Thursday, October 8, 2009

I love cyclocross.

One of the biggest 'cross races in the country just happens to occur up the road in Gloucester. It's a two day racing extravaganza with some of the sport's top riders battling it out on a fast, aggressive course-which, for the rest of the year is known simply as a park--Stage Fort Park. In addition to the sport's superstars, there are HUNDREDS of hacks and wanna-be's. That's where I fit in.

If you're unfamiliar with what cyclocross is-go here.

I signed up to race both Saturday and Sunday. Ambitious? Yes, but like I mentioned, I love cyclocross.

In any event, I woke up early Saturday morning-to the sound of pouring rain. This would test just exactly how much I love cyclocross...

Cyclocross is perhaps best when the elements are against the racers. Rain, snow, mud, ice-these are key ingredients in a successful 'cross season. So, I sprung out of bed and went down stairs to finish gathering my gear. I made the mistake of sitting on the sofa for a minute... and closing my eyes for a minute... only a minute... it was such a long week at work... I really was exhausted.... It really was pouring out... I just wanted to close my eyes for a minute... the sofa was so soft and warm...

And just like that, I was out $30 for an entry fee as I woke up just as my group would have been hitting the start line. I was lulled to sleep by snoring dogs. Damn them!

At that point, I did the only sensible thing, I went back to bed.

Saturday was a wash out, so I re-focused my mental energies on Sunday's race. I got all of gear ready the night before, so all I'd need to do would be to roll out of bed and into my car.

The weather Sunday morning was MUCH better than Saturday, although still quite damp and foggy.

I arrived early enough to get my race number and to ride a quick practice loop. I'll say it now, and I'll say it again, this was one of the most confusing race courses I've ever been on. Fortunately, I was pretty much within the confines of the taped course, so as long as I didn't break the tape or duck out underneath, I just has to follow the yellow or white tape. However, the course was different than the day's previous race course, so the clearly defined tire tracks and mud would veer off one way, while the tape would force a turn in the other direction. This alone was almost too much for my small brain. Add to this the loopy-loop design, where the course just kept looping back in on itself (I think at one point, I was forced through a wormhole only to pop out of a hole in the fabric of space-time), and it was just a matter of pedaling until I was told to stop.

It was time to line up at the start. Again, for those who don't know much about 'cross races, the start can totally make or break your race. The classes can get big (94 starters in my class), so if you start near the back, you're fighting the whole race to get towards the front... heck the race leaders can be in the first turn before the back of the pack even leaves the start line. Being in the middle of a mssive start like this can be treacherous too, as one overlapped pair of riders can bring everyone down. The front, is definitely where you want to be. To be fair, the first row, at the start, is usually for series points leaders and other racers who have their game faces on. Front line starting positions are coveted and valuable. As a perk for being a member of ECV--the race's host club--ECV members were given prime starting spots for their individual races. This put me on the front lines.

I've started nearly every 'cross race I've ever entered in the back. That's been fine for me, as I'm just in it for the fun, so I just looked at it as a chance to start in the back and pass as many racers as possible. And, if there was a crash in the middle, I'd be able to go around (or over) it.

Starting at the front was a bit surreal. I had 93 riders behind me that would be hoping to take me down. Fun! The start whistle went off and the race was on. I was in the second/third spot up the first hill, but wouldn't hold that spot for long.

I'll make no excuses, I'm not in "race shape." I just race to have fun, so it's no surprise that I got passed by many racers. Cyclocross is fast--essentially an all out sprint from start to finish--with tight turns and running sections. I had my engine redlined and my plan was to keep riding until the race--or I--ended.

As I mentioned, the course was confusing. When the announcer would declare that we had one or two laps left to go, I honestly didn't know what to make of that as I had no idea where I was in terms of completing a lap. Just keep going!

It was SUPER cool to have Jean there to cheer me and my feeble effort on (and take pics), and my buddy Glen (who was racing later in the day, and kicked some ass) was there to yell at me as well. Glen's encouragement got me to give 110% at the end and take out a couple of guys on a sprint to the finish.

In the end, I came in about mid-pack, 45th out of 94 starters. I'm not in it to win it--I just have fun.

Next up--Portland, Maine!

No comments: