Written by Paul Wojciak Wednesday, 05 October 2016 00:00
2016 ushered in some major changes to the New England cyclocross scene. The bookends to "Holy Week" of CX, Gloucester and Providence were changing. The former was moving to a new weekend and staying at the same venue while Providence was switching to a new venue and keeping the same weekend. Providence was renamed to the CrossFest a couple years ago with title sponsorship by KMC. With the festival outgrowing Roger Williams park, the race was relocated to Thompson Speedway in North East Connecticut where land and venue charges were no longer an issue. What's more, the CX race course, vendor expo, and race support would be comfortably integrated among the vast motor speedway property.
Thus, the 2016 KMC crossfest invited racers to sample the best of what the new venue could offer. Mother nature had her say, depositing a generous helping of rainfall prior to the weekend which made the already interesting course that much more challenging. Off camber sections, run ups (and downs), mud bogs all joined the paved, grassy, and sandy surfaces asking racers to rise to the challenge. Saturday dawned cool and misty with the mud in full force. The off camber dirt was barely rideable in warm up and proved equally tricky during the race. The laps were on the longish side of about 2.5 miles but they went by pretty fast (but isn't that always the case in CX?). One cool thing was that I actually talked to and got to race with some fellow Bikeman.com team mates. That was a first this season.
In the Masters 50+ field, I had a third row start position. I lined up on the left planning a wide line through the first high speed turn. The whistle blew and we were hell bent for leather. I navigated around the pinch zone on the right as planned. We were tight and jostling along and I was feeling fine with a solid position in top 20 when the first impactful event occurred. Right in front of me on the pavement a racer went down. Fearing my own crash, I didn't risk pulling my bike around, instead riding right up onto the guy's frame. The train went roaring by me and I jumped back on. We entered the first off camber and I ran past a some guys. We entered the second off camber with a very tricky right hand, downhill turn which I ran all of passing some more guys. Mud, turns, intensity, one lap down.
Claw For Every Inch Settling into laps two and three, I was dialing in the lines, running the whole off camber but paying the price in fatigue. I had regained a number of spots and had plenty of racers to compete with around me. Two laps to go flashed as I roared through the start finish. I see another rider just ahead, let's try to catch his wheel... For some reason, that I can't readily explain, I decided to remount my bike at the top of the tricky right hand, downhill turn in the second off camber section. Unfortunately, my brakes were not working, a fact that I didn't piece together until after the race. So how did the remount work out you ask? Spectacular, over the bars, frequent flyer miles, sticking the landing, on my head, into the barrier fence. Dang! I'm thinking, "What hit me?" (I don't hear any heckling. Huh, the folks looking over at me have concern on their faces. It must have been worth their price of admission.) OK, collect myself and my bike and run the rest of the section. Remount safely at the bottom, rolling again, but at a decidedly poorer placement. Oh well, finish strong on lap five. I grabbed a couple places back, rolling into 26th on the day. That was a hoot.
Post race inspection reveals a broken rear spoke and rear brakes that merely make noise without actually slowing anything down. Hmm, maybe I did hear something that sounded like a pop out of the back tire on lap 3? Anyway, doesn't matter, swap in my spare wheel, make a couple tweaks, and my steed is ready for Sunday. Head, helmet, and heart are all in working order. Fortune smiles indeed.
The overnight into Sunday brought no more rain and the course firmed up nicely, mostly. We lined up in the grid and I'm in row two today. Nice when folks with better crossresults don't come back for a second helping. Here we go. Whistle blows and we're pell-mell into the first turn. I take the wide line again and work some traffic. Crash up ahead but I'm around it easily gaining some spots. We're running and riding the off camber in reverse today and I handle it better. There's a long straight on pavement where I catch some riders. They've straightened out a lot of paved turns making that section safer. I'm on some following some strong wheels as we complete the first lap.
Lap two flies by with plenty of intensity and another position or two gained. I'm yo-yo'ing with a couple racers and it's making us push harder. Almost no running today. Just one climb, a short staircase and the barriers. End of lap two and we get "four to go" . Ok, let's do some pacing now, attacking tactically. Lap three comes and goes, then lap four. Should be two left, but wait?! Lap counter says "one to go" and they're ringing the bell. Other riders are confused as me. Well, nothing for it but to put the hammer down. I pull out of line and pass a couple guys leading them into the first turn. Free and clear ahead of me so I push the pace avoiding mistakes. I see some wheels up ahead. I catch them on the paved straight and tuck in. Hang tight to them for a breather then attack em. Over the barriers near the end with one more wheel ahead I might be able to catch. Whoa, lap rider doesn't yield space and I lose a bit of momentum but there's that wheel right there. Up out of the saddle and put the spurs to it down the straight through the finish line. Just missed getting that rider and finished 11th on the day. Sweet! Great race today. Great weekend overall.
The new venue at Thompson Motor Speedway is a keeper. The course is great, facilities are good, parking plentiful, and competition superb. Only downside is there's nothing else around and that includes lodging. However, there are plenty of options within 30 minutes or you can stay a little further away with an even broader selection. That works a long as you have a noon start like I did. So are you going to do KMC CrossFest next year? If you do, I'll see you there. Be sure to say hello.
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