After a hiatus of a few weeks, it was time to get back to some more Cyclocross racing. It has been a few years since I have raced HPCX, in 2017 I was injured, and in 2018 I woke up to a downpour, rolled over and went back to sleep.
I have been feeling quite burnt out lately, and thus very unmotivated to go race. I am, however, enjoying my riding and training. Several teammates and friends from other teams were signing up for HPCX so reluctantly I decided to give it a go.
Of course as my luck would have it, rain was in forecast for race day. After racing most of last season in the mud, my motivation started to drop even lower. Finally, Saturday, I cleaned up the cross bike, and I swapped in the newly glued up tubulars, a Challenge Limus Pro at the rear, and a Challenge Fango at the front, this one left over from the last time. Aqua sealed and all, they were finally ready to go.
No one on the the team took me up on my offer to drive them until later on Saturday night, but by then, I already gave the three seats up to some fellow Long Island Racers. I can transport four bikes and four racers in the BRSV (Bicycle Racing Support Vehicle.)
After a three forty five wakeup in the morning, I met the rest of the guys off the Long Island Expressway in Jericho, and then set off for Jamesburg NJ. We arrived just after seven in the morning. It was not terribly cold but the misting rain made the conditions feel worse. We got our numbers, and worked our way to get our bikes ready and numbers properly pinned up. I opted to race in my Cyclocross skin suit, and being cold, I put on a Craft wind blocker sleeveless bace layer. I also selected my knee warmers, wool socks, neoprene gloves, neck gator, and the mid weight head cover under the helmet. I declined the glasses as in this weather they would be useless in three minutes. Right before heading to the start, I dialed in about 24 psi in the tyres with my digital gauge.
By the time we were ready they were already doing call-ups for the first race, the Men 4/5. The Men 4/5 40+ were set to start a minute after. As usual, I was relegated to the back third of the starting grid.
Surprising us, our whistle was blown about thirty seconds after the first race. I was able to clip in within a pedal stroke or two, and being on the tarmac, I was able to sprint on cold legs up into what felt like a mid pack position by the time we hit the grassy mud just past the finish line. The course was laid out much differently from the last time I raced the event, and I did not have the benefit of getting a recon lap in. Thus my first lap would be going in blind.
Shortly after hitting the mud, we turned back and looming ahead of us was the long dreadful sandpit. I clicked up a gear pushed harder into the pedals to get my speed up. I decided to enter the pit on the left. I mashed my way through the soft beach sand. Since we were the first race, there were no decent ruts to follow.
I was about to make it through the pit when I caught up with John Tanturri, who is having a great season this year. Unfortunately in the last five feet, he lost it and in the process pushed into me, causing me to have to get off the bike. Following this, we went out a bit and turned back and they brought us back through the sand pit.
Unfortunately they put a few twists before the second entrance to the sandpit, so on the first lap I only managed about one quarter of the way through before having to get off and run through the rest.
This summer, after twenty five years, I had started to add some running into my training program in order to get used to running in cross. However my efforts were torpedoed by unexpected family issue which lasted several months.
Clear of the sand pit, we looped back on the asphalt and then turned off into the park, and up and around the basketball and tennis courts. Here we were challenged by several muddy off camber sections. To my amazement, my tyres provided a lot more grip then I was expecting. Where others struggled to hold their bikes, I was able to ride right through.
After the second pass by the tennis court, we had to contend with the barriers, then we started our climb up the back side of the course. After a small asphalt section we came across the belgian steps. Eager to not get off the bike, I tried riding them, but I hooked my back wheel on the first step which sent me into the netting on the right side.
After the steps, the course kept climbing so getting back on and clipped in was quite challenging. On lap number two I tried running further up, but that proved to be a mistake.
At the top of the climb, we meandered back around the soft grounds and then they gave us another dirt to asphalt transition complete with a right hand turn. I make it a priority to respect transitions, as they can be deadly. On asphalt this is where I could feel the low pressure of the tyres with the bike bouncing. On this road, we went back up hill a bit. For some reason, on each lap I was able to feel quite punchy. We turned left back onto the dirt and then we worked our way back down towards the start.
Coming out of the woods, the course designers had once again presented us a right hand transition back to tarmac. As per my usual I was always being calculating going through this section. I preferred to hit the road straight and then use the new surface to make my turn.
Here we headed up the slight uphill to the finish line and into lap two. In my subsequent laps, I had mixed results with the sand pit. I also almost took myself out before the barriers when my left cleat failed to disengage from the pedal almost sending me into the netting.
Two laps in I realized I was over dressed, and I was overheating. I welcomed the headwind on the finish line straight to cool off a bit. The Chief Judge gave us four laps, which worked out to forty five minutes of racing for me. During the race I battled two of my teammates, James Nelson, and Thierry Bonnaire. In the last lap, I felt quite gassed and I let my teammates open a gap on me. No matter how much I tried I just could not close the gap down completely, and they finished twenty six and fourteen seconds ahead of me.
Despite feeling burnt out, I am glad I got out and raced. Some things that I need to get right for days when races are first thing in the morning, and I get there with little time to spare:
- Hydration and feeding while driving to the venue, although bathroom stops are then necessary.
- Get the clothing right.
Looking at the official lap times, besides the first lap, they were within fifteen seconds of one another: 11:54, 11:01, 11:13, and 11:10. As much as I hate the sand pit, I still need to face them in order to improve, and I do feel that I have improved in them comparing myself to 2015.