Written by Mike Benson Thursday, 20 October 2016 00:00
There aren’t many events that draw more attention on the east coast than the cyclocross race at Stage Fort Park in Gloucester, MA. This is one of the only races you have to set your alarm clock to register for on BikeReg or you won’t get a number on race day. The fields fill up that fast. There are a number of reasons why this race draws so much attention. The first being the venue. You won’t find a more picturesque race course in my opinion. Not only do you have a race situated in a small fishing town on the coast of Massachusetts, but you also have a landscape that is breathtaking. The course is right on the ocean so that backdrop is phenomenal. Being on the ocean, you would think that the course would be flat but it’s not. There are many punchy hills to make your heart soar. One of the features at the park is a gigantic rock that you can climb up and watch much of the race from. The second thing I love about coming to this race is the atmosphere. There are rowdy crowds all day leading up to the pro races at the end of the day. The location also avails for many team tents and let’s not forget the most important; the beer garden! Ipswich Brewing Company always has many great craft brews during race day. The third thing that separates this location is that it offers a challenging mix of terrain. Renowned Race course designer Tom Stevens never lets us down by offering two totally different tracks on Saturday and Sunday. He always takes advantage of every opportunity to introduce racers to run-ups, barriers, stairs, sand, off-cambers, and many twists and turns that challenge a racers ability to tackle speed and handling in every corner.
I would be racing the Category 4/5 35+ race at 9:15 which was the second race of the day. I was also pre-reg’d for the same race on Sunday but my schedule had changed so my goal was to see if I could also race at 11:30 in the Cat 1/2/3/4 35+ race. My son and I rolled in to the parking lot at 6:45 that morning to find that we had a good parking spot near the start line in the lower lot. As always, the registration is set up early and I was able to shoot right over there to get my number. They also moved my registration from Sunday to today, with no extra cost, so that I could race at 11:30. Good news... maybe! Doubling up is an easy task.
After a solid three laps on the course, my body was warm, I felt like I had a good handle on the terrain, and now I just needed to wait for the first race to finish and get to the start line. My cross results points afforded me a front row call up today. As I looked down the line, I knew the competition was strong. When the whistle blew, I was off up the hill pushing hard. When we crested the hill, I found myself out front winning the holeshot. I ended up leading the group for the first 5-6 minutes pushing a faster pace than I was used to. As we headed up a hill to a super high set of barriers that was set at the top of the hill, two riders passed me. As we headed towards the back of the course, 3 more passed me. Darn!! I was falling off and started to second guess my pacing. In cyclocross, there is a point when you are suffering and your mind tells you to slow up a bit. This is the point that defines the winners and losers. Today was not my day. After 2 laps I had fallen back to 10th but started to settle in. There were 3 or 4 tough turns that I just wasn’t nailing and after finishing the race I realized that the tricky turns is where I was losing ground on each lap. This is something I need to really work on. One of these turns was a tricky off-camber behind the baseball field. I ended up crashing pretty hard in lap three as I entered the turn too fast and washed my front wheel out on the dewy grass. Two more spots lost there. Luckily I was able to catch back on pretty quickly as we raced back up the pavement for the final lap. I found myself glued to the wheels of two 454 Velo guys. My goal was to sit in and try to pass them when the time was right. Of course, when I picked my spot on the last sandy turn before the final sprint, I washed my front tire out again and missed my chance to sprint for the finish. I finished 13/125 which was better than last year’s 35th place on both days so I am improving but my goal was a top 5. I am still struggling from a chest cold of sorts and ended up coughing for about 10 solid minutes at the end of my race. This led me to start second guessing my next race.
After a recovery shake and some time to recover, my mindset for the next race was just to practice my turns and get a good training ride in. I found myself placed around 9th row and ended up chatting with someone who I raced a few times earlier in the year who just upgraded to CAT3. When the whistle blew I wasn’t even ready but being back far enough I was able to recover pretty quickly. The first couple laps of a second race usually go pretty well because you know the course and your legs are pretty open. Around lap 3 and 4 I started to hurt pretty hard and gave up a bunch of spots pretty quickly. As always, once I recovered from the hard efforts I settled in again and starting gaining spots back. Surprisingly, I was moving back up quicker than expected and ended up passing about 15 racers. My turns were much better, but I did end up crashing again on a gravely right hand turn that I came into way to hot. As we went around the final turns in the lower portion, near the volley ball courts, I could hear the bell lap ringing and thought that this was the final lap. I sprinted up the pavement and passed two more guys, heard my wife yelling go-go-go, and thought the race was over. I came around the main house and rode off the course through course crossing, hit end on my computer and rode over to my wife. I then saw that all of the people I just worked so hard to pass came flying by and were still racing. Crap!!!! I shot back onto the course and it was time to test my resilience again. I kept telling myself, keep together and race smart. I caught a few more of the guys I passed earlier and finished 81/120. Not my best result but this race was incredible for training. It taught me so many things. The most important is to pay attention to the lap cards and not to lose focus. Keep racing and never give up! Time for a recovery week.
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