Saturday, October 31, 2009

Downeast Cyclocross Day 1: 10.24.06

I promised myself that I wouldn't write this race report until I cleaned my skinsuit from last weekend's races in New Gloucester, ME. Hosing mud off your suit and out of your socks and shoes week in and week out is getting pretty old, so I finally got to cleaning it all off last night. The suit was nearly stiff enough to stand on it's own and the socks made an incredible recovery for the 4th week in a row. Got to love Defeet! 

It was with heavy heart that I traveled up to Maine with teammates JAMenard and MZank, Saturday: it was cold (41 degrees) and rainy and pretty damn windy too. I don't mind racing in the mud nearly as much as I mind trying to get dressed while stuffed in the back seat with a stack of bags and spare wheels, warm up without initiating hypothermia, stay warm after the race while waiting 30 minutes in the rain to hose off your bike, and get undressed in that same little back seat but now while soaked, muddy and without dry clothes. The start of a cold muddy race isn't the most fun, but after the first 30 seconds you're soaked and filthy anyway so it gets better pretty quickly.

The races were held at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, ME which is some sort of former state run home for some disabled portion of the population... it used to have the word "imbecilic" in the title but I can't recall the rest. The place is beautiful and looks brand new, and in addition to the massive brick buildings that make up the main campus they controlled acres of land that stretched over the rolling countryside. There were no dilapidated buildings and not a single fence post in need of paint: the place was pristine. 

The course circled the impeccably well maintained dairy farm that was truly pristine but still housed cows and their poop. The glimmering white buildings and green metal roofs did not allay my fears of contracting e-coli as a steady stream of brown water made it's way past the barns and onto the course. A good portion of the race wound through the cow pasture as well, and the earlier races had churned the top 5 inches of the soil/poop combo into a thick stew of intestinal distress. 

(It's 6 days post two races and I haven't gotten sick so maybe the stuff is harmless)

The top half of the course ran back and forth across the pasture and then disappeared into the woods for a bit before remerging on the field for a long power section. The last half of the course dropped into the woods down a long descent that was holding up surprisingly well before climbing again up a soupy grey clay covered hill that ended on a gravel path and finally a trip through one of the hay barns. 

They had some great Maine potatoes and chili in there... had one before and after the race.

Around another barn and an off camber, over a set of barriers and through a few more turns before the finish.

I made the mistake of pre-riding the course to see just how bad it was and to decide on which tires to use. My feet got soaked and didn't recover until... yesterday I think. The rain really started to pick up at the start and while the field was noticeably smaller than the previous 6 Verge events, almost all of the guys the usually finish ahead of me were there. Anything can happen on a wet/muddy/cold day though, and if you are ready to just go out and have some fun it can be a good time. 

The course was heavy. The little bit of pavement and gravel roads were the only place you weren't slogging along. Most of the course was thick mud from tape to tape and where there was grass it was so heavy and rutted it would throw you this way and that. I rode the first lap trying to find a dry way around and it was a bad strategy. The guys ahead of me were doing the same thing though, so I was in my usual 16th-ish position for the first third of the race. Up the clay hill on lap one and Jon Bruno is soft pedaling, waving us around."I'm going to the f*&@ing car... this is stupid" he said, and part of me agreed. It was getting colder and windier and the rain was still pouring down. 

At the start of lap two I decided I'd finish the race, I was already 25% done and figured that the war of attrition was get me a few more spots at least. Sure enough half way through lap 2 Kurt Perham was sitting up, headed to a nice warm car and I was up to 14th. 

I was going to be racing Todd Burns that day, I'd lead through the barn and barriers, he'd take off in the pasture, I'd bring him back before the woods and he'd drop me again in the woods. I had given up trying to stay dry, and drove the bike through the wettest parts of the course. These turned out to be the fastest parts because the mud was much more pliable there. 

Having found the quick way around the course I tried only to use those when I was behind Burns, not in front of him, I didn't want him to know how I was managing to catch him before the woods. Peter Sullivan was lurking back there too, but I didn't think he was close enough to play a factor... I'd later find out that this was wrong thinking. On both lap 2 and 3 down the tricky downhill on the back side of the course Burns would open up a huge gap - I thought I was brave but that dude was absolutely fearless (he later admitted that he was scared $hitless going down that hill too).  But while he could open a huge gap on the down hill I seemed to have a better line up the next hill towards the barn and we'd be back together at the line. 

Here's Todd just behind me going into the barn. Smart photags were hiding their expensive equipment from the rain inside the hay barn.

Through the barn on lap three I struggled to catch back up to Todd, and was thinking that if he did that again on the final lap I was not going to be able to stay with him. While I was worrying about the next lap, Todd decided to take off right there, before the barriers and the bell. He got a huge gap in the pasture and heading out on the field. I picked a pretty good line though and slowly pulled him back, ultimately catching him in the first woods section when he decided to ride a short hill while I ran. Knowing that downhill was coming I wanted him behind me, so I charged through and took the lead, riding as wide as I could to get to the downhill section first. It worked, and Todd was fading as I sprinted up the gravel road towards the barn for one last time. 

Looking back I could see Todd had been passed by Sullivan, and he was charging hard. I was shoveling coal as fast as I could but he was still coming and I just held him off at the line by maybe 10 bike lengths. 

I spent the next 25 minutes shivering naked in the car trying to warm up... my hands to numb to get my soaking wet shoes off my equally numb feet. 

I spent that night at John Meere's house in Portland where I met his lovely wife Sara and we ate a fantastic Jambalaya. I love host housing. Thanks John!

This isn't me, but give you another look at the course.  


G-ride said...

"I was in my usual 16th-ish position" wait wait wait wait, 16th? Reaaally. Geez, so much for "Mister 20th", eh?

matt said...

read closer...

"my usual 16th-ish position for the first third of the race"

that's about right - 15 minutes in is about where I start to slide back into 20s.

I gave careful consideration to that statement before I published.