For my third weekend of Cyclocross races I selected Belltown Cross in Connecticut. Lionel decided to come with me and as a newly upgraded Cat 4 racer, he decided to follow my lead and sign up for two races: Men Cat 3/4 and Men Cat 4/5. Luckily our first race started at ten in the morning, and the second at twelve thirty. We could leave an hour later, and give ourselves an extra hour of sleep.
At three forty-five in the morning the weather was not looking so good. It was pouring outside. As we made our way up to Connecticut, the rain eased off and finally ended. We got to the venue just after eight in the morning, giving us ample time to sign in, pick up our numbers, get ready, and get on course for an inspection. The grounds were not soaking, maybe damp at best. There were a few muddy spots but nothing serious.
In the Cat 3/4 race, I was called up in the back of the whole field. Not a good place to start. The Cat threes took off and we got going. I managed to clip in right away, and of course I then almost crashed into the back of Lionel since two or three riders went down right in front of him.
That sorted out, I was relegated to the last five or ten guys. In the first lap, making up ground was quite difficult due to the shear number of people fighting for the best line through the grassy sections. Early in the race, we had two logs across the path, and I opted to hop/ride over them. In fact I did that for every lap in both races. I found that was quicker for me and allowed me to keep my heart rate from spiking up if I dismounted and ran that section.
After some more grassy areas, we took a long gravel road to the wooded area, where we had some mud, and a run up. The exit of the wooded area dropped us back onto some more gravel, then up around a pond. At the end of the rim of the pond we made a right and dropped into a steep muddy downhill, followed by a quick u-turn which would bring us back up the muddy embankment to the rim of the pond. Back up on the pond, we would follow the rim down to the sandy shore by the water.
In the first race I was able to ride down and up this u-turn section, but in my second race, it was too muddy and I had to bail on the uphill and run up. Also in the second race, on the bottom of the muddy area I got ahead of myself and put power down too early and slid out onto my left side.
Arriving at the sand section during my first lap of the first race, I made the mistake of going in too hot. Something you generally need to do when entering s sand pit. However, in doing that, I rode rode right through the right hand turn in the sand and I went off into the deep stuff and bogged down. This caused me to lose some places and time.
Coming out of the sand there was s muddy uphill off camber right hand turn onto the grass. On subsequent laps, I bleed off my speed entering the sand so I could stay on the hard packed section, execute the turn, then grind through the remaining soft sand into the mud and up to the grass. Lesson learned.
After surviving the sand, we would loop around the second entrance to the pit and head over to the pavilion where two regular tall barriers awaited us. Since I value my front teeth, I was not going to try and hop them, so I did the usual cyclocross dismount and remount. Following the barriers we looped back on some gravel to the tarmac by the staging and starting area. The final bit was the tarmac uphill to the finish line, and back into another lap.
Once I had gotten through the first lap, I had less traffic to deal with, and with a better understanding of the course I was able to get into a rhythm. Unfortunately, by lap two, I had dropped too far behind and I finished quite poorly in thirtieth place, out of thirty-five.
My second race, the Men Cat 4/5 was a bit more successful. On the upshot, I had better knowledge and experience with the course. But the downside was that my legs were still quite exhausted.
My call-up was better in this race, I think I was placed about mid pack. The initial lap had the usual slowness due to the high number of competitors. But once things strung out a bit, I was able to pick some riders off and battle it out with some of the others. Besides my washout in the fourth lap by the muddy u-turn by the lake, and some mud packed pedals and cleats, the race did not have too many surprises. I just tried to keep in the 169-175 BPM zone in most sections for the whole race. On the last lap, I passed someone early in the lap. However, he kept breathing down my neck and I pushed hard to keep him behind me, while trying to minimize my mistakes. Tired from 90 minutes of racing, I had to concentrate real hard to keep it all together.
I hunted down to more guys ahead of me. I caught one at the barriers close to the finish when he cramped up, and the next guy I outsprinted to the finish. Sadly this last competitor did not even try to hold me off, and denied me the satisfaction of a tightly contested finish.
In both races I stayed on the lead lap and completed all five laps in each race. In the Cat 4/5 I finished mid pack, forty-second out of eighty. I like this course quite a bit, it was not terribly difficult but it was definitely consuming.