The first cyclocross race of the season has officially come and gone. Truth be told, the first was actually a couple weekends ago but we opted not to attend, primarily because we'd done a big ride with tons of climbing at Kingdom Trails the day before, which I did on the single-speed. This particular weekend there were a ton of races scheduled to be had. Unfortunately, hurricane Irene squashed those plans with her scheduled arrival on Saturday evening. As such, all events scheduled for Sunday, which included two MTB races, a cross race and a TT, were all canceled. Looked like Saturday was going to be the only day to race and of the alternatives, the Topsfield circuit race and the Monson Cyclocross Race, we opted for the latter as both Cathy and I could race.
This race is part of a series put on by the Cyclonauts race team in Western MA. It is not sanctioned by USA Cycling, but truth be told, is well run and organized. Last year was the first time that we had done this particular race. Lets just say, things didn't go all that well for me last year. The course was pretty challenging and not necessarily in a good way. It was a little on the rough side, as in unpolished, with a gnarly, rocky singletrack plunge into the woods followed by a long, rocky, gutted singletrack climb back up the hill. This translated to a white knuckle descent and a long run up. With only a few laps to go in the race and a solid lead, I double flatted on the descent. I managed to run it back the pit, which was nearly half way around the course, and only lose two spots but I lost the win. A slightly sour note for a season opener, a note that would unfortunately set the stage it would turn out, for the entire cyclocross season.
We got the bikes ready for this year's run on Friday and loaded the extended four place bike rack full of bikes. It felt odd, yet vaguely familiar, to be getting the cross bikes and gear together but I've found that cross season always seems to sneak up on me. Anyhow, we packed all of the bikes and gear and made ready for the fairly easy trip out the MA Pike to get to the venue. This would once again, be our first race of the season. As we arrived and got registered we heard people speak of sweeping changes to the course. After suiting up we got out for a few laps and to our pleasant surprise, thew course was indeed different. Given the terrain that they hand at hand, I was really impressed with the course. It was on the short side, but that was the only negative comment I had. When compared to last year's course, this was an incredible improvement. The course had retained some tricky downhill but it was much more manageable while still giving a decisive edge to the skilled technical racer. There was a good side slope run-up as well as some tricky off camber, turns and some power sucking mushy field. Despite what my friend Billy will say, I thought that it was a good little course.
I raced first, before Cathy that is, and decided to do the master's 35+ Cat 1/2/3 field rather than the straight 1/2/3 elite race. My thought was that I stood a chance in the master's race but had virtually no shot in the elite race. Besides, we went off at the same time so I'd get to race against them anyhow. Conditions for my race we pretty good with no rain and a fairly dry course. I opted for my good bike with my good wheels and put the spare in the pit, well, Cathy put my spare in the pit for me. On the line I discovered that they would start the master's 10 seconds behind the elite field. Just enough to be annoying as we would quickly slam into the back of the 1/2/3's. Sure enough, with a big elite field and a technical section soon in the lap, we were right into the fray. I managed the hole-shot with teammate Scotty right behind me.
After a couple of laps of dicey passing I managed to break clear of the melee. My target, the six leaders of the elite field, the only ones still ahead, were within 20 seconds. This unfortunately, proved insurmountable as the best that I could do was to keep them in check for the next few laps. After that, the gap started top open and I started to lose motivation and focus back on my race. About that time, Billy, who did the elite race and was still ahead, started to drop back some. I wanted desperately to catch him so kept chasing hard. A few laps later he tangled with the fence and I caught him. Not the way that I wanted it to happen but I took it and then focused on racing clean and safe and staying ahead of Bill. At this point it was now well into lapped traffic which always presents a challenge. Despite that challenge, I kept it upright and had no issues. Success was at hand.
Cathy was up a bit later in the day, as were a few members of our NEBC Junior Development Team. Unfortunately, they all started just as it really started to rain in earnest. The course became an absolute mess and the run-up that was dry for us proved a challenge for most all to scale. Cathy hung tough and had a good solid race in a really big field. I switched her brakes over just before the race, to the new TRP Mini V's. I also switched wheels to a set of alloy rimmed tubulars with the Tufo Cubus tires. This proved to afford excellent stopping power even in really foul conditions. She was very pleased with them, although because the pads run so much closer to the rims, you do lose mud clearance and gain some residual drag. The junior team had a great day as well with Brandon placing a strong second in a tough field, riding a bike that I finished building up from cobbled parts two days before and delivered to him the night before. It was also his first cyclocross race ever. I expect big things from him, as soon as he learns to clean his bike anyhow.
In hindsight, I was pleased with my overall performance at this race. The goals were met, the primary of which was to ride smart and to push it hard, really hard in fact. All season I've been trying to expand my threshold of pain. I've been trying to get a little bit more out of myself each time. When the motivation is there, as it was for this race, it seems to be working pretty well. I certainly hope that this is a good omen. As for the course and the race in general, I had a good time. I'll do it again.