The second weekend of my 2019 cyclocross season had me returning to New Jersey. Lucky Charm was going to be a new race for me, since I have not raced it ever before. We had up to eight Kissena members register for this event, so I decided to purchase the team tent space. This way we would have a nice space close to the start/finish and registration to hang out, and drop off all our racing gear. The parking lot for this venue was situated on the far side of the stretched out course. The team tent made it much easier for race prep.
I started out the morning by getting up at 4:00 am. I already had my breakfast stuff laid out, this way it drastically reduced preparation time. Just before five, I fed the kitties, and slipped out the door. My first stop was 7-11 to get some ice for the cooler, and then a trip back to the house to get my paperwork, more important this time because I had a had instructions on how to get to the team tent space and the load in and out policies.
I drove into the city, and picked up Anthony Ott at his place on the Upper West Side, and quickly got back on track. We made good time, and arrived at the venue about a quarter after seven. We unloaded the van at the tent space, parked the van at the designated parking and then rode back to set everything up. Registrations lines were short, and, following a bathroom break, we were able to get on the course for an inspection ride.
Riding at an easy pace, it was obvious that this was going to be a technical course, with a few small power sections. Just before finishing our pre-ride we were called off the course due to the start one of the junior races. I finished suiting up and got my number pinned. With fifteen minutes to go, I chugged down some more sports drink and set off to the start. The organizers had set up a nice little grassy section with a mini course for us to warm up on or to just pedal around to stay warm.
My race, the Men Category four would start a minute behind the Masters Men 40+ Category 1/2/3/4. My call up in New Jersey is terrible, so I was basically at the back with a friend, Tom Massetti, from Mineola and Zak Abdullah from Montecci Cycling Team. I have raced Zak on several occasions on the track so I know he is a strong rider.
For these two races, I decided to stick with my Challenge Chicanes (essentials file treads) Open Tubulars (essentially clinchers) with latex tubes on my tubeless ready wheels. I dialed in twenty nine pounds per square inch. In this early morning race I was gambling with the traction, since a good section of the back side of the course was covered in damp grass. Maybe in a not so distant future I will have a wheel set with each of the Challenge tyres they have on offer, this way I can do a better job at matching the tyre to the conditions. But today is not that day.
I lined up on the left side. I was unsure how this prologue was going to play out before it dumped us onto the main course. My little trick at the start, is to keep an eye on the official starting the race. Once they call thirty seconds, the race will start at anytime. If the official is not completely behind the field, I can usually see them telegraph the whistle. Once the group took off, I was able to clip in in a few pedal strokes, I then put the power down to try to move up the surging pack. I needed improve on my placement early before the course becomes too technical.
At the end of the grassy straight were the start was located, the course narrowed as it transitioned onto the gravel with a slight right hand bend. Right at the transition, the rider in front of me moved to his right. I was then faced with a plastic stake, used to mark and tape the course. I slammed right into it and shattered the thing. Apparently, parts ricocheted into Tom’s face. From the collision, I have a nice white mark on the toe of my black SIDI shoes.
I could not dwell on what had happened. I was happy I did not get a flat from that, or other bike damage, so I powered on trying to get in front of as many people as possible. My aggressive riding was paying off as I moved up the ranks. I was diving into the inside of the turn between the stake and the rider next to me, resulting in a wide exit, essentially then cutting them off.
Once the open flow of this early part of the course came to an end, I was in a good mid pack position. There was a very gnarly descent around a tree with rocks and loose dirt. In the first lap I had to be careful bombing down this section with several other riders all over the place.
The wet grass section was a bit challenging. Still trying to keep the pressure on, I was late braking on the off camber downward grassy turns, and I had to contend with the bike fishtailing all over the place, even while keeping my weight back in order to maximize my rear tyre grip.
After a few of these twisties, we climbed up a small embankment and then we had a long soft gravely stretch that went into a left hand sweeper. At the end of the second strait, we had a small bump full of gravel. I had forgotten about this and I tried to bleed some speed too late. My front wheel dug right in, and I almost went over my bars. Both feet came out of my pedal, and I was about to dump the bike, but, somehow, by some fortune, I kept it upright, and was able to clip back in and get back on the power. A mountain biker praised my save.
We meandered again on the grass, and a few power uphill grassy sections, turning onto another long gravely lot with a tarmac hill at the end. That was brutal. We rode around the tennis courts, and a wood chipped area. This was actually a place that I could pedal through most of it while many coasted. The exception was the technical off camber sections they threw in.
On one of these technical off camber areas, every time I rode it, I choose to tripod in case I washed out. After the wood chips, we made our way clockwise around a playground which was full of sand. I found that if I came in straight, got through the sand and then turned on the outer lip, I almost never got bogged down. I was later told that if I had gone off the lip, I would have rolled down into the next county. Good thing I did not loose it there.
After the sand pit we had an out and back straight. On the way back we went into Belgian steps which were more like giant steps. I do not think it would have ever been possible to ride them. After huffing up the steps, and remounting, we had a few switchbacks in a sand pit, I found no way of being able to get through these at speed. We would then round a building and come up on the field by the finish, and the team tent area. This field had long switchbacks which started in the sand, and progressed to the grass. A few turns before the finish line we had two sets of rather tall barriers. Once past the finish line, I was back in for another lap.
The second lap was still quick, but much less chaotic. I was slowly getting the hang of the course. The part that I was struggling the most with was the early slippery grassy sections not long after the start, and after the gnarly descent. In fact in lap three the bike slid out from under me in that section when I overcooked the entry into one of those turns. I had failed to remember the exit and thought I had more room then I did. When the bike slid out, my right food did not disengage from the pedal and the bike pulled my leg in a direction that the human body is not supposed to go in, and I felt a bit of sharp pain in my hip socket. I performed a backward roll to get back to my feet quickly, grabbed the bike and ran the next small section since getting back on the bike in that spot would have been worse then just running.
After that incident I made it a point to remember that section. During the race I was getting frustrated with the competitors around me. I was much quicker then them in the switchbacks and technical sections. But on the long power sections I was loosing out to them. On those straights, due to a bit of headwind, I would just tuck my self into an aero position and try to keep the pedals turning, attempting to mitigate the damage. But after getting past that, I would gain and be back riding their wheels again. In fact, I was trying to be aggressive by putting loads of pressure on them from behind, attempting to goat them into a mistake, so I could capitalize on it, and execute a pass.
One guy I really wanted to pass and leave behind. Every turn he was tri-poding. Even on easy corners. Every single one of them. Unfortunately early on, being stuck behind him was costing me valuable time. I was much happier once I had dispatched him.
In the end, I finished five laps out of six, one lap down, in fourteenth place, out of twenty eight starters. A good mid pack finish. I think I could have picked up a place or two had I not been stuck behind some of the other competitors in the technical sections, and had I not made some of my mistakes. My laps were the following: 10:19, 8:58, 9:14, 9:13, and 9:16. Zak beat me, finishing thirteenth.
After a two hour downtime, my second race was going to be the Men Cat 4/5 40+. I was going to have the following teammates with me in this race: Thierry Bonnaire, Phillip Maronilla, Robert Peras, and James Reeder. Also a friend from Mineola John Tanturri was lining up with us.
My call-up was better for this race, about mid pack, third row back. I decided to line up closer to the right side this time. At the start, I ended up veering over to the left, which then put me at odds with two teammates. Having raced the earlier race, I knew the importance of getting ahead at the start, so I was being aggressive again. I saw a whole between my teammates and I shoved in. In the process, I think I muscled Rob off his line, and rubbed shoulders with I think Thierry. After a brief apology, I pressed on.
The good news is that since this race was at 11:30, the grassy sections were now dry, giving me more traction. Overall, having the first race under my belt gave me a lot of confidence. Unfortunately my legs were quite gassed, especially during the climbing sections. I engaged in a back and fourth battle with several riders around me. With two or there laps to go, I got yelled at by my teammates as I passed the team tent. They wanted me to close my mouth. All I know is that I as sinking deeper and deeper in the pain cave of cyclocross.
I made a few mistakes in this race, which frustrated me since it did not allow me to pull away from my competitors, and after said mistakes, I would find them in front of me during the technical sections where I was riding up on their rear wheels.
On the last lap, getting to the switchbacks before the finish, I was now fed up with the riding, so I aggressively muscled my way past a lapped rider and my two competitors. In fact going into the barriers we rubbed bikes, bodies, or shoulders as I cut into the turn. I ran the barriers threw myself back on the bike, and in the charge to out ride the other two, I could not clip in. No matter I had fifty feet to go. I just pedaled and rounded the last turn and gunned it to the finish.
I ended up finishing ninth out of thirty one, with five laps completed, and on the lead lap. In this race, despite the tired legs, I kept my lap times more consistent: 8:59, 8:39, 8:56, 8:50, and 8:56. By the end of the day I was wrecked, but buzzing from the two races. I think this course suits me, and my riding. All in all, I raced for about ninety minutes, and was able to ride both races at the required intensity. I tried to photograph some of the other races, but I was completely drained.