Written by Michael Benson Friday, 13 October 2017 00:00
This would be my first weekend of racing Cyclocross since Nationals in January. I have been putting in the hours and doing the prerequisite interval work, so the power is there. I hadn’t been doing enough CX skills work. The area I struggle with the most is tight side hill camber 180 degree turns. More to follow on how this played out this weekend.
Riverside Park in Hartford Connecticut was up first. This is the exact same location as Nationals but with a different course layout. Some of the features remained the same like the use of the gazebo hill near the highway. Riders were forced to run up the big hill which is actually a dam that holds back a large reservoir. At the top of the dam, riders sprinted down the dam and then dipped down the reservoir side twice along the steep camber. As lines emerged, this could be railed at higher speeds. Once through the second camber, riders were back on the top of the dam only to drop in on the long side that led to the field. This camber set up like day one of nationals before they made the changes to shorten the course. There was a steep 180 turn on the side hill that left most riders scrambling to figure out how to make the turns without scrubbing speed or wiping out. Once through the side hill chicane, riders were forced to drop in down the last portion of the steep to a 90 degree left hand turn that headed into the woods. Many unskilled riders on the day ended up blowing right past this turn through the course tape into the woods. Once in the woods, riders sprinted around tight corners over two sets of barriers, ending up behind the boathouse. Once on the other side of the boat house, the course utilized a sand pit that was faster to run in my race.
My son Matt (fellow Bikeman team member) lined up for his race (juniors 13-15) with a huge field of 34 racers. In fact, every junior field was stacked. This is great news for the future of the sport. Matt raced hard but ended up with a bent derailleur hanger in lap one after a crash on the big side hill. Knees and elbows skinned, he trudged on to finish 24/34. It was great to watch his resilience as he learned to battle a tough course for 3 laps with only 2-3 gears. My race (Cat 3/4) was similar in size with 32 riders lining up. We ended up doing six laps. I gave up, too my chagrin, roughly 45 seconds to crashes on that side hill chicane. I finally figured it out the last two laps. I finished 10th on the day and was happy with the result.
Quad Cross in Maynard, Massachusetts is always a great venue. Unlike Hartford that uses a lot of open fields, Quad utilizes the confines of a large wooded area on the grounds of a local rod and gun club. The cool thing about this course is that, as a spectator, you can watch a good deal of the race from the center of the registration area which is a large pavilion. This course starts in the only grass area on the course and quickly ushers riders through a series of tight and tricky side cambers along a pond and around trees. The first lap is always madness through here. Frankly, if you don’t hit these in the first 10 riders, making the lead group is almost impossible. After a set of barriers, riders were ushered up a loose gravely hill into the woods to the first of two steep descents that, if cornered perfectly did not require braking (i.e. seconds gained on those that did). Once through a number of tight turns, riders were met with the first of two climbs. The first climb had you digging full gas in your easiest gears. The second was a long slog back up towards the upper side of the hill towards registration. On the first 4 of 6 laps, I gained time here, but I ended up getting passed here on the last two laps by a couple riders. Once out of the woods, riders were met with a number of chicanes, tight off camber 90 degree turns, sand and wood chips before heading back around the registration building towards the grass and around towards the start/finish line. This course had two small but tricky turns that had riders shoot down a small knob like hill and then take a 90 degree turn back up that hill. I crashed twice on these hills trying to ride them too fast. Since this weekend, I have been working tirelessly on these types of turns. Today wasn’t my day finishing 25/37 in the 2/3/4/ Masters 40+ field. Two huge complaints about this race: 1) they only had 2 toilets for 600+ riders. This is unacceptable IMO. 2) They did not stage our race by cx results points like they said they would. Everyone raced for a spot on the start line leaving me 4 rows back. I’m sure they will sort these things out next year.
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