Sunday, December 18, 2005

'Cross Nationals Race Report

I was orignially going to send this out as an email to the Snow Valley list serve to hopefully be a bit more interesting than the usual FS: (insert favorite bike component here) emails posted to the D20 this time of year but it grew so large I figured I would just post it to the blog. Enjoy!

As late September approached, most people were thinking about the end to a long road season and looking forward to the rest and relaxation of the off-season and preparing themselves mentally for those cold winter rides and shorter days forcing us onto trainers and rollers. But for some
of us, fall marks the start of a new cyclocross season. A sport that originated in Europe as a way for cyclists to stay fit through the winter. 'Cross has always been seen in the U.S. as a kind of the black sheep of cycling, a somewhat eccentric sport with it's U.S. roots in the New England region. Maybe that's the alure of the part of the allure, or maybe it's the mountain biker in me looking for a good excuse to go ride through the mud.

In any case, late September through early December marks the U.S. 'cross calendar. The courses in the Mid-Atlantic Cross (MAC) series stretch from Reston, VA to High
land Park in northen Jersey with plenty of stops in between like the DuPont estate in Grenougue, DE. Nothing like a couple hundred cyclists decending on such pristine grounds to pedal, push, pull and carry their bikes through impecably maintained gardens.

After moving Nationals to the west coast for the past several years (last east coast showing being Patterson Park in Baltimore), the east coast finally got the big dance. This past weekend, 1700+ racers from around the country made the pilgrimage to Providence, RI for the U.S. Cyclocross Nationals. Juniors from 10 years old to Master's in the 60+ category all looking to see how they stack up at a National level.

Randall Root and myself were amongst those 1700+ racers to make the journey up to Providence for what turned out to be an incredible weekend of racing. After getting into Providence Thursday afternoon, myself a couple of friends who race for other teams but all travel the circuit together headed to Roger Williams Park to check out what was in store for us. As we warmed up on the course, I quickly realized this was one of the best laid courses I had even ridden and in the current conditions it would be very fast, even with some leftover snow from prior storms still covering sections of the course.

What a difference 12 hours will make. When I went to sleep that night, none of the snow in the weather reports called for had started yet. Some reports were expecting the area to see anywhere from 8 to 12 inches of snow over night. As I woke that morning and looked outside, a layer of about 2 inches of fresh snow covered the ground. As we gathered ourselves and made our way to the park for the 2pm 30-34 master's race, the snow was still heavy but the air was warming. By the time we started to get dressed, the heavy snow had turned into a down pour of ice cold rain. As we sat in the car contemplating the future of the day's race and our own mental toughness for racing in these conditions, the rain turned to small pellets of ice being driven by 30+ mph winds. Much better I thought than pouring rain. As we made our way to the start line, the mass exodus from the venue had already begun. The promoters had decided after the master's 35-39 race to cancle the remaining races for the day due to so many racers making their way to the ambulances for hypothermia. Personally, I love the harsh conditions, but honestly as my face was being pelted with bits of ice being swirled around by the wind, I realized I couldn't have raced that day.

By the time we made it back to the
hotel and cleaned up, the storm had broke and the sun was shining again. Fortunately the rest of the weekend was blessed with sunny skies and temps in the upper 30's. But the course was a new beast, nothing like Thursday. Our masters race had been rescheduled for 11:30 so we headed over to the park to take our shot. I don't even remember if I got a chance to warmup on the course, I don't think I did since the promoters kept a tight rein on course access between races. All I know is when we hit the snow exiting a 90 degree right hander after flying up the road at 25mph, all hell broke loose. Bodies and bikes were going in all directions. The next 45 minutes was a slug fest between you, your bike and the snow. Nevermind the other 70 guys in the race. After recovering from a horrible first lap of trying to stay up right, I manage to ride to 33rd, but way off the pace of the winner who happened to finish top 15 in the elite men's race.

With one race down I felt good about going into Sunday's B men's race since I already raced against some of my competition in the masters. Sunday presented an entirely new element to the course,ice. Racing at 9:30, the snow on the course was now ice and the deep mud and snow ruts from the previous day's races were now frozen solid making your ability to hold a tight line a key component to staying upright. Both days I saw a second row start due to early registration, but unlike the day before, the field was 168 riders deep. Fine for a road race, but on a tight technical course, a back of t
he pack start makes for a long race trying to move up. As the race wore on, the course continued to thaw giving way to slick mud and diffcult run ups. I managed a respectable 36th and took the top placing of any mid-atlantic rider. I really happy about that as my regular season was a roller coaster of emotions and expectations each weekend. In any case, it was a great end to the season.

I found this collage photo at
Pretty cool that it was Sean, John and myself, sorry don't know the forth guy. (Could it be a missing Baldwin brother?)

Here are some links to some other great photos of the race weekend.

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