Wednesday, September 26, 2012

SSCX September Roll-up

The same things happens every year it seems, cyclocross season hits and all hell breaks loose in terms of loosing track of time. I think it is primarily due top how rapid fire the season is, what with doubles every weekend of the season not to mention organizing clinics, weekly training sessions and build four new bikes for Team TwoAdventures so far. Lets just say my head is spinning and I'm way behind on the posts. As such, this is going to be a roll-up of the outstanding SSCX races to date. When last we spoke, I was hanging perilously from a mediocre finish at the Roll in the Hay season opener, at least partially due to some mechanical issues revolving around a dropped chain.

Quad Cross:

Fast forward 23 hours and a bunch of bike tuning and we are now taking the line at Quad-cross, which is held in Maynard, AM at the Rod and Gun Club. The event is super local, so much so that I rode to the event. The bike was dialed up in good shape and the chain was so tight it barely spun due to the excessive load on the bearings. No way it's gonna drop off so lets just hope it doesn't snap. The course is good for me with a bunch of power sections as well as technical sections that for the bike handling card, luckily more a strength of mine.

At the start we had a good size field with all but the previous day's winner, Chandler, on the line. I'm quickly reminded how fast so many people can start a cyclocross race as we are in a mad sprint for position. I push hard and manage to get into about 4th spot by being down right rude to poor Abel. Doug started really hard again, Curtis was chasing with vigor and Matt was in the mix as well. After a lap or so Curtis had moved up and ahead solo when Doug faded a bit and I was doing my best to close the gap. Within a lap I was on and hanging close, though I got gapped with my 40x17 on the steep back hill to Curtis' slightly shorter gear and bigger punch. I was able to gain ground though in the fields and in the corners so we were pretty well matched.

With two to go I attacked hard on the fast downhill section and went with all I had to pry a gap. By the barriers I'd opened a bit of a gap and kept hard on the gas the whole way around the final lap, get a precious little breathing room. The bike held together as did my legs and I was able to finish up ahead. That marked my first victory in an SSCX event in the past couple of seasons, ending a much too long drought. Cathy had an excellent race as well, fighting hard as always on a challenging course, winding up on the podium as well. A very good day for Team TwoAdventures! We celebrated by heading to the Halfway Cafe in lovely downtown May-nard with cohort Jason D., who drove his spiff custom Seven CX rig, mounted on the roof rack, into the parking garage. Unfortunately, it didn't quite clear. Luckily it was just barely to tall and only minor saddle damage ensued.

Next up on the race schedule was the Verge Series Green Mountain weekend of racing but that isn't SS friendly so I will save that for a post still have to write. Flip ahead a week and that put us into this past weekend's events. It was another weekend double on the Zanconato SSCX Series with the White Park Race in Concord, NH on Saturday and the classic Suckerbrook Cross race on Sunday in Auburn, NH. Another good weekend of SSCX racing was sure to be in store for us. As mentioned previously, Cathy and I put together new bikes just last week and were anxious to see how they would turn out for racing.

The weather did not disappoint with another stellar weekend of near perfect late summer/early fall weather. Sunny and mild with cool evenings is also starting to prompt some color on the maples and induce the dropping of some leaves. Given that the New England world championships of cyclocross (the Gran Prix of Gloucester) are just around the corner, last week was a heavy training week with a good block of intensity as well as some good endurance work. To cap it I planned to do the single race on Saturday but double up and do two back to back races on Sunday, a feat I finally last year came to realize is well beyond my abilities and as such I swore it off for this year.

White Park Cross

The White Park race was new last season. It was convenient and an incredibly well designed course. It also had an ample supply of technical features which catered to my strengths. This year the race was part of the SSCX series so it was a certain that we would partake. The weather was perfect as were the conditions. The course had a few changes from the previous year, adding a little more climbing and making a sweeping mid speed paved corner into a high speed corner of doom. Beyond that the course was very similar. As we pre-rode the steep ups were a real challenge on the SS but manageable. I was hopeful.

At the start we had most of the normal crowd of regulars including Doug, Curtis, Jeff, Brian, Chris, Abel, newly converted to SSCX racing Steve, and some others like Jerry and G-Willi as well as the women including Katina, Kerry and Cathy. As always the start was a mad dash, this time for the sandpit, about 100 yards into the lap. I came into it in the top half dozen or so, with Jerry absolutely killing it at the front. On the power section around the field I came around and laid chase for Jerry. He was going really, really hard. I honestly thought he may just ride away with it, the crafty little bhastard. Doug, Curtis and Jeff were not far behind us and charging hard, as usual. No rest. As we were nearing the end of the lap in the far end of the course I took the fast sweeping corner really aggressively and managed to sprint around to the front.

From there I laid the steady effort down and tried to pry out a gap. It took a while but the fast power sections actually gave me some breathing room while the steep climbs were hindered by my 40x17 gear; a little on the large side compared to the others in the field. Doug, who had pulled by Jerry  would gain some space on me in those sections on each lap. Curtis was also making steady progress on Doug and Jeff on Curtis. Later Curtis would have bike issues and have to pit but Jeff continued his progress up working at Doug. I retained a little room and went into conservative mode where I ride carefully making ground where possible but not taking unnecessary chances, as well as cheering for the guys chasing me. I really like doing this not to be a wise ass but to honestly encourage others who I know are suffering at least as hard as I am. This is my same MO everywhere, be it MTB, cyclocross or road racing. It isn't that serious, it's just riding bikes. Nobody lives or dies as a result of the outcome and we all do it because we enjoy it, for fun. So lets have fun doing it or else, why bother?

As luck would have it, I managed to hold my lead as the laps slowly ticked by. Doug came in next with a solid ride and Jeff right on his tail. The best was the two up sprint for 5th and 6th (I think) by teammates Jerry and Curtis. Classic example of  working with what luck gives you, racing your race and having fun. Cathy rode hard and struggled mightily up the hills with the gear I gave her and made it just fine. Another great race for the season.

Suckerbrook Cross: 

This was the first CX race that I did when I decided to jump into the discipline in earnest back in 2006. I recall racing hard with Todd S., who I didn't know at the time, and one other guy at the front of the Master's B race, in which I was third of the group of three. I still have the trophy proudly displayed (I don't exactly have all that many trophies). Prior to that I'd only done two races, back in the late 90's, one down off RT95 south of RT93 in an office park as I recall though I can't remember where exactly. I do recall riding across parking lots and running up a set of stairs.

Anyhow, I think that I've been back to Suckerbrook every year since 2006. Jack and the folks that put the race on are wonderful people and I really enjoy supporting them. As such I though it would be a good idea to double up and do two races since the money was going to a good cause and I could use a solid ass-whupping. As it was, the race that was the best fit given the timing of the SSCX event, my primary race of the day, would be the Elite race which was an hour long and started an hour before the SSCX race. There you go, a perfect fit plus it would give me a chance to try out my sweet new Carver Bikes 38mm carbon tubular disc brake compatible wheels and Clement PDX tires. The setup is really nice and I'm very grateful to BigAl at Bikeman for the hookup on the wheels and Chris at Bikeway Source for the tires as well as Cathy for helping me mount both pairs (yes, we each got a pair of these beauties) last week. Bonus was that there were only a small number of guys registered so we'd probably just ride around and chat for hour anyhow, right?

On the line, I see a huge mass of humanity with a good sized bunch of legitimately fast guys. Does this mean we won't be riding around and chatting for an hour? That doesn't really fit with my warmup plan for the SSCX race. Because nobody pre-reg'd, I got a sweet front row start and had a hungry hoard of 43 other guys, most of who were much faster than I, looking at my back wondering who I am and what the hell I'm doing in front of them.

We go and I get a fairly clean start and push as hard as I can. After a couple of laps I'm still in pretty good position and can tell that if I continue to go at my max, I can hold position and possibly make some ground as the race wears on, which would net a top 15 spot at the least and possibly a little better. That would be in the money in the legitimate Elite race with real Elite racers there, more than one even. That would also pretty much guarantee I would suffer really badly in the SSCX race, which would be finishing up in about an hour and a half. With that I pulled the plug and started a backslide to get to a group that I could comfortably ride around in circles with without doing too much damage.

This worked well until we came around for two laps to go. I thought it wise to light it back up a bit and get good and open for the upcoming SSCX race. I was making good progress until I came into a fast sweeping corner at the far end of the course a little too hot. The new tires had been hooking up great so I was confident it would hold. Next I knew I was sliding across the course and then pulling my bike out of the tape. Do I smell bacon? Road-rash sucks and I'd avoided it for the past couple years very effectively but not this time. I replaced my dropped chain and got back into the race and marched ahead, finishing out what I later found to be top twenty, barely.

A quick dash to the pit to grab my SSCX bike and then ride toward start for the SSCX race, which was already staging. MTB tough guys Mike and Adam also doubled up back to back but neither of them took it on the easy side the prior race. They saved me a spot up front, which was very nice. The group is super civil like that, which I really really appreciate. And like that, we are off again and back out on course. Switching right from gears to the single speed felt a bit odd at first but I soon settled in. My plan for the race was to be conservative, which is atypical of my normal strategy, break free and stay away on my own or effectively treat it like an MTB race.

Photo from Doug.
I had to work hard to meet the violent start by a hungry pack including Doug who keeps getting stronger and stronger as the season progresses. Directly focused on him was Curtis and then Jeff and Matt. About a lap in I was still a couple behind the lead group but with some creative work, which took about a lap, I managed to bridge across along with Matt and tail-gun for a bit on the back of the lead group, which had whittled down to Doug and Curtis. The two were working each other hard exchanging big turns on the front. I gapped off a couple of times but was able to come back in other sections.

I decided that I'd need to preempt the final lap surge that was inevitable by launching an attack of my own a bit earlier. With two laps to go after we ran up the steps I launched hard from third spot and took the lead. I clawed some space and went hard both in and out of the corners. On the backside access road I did the spin/coast/spin/coast method to maintain a high rate and not kill myself. The lap went well and coming through for the bell lap I had maybe a few seconds gap. I continued to push hard and despite the surges that I could see coming, was somehow luckily able to maintain those precious few seconds gap to the line. Cathy was finishing up her race and I could see that she was locked in a battle with Kerry. I cheered from the pit then went back to catch the finish, which was a sprint. Excellent job as always.

Another excellent race with a whole bunch of great folks. The best was that they did trophies again.It proudly sits next to its older brother.

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