For my second cyclocross weekend I signed up for Hippo Cross. It’s an event held in New Jersey. I had raced the event back in 2016, and I really liked the venue. We ended up racing through corn fields. Despite being a relatively tough curse, it was a lot of fun. So I could not wait to race it again. Sadly, the registration page stated that they were now at a new venue. I didn’t have too many options. Another possibility, and something that I want to do is Gloucester, a two day UCI event up in Massachusetts. However, I didn’t have the time and money for the overnight stay which would have been required. Hopefully next year.
So, I signed up for the Men Cat 4/5 40+, while Lionel signed up for the Men Cat 5 starting at 8:30 AM. I also signed up for the Men Cat 4 at 11:30 AM. Four O’clock in the morning, we were on the road. Closing in on the venue, the rain came down thick. This was going to be a muddy event to say the least.
One of the first people to arrive at the venue, we got ourselves ready, and we were able to pre-ride the course. The course was already deteriorating.
I started the race on the third or fourth row. I was happy that I was able to get my foot clipped in fast, therefore I started to motor to try prevent myself from being dropped. Fifty feet, everything came to a screeching halt as a few riders hit the deck a couple of places ahead of me. I grabbed the brakes but they were not working. Or maybe they were working too good and I was locked up, sliding into the tangle of bikes and bodies on the ground. For some miracle I managed to not get rear ended and get around the problem unscathed.
From here, they ran us through a prologue of switchbacks which usually would be part of the course before the end of the lap. But they wanted to thin the group out before the fast grassy/muddy descent with an off camber downhill right hand turn into the lower portion of the course. That would have been very sketchy if we all had tackled that section right out of the gate.
Following that drop we were now located in the lower portion of the field, filled with many up and down off camber grassy/muddy switchbacks. At the end of the field, down at the bottom of the hill, the course went into a bit of woods before turning right and going up a long grassy uphill topped with a loose crushed stone run up. This uphill was quite difficult to ride, and finding a good line was tricky. Back at the top we were in the prologue section with the barriers, a small hump, and then the start finish on the crushed stone.
On my first lap, in the switchbacks in the grass I hit a rut full of cold muddy water, and it all splashed up into my groin when I went through it. This was just a small taste of how the race was going to unfold. I was doing okay at navigating the muddy sections. I hunted down as much grass as I could find even if I had to take the turns very wide and stray from the muddy lines of the other racers.
On lap two, in the wooded area, I almost ran over a photographer who was standing right where I had the best line. As Lionel (whom witnessed the event from behind me) put it: “No, that’s not auto-zoom on your camera, he is actually getting closer to you!”
On my fourth lap, I misjudged the slipperiness of one of the muddy switchbacks on the off camber sections, and, even with my leg off the pedals, tri-poding through the turn, my bike washed out from under me lightning fast. Upon landing, I started to slide downhill, but I used the momentum to do a backwards summersault to get right back on my feet. I quickly grabbed the bike and ran up the hill to find a more suitable location to get back on. I think I managed to entertain the crowd that was starting to build.
I was able to stay ahead of the leaders and bag the fifth lap. On this lap, I lost more than a minute. Twice, in close succession, my chain dropped off the front chainring. The amount of mud packed around my drivetrain was astonishing. I’m surprised I was even able to shift my rear gears considering the conditions.
On the last run through the barriers, suitcasing the bike had become much harder due to the extra weight the bike was now packing.
Race over, I finished fifteenth. Even though the conditions were tough, I think I still had a decent race. Following the race, we all waited over forty five minutes for the bike wash. After getting the bike back into passable conditions, I declined to race the next race, the Men Cat 4. The course was getting worse. Even in our race, the race lines were changing second by second. What I did on one lap, could not be reliably repeated on the next lap.
All cleaned up and dry, we stuck around to watch the Men Cat 4 race. It appeared that the competitors had to do a great deal of running on many of the sections we were able to ride. In the end, I’m glad I wasted the $10 that the second race cost me.