No, not Cross Dress, Cross Fest. This past weekend Cathy and I once again packed up the van and made the pilgrimage to historic Plymouth Massachusetts for the Plymouth Festival of Cyclocross. The two day event has come to be held exclusively at the Plymouth South High School campus in the past couple of years. In the past, the event was split between Plymouth North and Plymouth South High Schools, the former being a past home of the US National Championships. As always, the event is promoted and organized by Bill Sykes and family and sponsored by George and Corner Cycles. Good people and long time staples in New England bicycle racing. Cathy and I have attended this race since we started racing cyclocross, way back in 2006 and our attendance has become a yearly tradition.
On a side note, despite the fact that this was billed as a "festival", I was disappointed to find no fried-dough, folk-music or clowns making balloon animals. I'm not sure how you can consider yourself a "festival" without any of those staples. In all fairness though, there was a bouncy-house, which I suppose could possibly meet the formal qualification for a festival.
In looking at the two different course layouts for the two days in the online race guide, I noticed that there were some strategic changes to both day's courses versus those of years past. I've got the bigger description and report from last year here so if you want more on that, go there. With great expectations we suited up upon arrival Saturday and went out on course for a pre-ride. The changes were indeed subtle but took a big portion of the boring drudgery out of the course, in the form of removing the big perimeter loop around the back playing fields. In it's place were a couple of switchbacks and a double-back around a playing field that was also in play for another section of the course. That afforded you views of other racers coming the other way on the course and broke up any potential boredom. It also meant you went in both directions allowing for opposite wind patterns one direction to the other. A headwind one way promised a tailwind to look forward to the other way. There was only the one short section of mud behind the barriers, which is always there, at least from my experience.
Cathy was up first in the women's open race. She was feeling pretty good and the course was a good match for her strong suit, steady power and lots of it. I made sure to try and get a good training week in the week leading up to the races. As I mentioned before, the ride interval Tuesday made a big difference for Cathy in terms of boosting her confidence. I wanted to continue with that through the rest of the week and so we did skills and a few mid length intervals on Wednesday and had a good spin-sprint opener on Friday. That seemed to work well as it has in the past. She got a great start and rode really strong the whole race. I could tell from the way that she was racing that there was a change in the style I had seen of recent and in fact, for much of the season. She was driving, not just sitting back and following. The result was a really exciting race and one of her best results this season.
There is not a whole lot to say about my race, really. I had a good race but was outgunned by one of my across the boards (except maybe on the MTB anyhow) rivals, "Wild" Bill from Corner Cycles. The start was one of my best ever though we had a couple of really fast starters in our field like "Mr. diesel" Kyle from the Embrocation Team, who managed to curtail my short lived holeshot before the first corner. Old time friend and 45+ strongman Don from Bikeman was a major factor, as expected, especially early on in the race. What I didn't realize but should have based on past performances, was how much of a battle I would have over the course of the weekend with the other Corner Cycles racer in the field Saturday, Dave.
What played out after the first lap was Bill, myself, Dave and Don each separated by 10 yards, plowing around the fields battling the wind. Eventually the elastic snapped and I managed a small gap and caught Bill. Unfortunately, Bill's teammate Dave was also coming up, so I knew I had to stay on the gas. I went to the front and hit as hard as I could for half a lap. This managed to put some distance on Dave but when Bill decided to come around and punch it, I was gone. The remainder of the day was spent trying to stay away from Dave and Don and reel back Bill. The former worked, the latter did not. Still kept me in the money though, which is a nice change.
As a note, I liked the course switching back on itself the way it did, affording the opportunity to see racers going the other way. When the race settles in I enjoy cheering on teammates like Scotty and other friends like Brant, G-Willy and Gary in those face to face sections. Don't get me wrong, this is more of an encouragement grunt, but it's something I always like to do in all competition. "Be nice, until it's time not to be nice.". The switching back also gives the impression that you are still racing people rather than just doing a solo time-trail, despite the fact that those people may be on completely different sections of the course. Often you find yourself alone on remote sections of a course, leaving you to wonder if there is still a race going on.
Day two was a slightly different course with some additional technical features and a little more variety to it. There were also two sections of deep, loose sand. I liked this course layout a lot and think that the changes made over years past were excellent. In hindsight, this could be one of my favorite courses. There was also a downhill, low speed, fresh cut loamy, tight switchback section in the woods that proved a great challenge. This was a very neat feature and the more I reflect back, the more fondly I think of it. The also used a couple aspects of day one that had been never used before, including a miserable little steep and slick grunt. Each time up I would spin out for the final couple pedal strokes over the top.
Once again Cathy was first up. She was having a great ride in a much stronger field until she pulled out of her pedal in a convoluted sprint attempt going through for the lap. This nearly resulted in a tangled up in the bike face plant but she managed to pull it out and get going again. Unfortunately the bobble took a toll and she lost contact with the woman with whom she had been racing. She still managed to retain her position and get a solid result. Most importantly she didn't get hurt. Upon examination of her bike after the race I noticed that she had bent the front wheel in the incident such that it was rubbing quite a bit on the brakes. Too bad she didn't notice and switch to the bike she had in the pit. That said, it didn't seem to make too much of a difference. Later that night when we got home, I pulled the tubular tire off the wheel so I could access the internal spoke nipples and got it all squared away for her for next time.
My race saw some additional players in the form of Curtis B., Mark M. and Alec P., all of whom often beat me. Bill and Dave were there as well so it was going to be a challenge. I didn't get a great start and had to chase through a couple of people to get up to Bill, who was driving hard. It was near this point that I was feeling really good and thinking to myself that I could maybe win this thing. Kyle had a great start and was riding super well for much of the first lap, with four of us managed a gap on the field and moving nicely. Eventually Curtis took over from Bill and drilled it hard. I was on the back behind Kyle who was starting to struggle, so came around to grab Bill's wheel. The three of us moved forward quickly through for the lap but when we hit the fields in the back the gaps started to open. Back to reality.
Curtis rode off the front, Bill dangled in the middle and I dangled behind him. This was the scene for another lap or so until I could see Mark and Dave coming up. I tried to recover for the surge that I knew would happen after Mark caught me and recovered. That trick never works though and when he jumped and headed up to Bill I was only able to hang for half of the effort. Dave had wisely come up to me with Mark and firmly affixed himself to me. I tried time and time again to ride him off my wheel but couldn't. I knew with his teammate Bill just ahead of us, he wouldn't be interested in dragging me up but we agreed to work together to preserve. I'm terrible at following for some reason and never seem to recover or be able to hold tight. Fortunately I'd catch on the technical sections and corners despite gapping off on the power sections. We worked together for the rest of the race, now running from an advancing Alec, who is yet another Corner Cycles rider. On the final lap I made a hard charge to try and catch Bill and drop Dave but accomplished neither. I stayed in front of Dave up the final climb and kept on the gas the rest of the way, getting within seconds of Bill and managing to fend off Dave and Alec. I'll take that.
All in all, a great weekend of racing in good weather that wasn't all that far from home. Bonus was that on Saturday, one of the local radio stations started their seasonal 24x7 Christmas music run. After some back and forth as to the appropriateness of this at this particular date, we decided it was indeed officially Christmas season. I finish write this listening to Johnny Mathis.