New to the race calendar for this year was the White Park Cyclocross race in Concord, NH. The organizers of this race, NHCC, are one of a very small number of promoters that have the fortitude to go up against the defacto New England cyclocross empire, the New England Verge Series. For this season Verge has restructured and in doing so, seems to have emerged even broader, leaving a precious few weekends open for the little dogs to fight over. What we end up with is a calendar marked by the series events and then five races dotted across the region on each of the remaining weekends.
I'm really not certain why the smaller local events feel the need to fight it out with each other for the remaining weekend scraps, but they have done so in the past and from what I can see continue to do so for 2011. This is evidenced by the fact that there were exactly zero alternatives to the Verge series weekends in Vermont, Gloucester, Providence and Maine. I understand for Gloucester, which is truly the big show and basically the New England world championships of the world. Maybe for Providence but Vermont or Maine? I really loved the Maine event when it was a small, grassroots style non-series event but now, not so much. I really hope that we start to see more of the local grassroots races rise up and take a stand. I know that we will patronize them and I know that there are a lot of other people that don't necessarily feel compelled to follow the series events. I've had my run at the big events and while they attract the fiercest competition and are systematically uniformly run with courses that mostly have a similar underlying feel, I always seem to have much more fun with the smaller venues that tend to construct slightly more diverse and interesting courses.
Anyhow, off the rant and back to the story. White Park is the venue for the long standing Concord Criterium, a race that I have done a number of times in the past. As such I had some limited familiarity with the park. Though I'd never really explored the terrain in the park at all, I'd passed around the periphery and peered in at some of the landscape features. My fear was that the course would end up being a grass version of the Concord Crit. The weather was not exactly spectacular for the week leading up to the race with some significant rainfall coming the day before. We arrived Saturday AM to fog and mist in the air and unseasonable humidity and warm temperatures. That said, it was not raining and did not end up raining all day long. A first look at the course was very positive. We could quickly see this was not going to be a grass crit by any stretch of the imagination. Excellent! With that we got suited up to go take a lap before the Men's Cat4 race got underway.
The course began with a starting chute that brought you onto the primary course lap via a straight and a couple of wide, high speed chicanes. This then brought you to a couple more sweeping corners and headed onto the straights that bordered the manicured soccer field. The field was very nice, perfectly leveled with built in drainage and irrigation and very expensive looking. I feared we would trash the border of the field, which the course went along, resulting in 2011 being the first and only version of the event. Despite a couple of soft and wet sections on the side of the field border, the damage seemed to have been minimal. Hopefully this bodes well for the future of this excellent event.
The course then went around three sides of the field and on the back side there were a set of double barriers. This section was damp and spongy making the remount challenging with muddy, clogged cleats. We were then shot right up a steep grunt climb, then back downhill into a slick, off-camber 180 turn around a big tree and back up and around a left turn to a cross slope followed by another tight off-camber turn and up. This cut us across the slope in a very challenging fashion. We then descended back to the field, banked right across a gravel path and up over a bank, through some more tight corral sections, by the pit into another corral section of hairpins and into one of the primary feature of the course. This was a steep dirt run up that dumped you hard right and out onto a gravel road ascent, forcing continued running until the slope evened a bit. Remount and then a hard left into the root and rock strewn upper sections. No rest here as you had slight rises and corners all of which contained flat inducing roots and rocks. The section necessitated lots of smooth power while hovering lightly on the pedals so as not to pinch-flat on the roots or was out in the bumpy corners. Descent from the upper section was on a gravel road which brought you back into a host of tricky corners and high speed chicanes before finally looping you back by the pit and out onto the infield chicanes for the lap. Wow, that was a really, really fun course.
The Master Men's 35+ field was small but had many of the normal die hard crew from Cyclocrossracing.com, BOB and Noreast including Nick who was the mastermind behind the course design, Gary who is promoting the Midnight Ride cyclocross race this week and the lanky yet lovable G-Willy and Americas favorite bike racing teacher/veteran, Eric. NEBC teammate Scotty was there for the good guys and also there was arch breakaway for the entire race and then crush me in the sprint finish rival Patrick. Rounding out the field that I quickly sized up on the line was Damien, who is always pretty evenly matched. This should be a good race, based on course layout compared with my skill set. As such I decided on a plan and at the whistle, began implementing it.
The plan was simple. Go as hard as I could to take the hole shot and hold it as long as possible in order to see what kind of damage was done. This simple plan worked and I managed to take get the lead and drilled it as hard as a could through the barriers so I'd have a clear road for the technical off-camber switchbacks and side-hill turns. Everyone was pushing really hard and I was not getting away. Fresh legs and bellies full of anger lashed out at the bikes and allowed none of that. Hard and clean became the mantra, trying to be as smooth as possible and gain ground where I could. I chose to ride part of the way up the run-up, which left an awkward dismount but was still clean. That run was good for me and I could really charge up it. Through the top section we had a long string but no real gaps yet. Back down and through the chicanes, through the finish for the lap and I had an ever so small gap on Damien with Chris not far behind. Stay on the gas and try and stretch it out some. The barrier section into the steep ride-up proved my biggest challenge as I would spank me every lap. Damien would take time back on me there each lap. Fortunately I was able to stretch it out some on the rest of the course. The laps ticked by slowly and despite thinking it was a long course in warm-ups, we ended up doing seven laps during the race. The remainder of those laps went smoothly, with no big changes. My gap never really went out much and it was a solid race all the way to the finish with me never letting up much at all. I was fortunate to have a clean ride with no mishaps and managed to claim the victory.
Cathy was up next so we quickly got her squared away and ready to race. She did great in an open women's field that had a ton of talent. I think that she liked the course as well, though probably not as much as I did. What can I say, my kind of terrain. Our junior team had a few kids there and racing as well so after Cathy finished up they were up and we spectated and cheered wildly for them. We had a solid second and fourth place going for most of the race but one of the kids flatted near the end and was forced to abandon having no spare wheel in the pit. His bike is an 8 speed where as the other bikes are primarily 9 speed. I'm going to change that and also get a spare set of wheels together for them that we can put in the pit for the team.
All in all, Saturday was a very busy but very good day. We stopped on the way back for some food and then did some chores when we finally got back home. Days like that remind me why I still do this. I kind of wish that I'd have doubled up and done the 1/2/3 race later in the day, and left the weekend's racing at that, saving Sunday for all of the chores that stacked up from the week. Those are the ones that I was doing last night after I got home from work, well into the evening and past the sunset.