Well, I guess it's here for real. It really is funny how it seems to happen, especially the past few years; it just sort of sneaks up on you. One minute you are doing the second half of the crit season and trying to get in some of those last long weeknight road rides before the lights go out and then boom, Labor Day hits and we are face to face with another cyclocross season. The addition of the early season races in the western part of the state has provided a way to ease back in, sort of like getting into the pool slowly from the shallow end. In ways, I find that comforting as that first time out each season is always awkward. The whole dismount, run and remount, though familiar from mountain biking, is still strange.
Last weekend was the annual Quadcross cyclocross race, which has come to be the official start of the cyclocross season, displacing the venerable Suckerbrook race as the defacto opener. In the past, the race was held in our hometown of Bedford at the Middlesex Community College campus. This had come to be not only a very convenient but also very solid venue at which to hold a cross race. The course had evolved to be challenging, well designed and fun. Unfortunately, the venue was lost for this season and an alternate was secured by the promoter, good guy Ted Packard. The new venue was at the Maynard Rod and Gun Club in scenic Maynard, MA, not quite as close to home as before but still only a couple of towns over from us.
The plan for the day for both Cathy and I was to double up, competing first in our respective races and then late in the day, the final race in fact, we would venture out for the single-speed race. As usual, we arrived at the venue to get the NEBC team tent setup, which was actually the last time for us as someone else is taking that over. We also wanted to watch the Cat4 race in which we had a Junior team member racing. The early arrival also allowed us to get out and pre-ride the course. I was pleasantly surprised at how good the course was and how much fun it should be. The Cat4 race was mayhem, as always, with a big and diverse field all looking for the holeshot and eventual win. Our junior was doing great, sitting in about 12th position until he managed to ride just a little bit past his capabilities and crashed spectacularly, nearly ripping the very number off from his back. Ah but youth, they bounce well. He jumped back in and finished up strong mid pack.
From the recon, the course was going to surely prove to be a challenge from a number of aspects. There were few places on the course to really recover. The course had numerous technical sections, including serpentine, off-camber, side-hill twists as well as 180 degree turns, high speed barriers, a sand-pit and multiple steep grunt climbs, one of which had a mini-barrier at the foot. This meant a dismount and run for some or a high speed bunny-hop for those with the ability. Other features of note were a high speed gravel road descent with a dogleg off into the woods and back onto the road as well as a loose gravel road 90 degree turn and also a 180 degree turn. Then another fast downhill gravel road section into a steep 4' up with an immediate 90 degree left into a 180 right from which you accelerated out of into grass field. It played out like tuck, jump, break-hard-turn-left, hard right, hit the gas. You can imagine that not everyone got this just right and there were a number of crashes.
Next up was Cathy in the women's Cat3/4 masters field. They went out at the end of the Cat3/4 women's field, which has absolutely huge numbers. The race was hotly contested and Cathy did excellent finishing really strong. You can read about that here as she can tell the whole story a lot better than I can. Although I was trying to watch was also working to get the NEBC Junior Development Team squared away, which proved to be a challenge of last minute tweaks and adjustments.
First up for me was the Master's 35+ 1/2/3 race. This is my normal race and although this particular event is considered a B race for most in terms of the size and scope, there were still of number of really strong guys in the field. Compound this by the fact that the top two 45+ racers also took the starting line and it was sure to be a real battle. The crossresults.com race predictor, which I had vowed never to look at again, had me showing in 6th prior to race day. A quick look at the competition on the line and I feared that me be a tall order. Staging was supposed to be by ranking but that didn't quite happen. I ended up in the second row after the starting grid free-for-all melee went down. Not where I wanted to be but still not bad. At the gun we went hard and I was determined to make some spots up from where I found myself setting, about 10th wheel, once we went single-file.
The sandpit proved a challenge en-mass as did a number of other sections. The mini-barrier run up proved to be a full speed bunny-hop ride up. After the initial scrum and settling, where I got by a careening Peter S. and a washed out Damien C. , I found myself chasing Pete S. who was chasing down Sammy M. in turn. I'd lost a bit of time and the pair had a solid gap on me. At one point I closed in behind Pete, who then stacked in front of me in the sand bringing me to a stop as I hopped over his bike. He managed to get up and stay ahead and actually got a gap which I could never close. In fact, he soon caught and passed Sammy as I struggled to make forward progress.
With a couple to go, I was finally gaining some ground and in the barrier section just before coming around for one to go I made contact. Regrettably, I thought it wise to sit on and conserve a bit. This proved a bad choice as we were well into traffic and passing proved difficult, let alone trying to make a move to get by Sam. On the access road down he crushed it and put me on the ropes between the sheer power required to stick and the effort to make the sketchy passes to get by others and stay with him. The final kicker was the mini-barrier ride up. Sammy was drifting left so I thought I could get by on the right. Clearly he saw that coming and shut the door, causing me to brake check and scrub my momentum going into the hop and ride up. This was enough for a multi bike length gap which despite my best effort, he was able to conserve to the finish. This turned out to be good enough for 5th though, which meant I beat the predictor.
After a long day of spectating, racing, prepping and cheering the junior team, Cathy and I finally got ready for the single-speed race. I had really high hopes for this race, despite the fact that some really tough competition was present. My bike as well as Cathy's, are dedicated single-speeds where as many were using bikes that had simply been limited to one gear with zip-ties. It's all good though and was great to have a big field of strong competition present. At the start I drilled it, trying my hardest to stamp some sort of authority on this particular race. I got the hole shot and held the lead through to the access road down on the backside, where I was surprised and disappointed to get handily passed by Doug K.. This took some wind out of my sails but I worked unsuccessfully to try and get it back lat first lap. On that same fast section on lap 2 I was again passed, this time by the dreaded Matt M., a primary nemesis of mine, who has vowed to own this race series.
Soon after, on the mini-barrier ride-up, disaster struck and I dropped my chain. I quickly got it back on but spots were lost. This was a bad and accurate omen of things to come as I dropped my chain a total of 4 additional times during the remainder of the race. I watched as what seemed like hoards passed me with each incident. There was nobody to blame but myself however, for the mechanical mishaps caused by a chain that was too loose. What would happen is that the chain movement and bouncing caused by bumpy sections would allow it to ride off the rear freewheel cog when a hard pedal stroke was put in. No chain means no go. I was lucky in that 3 of the times the chain went back on easily if I got off, got it started with my hand and pedaled it back on. One time though, it wedged between the freewheel and the dropout, causing much aggravation and swearing but one time, on a downhill section, I was simply able to pedal the chain back onto the freewheel. Despite the issues, this still proved to be a really tough race. It just reinforces the known fact that racing single-speeds is not easy. I'll have to get the kinks worked out before the next one. Fortunately, everything worked for Cathy and she managed a cool 2nd in the women's version of the SS race. Good stuff.