Friday, September 12, 2014

Quad Cross 2014

Elite men's starting grid
The cyclocross season has officially begun. We missed the annual Quad Cycles cyclocross race (lovingly promoted by Ted Packard) in Maynard, MA last year in favor of my least favorite MTB race on the calendar. There was no way we'd miss it again this year. No indeed, especially given that it was the first round of the Zanconato Single Speed Cyclocross series and also part of the new NECX BAR (best all-around rider) series. Being eight miles from home doesn't hurt either.

As seems to be this case every year, the cyclocross season came down on us all too unexpectedly like a juggernaut, just as we were finishing the summer up with some longer distance gravel road racing. Very different look and feel and some very different training requirements. This year, what with me be located primarily in VT for the month of August, cyclocross  specific training lapsed, though I did do a good job of tapering down and ratcheting up the intervals by going out after a bunch of Strava segments. Every ride a race.

Last week the core team (Cathy, Kyle and I) went out for the normal Wednesday night CX practice session. We've started to run into more and more user conflicts with the conservation land we have used the past couple of years. Lots of folks walking dogs in the fields, whom are not confrontational but whom I don't want to offend. This is compounded by larger groups, which is why I've pared the numbers back in the training sessions and why I've started to use alternate areas as need be. Anyhow, we got in a good solid practice, including the traditional helping of sand, the difficulty of which I was quickly reminded.

Trying to claw a gap open
So as Sunday came and Cathy and I found ourselves at the Maynard Rod and Gun Club, the site of the race for the past four years, we were not wholly unprepared. It was great seeing and talking with all of the friends we'd not seen since last CX season. The conversations literally started as soon as we got parked and continued steadily, non-stop throughout the course of the day. So much so in fact that I was late in prepping for my first race. I say first because I decided to double up, meaning do two different races that day. I do this often for a number of reasons. For one, it costs less as the second race is usually highly discounted. You are already there so you may as well make the most of it. Plus it is a great training option, giving you twice the workout on the day. Cathy wanted no part of it though and decided to just stick to a singe race, the single speed event, which was the final race of the day.  I opted for the Elite (Cat1/2/3) race as well as the single speed event, which I usually do at the smaller events. The Elite races at the smaller events tend to be on par with what I get in bigger master's events in terms of competition from the younger crowd while not being over the top. They are also a full hour long instead of 45 minutes, which translates to all the more for the money.

While out pre-riding I bumped into good fried Bill Shattuck. We talked a bit and then he mentioned that everyone would be gunning for he and I in the first race. I didn't understand his meaning and then he mentioned he was issues bib number 2 as the second highest ranked rider in the field and though I hadn't picked my number up yet, would be issued number 1. Wow, I had no idea. I'd not even looked at ranking or as of that point but was honored as I'm not sure I've ever had the privelage of wearing bib number 1 before. I also knew the cold reality would be that there was only one way to go from there and that from a crossresults ranking perspective, my points could only get worse. The way the algorithm works, the favorite in any race always receives more points for that race than their current average even if they win. This gets really bad in many of the SSCX races, which is a big reason why I try not to look at crossresults.

The course was awesome, lots of fast flowy turns but also plenty of tight, difficult turns and varied surfaces. The woods section, of which there was plenty, was super fast slalom through the trees with some great change-ups. Kudos to the designer, John Plump, who did a stellar job. The start section was a grass field straightaway of about 75 yards into a hard right hand and chicane that quickly choked down. It then wound right and then a hard left down hairpin and some rolling side-slope next to the pond. Lots of hard driving corners and punchy little power sections as well as the technical woods section gave great variety while keeping racers on their toes.

Stuck like glue
The back stretch was a long uphill, broken by a hairpin offshoot into the woods and back, the first section of which was hard packed dirt with a few rocks. The section section was steeper and started with loose crushed rock, which put the hurt on for sure. There were lots more good tight turns as well as a sand section that while rideable, was actually faster to run. Then some more turns and more gravel and some bumps and chatter before turning back and up into the regulation double barriers. I couldn't bring myself to hop them though I really wanted to. Need to get the confidence back first I guess. Then a couple corner and an off camber up around a tree and back down with one fast corner to the sprint finish straight. The finish section was such that the barriers were the last good place to pass. It was pretty much assured that the first person into the corner after the barriers would have it.

Soon it was time to line up. That was after some frantic, last minute shifting adjustment. The starting grid was brilliant. There were 10 slots in each row and there was a sign at the side of each row with the number range that should be in that row. How simple was that. No call-ups necessary.The fact that I was ranked high said nothing negative of the quality of the field. We had Manny Goguen who was the honest favorite as well as Bob Stine who is a solid Elite 35+ racer. We also had Billy who'd been killing it all summer on the road as well as the Geekhouse squad with Mike, Ian and Matt, Colin who has found and excelled at Enduro racing and a host of other really strong guys. This was going to be really, really hard.

Battling to the finish
At the whistle I knew how important the hole shot was as the pinch point would cause mayhem. I also knew how hotly contested it would be. Luckily I hit the clip in and sprinted all the way to the corner, edging into third wheel. I quickly moved up to second wheel behind Manny and we were off. Soon Bobby was tucked in behind me and the three of us started pulling away. Soon though Manny was starting to gap Bob and I. The gap would close on some sections then open on others but we were never able to quite pull it back despite steadily pulling away from the chasing pack, which included Colin, Tim Ratta and Mike Wissell.

A few laps into the foray I slid out on the loose uphill gravel entry that led to the pit on the front side of the course. Bobby attacked and gapped me. It took a full lap to catch back on but once I got there, I knew I'd need to work hard. There were only a couple laps to go and on the back stretch I went around and started attacking. Multiple times up the back stretch hitting as hard as I could to inflict damage. This increased the gap we had as well and brought Manny ever so slightly closer. With one to go it was go time. I kept it as hard as possible, sprinting through the start/finish area to begin the lap and charging from every corner. Going hard was critical but staying clean was just as important. I continued to attack with the intent of getting to and through the barriers first. Somehow I managed to make it there first and protected the corners making sure that I wasn't leaving things open to a late pass. We sprinted hard from the last corner and the order remained. Manny took it with plenty of room to spare of course but Bob and I raced it hard.

Elite men's podium
 A couple hours later it was time for the SSCX race. Bobby decided to jump in and race single speed as want, looking for another shot at me. Luckily, I get to race him twice again tomorrow also. Love the competition especially from such a good guy. In addition, Matt Myette, my longest standing rival was also there. Matt has been really stepping up the training I've noticed and knew that he was going to be tough, especially given that he was fresh on the day having chosen not to double up. There were also a host of other racers as well, including Kyle Welch, Noah Epstein, Skip Thomas and Ben Pagano who also race as part of the Bikeway Source/Bell Lap Racing club. Noah and Ben had also chosen to double and did the Elite race with Bob and I earlier in the day and Skip had raced Cat3 already. More, Cathy was also in this same race along with the rest of the ladies SSCX contingent. Cathy had the fortune of lining up with local Elite legend turned retired SSCX crusher Mo Bruno Roy. Mo has decided that SSCX is where it's at and is planning a full campaign this year.

SSCX women's podium
At the whistle a mass of humanity made it's way to that first corner. Matt got there first and I slotted in right behind him. Amazingly, I came up with two good starts in one day; probably the last time this season. We went hard and smooth with Matt railing the corners and powering the straights. Leading into the first woods technical section I was hoping I'd be faster so pulled in ahead to lead us through. Matt never faltered and I gained no space. I rolled through the rest of the course smooth and consistent trying not to blow up while trying to gain a little space behind us. Eventually we got some breathing room but it wasn't long before I could see Bob, who started back a couple of rows, charging hard. I knew that I couldn't let him catch on so told Matt even though I was hoping not to have to, we needed to go really hard now. Truth was, we were already going pretty darn hard. Matt wanted no part of it and let me know just where he was. I went as hard as I could, running the sand instead of riding it to gain that little bit of time and at the end of that lap, Matt was still exactly where he'd been going in. Darn, I was starting to think that I may be the goat here and that I was in for an eventual whupping. I kept the pace high and eventually Matt dropped back a bit. Almost instantly Bobby pounced on him. Didn't have to outrun the bear, just needed to outrun Matt I guess. That said, I knew he'd be coming for me soon and soon enough, he was.

SSCX men's podium
With a lap or so to go I was going as frantically smooth and hard as I could. Luckily, it was enough. I managed to stay clean and keep some distance though the gap was literally only a precious few yards. As we were coming into the finish I could see Cathy just up ahead of me, who went extra hard so as to not get caught and finish on the lead lap with her rightfully earned last lap. She ended up with a solid ride finishing behind Mo for second place. Matt held on for third in our race as well and our good friend Teri slotted into third in the women's race. An excellent day of racing and great times with our NECX friends.

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