Last year was the first year that I really focused my cycling efforts on cyclocross, forgoing the entire road season so that I could pull off a few extra weekends away from the family from mid-september to mid-december. There were two major trips in 2007... one to Portland and the other to Trenton NJ for the Mercer Cup. In 2008, there has been 4 overnighters: Vermont, Gloucester, Northampton and a return to Trenton.
My college (college was pre-internet for me) hockey team used to travel to 4 or 5 away games that required long drives and overnights in a motel. The school didn't exactly look to put us up in the nicest accommodations, and we packed in at least 4 guys to every room. There was one place in King of Prussia that was made up of 5 buildings with 6 rooms in each one. Three of the buildings were abandoned and had been taken over by the homeless. The room I was in had blood splatter on the walls. No matter where we stayed, the stench of 4 men and all of our hockey equipment was a defining characteristic of these trips. You may be shocked to hear this but our results weren't great: after sitting on a bus for hours on the ride there, eating garbage food at highway rest stops, and siting around with nothing to do before our games, it was tough to go out there and play to our already mediocre abilities.
These cycling road trips are turning out to be much nicer. The lack of smelly equipment alone is a difference maker. For this trip to NJ I hopped a ride with Mr. Kenny and Ms. Dianna in the SRAM volvo (free gas) though I had to share the back seat with 24 fresh michelin mud tires mounted to zipp 404 clinchers. The bling factor is high in that car, but the smell of the rubber tires had me feeling queasy after a few hours. It wasn't anything that a patty melt and bowl of super spicy chili from Joey B's couldn't settle down though.
We were supposed to leave at 2 pm, but 2 became 5 and we didn't get to the hotel until 10:30 pm. We shacked up with Colin and Linnea and they were great roommates. Being 5th wheel, I got to sleep on the floor under the table. Not glamorous for a 37 year old father of two, but still better than sharing a bed with some hairy dude and dealing with a room full of hockey equipment. Sweet.
The next morning we went to the course to see that it was pretty much the same as the year before. Two concentric clockwise loop around the park in the area of the Boathouse. The course featured a flyover that you rode under on the first half of each lap and rode over on the second half. The extended sand pit was back, and the majority of the course simply snaked back and forth across the main field to the south and west of the boathouse.
The one significant difference from the year before was the mud. The riders that had been out on the course were seen tooling around the parking area covered in mud and talking about how messy it was going to be: the course looked pretty worked even before the first races had started.
Kenny, Colin, and most of the Cambridge bike guys raced the Bs at 9:30 and they did a bit better than the Cs who had been running some slow but rideable sections of the field. The killer B's still did a good amount of running, probably 15 minutes of their 50 minute race was spent on foot. Kenny was moving up in the field (hes' a mudder) but before lap 2 was finished we spotted him in the pit clearly favoring his left hand. He had smashed it into one of the wooden stakes that they drive fairly deep into the ground and just like that, he was done 12 minutes into his weekend. The rest of the B race was slow, messy and long. The mud was incredible and seemed to be getting worse.
Linnea taught me a new term. I saw a break in the clouds and said something to the effect that the sun was trying to come out. She said simply "suckerhole" and without further explanation I knew what she meant. It never really got nicer, but the clouds did break later in the day.
I didn't bother with a pre-ride, and chose instead to warm up in the parking lot. If there is one thing about cyclocross that I am good at, it is working the registration process. I did some sweet talking and got my starting call up position improved from 55th to 17th which allowed me to line up 3rd row in Roger Asphalm's lane. At the whistle, he stood to go and his mud-packed rear tire spun, lurching him forward and over the bars. The guy behind him (in front of me) hit Roger, and I hit them both. Along with the field went my aspirations of a good finish, but we got hooked back up and rejoined the back markers before the transition to grass, er, mud.
The three of us were deep into the back 1/4 of the pack and we flew past dozens of riders in that first lap, mostly by getting off and running the tight stuff in the first few turns as riders tried in vain to stay on their bikes. There was some physical contact, but nothing too bad until about two minutes into that first lap when I began to pass a rider wearing black along the left hand course tape. He began to fish tail and swing left into my path. He was loosing speed and I had no choice but to drop the shoulder and plant him into the ground with a super clean open-ice check. Coach Augustine would have been proud and then would have yelled at me for something else I didn't do right I'm sure.
Shortly before lap two started, Greg Ferguson caught and passed me, and we rode the Start/Finish together. Onto the mud to start lap two and we nearly come to a stop it was so thick. It wasn't tiring to ride this stuff, you could only go so hard because the rear wheel would break free and spin if you pedaled hard. Success was in finding good lines that allowed you to stay at speed as long as possible. There were sections where pedaling and running were more or less equally productive, and others where running was clearly better.
I was following Greg to start lap two and we were hugging the left side of the course, trying to gain traction by working the bike under the tape between stakes to catch any solid ground that may still exist. Suddenly Fergie sticks out his left arm, catches a section of tape with his forearm, flicks it over his head and simply rides off the course. "Enough of this shift" is what was going through his head he told me later.
Half a lap later I was approaching the left hand bend in sand pit when some guy on a Van Dessel yells "on your left... move!!" as he approaches me from behind. The sand was one section that was ridable, there was only one good line through it, I was on that line, and wasn't going to give it up because some guy behind me was yelling at me to do so. I mentioned some or all of this to him as I delivered my second body check of the day and put him into the course barriers. he kind of bounced off those banners and stayed up right, swearing at me and giving me some lip. I'm not sure how he got those words out with a mouth stuffed full of course tape, but I told him if he wanted to pass he should consider doing so well away from where I intend to be riding. He did pass, hugging the right hand side of the course as he moved up the field.
The course got progressively worse during our race, and there were 5 running sections per lap. The bike was packed with mud, and one down hill section became unridable after lap two. It was actually faster to run it. It was so hard to push the bike through. I figure I ran about 30% of the course, so probably 20 minutes of the 60 that I was on the course. Colin had said his legs were numb from all the running, and I noticed that mine felt the same way with about 1.5 laps to go.
The balance of the race wasn't super interesting, I was trading spots with a guy I had raced closely with in Gloucester, and he got the final advantage on the final sloppy trip past the put area. The photo below was taken from the bottom of the flyover as I was cresting the top.
I finished 23rd, holding off a bikeman rider who was right behind me the entire race. A decent result considering the start line mishap and the conditions.
During the pro race I helped Fergie pit for Matt White. What an experience that is. There are riders, mechanics, pit guys and spare bikes flying in every direction. The riders come in, drop their dirty bike, pick up a clean one, and head out. While their racing, the pit guys race up the pit lane and out to a water truck, where the bikes are power washed and returned to the pit, often just in time for the rider to return and pick it up, turning that once clean bike in again to be washed off. At the beginning of the race it is easy work, as all of the riders are coming into the pit on the same side. Later though, there are racers entering both sides of the pit, and the bikes are going back and forth in both clean and dirty states. That was nearly as much work as the race.
Post race we went to the mall to buy new pants because we had all destroyed ours. That was followed up by a nice meal out and an early bed time.
to be continued...