Friday, December 07, 2012

Back in the Saddle

 Well, I guess I've never really been out of the bike saddle, at least not so far this year. Yep, that's right, the streak is still going. Every day this year (and the final few days of last) I have pedaled a bicycle in some manner shape or form. No, that doesn't mean that all of the rides were outdoors and no they were not all hammer/training rides. Some were on rollers in the basement, and many were easy recovery spins that only lasted a half hour, but according to my definition that is still riding a bicycle. Anyhow, this is more about getting back in the saddle in terms of race reports. I've fallen down on that front for sure.

Let's start with last weekend. It was final stop on the Shimano New England Cyclocross race series with the two day NBX event at Goddard Park in Warwick, RI. Unfortunately there isn't an actual series for anyone but the pro's but the events all tend to attract big fields and solid competition, though not all of the fastest guys unfortunately. Hopefully next year these events will once again be part of a bigger series for us old folks as well. Some skip some of these events or race in a younger or more aggressive field as training. You can only race those who show up though.

Historically I have had really good results at these events, partially due to the former but also in part due to the coursed that the series is comprised of. They tend to be the more interesting and more technical, in short suiting my skill set a little better. I struggle with grass crits where you lay down huge power for an extended period, corner, lay down more power, eventually corner, etc. Courses like Sterling or Catamount are my nemesis. I just can't seem to get on top of them.

It has been a few years since we made it down to this event. One thing or another has come up and we just didn't make it. The last time I was there, back in 2009, I had one of my best weekends ever finishing 9th one day in the stacked 35+ masters field and capping what until now was my best season ever with multiple top tens in the category. At that point in time the field included no less than three National champions and was crazy deep with talent so I was stoked.

Going into the race weekend this year I was cautiously optimistic. Frankly I know that anything can happen and I must admit that I'd been feeling a little bit beat the past few weeks. The recovery between weekends just hadn't been as effective as I'd hoped and my plan to increase the load recently to try and curtail the late season slide I seem to have hadn't paid well at Sterling the week prior. That said, I was rocking the freshly minted (literally arrived Thursday) team kits for me new team (of one). Yes, that's right, after riding with NEBC for my entire (current) cycling life I finally made a switch. Chris at the Bikeway Source broke down and designed a kit and ordered it up a couple months back. I finally had them in my hand and thus, on my back so didn't want to disappoint.

Saturday was cold, really cold, with light snow and given that we were right on the water, it felt even colder. The snow did made it bearable however. I'd watched Cathy have a great ride, doing super well while trying to get a warmup in. I hurriedly got her bike out of the pit and mine in and scrambled to the start line. Luckily I got the pole position in cal-ups thanks to an optimistic ranking. Immediately sized up the competition to see the obvious threats, some obvious and some less so. This venue was traditionally about finesse and I had some folks with tons of experience with finesse lined up right next to me and on my wheel. I made the decision then and there that this was going to be an MTB race and I was going to try and get away early.

At the whistle I had one of my better starts in what have become a string of good starts, getting the hole shot. Mark G. surged past and I clamped onto his wheel. As we positioned for the transition off the pavement I jumped to the front and hit the gas. I knew that the sharp off-camber hairpin corner in the field at the far end of the course would be crucial. The idea was to be first in first out and open a gap. I figured that if I could go really hard for a lap I may be able to pry open a gap. It worked and by the log barriers I had some room to work with.

Riding clean and hard I hit the beach run in full stride. Though I don't run, I can run and the short hard efforts seem to suit me well, typically allowing me to outpace many. I do especially well with steep climbs. This helped for sure and by the time I reached the top of the climb after the beach and rounded the corner around the tree, I knew that I was in good shape. I could see a small group behind with Mark driving hard with Bob B. in tow. Another lap of that same hard effort and I had enough room to take a breath. From there it was about conservation and riding cleanly. In the back of my mind I told myself to stay strong but remember day two and try and have something left. I got lucky and rode cleanly having no issues and managing to retain the gap on a hard charging field led by Mark.

Sunday saw another cool day, though not nearly as bad as the day before. Where Saturday was marked by snow Sunday was marked by fog. The air was damp and cool and the damp sea fog made wearing glasses impossible. Later in the week I noted that the fog was also quite salty as bare metal  corroded or had dried salt on it. Cathy's race didn't go quite as well as she missed he call-up and had to start back a bit. She battled her way forward though making good progress and having a solid finish despite.

For me day two brought a few more players out to play. I could tell immediately that it wasn't going to be an easy day on the bike, despite feeling pretty good It would be a tale of strategy. For me strategy is a take best left untold, though I'm getting better. Off the line I had another good start but Corner Cycles Geoff M. and Sam M. were playing for keeps. Geoff came by me and pushed really hard, switching off with Sam to lift the frenzied pace. Immediately I decided on a simple plan that even I should be able to stick to; follow the guy in the lead but don't be the guy in the lead unless you have to. This lasted for the better part of the first two laps with digs coming from Geoff, Sam, Mark G. and Don S., the group that had managed to distance themselves from the field. There was some mayhem and some sketchy moves abounding as the group jockeyed for position and some crazy fast sand runs and hard attacks. I took a couple of digs but mostly just followed and dogged the leader. That was primarily Sam who as usual, is most comfortable driving.

My attack plan was to taunt him from behind and make him alternate his tempo and go harder than he wanted. This entailed riding up beside him just before or after each corner making him push a little harder to stay in front.  On the third lap this tactic finally paid off when Sam gassed himself a bit on a climb. I sensed it was a good time and attacked hard managing to pry some room. From there I was never able to let up and spent the next few laps digging as deep as I could to maintain the small bit of space I'd clawed out. Luck was again with me and everything held together through the finish with Sam and Mark only seconds behind me.

This was a great weekend and a wonderful venue. In retrospect I think that this is probably one of the best in New England. The folks at NBX did an awesome job with the course and with all details. Unfortunately, the season is almost over, for which I am pretty sad but what a season it has been. I'm not certain why I've been so fortunate but I really do appreciate it. I just hope that I can give some of that good fortune back. Hopefully the enthusiasm is imparted on others and hopefully the weekly practices we do are as helpful for others as they are for me.  

1 comment:

Ashley said...

Well Mike, sorry to not see you racing in red anymore, but it was great to meet you at Velo Cross, and congrats on a hell of a season!