Written by Mike Benson Thursday, 03 January 2019 00:00
Ice Weasels Cometh would be the last race of the year for the Benson family. My 13-year-old son Matt would be racing the U15 race and I decided to race the Killer B’s. Much of my choice on what race I would enter was on timing (i.e. not waiting around too long after pre-laps with Matt, etc). Matt’s race was at 9:15 and mine at 10:00 (more on that late later). When we arrived at the venue (former mental hospital in Medfield, Massachusetts) it was 19 degrees. I think we got there around 7:15 with enough time for 1-2 laps on the course before the huge category 4/5 field started. Wait! Yes, you heard that right! This cyclocross race was at a former mental hospital. In fact, this location has been the venue of 4 major movies, including the latest X-Men. The scene of the race was a campus of red bricked abandoned buildings. The course zigged and zagged through each building, rows of bushes, driveway curbs, side-hill cambers, punchy hills, and turns around trees. It was bumpy to start, but once 100’s of racers rolled over it, it was really fun and flowy. Did I mention the tent area? On each lap, we passed two sets of barriers (one had a narrow bridge you could ride over if you had skills) through the sea of team tents and heckling fans. This created a great environment to view the race and to provide adequate heckling zones.
Back to when we arrived: After a quick transition from sweatpants to race appropriate clothing, we were off to the course to see what was in store for us. Matt yells to me: “Dad! My shifting isn’t working anymore!” I knew right at this point that the water from our previous weekend at NBX was still inside derailleur cable housing and FROZEN!! We rode the first lap and headed to the car. I proceeded to pull apart the housing from the rear derailleur, blow out the water and add some lubricant. It was better but not 100%, so I put it in the sun and voila, after 15 minutes, he was shifting smoothly. I jumped on his Salsa Chilli Con Crosso which was also frozen/sticky and rode that around for about 5 minutes shifting back and forth to free things ups. After that, I dropped it in the pit for him and headed back to the car. While he was ready to start his race, I was getting my skin suit on, pinning my number, and telling my wife to get to the start line (She is the best!). I hopped on my Kona Super Jake and sprinted out of the parking lot.
At 9:14 I arrived at the start line and urged Matt to stay focused and push hard today. The whistle blew and he was off. Matt was trying hard to stay with the race leader, but he was stronger after many more races this season. After the second lap, Matt had a good lead on his third-place opponent. Matt hadn’t raced in a while. He had just completed a 6-year undefeated football career in his town with 5 State titles and 3 trips to Regional finals. It has been tough to get him racing experience and time on the bike this year. Having said this, he came through the finish line a happy boy as the second-place finisher. I gave him a hug and asked him to put my Kona Major Jake in the pit for me so that I could do a hot lap before my race to test the speed on some of the corners and cambers. Halfway through my lap I crashed through the course tape at the tricky chicane. Luckily nothing was broken on my bike. I kept pushing through my lap, said hello to a couple friends, and looked for better lines.
By now, my fingers were frozen. My plan was to finish the lap, head to the car, and quickly warm up and take a swig of water. When I got to the end of the lap, everyone was lining up. My wife is yelling ”where they hell have you been”. I asked the official how long it was to the start and she said 2 minutes. I thought my race was at 10:15 (NOT 10:00!). Luckily, I was able to slip right in to my first row call up and start preparing for the whistle. The good news was that I was warmed up and ready to go. At the whistle we sprinted up the hill towards the first few turns. I was 5th or 6th wheel after the first half lap. At this point I could tell I had more to give and started moving up to the leader, who had gapped the field by 8 seconds. Before I knew it, I was finishing the first lap on his wheel. We quickly had a 15 second gap after the first lap and a half and that’s when I made my first mistake. Coming around a corner at speed, I lost my front wheel on some greasy mud that had thawed on the frozen ground. I went down hard and found myself laying sideways on the hard ground still clipped into my pedals. I quickly ejected and jumped back on my bike. The leader (Mike Morse – Colonial Bikes) was now 10 seconds ahead and I needed to get focused. As I pushed ahead, I was more tentative than ever on the turns and was losing time on Mike and letting the third-place racer catch back on. I was running my Dugast Pipisquallo tubulars at around 22 PSI. They were great on the previous laps but with the sun warming the muddy crust on the hard ground, I wish I had grabbed my Baby Limus tubulars which were mounted on my other Carver C38 wheelset. When the third-place racer caught me, we battled for a while, but I ended up losing his wheel. I stayed within 5-10 seconds for the rest of the race but never did catch back on. On the last lap, the 4th place racer caught me on the run-up and passed me. I remounted and sprinted past him. I never looked back and hit the gas. At the last barriers, I could sense him on my wheel, but I just kept pushing. I sprinted uphill to take third just ahead of my 4th place nemesis. In a 95-racer field, I was happy with my result and the lessons learned. Matt and I collected our prizes (mugs, beers, and socks) and headed to fire pits that were centrally located to the madness that is Ice Weasels. Colin Reuter and his team did a great job of bringing racers over curbs that needed to be bunny hopped, barriers, jumps, and fast turns right in front of the spectators. Ice Weasels is such a great cap on the CX season every year. I encourage all to partake in the future. Next year will be its 12th year. The race sells out on the opening day every year so don’t get caught sleeping on registration day.
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