So this season I've tried to get a little bit more serious as I know that the men I'm racing are not only really strong but really crafty. I can't just ride on the front and hammer and expect them to fall away. As such I have tried to form alliances and work with people to try and either chase other rides down or split an existing group up, effectively thinning the herd and improving each of our chances in the end. I must admit that this has been a very useful tool to add to arsenal, actually thinking and planning when racing that is. Who would have guessed?
Gran Prix of GloucesterA couple weeks ago at Gloucester I was presented with some interesting challenges that required some planning. Gloucester is one of the biggest races in the country and the biggest in New England. It truly is the big stage and everyone wants to bring their best out for the event. I've always done abnormally well at Gloucester. Not sure why but it must suit me. My best result there in the past was in 2009 when conditions were horrible. In reality I usually excel in poor conditions so it was with great enthusiasm that I met the weather forecasts calling for rain. They did not let us down either and the course on Saturday was wet and muddy, which I clearly viewed as good for me.
The competition was stiff and we had a full field of a hundred or so on the line. I was treated to a front row spot and was determined to use it to my advantage. I'd been working on my starts and I had it pegged this time around. I was top three in the first corner and kept on the gas. Instantly I could see Paul was trying to get away but eventually he backed off a bit and we traded spots. Unfortunately I could see that I didn't have the gas to run away either so rotated back, happy to follow. More trades between Eric, Jeff, Mark, then Paul went back out front for good. A small mishap derailed a move by Eric and it was Jeff and I in pursuit of Paul.
The course was slick but Jeff and I worked together managing to get some space on the field while maintaining the gap to Paul, who spent almost the entire race ahead solo. By the final lap I went to the front and tried to claw some distance back on Paul but made little headway. On the finish straight I opened the sprint as soon as I hit the pavement knowing Jeff was right them and not wanting him to get me. This closed the gap to Paul to within a small handful of seconds and gave me room to breath on Jeff. I was disappointed that I hadn't worked a little harder, a little sooner by happy with the result. Cathy greeted me with massive enthusiasm and was even more excited than I was.
The next day I didn't feel all that great. The legs were tired as was my back. I've come top find though that this isn't any indication of the race I will have and in fact, it is often the opposite of what one would expect. On the line another prime starting spot and conditions that were even worse than day 1 combined with an even tougher course technically had me determined. I managed my best start ever getting the hole-shot with what seemed like far too little effort. From there I was in a MTB race, in terms of the tactics. Get out front, check. Stay out front, check.
And luckily that was what happened and how it played. I raced hard and as clean as I could not taking extra risks and putting in the hard digs where they made sense. My running and scrambling up the run-ups and stairs was as good as I'd ever done, possibly better. The bike handling seemed sloppy in places and I really used too much brake but it kept me upright and making forward progress. In the end I managed to stay out front and maintain the gap, a wholly surreal experience for me in a very magical place when it come to cyclocross racing. This time it sunk in. The announcements I'd heard during the race about this being the ride of my career (do I actually have a career?) and the cheers and encouragement of my cyclocross friends and family. I didn't want the moment to end and savored it as long as possible.
Providence Festival of CyclocrossLast weekend was my return to Providence after a couple of years on hiatus from the venue. I've always liked the course but never did super well there and was always put off by the parking and logistics. That said, this is the second largest event ion New England and was sure to garner some stiff competition and another large field, giving more opportunity to work the skills. I wasn't certain what to expect, performance wise and was somewhat unsure if the previous weekend had been a fluke. Fortunately, there was certain to find out.
As race hour approached, the temperature steadily climbed into to 80's with a strong sun ever present in the sky as well. That was going to be a factor. On the line I managed a nice front row start and soon we were off, frantically but successfully finding the pedal and get the clip-in then sprinting as hard as possible up the starting straight. I secured good position when we hit the grass in the top few. The race eventually pared down at the front and before too long it was Sam and I battling head to head with John chasing. If this sounds familiar, as it did to me, it may be because I already wrote about this race here, but forgot until just now. Go look there for more detail but the synopsis was that it went really, really well and I was lucky the whole day.
Day two of Providence started much like day one, save for the weather. It was significantly cooler and initially had me thinking it would be a long sleeve type of day. That notion went out the door as game time approached and short sleeves it would be. On the line it was abundantly clear that one man was not going to be content with anything other than the top spot on the podium. Sam was doing laps in the starting grid while the rest of us were chatting and waiting for the start. Much of the chat centered around our good friend Mark getting waffled into the ground the day before in what was descried as an overly aggressive move by a racer from outside of New England, Andy.
Off the line the pace was furious and I found many people were pushing really hard to get to the front. I hit the grass in about tenth spot after a virtual fist-fight for position. Nobody was giving anything up so the battle for position was fierce. I managed to slowly pick up spots as people blew up from the ragged pace and the leader, none other than Sam, didn't manage to pry much of a gap open. Similar to the day before, a lead group of about five formed including Sam, Mark, Don, Andy and myself. It became clear that Sam and I were feeling the best and as such took turns trying to break things up. It worked slowly but eventually it was Sam, myself and Andy who, try as we might, we could not seem to shake.
I was bound and determined not to have a three man sprint going at the finish as I'm not a great tactical sprinter, so resigned myself to strategy. When Sam to a good solid turn on the front with about 1.5 laps to go, I let a gap open. It was easy really, given that I was tired and being able to justify it as a tactical move, being lazy that is, well heck, I can do that. The gap opened a bit and sure enough, Andy came by and gave chase. I stuck onto the back of him and followed around as he worked hard to try and close on Sam. When we hit the pavement I sat on a bit and could see that the effort had taken a toll, at which I attacked as furiously as I could looking past him and up the road at Sam. The move worked and when I came around by the pits Cathy reaffirmed that I had a gap. Success.
I emphasize this as success in my mind partly because that simple act of tactics signified that I'd attained the goal I set out for. Not rocket science but still, for me it was important. From there I gave chase as hard as possible but it was a foregone conclusion as Sam had punched out. His resolve was firm and although I pulled it back to a hand-full of seconds by the end of the race, Sam took the win in great and decisive fashion. Still a good day and oddly enough, I felt good in trying to somehow vindicate Mark for his misfortune the day before. After the race, as we were waiting for the podium I met Andy and his young kids, who had done the kids race earlier and were very excited about it. I realized that he is just a middle aged guy with a life and family, out there trying his best, the same as the rest of us. Things get crazy some times and accidents happen. Although things may seem blatant from one perspective, they may not actually be so. At least, I truly hope that is the case.
Another great weekend capping two incredible weekends in a row, following a stellar weekend before that. Hell, who am I kidding. It's all been good and in truth, always is. Off for some lower key but just as fun SSCX this weekend. Have fun and thanks for reading.