Before adding my race report/blog/narcissistic diatribe to the cannon of cycling lore that is NYVC, let me start by saying that this year has been eye opening in many ways. Ever since watching the Tour duPont arc through my home town in a blur of colors when I was in kindergarten, I have been fascinated with cycling. I always wanted to race bikes, and the last place I expected to fulfill these fantasies was New York City. I moved here upon starting Medical School a little over a year ago with only nostalgic memories of competitive athletic endeavors past.
In the eight or nine months since my first ride with the Sanchez-Metro guys to Nyack, I have been given the opportunity to dive into a sport that I never expected to truly experience. It has provided me with a much needed diversion from the stress and focused anxiety of medical school and allowed me to indulge my compulsive nature. So, what happens when an impulsive, obsessive and insatiable newbie finds himself at the end of his first season? What does he do when presented with the bleak prospect of a winter's worth of dark nights with no distraction from the demands of neuroanatomy, pathophysiology and pharmacokinetics? He finds a new way to race, of course, Cyclocross!
Cyclocross always seemed like this far-off, exotic dance on the fine line between total badassness and just slipping clumsily in cold mud. I thought it was practiced by somber Belgians or freaky Californian dudes in thrift store dresses. it turns out, its a has just about enough of everything to make everybody who tries it smile (at least when out of the clutches of the famous "pain cave").
After making my 'cross debut in Westwood, I headed up with the Toga! guys in the team van to Gloucester for the "New England Worlds." I would be racing in the Cat2/3 field after getting my upgrade for winning the C's the week before. Heading into two days of very competitive racing, my goals were to ride smooth and finish on the lead lap. I decided to learn as much as I could by watching the elite masters field tackle the course while I worked the pit with Paul DeBartolo in support of the Toga! riders. Since I had no ranking points in the New England series, I was given the highly coveted starting position 2 rows from the back of the grid. In a field of 113 guys, that put a lot of chaos between me and the front of the pack. I figured that I could do my best to stay up, and gradually pass guys, hoping to finish in the top half of the field. The start was absolutely nuts. Imagine the most hectic field sprint at the end of a central park race, but from a standstill. I managed to squeeze myself past the obligatory mid-pack pileup at the holeshot, and by the time my brain registered the severity of the cardiovascular load I had induced, I (and 113 of my newest friends) was hurtling down a fast twisty section of bumpy grass turns before hitting the seawall that runs along Gloucester harbor. There must have been another 2 or 3 pile ups in the rest of the first lap. After the second lap, however, the race settled in and I set out to start picking guys off one by one. Every time I passed the pit area, I was met with Paul directing me to "Get that wheel!" or "get to the front of that group!" Every time I passed the uphill double barrier runup, I was met by a socially lubricated CJ shouting Big Lebowski lines at me and flinging beer on my person. I never once attempted to ride the sandpit, which was rototilled before our race and contained a hairpin turn in it. The running actually gave me a place to 'recover,' which doesn't make much sense. After 7 laps I had managed to hang on, avoid crashing and finish 19th without vomiting in my second real cross race. I was elated and my back hurt really bad. I headed more or less straight to the beer garden for my post race recovery hydration.
By the time the Elite race started, I had topped off my glycogen stores with three Erdinger Dunkel Weisens and yelled loudly at the Elites as they flew past the beer tent.
Day two began with the prospect of another rear-pack start. While I was pumped with a top-20, I had missed out on any of the Verge Series points, and would not get the coveted call-up. This time, however, I wasted no time getting as far up as possible. As soon as the whistle blew, I blasted up the left side of the field. I didn't wait for the mass of people to get going in front of me, but simply rode up with spectators diving out of their lawn chairs. By the holeshot, I was probably sitting somewhere around 25 or 30th place. The major difference in the course from the first day was a crazy-steep dirt run-up that was freshly cut out of the poison ivy and underbrush above the seawall. After dismounting, I simply put my hand on some guy's back and pushed my way through the crowd using him as a human cow-catcher. After remounting at the top of the run-up, a short gravel section provided some additional excitement when the rider in front of me simply exploded into a dust cloud. His bike slid to the left, and his sprawling body dragged to a halt across the right side of the lane. By the end of the second lap, I found myself near 20th place. By now, I could see the lead group and the gap between us. I continued to do battle with one rider in particular as we passed other fading racers over the next few laps. As the race wore on, I once again found myself drawing strength from the encouragement on rowdy drunken fans, encouraging team mates and CJ (cowbell firmly in hand). At the end of the second to last lap, Tony Slokar (who had pulled out with a simultaneous catastrophic saddle and helmet failure) urged me on with "THIS IS YOUR 2K!" The reference to the most painful physical assessment used by rowing coaches provided a clear message--pull out all the stops. Unfortunately, most stops had already been pulled, and I could do little to control my implosion. Still, I managed to pass a few guys and knew I had the possibility of a top 15 if I could just hold on. As I rounded the corner for the uphill tarmac sprint to the finish, I thought that I had a clear gap on 16th place. By the time I saw his growing shadow, there was little I could do but let out a desperately pathetic sigh as he passed me on the line to steal the last Verge New England Series point. In spite of my dejection for allowing myself to get beat in a sprint I was excited about my finish. I was within 45 seconds of the winning time after starting from the back of the pack. I had held my own, and that was worth a celebratory trip to the beer tent.
To sum up, I need to thank the guys from Toga!, especially Paul DeBartolo, for getting me up to the race and giving me an extension to the cycling season. It turns out that 'Cross really does live up to all its stereotypes. You'd be hard pressed to find more than the odd fish out of water who was grumpy the whole weekend. Also, what was so great is the sense of community that exists. All the NYC area guys cheered for each other, supported each other in the pit, and generally created a virtual team that made Gloucester that much more fun. Perhaps the racing wasn't quite as freaky as the West-Coasters', but it wasn't too far off. There's more racing to come, and I really can't wait.
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.