Monday, September 23, 2013

So Close

It was another good day of cyclocross racing yesterday for Cathy and I at the 9th annual Suckerbrook cyclocross race. Though the day started with torrential downpours resulting in copious sucking mud and wet grass early, the later races we nearly perfectly dry thanks to a warm fall sun and mild wind.

We arrived fairly early in order to spectate and gab with all of our cyclocross friends and teammates. On the way to the event we heard from Bikeway Source/Bell Lap Racing teammate Kyle Welch regarding his early morning race. Kyle is a monster on the bike as you may recall from Battenkill and the Dirty 40, but is new to the offroad scene. This summer he competed in his first ever mountainbike race after only having ridden MTB for a year. He quickly picked it up and hit the podium on his second race out.

Last fall Kyle started riding with us for the weekly cyclocross practice sessions that we have though he never managed to get out and race. This season however he was determined and made to the official season opener at Quad Cross, overcoming a back row start to finish solidly in a very strong 40+ master's field. Yesterday at Suckerbrook, Kyle put his power and skill to work on the mostly flat course and managed to take the lead with one lap to go.

Unfortunately Kyle forgot to check the lap cards and didn't hear the ringing of the bell-lap bell when he came through for the final lap of the race. Not knowing that he was heading to the finish the next time around, thinking he still had another lap to go, he was somewhat perplexed when the 2nd place racer sprinted past him for the finish, taking the win. An honest rookie mistake made by an honest rookie. Still an awesome performance finishing 2nd in only his second ever cyclocross race. Congratulations Kyle!

Suckerbrook was the location of my re-entry into cyclocross racing and Cathy's entry all together. Way back in 2006 we had gotten into road racing and decided to try some cyclocross as well. I'd done a total of two races back before the turn of the century, one with long time ride buddy and teammate Rich Wolfe at Great Brook State Park in '98 I think (he crushed me if I recall) and one the year before early in the fall at an office park in south east MA. Don't recall where exactly but recall Richard Fries announcing as we raced across a parking lot and scrambled up a bank on a bright autumn day to the colorful fall leaves. Anyhow, my first go at Suckerbrook I did the 35+ B race, essentially the same one that Kyle raced yesterday. I managed the bottom step of the podium in a fierce battle, which I lost in the sprint finish, to MRC's Todd Savage. This race set the hook and convinced me to start doing the A master's race, if only poorly.

So the last race of the day was the Zanconato SSCX Series single-speed event. This was Cathy and I's race. The course was in great shape. Though tired, we were both ready and optimistic. For this race I decided to try and gear-dope. All last season we ran the same gear combo at every race. I had a 40x17, otherwise known as a Really Big Gear (RBG) and Cathy a 38x17. We'd used those combos at the White Park event the day before which was a pretty climby course. This was a nearly pan flat course. With that I figured a bigger gear should be no problem and must be faster so I geared us both up, me to a 40x16 and Cathy to a 40x17.

Unfortunately we missed the pre-registration cutoff Thursday evening because we were too busy partying. The day of registration assured us of a great spot at the back of what was the biggest SSCX class of the season so far. Despite having a teammate as the chief referee and calling out the start order, Cathy and I lined up on the last of four rows behind a pair of guys who were taking turns punching each other at the start. I've come to realize that within reason, start position isn't the end-all be-all. That said, front row is certainly preferable. Anyhow, the whistle blew and it was all business. I managed to make my way up on the start stretch to about fifth spot. That was good, except that arch rivals Curtis Boivin and Matt Myette were ahead of me. Worse, Curtis was drilling it and riding away from the field quickly. Literally within half a lap he had a 50 yard gap and I was still working my way up through the field who, given that it was the first lap, had plenty of gas in the tank to go hard.

By the end of the first lap I had moved up to third spot and had second in sight up the road about half the distance of the starting stretch. Curtis was well ahead though and had at least that distance again on me, meaning a solid 150 yards anyhow. Not looking good but I resigned to just settle in and plod along, steadily trying to make up ground. I caught the second place racer later in that lap but he managed to cling to my wheel solidly. Didn't matter as I still needed to move up a whole ton to try and reach Curtis. Steady, steady, steady with no mistakes was all that I could do and it was working. I was gaining, albeit slowly. Coming through on the third lap I could gauge my progress on Curtis and hit it hard up the starting stretch, opening a gap behind me and pulling ever so slightly closer to the leader. What a long painful process it is trying to chase someone down. I much prefer being the chasee that the chaser; guess I'm pretty pretty good at fleeing. Meanwhile, Matt had assumed third position and was making good forward progress. Now I had two things to consider.

Coming around for two to go I was almost within reach but my legs were screaming from the stupid RBG I'd set myself up with. Still I plodded along and got close a couple of times only to have Curtis quicker on the gas and gap me again. On the double track access road I finally made contact, thank you extra big gear. I made the pass in the down leading to the hard left corner. We both railed it cleanly and hopped the log. We were even through the sand and the run, remount and turn. I pushed hard to get back to speed and opened the tiniest of gaps which Curtis then shut back down.

Back on the pavement stretch we passed through for the final lap and I kept the pressure steadily on, protecting the corners as best I could and sprinting up to speed after each one to retain the lead. Curtis never gapped though and the extra efforts I put in to maintain meant I didn't have a ton left to try and make use of the RBG on that fast back stretch. We hit the sand together and came out of it together. I kept the pressure high but gained no ground. I protected the corners like a fiend assuring there would be no diving under me and then swung wide onto the pavement to block ant wide pass attempt. That gave some room on the inside as the long spring wound up. Curtis was closing hard and I spun out standing and tried a seated push with no luck. We were almost dead even and I stood back up, put my head down and pushed as hard as I could with Curtis gaining quickly still. I saw the blur of the line go under us but it was so close I just couldn't tell. Paul the announcer called it for Curtis. They ended up going to the camera to find out for sure. Photo finish, I love it. What a great race separated by literally six inches at the end. This is what makes it so much fun.

Cathy worked super hard all race working her big gear into a close second place finish just a hand-full of seconds behind the winner. Overall a great day and a great weekend of racing action. One more single-speed race coming up on Wednesday then it is back to gears for the big show next weekend, Gloucester. Hoping that things go well and dreaming that they go evenly remotely as well as last year.

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