Better late than never? Yea, I know, it was two weeks ago but I've been ... busy, doing important ... stuff. No, really, I have.
If you live in the Northeast and race cyclocross, then you know all about the Grand Prix of Gloucester race weekend in Gloucester, MA. It has developed into the biggest cycling event in the Northeast and one of the biggest cyclocross races in the nation. Most fields fill up and sell out despite having huge, 100 plus rider, field limits. In a phrase, it's the big show.
Traditionally I have performed very well at Gloucester, comparatively speaking anyhow. By this I mean that I usually finish better than expected. The exception to this was last year. 2010 was a pretty miserable year for me with some huge inconsistencies and big ups but really big downs as well. Gloucester was one of the initial downs that set the stage for much of the remainder of the season. A few days before the race weekend, I washed out on a wet paved corner during cross practice. Instead of just slide out and go down in a slid, I washed the front wheel but it then caught and slammed me over the bike and into the pavement with my left shoulder and side of my head. I though that I'd broken or torn something but x-rays were clean so I sucked it up, covered the road rash and raced a couple days later. My performance was not up to par however and despair began to take hold. In hindsight, something is torn in the shoulder as it is still messed up but even slightly tweaked shoulders are often better than the surgical alternatives.
This year has had some ups and downs as well but in general, it has been pretty positive and as such, I remained hopeful. Keeping it all in perspective is the theme for this and every other year now. Our friends Marc and Vicki came down from Ottawa and stayed with us for the weekend. Marc and I race in the same field, though he is on a whole different level than I am. This made for a nice change and good company as well as an excuse to cook lots of food.
We arrived in Gloucester on Saturday AM to some very wet conditions as it literally poured inches the night before. As bad as that sounds and as much as I HATE MUD, I'm actually fairly proficient in it and tend to see my best results when the conditions get nasty. Rain, mud, snow, cold, wind, they are all without doubt, my frienemies. The course was much changed from those of past, incorporating many additional turns and technical features as well as including a new fly-over feature as well. This may not be bad I quietly thought to myself.
Cathy's race was earlier in the morning than mine so we got her setup and ready. I took her spare bike to the pit and then grabbed her jacket at the start. She chose to ride her backup bike which had more mud clearance via wide pull canti brakes. It also had alloy rims with more mud specific tubular tires and a double ring setup in the front, so was a good choice. She had a good race and was solid the whole time, beating many that she does not normally beat. A most successful start to the weekend of racing.
Stupidly, I'd looked at the crossresults.com race predictor and based on the statistics, I was slated to finish a not so spectacular 29th out of a hundred something riders. That spoke highly of the quality of competition at the race but had me a little bit bummed as it was even worse than last years finish. The predictor is often scary accurate. The weather and conditions, however, may change all of this. Based on points and results I managed a third row call-up, which was nice given that we started with over 100 participants lined up completely across the road in rows of 10. The start had me concerned as we shot on pavement up the hill and then into a paved roundabout into a really hard and tight left, also on pavement, wet pavement. This could be interesting, or ugly, I wasn't sure which. I managed to get a fairly good start and went hard but remained cautious and we made it through the roundabout but there was a crash to the far left, just starting the hard left hand corner. I was able to stay right and make it through.
I know that the devil is in the detail but the race was a blur of slick corners, run-ups, mud-bog sections and flyovers. I recall doing an early race back-slide followed by a recovery and a respectable up-slide to take positions back and then some. Based on the results, I think I had a good day. I was able to go hard but steady at the start and then ramp it up solidly for the last couple of laps for a 16th place finish. I even managed to beat the race predictor by a sizable margin, so I had that going for me, which was nice. Some spectating and a beer or two and then it was head home and clean the bikes and clothing. Ah the life of a part time amateur cyclocross racer.
Day two showed the promise of better conditions than day one. The course proved to be very different than anything ever seen before with the notable addition of a long beach run in a neat little bay that I'd never even noticed before. This was followed by a long stair run-up. Great course design. The flyover was out, which was fine by me. Conditions had firmed up nicely and the race was sure to be fast and hard from the get go.
Cathy was again up first for our team and I had a great time chasing her around the course taking pictures and cheering her on to a great ride and a very successful weekend. She had planned to use the same bike as the day before but I suggested she may want to use her better bike. The course had tacked up and there was little mud at all left. With it hard and fast, the lighter bike with the single ring up front, carbon wheels with slightly less aggressive tubular tires and braking provided by some TRP mini-V's, my thought was that she should be much faster. She thanked me for this after the race.
Another respectable starting position and reasonably good start had me in the mid twenties early on. I was able to gain some ground in the first lap or two and was solidly in about 21st spot for some time, chasing a group of the usual guys. I finally recovered from early debt and chase onto the group ahead on the road section through the finish for 2 laps to go. I could see that they were playing some cat and mouse so rather than slow down and sit in I decided to keep on the gas and attack through them. By this point, there was an off smelling little puddle forming just down-slope from the bathroom facility in the main gazebo. It seemed to be percolating out of a manhole cover. I was sure it was just gray water overflowing and not raw sewage, right? I mean come on, they wouldn't run us through a poo-bog, would they? Regardless, I kept my mouth closed and tried to go gingerly through it each lap, as it swelled in size, eventually breaching and pooling yet again further down the course.
This got me a little gap and created some separation. My idea was to hit them hard on the run-up, where I seemed to be faster, on the windy back straight slight uphill section and then get to the sand first drilling it with the hope of getting a good gap. It all worked well and I came flying into the sand. Now, I ride a lot of sand. It is a huge part of our weekly cross practice course with a full lap of beach sand around a man-made swimming area. I'm pretty proficient at it. Unfortunately, when I hit the sand at 20 plus MPH I got pulled right and into bump (sand mogul) that had formed. This was enough to send too much weight to the front end and on the next bump I launched over the bars.
Luckily, I landed on my feet and caught the bike and was able to run it out, but I lost not only my gap but one position as well. This also gassed me pretty bad and when the inevitable attack came after the stairs, I couldn't follow it. This slipped me from 15th back to 21st. Ugh, that sucked and looked really, really stupid I'm sure. But hey, if you have a plan that you act on, it's racing, regardless of the outcome, right? I plodded on and managed to recover and get serious again but didn't have much time to work with. I pulled one spot back and then tried to race ahead to the two racers just up ahead. The other two of the group that passed me back after my, incident, Frankie and Steve, were gone again up the course to the next group and were very unlikely to be caught by me. With another sharp attack part way through the final lap, I was able to snag two more positions back but couldn't quite reach the one just ahead, our friend Marc. This netted me a 17th place finish on the day and another successful race.
We changed up and did some spectating from the beer tent with teammates and friends. Once again out friend Sherri spotted up some beer, which was wholly uncalled for yet very appreciated. We are very fortunate to have good friends. I've mentioned this in the past but wanted to again. I was absolutely beside myself by the number of people I heard cheering for me during my races throughout the weekend. I was also amazed by the number of friendly faces saying hello. I'm truly humbled by the kindness of our friends in the New England cycling community. Thank you.