I signed up for the Newtown Cyclocross race as my first race of the cross season. As per my usual, I wanted to make the most of the trip to Connecticut, so I wanted to race in two fields. Unfortunately a change to the schedule for the races in Connecticut this year puts me at a disadvantage. In order to race two fields I would have to basically race back to back races. I figured what the hell, the first race of the season is always a shock to the system, and the more time I spend on the course the better.
I got up around five in the morning, made breakfast, feed the kitties, and headed out in a packed van.
I drove into Manhattan to pick up my team mate, Anthony Ott. From there we drove up to Connecticut, getting to the venue just before nine thirty in the morning. Plenty of time to get going, and get some pre-riding in.
The weather was looking good. The temps were going up, and the course looked bone dry. As for my tyre options, I choose to use the Challenge Chicane (basically file treads) open tubular (basically clinchers) with latex tubes, mounted on my tubeless ready rims. I dropped the pressure down to about thirty pounds per square inch. This was going to be the first time riding these tyres.
After getting our numbers, and pinned up, I decided to not ride the trainer in order to warm up since the temperatures were now approaching the eighties. At the end of the junior races, I was expecting a good window to get a few laps in on the course, but there was still one junior riding very slowly trying to finish his last lap. He kept holding up the pre-ride. It got to the point that I was not sure if I would be able to finish the pre ride before being called up for my first race. Eventually we sorted it out. But riding the course slowly, allowed me to pick out areas of interest.
Race #1: Masters 40+ and Men Cat 3/4
I got called up on the second row. Our start was on a slight incline just back from the finish line, with a left sweeping turn shortly after the finish line. At the whistle, I surprised myself and I was clipped in within the first two pedal strokes. Once clipped in I sprinted hard and squeezed between a few guys. This long gravely section then took a right turn into the hole shot which basically meant the course narrowed and went up hill.
I tried to hold back some aggression at the hole shot. I tried to stay on the raised up packed grassy section for better traction but I ended up sliding down towards the fence, which apparently angered the guy behind me. Tough, this is racing. At the top of this long dusty grueling climb, we meandered around the upper section with some off camber switchbacks, a drop and another grueling climb up towards the parking lots.
Passing the parking lots, it was impossible to recover, and at the end of that section we had the swirly bit under the trees. It was not terrible, and being in the shade was much welcomed. Climbing out of that section on a bit of a dirt path, we then headed back toward the upper grass section with a relatively sharp left at the end of a straight run. There was a gate there, and on my first lap I underestimated the turning radius, and almost plowed right into the gate.
After the gate we were greeted by some grassy switchbacks, we then a shot down towards the pavilion area. this was a fun descent due to the speed we picked up and some much needed air cooling. At the bottom we had a sweeping left turn which could be taken with quite a bit of speed.
Following a few more switchbacks including a small dirt technical section around a tree, we arrived at the sand pit.
The sand pit was filled with hard packed sand and it did not give me much trouble. The only tricky part was the one hundred and eighty turn in the pit. On the first lap I came off the bike as I screwed up my line in that turn. Exiting the sand pit, we were face with the double barriers. After that, we went down a grassy hill with off camber turn, and an uphill one hundred and eighty. For this, I shifted down and went up high which worked well. I passed someone who washed out on that turn.
Now we had to climb out of this lowland area all they back up almost towards were we climbed after the start line. At the top we followed the fencing back down swooped left and were finally greeted by the finish line.
With two laps in, the lap counter finally read three to go. I was hurting a lot. The heat was oppressive especially while grinding out those long climbs with very little airflow. At four laps completed they pulled us off the course and scored us. The fifth lap would have taken too long to complete.
I took refuge in the pavilion to cool off. I sucked down a bottle of sports drink and a whole bag of energy chews. My teammate Anthony helped pull off my top number so I could get back to the staging area and get going for my second race.
My second race call up put me closer to the back. I did not have as good of a start, but, my first lap felt relatively strong. In my second lap, I was able to execute a pass on a rider, and I was hoping to keep him behind and to hunt down the next guy. During my second lap, when getting off the bike for the barriers , I started to feel my legs tightening up. I pushed on. Hitting the barriers in the third lap, when both feet were on the ground and ready to hurdle over the barriers, my right calf locked up. I was also cramping in my hip flexors, and other parts of my legs.
I got over the barriers and got back on the bike and dropped my heel to try to stop the pulsating knot in my calf. I moved on and let the guy I had passed go. I rode much easier and when I came by the start finish I signaled the judges that I was done, and I retired with a DNF. At that point there was no point in trying to complete a fourth lap now that the cramps had set in.
Overall I got seventy minutes of cross racing in. I would consider this a good shock to the system. I would have preferred if the temperatures had not gone up as high, but by the end of my second race they were tipping into the eighties. The tyre choice worked really well. Not once did I loose confidence in them in the off camber switchbacks. And if I did, I felt it was user error, overcooking it. Now I am considering if I can drop the pressure below thirty? How low can I go?
I got changed, and packed up my stuff. Anthony was going to race the Single Speed race. That was brave considering the elevation on the course. I got my digital SLR camera out and got shots of the women races, and the Men 1/2/3 and Single Speed races.
Post race, we drove off to a diner, had some lunch, and made our way home. I dropped Anthony off at his place, and I got home at nine after stopping for another bite to eat. It was a long day, my body hurts, but as I said to my friends, “No one is ever ready for cross. You just have to take the plunge.”