Week three of cyclocross in my inaugural season brought me to Delaware for an epic struggle on the lovely DuPont family estate of Granogue. In this pastoral setting a great convergence of the Mid Atlantic Cyclocross series (and UCI C1 race) provided another fun weekend in uncrossly sunny and dry weather. Live music, free beer and ample fall foliage further assured all in attendence that the best that this fringe subculture has to offer would be on display. The MAC paired the Granogue race with another great venue on Sunday in Wissahickon, outside of Philadelphia. Unfortunately for me, however, two of my school courses scheduled exams conflicting with this kind of time-devouring recreation. In fact, I am composing this report after having finished one of the exams not 25 minutes ago. One could compare the sensation to a cerebral equivalent of the euphoric relief and exhaustion one feels at the end of a 45 minute anaerobic bike race on mixed terrain. So, anyway, rather than having two races to report on, I limited my (on the bike) suffering to Saturday.
Jason Parkin and I loaded up our rental car at 6:45am on Saturday, assuming that we would have no problem making the drive with plenty of time to warm up for our 11:00 start time. Little did we know that the outbound helix of the Lincoln tunnel was underconstruction and a series of detours and bottlenecks left us idling in Manhattan traffic for much longer that expected. As a result, we didn't arrive to the venue until the C race was already underway. As we pulled in to the grassy parking area, I glanced up at the course which snaked down an impressively steep hillside in a series of off-camber switchbacks on damp grass. The first thing I saw, without exagerating, was CJ tumbling off of his dayglow bike into the side of the hill and scrabling back to his feet. Within 20 seconds of arriving, I was already presented with the intimidating realization that this course would be much different than the "Crit on grass" of Gloucester.
Where Gloucester had sizeable straight, flat, fast sections that favored my roadie skill set of putting the hammer down, Granogue favored twisty, technical sidehills and more elevation changes. We were funneled through a maze featuring grass, gravel, wooded single track as well as pavement. In fact, the course was technical enough that the promoter/course designer layed out a "prologue loop" to allow for some initial separation on the first lap before throwing a tangled mob into the convoluted barrier section and steep run-up. The rest of the route took a scenic tour in and around a small portion of the property, including rounding a stone tower up on the highest point around. This section had some of the trickiest technical turns and sidehills on the course. There also was a fun, fast, winding section that showed off the property's greenhouses.
What Granogue did have in common with Gloucester (in addition to the "G" in the name) was large numbers of racers and sizeable spectator crowds. Also, like Gloucester, the start was seeded based on series points and bib number. Once again, I was slotted into the seccond to last row along with all the other guys who haddn't raced in the MAC yet this season and were unaware that camping out on Bikereg.com would drastically improve starting position. Unfortunately for me, I heard rumors that they were not seeding the start order beyond the top 15 call ups. For that reason, I sacrificed a warmup in order to stake out my position on the starting grid 30 minutes before race time. How silly I felt when I had to take step after step backwards as I watch the 70 or so guys in front of me line up.
When the gun went off, I began the mad dash to move up before the holeshot. I got a pretty good start and was able to move up into the top 25 or 30 pretty quickly. The prologue loop really favored my intentions and offered a much longer opportunity to advance past slower guys in front of me. The fun began at the technical section up by the stone tower. some tight, off-camber turns with sizeable ruts provided a real obstacle for 50 guys on bikes trying to fit into a 3 meter-wide path. I actually dismounted and ran through these turns to get around the guys who fell while in a near trackstand. Due to the confusion and stress of this first lap, I noticed a lot more shoving and showting and use of elbows than last weekend. I decided to be patient and avoid getting wrapped up in a testosterone-off. By the time the field spread out, most of the hotheads were a long ways back.
All the switchbacks on the steep, rutted side-hill offered up some great crashes. One guy went down, only to roll head over heels down the hill out of the course and away from his bike. I saw more guys go through the tape in this race than any funny pun CJ could come up with in his blog.
By the end of the first lap I was in good position and settling in for the 40 minutes left in the race. On a fast downhill, it happened...the dreaded Mavic freehub death squeal. I had no pit-bike or wheels, so I simply gutted out the race with my rear wheel going off like a fire alarm every time I stopped pedalling. It really wasn't a huge problem, except for the chain backing up on the cassette. I guess it was just more motivation to keep pedaling.
After a couple time 'round the course I was able to take stock of the situation. I noted where all my friends were along the course cheering. This allowed me to break up the race into little tiny sections between encouragements and beverage tossings (thanks again, CJ). I also noticed that, due to the nature of the course, the field was much more spread out from front to back than Gloucester. At any given time, I could only see a few guys ahead or behind me. For this reason, I had very little idea of my position until, to my surprise, I heard "Keep going, Colin. Your in 13th!"
At this point, with 2 laps to go, fatigue became my friend. I was so delusionally tired that I could no longer tense up in technical sections. As a result, the riding actually became much more smooth. As any experienced cross rider will tell you, smoother=faster. Also, fatigue was not affecting only me, but guys in front of me as well, and I made it my mission to pull back the cracked riders in front of me before the race ran out. That proved a little more difficult than it should have been due to my freehub problems. I dropped my chain a couple of times on the last lap while trying to coast. The race was so strung out by this point, however, that there were very few riders to put in my cross hairs (and few close behind me) and I just tried to keep my rhythm going. Mechanicals and all, I came into the finishing stretch pretty much alone, save for a few lapped riders.
I got in line for the free beer as soon as my excersize cough subsided and settled into that post-race haze of endorphins mediated bliss. I had just enough time to relax and enjoy the live band, beautiful scenery and social scene that is cross before jumping back in the car for the island of Manhattan where my life as a student could be resumed.
All in all I was totally happy with how the race went. 11th place exceded my expectations for the race by a significant margin. While contemplating the race I couldn't help but be thankful for the points I scored. Its nice to improve with each race. Its also nice to have a result that leaves you so tantilizingly close to a top-ten finish. My goals for the next MAC race are ever more clear, and this time I'll have some series points that just might get me a better starting position.
I don't know if anyone else would agree but it's been a weird winter around these parts.
Whew! Its been a crazy couple of weeks. I’ve got a pretty substantial back log of race reports to write. I’m going to attempt to survey my final three weeks of Cyclocross racing, Season 1. If it is too long, I’m sorry. Maybe I’ll just ‘twitter’ the next on.