Friday, September 30, 2011

The CXers Are Coming, The CXers Are Coming!

And the British came too!
(this photo by Russ Campbell; podium photo by Michael Foley)

Wednesday night we ventured to the Lancaster Fairgrounds to kick off what has been dubbed the "Holy Week of Cyclocross" here in New England. The Midnight Ride of Cyclocross would be the first in a series of 6 races over an 11 day period - Gloucester, Night Weasels and Providence would round out the "Holy Week".

This race marked the second in the Zanconato Single Speed series as well, so Mike and I decided those were the races we would do. I really wanted no part of lining up with the likes of Helen Wyman (British National CX champ), Gabriella Day, Mo Bruno-Roy and other REALLY fast women. Instead, I took the line with 49 of my SS friends (sadly, there were only 3 of us women) to blast away for 45 minutes with only one gear.

Prior to the race start there was much discussion amongst competitors about gearing choices. I laughed when Cort C. asked what gear I was running. Those of you who know me know that I don't pay ANY attention to those details - I simply ride what Mike puts on my bike. Cort laughed at that, and then agreed with me that zip-ties on a geared bike to limit to a SS was actually cheating. The people doing that had the opportunity to find the right gear for the course on the pre-ride, and then quickly zip tie their shifters into their selected gear. It's much harder to change out cogs than it is to zip tie a shifter - just sayin'.

I really liked that the promoters of this race staged the women SS racers amongst the men. I had reservations about this at first, but it turned out to be a big benefit as I had people with whom to race the entire time. Because of my points and being pre-reg'd for the race, I managed to be in about the 6th row starting out, allowing me a good opportunity to move up on the start whistle, and then to quickly get passed by some stronger men who had the misfortune of being staged behind me ;). The first twists and turns on lap one were a cluster - being so far back, there was a lot of braking, jostling and wistfully watching the front of the race maneuver seamlessly about 3-4 turns ahead of us.

I settled in, closely watching the other women competitors through the twists and turns. When I came through and saw 3 laps to go, I quite literally told myself that meant that I only had two - I was FULLY expecting to be lapped by the front runners of the men's race, as I had been at Quad. By that lap, I was attached to teammate Mark L. and a "Dr. Gonzo" racer (that's what was printed on his butt, which is all I saw). They rode smoothly, gapping me off in some corners and on the uphills, but I chased and could catch back on on the flats and power sections.

Going into the penultimate lap, I figured this was my last go round, but I was still with Mark and Dr. Gonzo. I had paid attention in the previous lap, and was able now to stay with them in the corners, pedaling through instead of coasting and sprinting. And then they slowed down. It became obvious that Dr. Gonzo was drafting to conserve energy, and I couldn't get around both of the riders. When Dr. Gonzo finally passed Mark just before the barriers, I shouted at him to hop on Gonzo's wheel and stick to it. That got me the evil glare from Dr. Gonzo, and he stepped on the gas to open an insurmountable gap.

Mark cramped at that point, and I left him to chase the racers ahead. Suddenly, I could see the race leaders on the course behind, and I literally talked myself through the latter part of the lap - spectators on the course probably wondered who the crazy lady was as "Don't get lapped" "Don't let Curtis lap you" "C'mon Cathy, go, go, go" came out of my mouth (in pants) as I desperately tried to NOT get lapped by Curtis, or any of the other leaders.

Curtis was coming, I stepped on the gas. I needed to ride the technical hill section cleanly to stay ahead. As I sprinted towards the start/finish, I checked under my arm to see where Curtis was, and pumped my fist when I realized that I really was going to finish on the lead lap! Wahoo!

I just needed to ride one more lap, and to ride it clean. I did get passed by the last racer on the course who wasn't lapped, shouted at the Elite men who were warming up that I WAS still racing, and finished off the race ecstatic - I had won the women's SS race, and I DID NOT GET LAPPED by Curtis! Success!

It hurt. It was hard. But it was oh so much fun. I don't think I've had that much fun racing my bike in a long time! So excited that this series is in place. Of course, now there is a giant sucking sound as I look at results and realize that I might need to do more of these races than originally planned to defend my position - maybe that was the intent ;).

Monday, September 12, 2011

Time for Some 'Cross Racing!

I'll admit that my excitement for racing this year has been pretty hard to muster. There have been only a handful of road races, and a few more MTB races - down a significant number from previous years. I have been riding, but the racing just wasn't doing it for me.

But, it's "fall", and that means 'cross. And I am finally excited again about the prospect of getting out and racing! I love this time of year, and I love the feeling of a just finished cross race - knowing that I have gone out, and laid it all on the line for 40 minutes.

Two weeks ago, Mike and I headed out to Monson for our season opener in advance of the pending hurricane. The forecast was for overcast skies and humid temps, but no rain until late in the afternoon. On pre-riding the course I was VERY excited about the changes from the previous year - no more "I'm-gonna-poop-my-pants" downhill followed directly by the "I'm -going-to-have-a-heart-attack" climb. I liked the changes in general, though the laps were going to be on the short side.

Mike's race was first, and he had a demon or two to tame on this course over last year ;). He raced really well, quickly catching the 1/2/3 field that started 10 seconds ahead of him, and getting through most of them. I'm never sure which one of us is more excited about him having a good finish, but his reaction on crossing the line showed that he was pretty excited about his win - as was I.

I went off after his race to get ready, and Mike took the juniors out on the course for a preview. We were all racing at the same time, which was going to be - um - interesting. As we stood ready to race, the beginnings of the rain started, and it POURED. So much for the rain holding off until AFTER our race! The rain made the course conditions much more challenging - what had been dry for Mike's races was now mud-riddled and sloggy for us. The poor conditions, in addition to witnessing a junior racer (thankfully, not one of ours) introduce his face to a chain link fence made me race tentatively - not a good approach, and something I needed to work on. I wasn't entirely happy with my performance, but I looked at the race as an opener for the season.

Mike and I pre-reg'd last week for the upcoming Quadcross race, and I started obsessing. I checked start lists, and I checked them again. I looked at the race predictor. Then I started "freaking out" (in my friend Vicki's words) about the race. In fact, Vicki and I went back and forth a bit, and it was through those interactions that I realized I was being dumb. So much of racing is mental, and I needed to give myself a swift kick in the back end to realize that I have the engine - I needed to WANT it. So, I changed my attitude - I wanted to race. I was going to go hard. I was going to be aggressive. I WASN'T going to give in to self-doubt and self-talk. This is MY season!

So, after remembering how to pack the car for two people racing a day of 'cross, we headed off to Quadcross. In year's past, this has been held in Bedford - entirely convenient for us to roll out of bed and over to the venue! Unfortunately, a new venue had to be used this year and we had to drive all the way to *gasp* Maynard :). The venue was spectacular, and I have to say, the course was A LOT of fun.

The combined Women's 1/2/3, 3/4 and 3/4 Master's 40+ fields had 85 racers! That is A LOT of women out enjoying one of the most fun cycling disciplines you can find. It was also fun to see so many NEBC women on the line (11 in total). Because the Master's women were lined up BEHIND the 3/4 women, and starting at the same time, a good start was going to be essential. Unfortunately, I found myself suddenly behind a woman on an MTB who needed to borrow a t-shirt to wear under her sleeveless jersey! YIKES! That aside, I tore up the left side as hard as I could on the start, and made good headway through the field ahead. Then it was a matter of being smart and getting through as much traffic as possible, as quickly as possible.

It was confusing to know just who from my field was ahead of me - Andrea from CCB passed, as did Michele and a racer I didn't know. I figured that meant that I was sitting in about 4th place. I continued to push hard through the whole race, and at the finish, expected that I had ended up about 6th or so (ironically, where said I would be). Turned out I missed the Cycle Lodge women having a better start than I did! I ended up 7th, but ahead of some fast women I typically don't (or am lucky to) beat. I was really happy with the way I raced.

Instead of changing, having some food (and a beer), and taking in the aura of a 'cross race, I spent the next couple of hours on my feet - first watching our juniors experience the wonderful world of pain that is cyclocross, and then watching Mike's oh-so-competitive Master's 1/2/3 35+ race. Mike had a terrific race, finishing in 5th place! Of course in that time, there was also some socializing and running back and forth. I'm pretty sure that all of that was good prep for the coming SS race later in the afternoon ...

Yes - for some reason we decided that racing a SECOND time, on the SS bikes would be a good idea. There is a real SS series happening this year (though I think zip tied shifters are cheating) - 6 races with a raffle for a custom Zanconato frame at the end of the season. What's not to love about racing SS 'cross bikes?

Unfortunately, the standing, running, lack of eating and hydration and the almost 4 hours between races was enough to put me in a bad place - massive dehydration headache and legs that were shouting "ARE YOU CRAZY?" on my pre-ride lap. Of course, I shouted back "STFU legs!" and went out to race anyway. A good number of men lined up, but only 3 women, so the officials set us off about 15 seconds behind them. Like my previous race, I went out hard, trying to distance myself from the other two women. The defining moment came on the second uphill on the course - Cait rode it, and I had to run. Poo. I managed to stick with her for awhile, but then my legs stopped listening when I told them to STFU, and they started screaming back. I did finally manage to ride that uphill (screw you, legs!) for the final three laps, but it was too late - couldn't catch Cait.

I did get lapped by a bunch of the men, including Mike. I was surprised not to see him near the front of the race, but when he went by, he let me know that his chain kept popping off. He needs to fire his mechanic :). After arriving at the race venue at 8:30 in the morning, racing two races, catching up with the 'cross family, downing one beer at the end of the day, and collecting some sweet coffee schwag for the SS race, it was time to finally head home - after 5 pm! It was a long day, but I am SO PUMPED now for the rest of the season.