Thursday, November 20, 2008

USGP Mercer Cup Trenton, NJ Day 2: 11.16.08

Our crew awoke on Sunday much less enthusiastic about Day II of the USGP. Arriving at the venue relatively late for their 9:30 start, Colin and Chris were freely discussing how they were not excited about racing and agreed that if they found one more person to bail with they they would skip it. I shared their feelings about the day. I didn't want to do another 5k running race mixed into the middle of a cross race. My wife then reminded me that Zank had started the same silly talk last year on day two of Portland, and if I even thought about coming home without racing after driving 4 hours and leaving he alone with the kids for the entire weekend she'd turn the themostat down to chilly if you know what I'm sayin'. Time to race! 

My previous 4 experineces with the USGP organizers have been spectacular, but this one was a bit sub standard. The registration was a bit less than perfect, they didn't account for the much slower lap times and ran all of the day one races way too long, being behind schedule they placed riders to keep them off the course rather than letting them finish off their races, and the general organization and communication weren't great. Granted the volunteers spent a lot of time fixing broken course tape, but an organization shows its level of strength and cohesion during times of strife, not prosperity. This was a challenging weekend for sure, and the USGP did not deliver the goods. 

One of the good decisions that the organizers made was to leave the course unchanged from the previous day. There isn't a cross racer out there that will tell you running the same course over two days is fun, just look at how the day two changes in VT, Noho and Gloucester made those epic weekends, but with an eye towards 2009 they smartly left every stake in place for Day 2. This helped to limit the damage to the venue to the areas that were already pulverized, but with a full day of racing on the course and an overnight storm the conditions were the worst I've ever seen. Portland was messy last year but you could move forward most of the time: the problems was trying to keep the bike upright. This stuff was just slow and difficult to move through. "Not fun" would be a good description. So it was going to be a disaster either way for us racers, at least they had the brains to cap the magnitude of said disaster. 

Sometimes the small differences in life are the most noticible, and Sunday morning brought a slight but significant and meaningful change to the Mercer Cup landscape. There wasn't a single rider out on the course unless they were racing. Preriding is pretty much standard fare at cross races, but that day the course was eerily quiet of non-race activity. Couple that with music that didn't seem as loud, announcers that weren't as chipper, and an infield that was in even worse condition, and the whole vibe was pretty depressing. If Saturday was a rained out wedding... fun but leaving you wishing for better conditions... Sunday was a full on funeral procession. 

Not all of these photos are from my race, but they represent the general experience... 

This was one downhill I didn't have to run, but it was close. This girl must have been running the entire course if she couldn't make it through this section coming off that flyover. 

Riders were tape to tape and beyond in the search of traction

I laid it down in this mud puddle at the end of lap one

Here I am running an uphill with  everyone else. Notice how the worm path swings out between the stakes
Kenny was out with what ultimately turned out to be a fractured hand... that lucky bastard had an excuse not to race. The cambridge guys looked to be having a great time in the B & C races, and the same two 15 year old kids who took the top two spots in the B race Saturday repeated on Sunday. Quick ego check for all you 2/3s there. During that B race I was walking through the pit alongside Bailey who was on the course riding. I told him that he was riding slow and he showed me his middle finger. I dropped him. 

The races had been running 30 minutes late on Sunday but at some point they caught up because while I was lounging in the back of the SRAM volvo, I faintly heard what sounded like the final call to staging for the elite masters. Cr@p!! I hustled to the start area and saw that there was probable 30% less people there than the day before. It was like a Cyclocross IQ test and the whole lot of us who had decided to race had failed. I lined up second row this time, right behind Richard Feldman, my age group's national champ from 2 years ago. The dude is built like a normal guy, not a skinny or tiny bike racer, and he can absolutely kill it. He won the Saturday race and went on to win Sunday as well. I had much higher expectations for the start because I knew my lane would be clear moments after the whistle as Feldman rocketed away from the field. 

Sure enough, three pedal strokes into the race Feldman was 5 bikes ahead of me and I moved up into the main chase group. I like the long paved starting straights at Gloucester, Canton, Providence and NBX, because it seems that guys generally go hard for about  60% of that distance before they "settle in." This race was no different, and when guys started to sit down I kept sprinting right up into the top 6 coming off the pavement. Can't keep this up but working up the field from the back hasn't been that great for me the past few weeks so what the hell, let's see what happens. 

I lost a few spots through the first few turns and the slog was tape to tape behind the sand pit. The far side of the course was pretty fast though, and a line along the left side of the mud puddle from the day before had formed, so it was all not so bad until we hit the field. That's when the shift show started. Run up the field, run down the field. About 8 minutes while in 9th place in I ran into the pit to give the whole bike exchange thing a try. 

Yeah that's right, I had a pit bike. Na na-na na naaa na. 

Of course it was Colin's bike, but I had a whole crew and everything there ready to take my bike and wash off the mud that had accumulated in the first half lap of the race. Earlier I had begged Cary Fridrich to let me borrow a set of time pedals to strap onto Colin's bike so that I could do a bike exchange during my race. He obliged and I tested out my new rig in the parking lot. To say the fit was "off" for me would be understating things a bit. The bars were 6 cm higher and 5 cm closer than I was accustomed, the saddle height was probably 2 cm short but with the super high bottom bracket it still took a good leap to get up there, and the shifters were pointed upward at about a 45 degree angle.  It fit like cr@p but was the best equipment choice I've made all year and I was super grateful for the loaner. I discussed pit strategy with my crew and they seemed to prefer an every lap exchange while I was leaning heavily towards every lap... and more often than that if at all possible. 

I took the bike and continued to run through the pit and on towards the the barriers. Dropping 5 lbs of mud off the bike in an instant does wonders for your perceived exertion, and I maintined my 9th place position through the next bike exchange towards the end of lap one. Somewhere during that lap I realized that I was not feeling that great, sleeping for 45 minutes at a time on a 12 inch wide camping pad under an end table was catching up to me, but my position was good so I tried to fight the urge to withdraw. At some point I decided to treat this as a running race and ride when I could, that mindset allowed me to relax while running because I was clearly a better runner than the few guys who were around me that I could see. Of course they were riding much more of the course than I was, but that would change over time. 

Just before the pavement at the conclusion of lap one I laid it down in a deep mud puddle, loosing my chain and three positions in one shot. Back on again I drove it hard into lap 2, and was riding the back of the course pretty well when I saw Dan Coady approaching from behind. The bike exchanges were going really well, and getting my bike back for the second half of the laps was great. These were the longer sections and also had the most ridable distances. Cary and PVB were on the first uphill sections of the course and as I was fighting for 13th with a TOGA rider. As I approached him from behind Cary yelled "yeah, about to be 13th! get tough!!" Near the flyover a group of fans took a liking to my pink t-mobile-esque skinsuit, referring to me as Jan, Adolf, and Deiter amongst other things. They offered me EPO, strudel, heineken (which is from holland), blow and sauerkraut.

On my first exchange of lap 3 Coady passed me while I ran through the pit, shouldering the bike on the way in and out. The crew was executing flawless hand offs by this point, so I didn't see the need to mess with the system and risk a full lap on the course with a dirty bike. After the barriers on lap 3 I pulled off the best 20 seconds of bike handling of my life. I was trying to stay with Coady until the paved section, and came into a real slick spot pretty fast. The bike dove in an out of the space between the wooded stakes, with the front wheel fiding just enough traction to stary straight and the rear just enough to keep forward progress. I used my left side to bounce off the very sturdy wooden stakes and flew through there with several near misses much to PVB's delight. He emailed me on that moment the next day. It was great but Dan was better and he was gone. Soon after in the sand Marc Boudreau passed me and got a huge gap. I came to the bell lap in 14th place and was loosing ground to the rider behind. 

Mark went down behind the sand pit and his once large gap was gone, I was past him and 6 seconds ahead in no time. I raced as hard as I could on that last lap, and leaving the pit for the second to last time Chris Bailey yelled "after this race we're going to Hooters!" much to the delight of the crowd. I was holding Mark off but then made a few mistakes coming into the pit for the last time and he caught me at the flyover. Those steps were high Saturday morning at 11:30, by 1 pm on Sunday they were as tall as I was. He came off the back clean and got a gap that held to the end. I rolled in 14th and was glad to be done.

After the race and a short wait to wash my bike near the garage under the boat house a guy hands me the hose when the water suddenly stops coming out of it. From under the garage door I see that some clearly pissed off park ranger type has had enough of the whole scene and he's taken it upon himself to end the bike washing right then and there. "Hey... HEY!" I yell but the hose keeps disappearing. "That's it" a voice says, and the hose is gone. I loudly suggested that there was two ways to handle that situation, a polite way and then his way, and that if he has a problem with the bike racers he should take it up with his bosses who allowed the race to happen in the first place. "Don't taze me man."

Another strike for the Mercer Cup. 

I'm assuming that the event is done, but if somehow does end up back on the schedule, I think I'll stay home and race locally next year. 

Special thanks to the following people for their help this weekend:
Kenny and Dianna for the ride down
Colin and Linnea for the pit bike and help
Cary Fridrich for the pedals and in race encouragement 
Chris Bailey for the hooters comment and the ride home
PVB for being a supafan


Colin R said...

My shifter angle is the same as Myerson's, thus my shifter are PRO.

gaberator said...

That girl running is a triathlete who does CX for fitness, so running for her is NBD. But yes, she did run most of the race because she felt it was faster.

matt said...

I'm glad some one felt fast last weekend. After Saturday we were toying with the idea of shouldering a super light bike and just running the entire thing in running shoes, so maybe she was on to something.