Thursday, November 23, 2006

My starts are horrible

Slick Willy / BRC knows how to put on a nice race. Situated at Shedd Park in Lowell, the course had a little bit of everything. And, demonstrating the popularity of cross, the C race was stacked with close to 80 people, which made it the largest field. One of those people was a running friend who took a co-worker's challenge to do a cross race without even knowing what was involved. On his stripped down hybrid (which I stripped of the kick stand, rack, water bottle cage, and reflectors), he was set to go with a couple of other co-workers who similarly had no idea what they were doing.

Even being situated in the first row doesn't seem to matter in terms of my start, because I was adeptly able to go from first row to middle of the pack in a blink of an eye.The course started around a cinder track, which made eyewear somewhat necessary unless you want to be blinded by cinders. After the cinders, we went to a brief three step run-up, which some riders (like MRC's own Michael Cole) actually jumped without dismounting. But, he has skills and I don't, so off the bike I go.

The course then proceeded on a slight uphill to a fast stretch of path, leading to a steep hill. Choose your poison: run-up or small ring slog. Riding the thing was a lot easier than running it, but it did call for some strength. Being able to ride it on every lap was a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.

The top part of the course was pathway that was not technical, but also not terribly wide to pass people. A few sharp corners that led into a technical downslope hairpin section. The "Slick Willy" turn was an interesting addition, having riders go downhill into an immediate hairpin uphill. Didn't take long for this to get chewed up. On the first lap, I unclip my left foot to do the corner and, bam, the guy in front goes down and I proceed to ride over his back wheel. This took some skill, as I am not accustomed to riding over wheels. Rider and wheel were unhurt as I moved up a place!

A short fast section awaited us after we emerged from the downhill switchbacks, which then led into more path through woods. With some rocks thrown in, line selection was important and again, not much room to pass. After some up and down through the woods, we emerged into the only set of barriers. Being short, they were rideable to the better skilled, but since again I have no skills, off the bike and over the barriers (demonstrated here by Rob Bauer).

Then the fun began, with a fast lap around the cinder track past the finish line. I was able to really open the throttle on the cinders, passing a lot of people.

Other than the start, the race went well, with me riding aggressively and passing people on each lap. I was feeling very good, which made the poor start all the more painful. Also painful were the cries of my teammate Rob during my race "Don't touch the brakes! Why are your braking?? Don't brake!!" every time I was by his spectating position. Further adding to the pain was the lapped riders we started to pick up from the women's C race, the men's older guy race, and the C men who have never rode cross before (like my friend). There was some satisfaction in lapping my friend, even though he caused a gap to form between myself and a pack of three that I was going to take down on the cinders. This is the guy who always passes me at Mile 16 of the Boston Marathon. Revenge is sweet, even if it takes half a year and a change of sport to do it.

I finished 15th overall in the C race, which isn't horrible. I'm hoping to do better at Sterling, which is going to be hard because of the large field again. Then it is our club race in Wrentham. Dubbed the Lazarus Race because we cancelled it and then two days later secured a venue, a flyer, approval, and up on Bikereg it goes. We rode it yesterday and it will be pretty decent. Only three weeks to Nationals and then sadly season over.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Tale of Two Races

Due to my inability to post last week about the Northampton cross race, I'll compare notes between two races that were very different in every way. Northampton is a "classic" comptemporary cross course, with lots of grass, a sand pit, a couple of run-ups, and brief pavement (and one set of barriers). Brockton is flat with no run-ups, some semi-technical single track, dirt paths, and one barrier. From what the Race Official told us at the start, this is what cross used to be like. The word of the day was "old school".

Adding to the discrepancy was the weather. Northampton started out pretty chilly. As I made the 1 1/2 hour
trek westward, the thermometer on the car hardly budged. Once I got there and was able to hit the course, we were warming up on frost-covered grass. Although, the sun was showing and things were get a little warmer. At Brockton, we were treated to a monsoon. Rain was supposed to hold off until later in the day, but it only managed to hold off until the start of our race. It poured the first two laps, trailed off to just rain the next couple of laps, and then by the time we finished it was just a "misting", which was interrupted by the monsoon. But, at least it was a warm rain.

Both races went fairly well. At Northampton, I was able to get a decent start, despite getting hit in the face by a pine tree branch in the first turn. Beyond that, it was just a matter of sitting in and suffering like crazy. There was no room for rest as you were always trying to gain a position or
defend a position. This was also a stacked C field, with about 85 other people racing. It was a smooth course with good terrain variation, which only added to the physical distress. Being only a 40 minute race, the suffering was short-lived, but intense. I ended up only doing 35 minutes with the way the lap count worked out, which was a little disappointing. That is the odd thing about cross: during the race you want it to end, but after the race you think you could have gone another lap. Although, as I stood at my car with my legs shaking from the effort, I was happy it was over.

At Brockton, the field was much smaller, perhaps 40 people. With the rain and long sections of pavement, people were going to be cautious. The single track actually ended up helping because it provided some recovery as you couldn't pass or be passed. But once out of the single track, it was back to full-speed ahead. There were a few tight turns on the course, but mostly full throttle. People were dropping out constantly either due to mechanicals or crashes. One guy ended up in the pond during a downpour section. The crowd was very supportive, yelling at him to get out of the pond and start racing again. It was an absolute mudfest, with pe0ple caked with mud after the race. It took one pre-soak cycle, one wash cycle, and one rinse cycle to get things clean. A good metric for a cross race.

In both races, I raced with teammates. The first was Steve Wright and myself going through the course
together. At Brockton, it was Tom Ball and myself. In both races I ended up finishing pretty well. Top twenty in Northampton, 11th in Brockton. Onto Lowell next weekend.