Holy crap that was hard. I've done a number of SSCX races in the past. Most were hard but this one was brutal. The key I think was to have a much taller gear than you would ever possibly think that you would want in order to deal with the relatively flat course layout of the Midnight Ride Cyclocross night race at the fairgrounds in Lancaster, MA. At least, that is my thought and I'm sticking to it. NEBC had an awesome turnout for the race and the field with Cathy and Teri in the women's portion of the mass start event, Scott, Keith, Jason, Mark and junior team member Ethan who was shut out of the Cat3/4 race (got to pre-reg for this stuff) but I was able to cobble his Shimano gearing and get it locked into a gear for him.
After my disastrous SSCX outing at Quadcross with a chain that dropped a total of FIVE TIMES during the race, I was a little nervous with the setup. I'd entertained thoughts of switching cranks and running an inner and outer front guide ring and then switching from a freewheel to a normal freehub wheel with spacers, a cog and guide plates on the rear as well. I went so far as to try and get the crank with the guide plates and a 40 tooth ring on the bike but struck out. It was a carbon triple and the granny gear post mounts hit my EBB shell. I ground them off and then the SS chain was rubbing on the guide ever so slightly. I gave up and left what I had on it, on it. This was a 38x17 which should be fine, right? Afterall, SS is all about working with what you have.
Pre-riding the course I knew that it was going to be fast but the gear choice seemed good for the sidehill section and the numerous corners. The course had tons of switchback grass turns though and some were a little greasy. After a bunch of racing they would undoubtedly be very greasy. I was second guessing my tire choice, Kenda Small Block Eights, which are close spaced, minimal treads. I also chose to run high pressure for fear of a pinch-flat. Talking with the favored racer in the competition, Curtis, I quickly got concerned. He was running a monster gear, a 42x15. That would be brutal on the sidehill and trying to sprint out of corners but on the long slightly downhill straight section it would give him a few extra mph comfortably. I now had some solid regrets.
On the line it was slight mayhem as the chief ref, good buddy John, was trying to insert displaced Cat3/4 field racers as well as stage based on points. I got bumped to the second row, which made exactly no difference in the long run really. As expected, at the whistle it was a mad dash at 25mph into a narrowing chute and a hard grass corner. I was like 10th wheel or so, already behind. Ahead were the favorites, Curtis, Shawn, Doug, Matt and CJ, all of whom have been crushing me of recent. Directly in front of me was Jerry, who was moving well. We stuck close but at some point, a gap started to open between Jerry and the lead pack of five racers. I knew that I need to get across so made a mad dash but couldn't quite get on the train. This left me gassed at the sidehill section and the gap widened. I was unable to close through the high speed start finish and thus began my multi lap chase from no man's land. This was utterly brutal. Somewhere in there Doug also ended up behind me and chasing, though I'm not sure where it was, just that I remember running from him for what seemed a long time.
After a few laps Curtis finally figured out he should take advantage of his big gearing on the high speed sections and was able to snap the chain and get away. The chasing group slowed and within a half lap I made contact. I sat on the three others for a bit and then one by one people pulled off the front and when it was my turn at the front, I promptly washed out and went down. I got up quickly but had lost position. More importantly was the fact that I twisted my bars, a lot. I considered riding that way but attempted a moving adjustment by kicking the front wheel. That was a bad idea as I hit the spokes. After the high speed triple barriers, which I was convinced I was going to eat it in at some point, I stopped a tried to recenter the bars. Not much of a loss but it didn't take much. I could never close the hundred feet or so that I lost, especially as Shawn started drilling it in earnest, chasing after Curtis.
The rest of the race I tried to close it down and made some progress on CJ and Matt but the attacks from them were almost rhythmic in their regularity. The final saw CJ gap Matt a bit with a big acceleration coming out of the wood-chips. I chased hard knowing this was it and was gaining steadily on Matt, almost to him on the sidehill, where I went cautiously around teammate Teri who was running 2nd in the women's race. On the steep down to up hairpin Matt ate it but managed to run up the hill faster than I could ride it. Luckily he slid out again around the tree on the gradual up before the stairs and I got by him and drilled it. That was it. Down the hill to the finish spinning like a gerbil at 25mph only to nearly slam into people coming onto the course right after the finish-line in order to pre-ride. Nice move! Seems they were a little short on course marshals. Added plus, no chain drop issues this time.
Cathy had an awesome race and won the women's event. She was killing it and never got lapped. She also beat a bunch of men, for which she was extra excited. She is also now leading the Zanconato SSCX Women's Series. I think that it was really good that they did a mass start that was as it allowed her to have people to race against. Even though there were 50 people racing the SSCX event, most were men. Too bad the women don't jump onto the bandwagon as well. It's really a lot of fun. Overall I'd say that may have been a benchmark event. The whole scene was super festive, the location is excellent as are the facilities. If they added some food vendors and got a permit for beer, it would be world class.