2019.10.05 – Hippo Cross (NJCX Cup Race #3)

After a successful double race last weekend at Lucky Charm, I was excited about racing Hippo Cross, and getting two more races completed, even though they were going to be back to back, before a weekend of recovery from cyclocross racing. This was going to conclude my first block of fall racing.

I raced Hippo Cross in 2016, and also last year. I really liked the course in 2016 when we raced in the middle of a corn field. It was a challenging course, but not crazy. Then last year, they moved venues, and we got to experience our first full mud race of the season. I raced the first event of the day before the course got torn up, so we were able to ride most of the course.

At the end of that race, the wait at the power washer was over forty five minutes which meant that by the time I was ready for my second race I was freezing and not in the mood to go back out on the course again. That was a good decision regarding the second race as the course conditions had deteriorated to the point that most competitors had to run over fifty percent of the lap. I think that course would have been decent in the dry.

No matter, the organizers decided to move the course again, supposedly to higher elevation to help with water drainage in case of rain. But rain was not predicted. Instead we had a nice sunny day, a bit cool in the morning, but warm by late morning.

I got up at five in the morning, with a departure time of around six. I picked up my teammate Anthony Ott on the Upper West Side, and headed on over to Frenchtown New Jersey. It is nice not having the first race of the day, this way I can get an extra hour of sleep.

We arrived on site around nine thirty and the temperatures were still a bit cool. We got to registration and got our numbers, and took a look at the course. Within half hour we were able to get on course for an inspection. On the first ride, I was not liking this course. The start and the bit by the field where all the festivities were taking place was not bad, grassy switchbacks, with some off camber turns, and Belgian steps which, this time, looked rideable as long as I did not have a slower rider in front of me.

Then the course took us over some very tall barriers, I feel bad for short riders, and then over a soft deep gravel section by a storage building. A quick up on the dirt, and a one-eighty turn. I felt that this turn was a bit sketchy. a bunch of rocks rocks were located right on the line to make the turn. If you overcooked the turn you would end up rolling off the embankment and end up in some other county.

After this turn we dropped down a drop off back into the gravel. After the gravel we were then guided up a very soft grassy climb, which sapped all the energy from your legs. But the part that was bad was that the terrain was full of surface level rocks. Some of the more egregious ones were marked with white spray paint.

At the top of the climb, we then turned left, and started a long double track descent with a couple of fast sweeping left hand turns. This whole descent was also covered with surface rocks. At one point a corrugated like sewer pipe cut across the path. The spirals in the cylinder were at an angle from the course. During the race we figured out that staying to the left you could get over the cylinder with no problem. If not there was a risk to get thrown off your line.

At the bottom of the fast rocky descent, we had a hard left onto the paved roadway. Care needs to be taken when transitioning from one surface to another. This paved roadway climbed all the way up to the start finish, and from there back into lap two on the upper field by the festivities.

So, after my recon lap, I was very much not feeling this course, but since I was here, time to race it. I decided to stick with the Challenge Chicane tyres with latex tubes. I dialed in a pressure of thirty pounds per square inch. I did not have any issues with traction with the chosen treads.

My call up was still not so great in the Men Category 4 race. We started a minute after the Men Category 1,2,3,4 Masters 40+. I could have done that race, but, I figured I would place better in the Men 4. The start was quite sketchy, not much room to make up ground before everyone was hard on the brakes for the first real turn from gravel to grass. Still, I made up some places and was able to cut in front of some of the riders on the early grass sections. I had already planned on running the Belgian steps on my first lap. The early bottle neck traffic would have been problematic.

And as predicted that was the case. I had to run to the top of the plateau from the steps to get back on the bike, and I lost a place or two there, but did pass a whole bunch of other riders futzing around with the steps. The rest of the lap went fast and furious, trying to stay in the mix with the others. On lap two, I was able to ride the Belgian Steps which saved me a lot of energy. The approach was long and fast enough to build enough momentum to safely get up.

Photo: Ron Short (https://ronshort.photoshelter.com/index/G0000W262VyZC9vo)

After the steps, I worked my way over to the barriers and got over them. I remounted, and for whatever reason I could not get clipped in right away. A short distance after the barriers I finally got my right foot in, and, I thought I had ALSO gotten my left foot in. Then, my left foot slid forward off the pedal, and at the same time my front wheel turned. This caused my foot to go right into my spokes and, besides breaking a spoke, the still rotating wheel pulled my foot up against my down tube, and finally the bike body slammed me down to the ground.

This happened right in front of the pit, and so the pit official asked if I was okay and if I had wheels in the pit. I did have spare wheels in the car, but I did not put them in the pit. I find that with my Thru-Axle setup, it takes much longer to swap wheels then with a regular quick release, and by the time I would get back to the pit, and a performed a wheel change, I would end up off the back of the race. I ended up taking the DNF. I have considered getting a pit bike, and last year I almost did get one off of eBay.

I decided not to race the next race, the Men 4/5 40+. I really was not liking all the rocks on the course. Many riders were flatting or slicing up their tyres, including my team mate Thierry, who also sliced up his leg, and my friend from Mineola Andrew Csencsits.

My spare wheels are a tubular mud setup and I am not keen on risking damaging them, especially on the course we had. Should they become damaged, I would be out quite a penny to replace the rubber, and the days to glue new tyres up.

I stayed around to photograph my teammates, in their races, but once Anthony Ott finished his Men Cat 3 race we hit the road, keen on getting back home before it got too late.

Here is a link to the photos I took: https://awjohnso.piwigo.com/index?/category/123-2019_hippo_cross_njcx_cup_race_3.

I will be back in Connecticut for my next race in Belltown on the twentieth of the month.

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