Sunday I rolled into Goddard park for VERGE race #9 feeling like a rock star. It wasn't the messy hair or hangover, it was the attention and adoration I was getting from people who had seen me gimp out of the place just the day before who looked at me like I had just rolled the boulder away from the cave.
Vanity isn't my thing... well, maybe just a little, but these people were making it hard not to feel like a giant killer for showing up to this race. Yeah the hand hurt pretty bad and it looked even worse, but once you start racing at a heart rate of 175 BPM, something like this isn't going to bother you that much, so why not give it a shot.
Before the racing started there was the little business of registering and pre-riding the course. I mentioned that once you started racing things like a sore hand aren't first and foremost on your mind, but as I rode towards registration and hit my first root of the day the wisdom of my decision was immediately put in doubt as sharp pain shot up my left arm. With about 60% grip strength going for me on that side, I decided to swap out the double front ring for a single ring to eliminate the need to shift the night before and it was probably a good move. One of many tactical equipment choices I've made in my brilliant career.
Free PRO tip: that toe clip strap you see others using to corral their pit wheels... get one.
With registration complete and pit wheels dropped, I kitted up and took to the course for a lap with pal and nemesis Mike Rowell at around 9:15 am. Kitted cannot possibly be a word but this sport is filled with unusual expressions that are meaningless to the unbaptized, like "Brownie Feed" and "Dollar Preem" (that's how I spell it because it is the only spelling that makes sense to me - deal with it). We'll get to those...
Typically a grass crit kind of guy, I tend to like my power courses. Why you ask? Because with long sections of road like riding one can expect to enjoy long sections of wheel sucking rest. NBX day 2 was no such course. For one, it had snowed about 2 inches over night and into the morning. Usually the formula for calculating RI snowfall is to take what we get in Sutton and multiply it by 0.1. With just a dusting on the ground at home I was surprised to see snowballable amounts of it in Warwick, time for a new snow estimator. Check out this kid's ball.
I've raced this course in the snow before and it can be icy. If they add the switchbacks to the west side of the course... an area called the "intestinal tract"... and it snows, the half-dozen 180 degree turns in there get packed down and glaze over. Sore hand and all, Mike and I headed out to check on that section and yup - 6 icy switchbacks. Mike is railing these turns, and I'm scared $hitle$$... How is he going through them so fast? Just as I'm about to say "Mike - I'm going to ride this race, not race it" I hit the deck on my left side. A great deal of pain returns to my left hip and knee, but I never got my hand out so that was spared additional discomfort.
The rest of the course was fun, with similar paved sections to the day before with the exception of the long run away from the beach and the relocation of the barriers to an uphill area near the carousel bldg. Some additional sections of forest floor trails were added to make up the length of the the missing road section, and the course was much more technical than the day before, even without the snow. The pre-ride dump left your beloved author badly spooked. Badly. I had figured out a good place to hold the bars so riding wasn't a problem, I was pretty much terrified of falling again. Nervous and confused, I sat in the back of my car trying to stay warm while the sound of knobby tires buzzing on trainers filled the air.
At 10:15 it was time to head to staging and get ready to go. I decided to ride the intestinal tract once more and it must have warmed up a whole 2 degrees or something because while it was still slippery, it wasn't icy any longer, just tacky damp snow and parts of it were even worn down to dirt.
Here's what the park looked like more or less, it was really nice.
How's this for sour grapes: I am so over the silly VERGE points thing now. The call ups were ridiculous, when Atwood was finished there were only two dozen or so of us left. They give points to anyone who can finish a race I swear. Except me. I've got to be the fastest guys with zero lifetime VERGE points. It's a badge of honor. Like how it was cool to be a Red Sox fan because they sucked for so many years. Now they sell pink Sox hats.
Yeah, I'll get to the race report.
So I started on the fifth row far right and at the whistle we were off across the slushy parking lot that did a first-rate job in getting your feet soaking wet and frozen stiff within 30 seconds of the start. Lazily through the first two turns the realization that I needed to be further up front hit as we reached the sand. I ran a flank pattern and passed a bunch of guys on the far left, and remounted right around 25th spot at the top of the hill. The snow kept the race from stringing out too much, but we were going faster than I thought we could considering the conditions.
The crowd was thick at the barriers, it was a great spot to watch as a few dudes lost it on the frozen ground trying to begin their run. The left hand turn after the planks was the trickiest of the day IMHO, it was packed pretty good with icy snow, super tight, and slightly up hill. I never figured that turn out all day while others seemed to have it dialed. I found that the section of track from the first crossing of the road back to the second time through the pit were really working well for me, a part that includes the intestinal tract. I was opening up gaps on those behind me and closing in on those ahead of me in those spots much to my surprise.
Top mount brake levers and unclipping around turns run counter to the spirit of cyclocross in my estimation, but for this day I made an exception to my own rule. During pre-ride I'd decided to unclip the inside foot on each slippery turn no matter what. Not only would it save my can if I lost traction, it allowed me to ride more aggressively knowing that I had a leg out to catch me.
Nearly two laps in I moved past Rowell and asked him if he was feeling alright. He managed a groan in response. I hooked up with Mike Bernard and we traded turns for a lap until I let him drive the bus for a lap. We were pulling back some strong guys and Mike's lines were smooth and clean. So much so that I yelled encouragement at him to keep going cuz he was doing a beautiful job. We caught and passed Chris Borrello and Paul Curley, though I hesitated to long to get around Curely for some reason.
Heading into the intestinal tract for the third time I realized the unclipping for each turn was getting harder because of fatigue. My chances of falling were likely going up for the same reason so I made a pinky-promise to myself to keep doing the unclipping thing right to the end no matter what. Smart move. It's called "Strategy."
With 3 to go we caught Kurt Perham, who had no business being down in the mid to high teens. Mike rode by and I hesitated again, not sure how to pass a guy that is usually 3-4 minutes and 10 places ahead of me. I actually asked him if he was alright and if he minded if I got by because Mike was riding away a bit. I should work on my confidence.
Colin was giving me splits up to 15th spot and the gaps were coming down. First 15 seconds, then 3. Mike began to slow with 2.5 laps to go so I moved past and set my sights on Shattuck and Hornberger. Through the intestinal tract I was gaining noticeably, but being together they would pull ahead on the pavement and the faster trail sections. Finally I caught them just after the bell heading into the sand, but Bill decided he wanted the 15th place points for himself and he countered the moment I arrived. Brant stretched it out and though I had felt pretty fresh the entire time I had been reeling them in, I had no ability to step it up to the next level and the gap grew quickly. I finished 17th with a hard charging Perham just behind.
Sticking around to animate the 2/3 race a bit I offered racers in that field tasty home-made brownies aka "Brownie Feeds"...
We declared a few "Dollar Preems"...
and handed up gulp sized portions of Opa Opa IPA from a growler of the stuff I had won in a Yankee swap Friday night.
It was another great weekend of racing.