Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Road Trip

So it's mid-December and the local 'cross race scene dried up two weekends ago leaving over a month until Nationals and Worlds. I finally pulled the plug on going to Nationals, the thought of Madison, WI in January coupled with World's the following week was getting to be a bit much logistically. The nail in the coffin was not being able to fly out Saturday after my race as there were no flights late enough. My buddy Jay has been trying to get us to go race in North Carolina for a year now and the was a double race weekend in Winston Salem on the schedule put on by Mock Orange Bikes, the local shop. Looking to keep some race fitness before going into a month of just training, we decided to make a team trip out of it. Friday afternoon Birner pulled up with Allyson in the Sportif team van and I piled the few things in I didn't throw in Jay's car since he was supposed to be rolling down the day before. In an effort to conserve space, I left the pit bike and the Limus mud tires at home, the same tires I got after BCA and decided not to ride at Taneytown, so they are still mint. Maybe World's?

We hit the road around 12:30 and in front of us were Jon, Cory, Jay and Eric with Barry staying somewhere in NC with some relatives. Steve and Jen were rolling down later in the afternoon which gave us a contingent of nine Sportif riders and Eric, apparently MABRA's most hated B-men's sandbagger. As we're rolling down 81 towards Harrisonburg I get a text from Jay that they are driving through sleet. Pulled up weather underground and apparently a large storm was passing through North Carolina and southern Virginia, right over Winston Salem. I've never raced in NC but I have watched My Cousin Vinny and I know the soil down there is more clay than the hard packed loam we have up here. Not bringing the mud tires may come back to bite me as it rained pretty much all night.

After settling into the Embassy Suites we all went out for a nice Italian dinner downtown. I can't sleep in hotels and Friday night was no exception, the kids bouncing around in the room above us didn't help so I ended up popping a Lunesta. Didn't roll out of bed until 8 or later, already a bad start for me as the race was at 11:45 and I'm usually well awake and moving this close to race time. Grabbed some breakfast and hopped in the van to head off to the park to watch the earlier races with Jon and Allyson. As we pull into the parking lot the first thing we see is this massive wooden structure. At first it didn't look too bad but no sooner did we go see how people were riding it and everyone seemed to be taking headers about 15ft after exiting the ramp, at least one was a broken collarbone.
The only problem with it was that it had no transition to roll you smoothly out onto the bumpy dirt and a soft, muddy rut was forming at the bottom from everyone taking the far right line. Steve was the first of us to take a go at it and went over the bars at the bottom busting up his hand and bending his frame. Not a good start to the weekend.
The more significant feature of the course was the steep, muddy ride/run up on the opposite side of the flydown. A steep hillside about 20% grade and 10m long made for some fun riding. The course had a nice downhill section to get you up to speed for this beast but there was only one good line on the right as the rest of the hillside being chewed up from people walking it. It took a lot of speed and commitment to clean this feature. My first attempt was half hearted just feeling it out and made it to the top lip but put a foot down to get over. Second effort cleaned it easily but could have still used more speed. Aside from that the course wan't nearly as saturated as expected given the amount of rain. There were some muddy sections but nothing heavy or sticky and a few corners were super greasy from the wet clay. Worst part about the course were the power sucking grass sections that felt like riding on a wet sponge.

Day 1 race was rather uneventful. Jon had taken 4th in the Master's 45+ and Allyson won the women's race earlier in the day.
Jon on the run up. Photo courtesy of Jen Riskus

Mike, Jay, Cory and I lined up against only a handful of guys as most were saving their legs for Sunday's State Championship race. One strong guy in our field was Charlie Storm so I lined up behind him on the start figuring he would just take off. Unlike every other race this season, the start was unnervingly slow. Charlie didn't take off and looked to let someone else take the holeshot. After some guy blew himself up on the front in the first 30s of racing I set out to make a mark on the NC 'cross scene. Half a lap in it was blown apart and the race was really just Jay, Mike, Charlie and myself with Cory dangling a few seconds off our group.
Cory on the run up. Photo courtesy of Jen Riskus

My goal was really to just hit this steep run up and the flydown first to have the best line. Rode around pulling Charlie for the next 4 laps and as expected he attacks me in a tricky section halfway through the last lap where I was having problems finding the best line. Got back to him by cleaning the run up but he put in one last effort before hitting the pavement to seal the win. Rolled in for second with Jay and Mike behind for 3rd and 4th with Cory taking 9th.

Eric took 3rd in the Cat 3 race even for not looking so sure about the flydown.

Day 2 was a bit harder. Field size was double and call ups for series leaders. Unlike most series' they only called up the top 8 riders so I was positioned for a 2nd row start until this guy in a skinsuit emblazoned with guns and a really bad mustache hops the tape in front of me. Must be a NC thing becasue I don't see how bikes and guns mix. This guy would also prove to the bane of my race day.
Guns 'n' Ammo guy. Photo courtesy of Weldon Weaver

With the long road start and seeing how slow we started Saturday I wasn't worried about 3rd row. As the whistle blew, I knew today was going to be harder as the race went off like a gun shot. Guys were killing it to get down the pavement but knowing the start everyone would cut the right hand turn leaving the left side wide open to move up which is where I burned a match to get to the front and take the holeshot. Mike saw the move and worked through traffic to get behind me and apparently Mr. Guns 'n' Ammo took exception to outsiders lighting up his race and started jawing at Mike about something. I led out the first mud section and up the first steep hill before some guy blew past me. I completely botched this tricky downhill/uphill section and lost a few more spots and soon found myself in a chase group with Mike on my wheel. About halfway through the lap Guns 'n' Ammo guy decides he needs to get to the front and comes up on my right as we're going through a series of tight turns. In an effort to keep him from chopping my wheel I get caught up and go down dropping my chain. I can hear him and Mike going at it again through the woods on the other side. I start chasing back and starting the second lap this guy is sitting along the course trying to fix his bike, I gave him a few choice words as I rode by him and set out to get back the time lost but could only manage to finish 10th. Jay rode strong to finish 5th while Jon repeated his Saturday performance with another 4th. Allyson also grabbed 4th in the women's race. A lot of strong performances by the team.

Overall fun weekend, great course and well run event. It's nice to get out of the area and see how others race and design courses. The atmosphere was laid back but still probably better than most events around here. The flyover was incredible, the guys from Mock Orange Bikes put a lot of time, effort and expense into this feature and they rolled two Barbecue grills off the race trailer and started cooking food. Race results for day 1 were posted online before we even left and for day 2 were up later that day. Will definitely look to go back for this race, hopefully it will be same time and same location next year.

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