Monday, October 13, 2008

Gloucester Day 1: 10.11.08

Where to start? Gloucester is the biggest cyclocross race weekend in New England, with a distant second place up for grabs amongst a long list of good events. None of them have the crowds, the excitement, and the quality of racing the Gloucester does.

Why is Gloucester so special? (For those who like campy pop culture refernces in their blog content, here you go.) The venue, the time of year, and the brilliance of the promoters form the "Perfect Storm" for a great weekend of racing. That was ugly... I'm sorry all of you for having to read that.

Stage Fort Park is right on the Atlantic Ocean with some beautiful views of the ocean and Gloucester harbor. The landscape of the park adds to the appeal of the venue as well: a sea wall walking path, overlooking gazebo and enormous rock viewing point offer distinct characteristics that other courses lack. The town doesn't seem to mind that 1,200 racers descend of the place each fall and do their best to till the soil.

Being an early season race there is generally nice weather and some left over fitness that helps to boost attendance as well. The year it snowed on day one it was sunny and 70 degrees on day 2.

The organizers do a great job of handling this race. Knowing that Gloucester has become the "go to" race in New England, each year they make it better. This year's addition of a beer tent was a great move, providing a space where spectators could enjoy a great panoramic view of the second half of the course and drink themselves silly. Most everyone simply brought their own beer and just walked around with it anyway, but the beer tent gave the consumption of alcohol on public grounds a touch of legitimacy.

Having missed out on points in Vermont, I had been sure to register as early as possible to get a decent spot on the grid. After call ups I managed to get into the 3rd row, and looking back at the field behind me I realized I was lucky. There had to have been 80 guys across 10 additional rows back there. Plus, there was a free lane to my right that was begging for me to ride straight up it and right to the front.

At the whistle the two guys in front of me had the same idea about that free lane, and it clogged a bit as the middle became the expressway to the front of the field from the back that it normally is not. Gloucester's start is long and wide though, and things were thinning out as I hit the grass in 17th spot.

Gloucester is usually pretty dry and Saturday was no exception. The thundering herd roared around the course and stirred up a whole lot of dust, most of which ended up in my lungs. Into the barriers the dust assault continued, and I went looking for some freash air by getting to the front of the group that I had been riding with. The top 15 guys were off and running, leaving the rest of us to fight for the non-paying spots.

Through a lap and a half my group was down to 3 and we were fighting for 16th place. Approaching the sand pit for the second time Kenny yelled "you need to turn yourself inside out for this one." Up ahead it looked as though the rider in 15th was falling back and the prospect of a VERGE point seemed like a possibility. The preferred track through the sand pit was well worn and a clean ride through there could really spring you from anyone that may be right behind. Getting there in front was the key.

Half way through lap 2 something went pop in my back, about half way between my shoulder and waist on the left hand side. I went from fine to acute in less than 10 seconds. A quick feel back there confirmed that no one had stuck a knife into my side, but it sure felt that way, easily one of the top 10 worst side stitches I'd ever had. It was agonizing to breathe and possibly worse to ride over the bumpy course. This was some serious pain.

I've had side stitches before, most notably in the 2005 El Gran Trialo, where 30 minutes of walking solved the problem and actually gave me a chance to rest a bit before I went out and hammered the last 8 miles of the run. Cyclocross doesn't allow for such rests, so my options were to drop out (not good for the stats) or just keep going and try to loose as few spots as possible while hoping that the spasms would ease.

Coming off the back of the 16-18 group I was quickly passed by the rider in 19th. Not being able to breathe or ride over bumps for 20 minutes is not good for a cross race, but fortunately we had built up a big gap over the 10 riders fighting it out for 20th. With 2 to go I could see I was probably still 20 seconds ahead of them. "I can hold them off" I thought. 

One quarter of a lap later they had caught me.

There was some smoother terrain in that middle section, and I just tried to hang on to the back of the group, keenly aware that the last person in this train was going to finish outside of the top 30. The laps were counting down and I knew I could do anything for 7 minutes, just get me to the bell with this group and I'd be home free for a top 20 finish. The first three riders from this group got a gap at the sand pit and held that to the end just as two more riders joined from the rear.

While the body was failing me, the mind was sharp. The front of this group would be 23rd, the rear 31st. The two guys that just got on were probably tired from the chase, and the three guys that just rode away weren't the ones driving the train to catch me. Those guys were at the back of the group with me now, so I really was worried only about Steve Rosko from Bikereg and Matt Theodore from Bikebarn. They looked the freshest and were moving to the front in a controlled manner. My assessment turned out to be spot on.

The bit of rest I got at the back of that group and a few moments of flat terrain allowed me to recover a little: I was no longer hyperventilating and was starting to draw some deeper breaths. At one lap to go, the side stitch let up just enough to make the bumps tolerable and allow some slightly heavier breathing. I parlayed this with the rest I had taken by racing top 30 pace rather than top 20 pace for the past 15 minutes and moved up to second wheel along the sea wall for strategic reasons.

The legs felt good, I just couldn't support their effort with the adequate amount of oxygen. I knew I had one real good jaw-clenching, white-knuckling, pain-be-damned kick that was going to require gasping for air and hurt like hell, so I wanted to use it at the right time. I had time to rest a bit and did not want to get caught at the end of the elastic band so I stayed second wheel through the barriers and into the back sections of the course. I got to the front at the far end of the field, figuring correctly that the group would have to ride my pace if I swung wildly back and fourth through the turns leading into the sand pit. I could also go nice and slow and build further rest into my legs. That all went well for me.

"Be perfect - be perfect" I repeated to myself as I hit the sand for the last time. I was, cleaning the pit with no loss of speed and no unnecessary effort off of the main line. I punched it coming out of the last turn in the sand, a surge that broke the group up as hoped. This guaranteed that I'd be first into the final turns and likely to the pavement provided I held to power for the last 60 seconds of the race. This was a better option than dragging the entire group to the pavement for an 8 up sprint that would not be to my advantage.

Gritting my teeth I drove past the pits and up the (bumpier each lap) climb. The effort I was putting in was now requiring me to inhale deeper, and it was agonizing. The course dropped into last technical section that preceeded the final super-painful-to-those-with-hurtin'-ribs rough section of the course and my back was screaming again. With 30 seconds of racing left and mostly smooth road ahead I figured I could hold my breath if I absolutely had to. I dragged Steve and Matt to the pavement clear of the others and gave it my best possible sprint, loosing to Steve as Matt faded behind.

After crossing the line I collapsed, and not for effect. I couldn't breathe or speak, and face down in the dirt I sucked in a bit more dust. Riders all around asked if I needed medical and I managed a muffled "no" between thoracic contractions. My pal eyebob was there for support and to snap a few photos of me writhing in pain.

After a few minutes I was up again and made my way back to the car. My first recovery drink (chocolate milk) wasn't quite as tasty as my second (Ipswich Harvest Ale).

Photos and race 2 summary coming soon.

1 comment:

G-ride said...

i guess we dont get a day two report...sigh...