down and 182 beats per minute. Holy shiite this sport sucks.

Brant and Bike Barn roll past pretty easily at four laps in but I'm feeling decent legs wise despite the near death heart rate so I tag along. After trailing them for a lap I get to the front to let them know that I'm still in the game, or perhaps just to scare them into staying behind me with some fatigue-induced sloppy riding. On the off camber I take a bad line and force them to hold up a bit, living out my promise of riding like crap because I'm tired. I'm bottoming out badly in the forest area and am convinced the tubulars will flat or roll off but they never do. If you race cross and don't use tubulars, keep using those clinchers because I wouldn't want a single additional person figuring out that these tires absolutely rule.

We pass Mosher who's stopped on the side of the course with a mechanical and I start to pull away from Brant and Bike Barn. Amos Brumble comes out of nowhere and flys past, as does the 45+ leader Kevin Hines who started a full minute behind us. He's 45+ mational champ runner up, I can't imagine how he lost that race.

I'm now 6th on the course and see the Brant, Coleman and John are right behind, staying the same distance back lap after lap. The HR is still above 180 each time I check and the lap cards are not yet out. My chasers all look better than I feel, and finally they flash the 3 to go sign which gives me hope that I can hold them off. Only 18 minutes left. At 1.5 to go the chain comes off, and I have to stop to put it on. Coleman goes past and holds that gap all the way to the finish. I put in one last charge but so did he and I ended 7th. I help my gap over Brant and John so that was good, those guys beat me in every race last year. Coleman is usually well ahead of me as well so I was glad to be competetive with him. I didn't crash which was an added bonus and I even pinned my number on right side up.

Bold ended up winning, with Krause second and Coady third. Later that day, Krause won the pro race and Coady took another third so that gives you an idea how the master's field stacks up to the pros. I breifly considered doing the pro race but really... what the hell for?

The post race was great, with some rain and a few good races to watch before the long drive home. Yash was in mid season form at this early season cross race.... not from a fitness perspective mind you... from a style one. He warmed in one kit, HUP blue... then changed to HUP noir for the race.

I want to grow up to be just like him someday.

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