Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sterling Baystate CX Day I

Two weekends ago was the Baytstate Verge series cyclocross race weekend in Sterling, MA. Over the years of feeling compelled to race at Sterling due to the proximity, I have a developed a bit of a distaste for the course. I can't say exactly why that is, maybe because it busts up a perfectly good holiday week or maybe because it is usually cold, windy and wide open. Maybe it is simply because I've never gotten results that I was actually happy with there. Last year was my best performance there though I was not at all content with it being second both days, stuck in no mans land by myself. I don't know for sure, but so it was and I still had a bit of dread for the race.

This year I was talking with a friend who like myself, is also more of a technician and he said that he liked the course and that it should be a good one for both of us. I'd never really though of it as a technical course as it is wide open in a school ground. Sure there is off camber side slope and some tight corners but there were also extended sloggy power sections. Regardless, this year I tried to remain optimistic about the race. Bottom line was that it is the same for everyone.

The weekend weather, at least for Saturday, was cold and clear. The temperature when we arrived on site early in the morning was a brisk 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Ouch, that was going to hurt. Just the past weekend we'd had similar weather at the regional competition, at least on Sunday. That said, it was still 8 degrees warmer though windy as sin. Either way, we were shaping up for a pretty cold day with highs only making it into the upper twenties but with a bright sun. The course was in good shape and though very similar to years past, which is to say not overly memorable, there were a few minor changes that I personally liked and which I found beneficial.

For Cathy's race which was just before mine, the ground and more the cinder track were frozen. It was a good race and though Cathy fell back a bit at the start, she made her way forward steadily making up many spots. She finished very respectively in a sprint to the line one of her nemesis.

I was up next and made my way to the staging area awaiting the call up process. They quickly had us lined up by rank which luckily meant I got a front row position. After a short period we were off, sprinting up the pavement toward the hard left onto the grass. I got a pretty good start but got pinched a bit in the corner and just before the corner on the pavement, losing a couple of spots. Roger hit the front with Paul just behind and drove hard. I slowly picked my way up to them knowing that was where I had to be as that would be the front of the race all day. Within the first lap a gap behind us started to form as the elastic snapped after one of the many surges at the front and the three of us were off.

Soon however I could see another racer making his way up to us as we tapered the pace back bit, settling in. It was Mark, who was coming back this season after many years away from cyclocross racing due to injury. He not only caught but went to the front. I jumped on his wheel at sat for a while but could see that he was significantly slower in the corners. Also, having four in the lead group made me nervous so I decided to attack him. Unfortunately I did it as we went by the pits and then dropped into an off camber chicane. Carrying way too much speed in I barely made the first corner but tanked the second one, washing out with the front wheel and falling on top of the bike. Stupid, stupid move. I was up quickly but Roger attacked hard with Paul just behind forcing me to spend the next half lap chasing to get back on.

It was tough but I managed to get there with a couple laps to go. As we came through the barriers I decided to try hopping them again. I'd done it the first lap and it wasn't pretty and I almost hadn't made it. This time was clean though and although not faster than running, made the exit up the side slope much much faster. I got a pretty good gap to Roger and Paul and tried to hold it. I actually made it past the pits but hit traffic in the offcamber chicane section I'd blown previously, which forced me to slow and ended my break. Together again we finished the lap and started the final lap.

Nobody was able to ride away from anyone else and I feared it would be another sprint finish, something I have come to despise. I can't tell you how many losses I've had recently in sprint finishes but I can say, it has gotten pretty darn discouraging. Anyhow, I knew that if I could hit the barriers first and clean the hop, that might be enough. Paul knew it also so attacked right before them, getting there just ahead of me. I knew that if I could hop the barriers and beat him to the climb out I'd get a gap, so that was the goal.

We were dead even going through the barriers and came out even as well. Luckily I didn't have to remount and was able to get a good gap of maybe a half dozen bike lengths. I pushed it as hard as I could and that snapped the band. Paul settled back a bit and started racing Roger, who hadn't given up on me yet. He chased and I fled, keeping it as clean and fast as possible. I hit the pavement unable to tell who was where or how close so sprinted for all I was worth, which was good enough. Roger finished just behind and Paul just behind him with a bit of a gap back to 4th. Finally, it had been a long, long time.

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