Monday, October 22, 2012

Nothing But SSCX

Mansfield Hollow SSCX Race

Last weekend was yet another weekend double single-speed cyclocross. Not the first of the season certainly not the last of the season. However, on Saturday at least there was something new, a pair of races separated by a couple hundred miles, each having a SSCX category and each part of the Zanconato SSCX series. Throughout the week we were trying to decide where to go and which race to do. Both races were excellent venues and hosted by really good folks.

In the end, we chose the race that appeared to have a larger concentration of the crew that had been racing all year, because you know, we wanted to race against people, and also chose the event that was slightly more convenient for us. That was the Mansfield Hollow race in Mansfield, CT. It is one of the original and longest running cyclocross races in New England and even so, we had never participated in the race. It was with some excitement that we loaded up and made the trip south on Saturday.

The event was easy to get to and took about an hour and half to drive. The venue was at a dam and recreational area and so the parking was very convenient and ample. The day was gorgeous, literally perfect for cyclocross racing, dry and sunny with the temperature in the high 50's. A great fall day in general. The course itself had a large mix of just about everything. Not terribly technical but not a grass crit by and stretch. There were two sets of barriers and a run-up that required dismounts, at least on the single-speeds. There was also a stretch of sand and a short uptick at the end that I also could not clean, forcing another dismount. The telephone pole however was a fairly easy hop so I was able to stay on for that. The uphills were enough to make the legs groan with the slightly high gear I was running, but again, nothing too bad. A good mix of flat and fast, swoopy turns, hard corners, elevation change and technical features to really keep it interesting.

We had a good turnout with many of the normal cast like Doug, G, Jeff, Matt, Chris, Royce from the MTB SS darkside and a bunch of other folks as well. There were also a few women so Cathy had folks to race as well. Just before the start of the race, Jeff, who had driven out from NY with his wife Katina and who were staying with us Saturday night, came walking back to the start pushing his bike, with his chain in his hand. Bad sign. I yelled to him to grab Cathy's old SSCX off the rack on the van and race that. We snagged the bike and raised the saddle and he was set, minutes before the start.

The start was a bit of a melee with a combo of lots of fresh legs, adrenaline and a long straight away into a steep up-slope that then went cross-slope with only 16" of trail to ride on. I cut across the slope and pinched Chris, sorry, but managed to get into line. As always Doug was on the front drilling it. I was back a few but by the barriers managed to sit in third behind Gewilli, who was racing really well. About a half lap in Doug was gaining a bit of distance so I came around G and started chasing. It took forever to pull close and I was struggling to close the gap down. I'd gain in certain places and loose in others. On the next to last lap Doug had a slight bobble in the sand which allowed me to hitch onto him. From there I just maintained until we got to the starting straight and I went to the front. I hit it hard but Doug wasn't going anywhere. The two of us rode the final lap hard and I never had more than a few seconds gap to the end. Another close one and battle well fought. G rounded the podium for third in a great event.

SSCX High and Mighty Podium Salute
Cathy had a good race as well getting second behind Katina and finishing ahead of Allison in yet another tough battle. The single-speed series is heating up for sure.


The following day was the local, Minuteman Road Club cyclocross race in Lancaster, MA. This event was located only 25 miles from home at the Bolton fairgrounds. This had been the venue for the race for the past few years and has come to be a favorite. Naturally, after being treated to stellar weather and conditions for the Saturday race, the weather promptly changed and it started raining. The rain was hard and steady during the night and continued into Sunday morning. Not the best of conditions but it could be worse.

Katina and Jeff had stayed with us Saturday night and we had gotten Jeff's new single-speed squared away for the Sunday race. Given the rain, Katina who had planned to do two races decided to do only one and so we headed over to the venue a little later than originally planned. This gave the weather some time and luckily the rain mostly stopped by the time we had arrived. The SSCX event was as usual, the last event of the day. This would give us ample time to see the course conditions change and hopefully improve dramatically.

As luck would have it, the improvements were somewhat less than dramatic. In fact, they may have even gotten worse as the side-slopes lost much of their grass cover from previous races. What I can say for sure is that it got really slick out there by the time we were set to go. The event drew a big crowd for the SSCX race with most all of the normal crowd being in attendance. No breaks today. Curtis was back from racing SSCX in Maine the day before, and getting the win convincingly. Abel was also back from Maine as were a couple of the women. Matt fulfilled his birthday party obligations the day before so joined us on the line as well. Pretty much a full field of everyone with a single-speed CX bike.

The start was chaos as the whistle came while we were still getting side instructions from Doug about the course. This was all good but a poor clip-in meant I hit the corkscrew climb up Mt Krumpett well back of the leaders. Curtis was charging hard as was about everyone else. It was a flurry of slipping and sliding and trying to make forward progress as a mass. Eventually we started descending and it got sketchy. Dough hit the deck and slid into the tape. Steve H. relinquished his role as announcer, threw together a dedicated SSCX bike from spit and bailing twine not to mentioned old worn out parts of despair and jumped into the race. I found myself right behind Steve who was not far behind Curtis. I encouraged Steve to close the gap and he did his darned best to do so.

Eventually I decided sending a boy to do a man's job was the wrong ploy so I relinquished young Steve from the front of the bust and grabbed the wheel, instructing him to grab mine. We charged forward trying to reel back in a running Curtis. Eventually I settled in and started riding steadily and conservatively rather than just riding hard and was able make up some ground. You see, in slick conditions like that you needed to apply steady even pressure and ride within the limits. What that meant for me was that I had little opportunity to lay down the power. Unfortunately Steve was lost somewhere in the translation.I tried some moves a couple of times but was unable to shake Curtis one bit. He also seemed to have somewhat better traction than I, especially on the side slope slip and slide sections.

On the last lap I kept Curtis in check and gained a bunch of space I'd lost due to the traction issues I was having by hopping the uphill mini-barrier. In one of the few power sections I jumped around a went hard, only to over cook the next corner. Another big effort to thwart a counter attack on the next dry section and some more over-excited handling failures. On the last clear straight before the side-hills to the far end of the course, Curtis came by me. I was able to get back to him on the slow ups but it was pretty much cast. There was no place clear enough to make a move and despite feeble attempts, I made up no ground on Curtis, who was easily able to take the win.

Defeat, thou are such a thick and bitter pill to swallow. Not really, actually. As much as I like to win it more important to have fun and I had fun and got to race my bike for real. That is why I enjoy the SSCX series so much, real racing, real fun and real good folks.

Cathy had another solid race and once again found herself on the High and Mighty podium, the same cast in fact as the previous day, save a slight order change with Allison beating Cathy out for 2nd. Good times, thanks so much for all of the effort and thanks for reading.

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