A rainout the week before would cause me to stay home and not race. This season was getting to be a bit much with the rain and mud plus the bike teardown and rebuild during the week.
Rainey Park in Queens is a race I had participated in 2016 in their first year, and I remember it being quite enjoyable. The bonus factor is that the venue is relatively close and that there would be no precipitation, just cold weather. The only race I could participate in was the last one of the day, the Men’s Cat 4. This would be good and bad. The last race of the day is always faced with the worse course conditions but, on the other hand, I would have more time to warm up and get to inspect the course.
I decided that I would try to go as hard as I could in this last race of the season. I was burning out mentally from all the travel and racing since the beginning of October. I decided to get to the event at ten in the morning. This enabled me to get up at seven, a big difference from those quarter after three wakeups. I arrived as the single speed category had just finished up. I grabbed my number, 191 – a palindrome, said hello to people, and walked the course a bit so I could heckle my friends in the Men’s Cat 5 race.
After the Men Cat 3 race, I got on course for an inspection ride. I made it through half of it before I had to pull off due to the start of the Women 1/2/3 race. I rode back to the car, and put the bike in the repair stand. I needed to put new pads in my brakes. My old ones were not working to my satisfaction. I could not use my index fingers to feather the brakes, I had to wrap my whole hand around the lever since I could not get any bite until the lever was close to the bar.
After the Women 1/2/3, I got back on course for another inspection, but this time I was able to ride the whole thing. Brakes where feeling better, but I was now getting a bit of a rattle coming from the bike. The course was very twisty and had a good section of technical off camber areas down by the water. These sections including the barriers were getting slippery due to mud buildup from all the previous races chewing the course up. If I had an issue with any of these sections, I would go back and re-ride the bit in question in order to get a better feel for how to approach it during the race. When I finished, I rolled back to the car and tightened up my headset.
After the Men 1/2/3 race, I got back on course again. I promptly washed out right by the barriers. The right hand downhill sweeper into the barriers had become very slick. I also took my time to figure out the uphill approach to the Belgian steps, which I wanted to ride. By now, I think I was getting a decent feel for the course. The bike felt better, but still a bit of chatter coming from the front fork. The brake caliper was tight to the fork, so maybe the new pads needed to be beaded into the rotors, which I did not do.
As the Women 4/5 started their race, I hopped on the trainer by the car. I rode a good half hour to warm up, and I included some spin ups. The temperature was dropping so it was key to have a good warm up. With twenty minutes to go, I pulled off the trainer, and went to the chemical toilettes one last time. I kept warm by riding the grassy section for a few minutes With my seasonal luck, I was called up fourth from last. Back row start as usual. Heck, Race Predictor had me finishing in 42nd place.
The gun went off, and by some miracle I clipped in quick. I sprinted down the prologue grassy false flat on the left hand side of the field. I managed to catapult myself into mid pack, right into the first right one eighty degree turn. In this turn, the field compacted itself causing many to grab loads of brakes. I had to be careful and give up a few wheels so I would not tangle and crash with others. On the next straight we all picked up speed again until we all had to slow for the left hand turn which was a bit tricky as many riders in other races had hit the deck on this turn. Of course the field squished in on this turn again, so I had to play it safe. In the process, some riders got knocked off their bikes.
Then we progressed through the spiral around the baseball field with another hard left right by the pitchers mound. Again, the struggle was the traffic. I had to ignore the ideal line and sometimes just cut in on the turn and just muscle the other guy off my line. After the baseball field spiral, we made a right onto the paverd uphill to the start finish and into the start of a lap. A slight left brought us under the trees by the fence. Here, passing was not recommended as there there was slight zig zagging to avoid the tree roots. At the end of the park, we turned into a sweeping left turn that was slick with foliage.
We were then greeted by another straight following the tree line which dumped us into a slick left one-eighty, then another short straight with a right hand one-eighty. We then swooped around and into the downhill right hander to the barriers. In the first lap, many racers hit the ground from the slick mud that had formed on the approach. On my first lap I was surrounded by too many riders, thus I dismounted early and ran the section and got back on the bike past the barriers.
From here, we then headed to the muddy off camber ups and downs down by the water, where many riders were having difficulties. Again, getting off and running up the embankments allowed me to pass a bunch of people who had tried to ride up but ended up tangled up with together.
A set park cement steps had to be run up with the bike on the shoulder. On my first lap, I missed the last half step and almost face planted as I was putting the bike down. I think that my technique of running up the slight hill after the steps then getting on the bike was a good one. After the steps we looped close to the baseball field and then back to the water. An off camber sharp zig zagging downhill brought us to an off camber straight that paralleled the water. Even though it was slick with mud, I managed to ride it on all but one lap. I think it was my third or fourth lap that I spun out and had to skateboard past the early section.
This then dumped us down to the south west corner of the park. We had to ride over a paved road and then up the grassy hill. Coming off the paved road we had to get over a high curb. I discovered during my recon lap that the lower right hand side had the lowest curb, but the steepest grass. It appeared that not many people were riding there so the traction was better. Even though I had to muscle the bike up this sharp hill, it was still better than the inside line.
Past the steep section, we were now presented with the uphill Belgian steps. I rode them in all my laps except the second lap. In my second lap, I had cleared the first one when three riders went down in front of me, forcing me to get off and run to the top of the hill.
Up here we got into the fun part of the course. After a slick left one-eighty around a tree, we looped around the playground. The turns was perfectly banked. I could ride faster and ride up the banks fly through this section. A few more loops with an off camber section and we were now headed back to the baseball field spiral. On one of my early laps I washed out and went down entering this last off camber section. Still half clipped in, I managed to quickly scramble to my feet pulling the bike with me and I ran up to the top of this bit of hill and jumped back on.
By mid race, I had finally dispatched a bunch of riders. It was now down to this guy Louis and myself. This is when my real race started. We were trading passes throughout our last two laps. I was starting to have issues clipping in due to the sticky mud and would lose time on the remounts trying to get myself clipped in. But I would always bring him back.
On the fifth lap I started poking him. He was blocking my pass attempts by cutting off my line. I would attempt a pass and almost pull it off but the subsequent corner he would have the advantage and get back in front. I was riding his wheel, pushing him, breathing down his neck. I was hoping he would make a mistake. And if not, I was trying to push him into a mistake.
I did not want to be in front. It is better to be the hunter then the hunted. And I was thoroughly enjoying my hunt. I was setting things up so in the sixth lap I could attack him hard, and finish him off. My worst case scenario would be to outsprinted him to the finish. I was quite positive I could whip up a mean track sprint on him. But I wanted that to be my last card to play. It would be safer to get in front of him after the Belgian steps in the baseball field spiral before the finish.
I was in my race zone, completely oblivious to what was going on around me. I have no memory of spectators, the cheering, or anything. I was so concentrated on working this guy and trying to minimize my mistakes while trying to induce my adversary into make his own.
We came up to the finish line getting ready to head into our sixth lap, when the officials pulled us off since the leaders were about to finish right behind us. The two of us were very disappointed since we were both enjoying our battle. I felt cheated that I was denied the opportunity to properly finish this race.
In the end, I finished twenty fourth. So much for the predictions from Race Predictor. I can not complain about my result, considering I started at the back of the field. After a full season of Cyclocross racing, I felt very strong and in my best shape. Despite how the race ended, this was one of my best races this Cyclocross season, and, I suppose a good way to finish my long racing year which started back in March.