Sunday, October 19, 2008
As the team and I prepared for the race today, I began to compile a list of goals I was hoping to accomplish in the race today in Carpentersville. As part of the the Chicago Cyclocross Cup series, every race we do we hope to improve upon the last performance and gain points to move us up in the overall. After the race last week in Hawthorn Woods I was feeling a little down about my somewhat disappointing performance. I know a few of the other guys were as well. So for the race today I set a few goals that I hoped I could accomplish. The first being to get another good start position. This was primarily met, however I lined up behind someone I didn't know. Big mistake. At the start he flubbed his clip in and we were quickly passed. I guess I still can't scratch a good start off of the list.
The second goal was to start in my big ring and hopefully keep it there. I had read a few weeks back on Ben's blog how he was unable to start a UCI race in his big ring due to a mechanical issue. For some strange reason a light went off in my head, and I realized that I should probably take a cue from him and start in my big ring as well. As we shot off of the line I really liked the extra kick that the tall gear offered. Perhaps it was a bit too much kick as I rear ended the riders in front of me who decided to slow as we entered the first corner. C'mon guys, braking into the first corner already? As riders swarmed the first corner I had no choice but to throw some elbows and shoulder my way out of the melee. There went another few spots. Once we cleared the corner I stood up on the pedals and jammed up the first little rise with Tony in tow. Up and back down we went towards the corner and the first barrier. Tony had just passed me heading into it and I took his wheel. However, I'm not sure if he planned on running the entire up hill section after the barrier, or if he just never found a good spot to re-mount. This proved to be a bad idea, as he was being passed by myself and a few other riders as well.
As we entered onto the pavement, I was able to catch and pass Jim who apparently had a really good start. Back onto the grass and heading for the sand pit and goal number three was about to get checked off of the list. On Thursday we spent about an hour working on sand pit technique, and I was a bit surprised at how well I was picking it up. I also noticed that I felt better after powering through the deep sand than I did when I was running it. As I came around the last right hander heading for the sand I just drilled it and entered the gauntlet of screaming spectators. I floated across the sand and powered through and kinda surpirsed myself. At this point Tony was still behind me, and I figured he was chasing hard to catch me, but as he entered the sand his front wheel went out from under him and he went down. I was still holding the wheel of the guys in front of me and passing when I could. The file tread tires were hooking up well, even on the off-camber section and I was able to keep the pace in the big ring. So far so good. Not so good however for Jim as he bobbled the exit to the sand pit and exasperated and already tender ankle. His day was now done. Elvis was holding position but was getting stuck behind more timid riders.
After every dip or corner I was up out of the saddle sprinting hard for the next corner, hoping and praying the minimal tire tread was helping me on the fast sections and was able to hold as I pushed through the corners. Second time through the single barrier and I was about to remount when I swear someone ran over my foot. I hear a quick apology and realize that it was in fact Patrick. Sweet, no big deal, but now we can work together and start making up some time, and opening up some gaps behind us. I keep up my tenacious pace and when we hit the pavement I think I opened up a small gap on Patrick. Oops, I blew that plan pretty quick. This time through the sand I didn't carry enough speed as I adjusted my line going in looking for a smoother entry. I made it about halfway before dismounting, 1 for 2 on the sand so far.
The thrid lap was an eye opener for me as I let a rider pass me early on without even challenging him. WTF? I am supposed to be racing here right? I realized my mistake and quickly closed onto his wheel. One turn later I was pushing him from behind when he went down. Sweet! I got my spot back. I jumped on the pedals to open up a gap. Goal number 4 realized, attack, attack, attack!
Back onto the pavement. Attack. Back onto the grass. Attack. I hear him go down again. Yes! Out on the pavement I can see Patrick holding ground just a few riders back. Maybe we can finish top twenty together. I also catch sight of Tony who shouts encouragement. Surely he must be gaining ground. Tony is super strong and can just ride away from people. C'mon Tony! Keep working!
This time through approaching the sand I can hear my two year old son saying "go fast Daddy" so I had to clear the sand. My wife is shouting "more speed, more speed" so I have to obey. I shift up and sprint looking for the line on the left. I hit it clean, and power though, I probably smiled as I came out of the pit and could hear the crowds reaction. I also opened up a decent gap again.
I kinda like this goal system, it keeps my head in the game and me motivated. Last time into the sand and I clean it for the third time. Up and around the off-camber and I'm chasing the rider in front of me. Over the barriers and the hill and I am closing the gap. I hit it one more time and just miss catching him at the line. It felt like a top 15 finish, but my wife came by with the bad news of a probable top 25. Oh well it still felt great to meet most of the pre-race goals I set. Most of them at least. Last year I would have been happy for a top thirty in the B's race. So I guess it counts as progress. Patrick finished a few back at 30th, Tony at 36th and Elvis at 38th.
Next up was the B's race, and Jorge got a good position on the second row in the middle. Off the line Jorge was strong and slid into 8th spot, his best start yet. I yelled at him to stay on the wheels in front of him and accelerate out of every corner. Bob was holding a top twenty until an early fall, but he only lost two places. Joe and Sergio started in the back, but Sergio looked strong as he attcked up the first rise and took back some places.
First time through the sand and Jorge found a great line, a nice solid ride kept him with the leaders. Bob, Joe and Sergio ran it because of traffic and maintained their positions. Bob went down again somewhere on the second lap and lost some more places, but settled into a nice rythym. Jorge stayed on the gas through the first half of the lap, closing down gaps everytime. Jorge entered the sand again on the second lap ready to ride it, but came in a bit slow. Towards the end of the pit he began to try and grind it out, but toppled in the last few feet. The riders were right on him and then past him as he remounted and began his chase, this pushed him back to 15-20th. Still he was hanging with the leaders though.
Bob settled into a TT rythym and rode a strong second half. Sergio finally warmed up and began taking places as well, while Joe stayed consistant and maintained position. Jorge finally lost the wheel ahead of him, but had put a good gap on those behind him, or at least we thought. Through the sand the final time, he opted to run it and play it safe. But in doing so, they were able to close the gap a bit. Up over the off-camber and into the open grass and the gap came down more. Going over the barriers they were hot on his heels and pushing him into the finish. Going into the final corner Jorge took the line he wanted on the inside and swung wide as the three riders caught him. He stood up and jumped on the pedals and took the sprint from the group to finish a strong 19th. Bob finished about 34th and I am still waiting to hear about where Joe and Sergio finished officially.
A funny thing happened during the 1/2/3 race. Maybe not funny, but an interesting experience none the less. Ben and Julie showed up today as they planned. But things didn't quite go as planned for Ben, at least not the last 15 minutes or so. From the start Ben was off the front. The first few turns he had just a slight gap, but the first time through the sand pit it seemed as if he floated halfway across before even pedaling. A few more times around the course and it was just Ben and Scott from SRAM, holding a huge gap over the field. About halfway into the race and Scott was still holding Ben's wheel until they hit the sand. It sounded as if Ben shifted UP going into the sand and by the time he exited he had 20 feet on Scott. Are you kidding me?!!
Ben kept the pace up and started catching lapped riders. Scott was still trying to bridge, but the gap seemed insurmountable. That is until Ben took a tumble, which wouldn't have been huge had a lapped rider not been trying to suck his wheel. As he went down, the lapped rider rode over the rear wheel of Ben's bike, gashing the sidewall of his tire. Ben re-mounted but was having a hard time in the corners on the flat rear. Scott capitalized and passed him back.
At this point as I was watching this unfold I decided to take my pit bike over to the pit. As I am crossing the course Julie notices me with the bike and asks if it is 9 or 10sp. I tell her 9 and she asks if Ben could use my rear wheel. Sure, why not it would be sweet if he could take a bike change and take back the lead so I offer up the wheel. The change goes well, but the gap has grown in the meantime. Ben gets on his 'B' bike and stomps the pedals and never seems to let up. On the asphalt section he is down by about 10-13 seconds, up and over the off-camber and through the field and he has closed to within 5 seconds. Had they had one more lap he surely would have caught and gapped Scott with how he was riding.
Julie and I made introductions with another and waited for Ben to come around. He was extremely thankful for the wheel and the opportunity to challenge for the top spot. It was kinda neat that he might have won or lost the race because of my timing. It would have made for an even better story had he won, but he seemed content with his 2nd place. After the race we caught up and spoke quickly about our mutual love for Kelly Bikes and trading cards.
The great thing to me about 'cross is the low key atmosphere at all of the races. I'm sure when you step up the the UCI races things can change a bit, but from what I have read they seem pretty laid back as well. As I make the long trek upwards in categories, here's hoping that I can someday find out what a UCI race feels like.