After a busy workweek culminating with the raising of the Kents Hill School boys’ hockey D-II New England championship banner on Friday,
I drove south solo to hit up the final 2 races of the series. Racing this late in the season was a feat never before accomplished save for Nationals a few years back. I hadn’t raced this course before and was eager to check it out. Weather conditions were great for the drive down and were decent albeit chilly for the race. I made excellent time driving down and had the good fortune of spotting a Panera at the exit to fuel me for the race. The events were held at Goddard Memorial State Park, a multi-purpose space where one could ride a horse, golf, hike, or swim in the ocean. Today we were riding bikes. Sunday, people were XC skiing! The layout was a bit of a pain in terms of race headquarters and the start/finish line were a hike from parking. But it was well worth the trip. I met up with Burns who also arrived in plenty of time today and we did some course recon. It proved a fast one! There were extensive long straightaways on grass and pavement with wide sweeping turns leaving no advantage to a good bike handler. There were also 2 long sand ride/runs. These sections were my absolute undoing as I lost time on them every lap. Overall it was a fairly fun ride around, I just hoped I had the legs to stay in the race. My dad made it just after the start and was a big help telling me my position each lap. I got my first official call-up and was 3rd row of 8. Not too shabby! The start was quick and I had a great line in the turns and was easily in the top 15 when we hit the sand. That’s where I started getting passed! So, back to top-20 and at the tail end of a fast moving group of 5-8 that was being led by Burnsy. Unfortunately, I couldn’t muster the strength to grab the last wheel when we hit pavement and had no help of shelter from the wind. I would close on every turn, but the accelerations were always just a bit too much for me to duplicate. When we hit the sand climb on the second lap, I was actually wheezing which was a first for me. I dropped back again and started to re-evaluate my plan for the rest of the race. The rest of the 2nd lap was like the first, I just hung off the back of the group. With no immediate pressure from behind, I decided to settle into my tempo, recover, and see if I could turn the screws again late and reel some guys in. I rode the course fairly well, having only 1 bobble on a sand dismount. Sure enough, guys were starting to show signs of wear and were coming back to me. I made a few passes late and even began bridging up to Burns. However, he and a Spooky guy I was just behind had some extra fuel left in their tank and they were never a possibility to catch. I was happy to take the 20th spot given the course layout. The best news was that getting lapped was not a worry at all. That night I made the short drive (everything seems close coming from Maine!) to the Cape to spend the night at my mom’s where I refueled and suffered through a cold bath to speed leg recovery. After some chores for my mom on Sunday morning, I made the drive back to RI, this time in snow! Finally, true CX conditions fitting for the final race of the year! Fortunately, the bulk of the precipitation had already fallen and the skies were pretty bright leaving a couple of inches or so of the white stuff. Temps were also tolerable in the 30’s. I somewhat reluctantly kitted up and Burnsy and I hit the course to scope it out. It was dramatically different from the day before. Gone were the long road and grass open sections. In their place were twists and turns everywhere, I was psyched! The ground was also solid, no major mud or harsh ruts, just some white stuff around the edges. It was on! The race start pretty much mimicked the previous day’s. I had good position, got passed in the sand, and was desperately trying to cling to the tail end of a group. Today, I thought my bike handling would compensate for a lack of power and vault me higher up. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to overtake the strong riders ahead. Again, I reeled a couple guys late in the race to sneak into the top-20. A mid-race snow shower made for extra fun!I think I’ve learned the bottom 25 guys are pretty easy to pass, but the top-25 are tough and you fight tooth and nail for every spot from there on. Matt O’Keefe was also dead-on with his statement that your position after 2 laps is pretty much where you’re going to end up, give or take a spot or 2. In the end, I fully enjoyed CX for the first time and I’m going to miss it. Now it’s time to reintroduce myself to the family, put on some pounds, and work a full day!
Mission accomplished! I knew today would be my best opportunity to score a series top-25 result, earn points and money. Thanks in large part to a small field, I achieved my goal and then some, by actually sneaking into the top-20. Quantity may have been down, but quality wasn't as 4 of the 8 guys (1 DNF) I beat are all ranked ahead of me for the series. One as high as 14th. I now sit a pretty 46th! Nothing to brag about, but it's the first ranking I've ever had in the series, EVER!
This event has been on my schedule for the last few years since the fam and I are usually in the area for Thanksgiving. Since Drake had his toncils out and we all laid low at home for the week, I ended up just zipping down to the event solo. I have experienced the typical winter weather extremes here complete with snow on the ground and frigid temps. Today, however, delighted us to an early winter day with temps right around 40 with the sun peeking in and out of the clouds. Normally this would make for a pretty predictable day bike handling-wise. But, this has to be one of the more unique courses on the circuit held on the grounds of a middle school. The defining characterstics are its 3/4 lap around a dirt/stone dust track; a stiff uphill run; a fast descent right into a tall double log step up; and off-camber slopes with turns. The weather plays a role by keeping the shaded sections frozen forcing you to stay on your toes, and bike! The announcer could be heard describing it as a BMX track that the young riders could excel on and also a course you could recover on. I suppose you could recover in the technical turns, but man, I was so intent on using these spots to make time I felt like I was all-out, all the time. Arrived on-site plenty early and had a nice chat with Brad Perley and his folks and got signed in. But, I needed to get some food in and drove into town for a tuna sub. I got in a recon lap before the elite women's race. The big debate was gearing. There was a short steepy after the barriers that demanded power to the pedals in a hurry, plus a hill-side turn after a straight. If course conditions were predicatable, one could easily carry momentum through and execute the necessary maneuver. But, the semi-slick conditions had me focused more on playing it safe and riding it out over just hoping for the best so I decided to drop to the little ring to get over them. Other than that, the course would have been fun had it not been a RACE course! I got another quick ride in before my race with the late-arriving Burns (who happens to be one of my "nemesis" according to CrossResults.com!) and then lined up in the 3rd row. At the whistle there was plenty of room to find a lane, but the track was muddy and riders were throwing up crap in each other's faces and it was difficult to keep a straight line. I managed to have a "clean" start for the first time and was easily in the top-20 so I was content as we headed into the first set of turns. I chose a stealth line that sent me way wide, but at least on the bike as everyone else inside of me got bottlenecked and off the bike. Things got strung out pretty quickly and I found myself in a pack of 7 or so as we wound around the first lap. I was nailing the turns but the group would accelerate a bit more than I felt I could in the straights so I would rubber-band a bit. The tuna was letting me know it was still in my stomach! Long story short, my group slowly splintered and I ended up riding a Rutgers kid, a TargetTraining guy, and fellow Mainer Dan Vaillancourt. The first 2 ended up taking off and I was just off Dan's wheel, never able to close within 3 bike lengths. Then, as luck would have it, he slipped on a turn and I got by. I accelerated to take advantage of the miscue and he was dropped. I hoped I could reel in anyone ahead, but with 2 to go, they were on the gas as well. I had a comfortable gap and was in no danger of being lapped so I just rode intelligently on the final loop and finished satisfied. Next up is the final 2 races of the series and my season in RI. It's going to be bittersweet fo' sho'