The Verge New England Cyclocross Series continued with two days of racing in Sterling, Massachusetts at the BayState Cyclocross. I was excited to race both days on this post-Thanksgiving weekend. Race 1 was on the last day of November and race 2 was on the first day of December.
We finally got a dose of real New England cross weather. After Friday’s heavy rain, the temperature dropped and it was frigid on Saturday morning when we arrived at the venue. The thermometer registered in the low-20’s Fahrenheit and the course was hard packed, but mostly dry. The challenge for the day was cold feet and cold hands. My hands warm by lap three, but my feet kept getting worse and by the end of the race, I could barely clip in to my pedals because they were blocks of ice.
Like I said, the course was dry, with one major exception. We had to ride the entire 400 yard cinder track at Chocksett Middle School. Despite the cold, it was super sunny (thankfully). The sun was beating down on that track and it turned it in to “cinder soup.” It was a nasty, inch thick puddle of cinder (aka dirt).
It soiled everyone’s gear and gears. I was covered head to toe in filth thanks to this 400 yard section of the 1.7 mile long course. My Seven Mudhoney Pro didn’t have any issues. I had a few mis-shifts, but I was able to use my derailleur the entire race, unlike several other riders. There were a few frosty (icy) spots on the course, but with the exception of a few run-ups, it was rideable. It was just cold. I had really bad legs after running the Manchester Road Race on Thursday. I knew that I was going to have problems with three races in four days, but I was committed.
I faded badly in the second half of the race and ended up in no-man’s land with no one to race against, so I backed off to avoid pushing too hard. I finished 25th of 40 in a joint 35+/Junior 15-19 field. I wanted to ride faster, but I couldn’t. Teammate Arthur Roti had a fantastic ride to finish 14th, his best Verge Series showing of the year.
I briefly dreaded returning to Sterling for today’s race. Yesterday, I had the kids with me and my cousin, Emily Livingston, along to help with childcare. We had fun hanging out. Sterling is a 90 minute drive from home, and we also went to Wolcott, Connecticut (another hour southwest) last night for Debbie’s 20th high school reunion. I drive enough during the week and I wasn’t too keen on going all the way back today. It also took me a while to clean my bikes when I got home yesterday. The mud was frozen on and I had to use hot water to melt it off. However, I was looking forward to taking another crack at the BayState course.
So, this morning, I got up and made the solo journey. Thankfully, I saw a few Facebook posts from friends who wear already in transit. The temperature had risen a bit overnight, but it as still hovering around the freezing mark. The big change was that freezing rain was falling. The Facebook posts indicated that the highways in Connecticut and Massachusetts were treacherous. I gave myself some extra time to drive. Before I got on Interstate 84, I received a call from my friend Randall Dutton. He warned me that the 290 connector in Worcester was closed on both sides as a result of a major wreck. He was tipped off about the roads from Tom Ricardi who was already on his way. The Worcester accident ended up involving 70 cars!
That intelligence and a handy feature on Google Maps (via my iPhone) that mapped a route without highways, saved the day. I drove some pretty back roads in central Massachusetts and got to Sterling with enough time to pre-ride the scary looking course. It was run mostly in reverse from yesterday and it had a few new turns. The big run-up was now a bumpy, steep, and slippery ride down. Yikes!
They had to remove a good portion of the track because it was a horribly rutted ice rink. We still rode sections of it, but it was tackier today. That wasn’t the case for the rest of the course, which was grassy, slippery, and icy. Again, my hands and feet were cold for most of the race. I didn’t warm up until two to go and my lap times show that I actually did a little better after getting to know the lines. Again, my bike was fantastic. I was fortunate to not damage it on my two falls and the one time that I side-swiped the fence along the baseball field. It was a sketchy course. I saw carnage everywhere. I wasn’t the only guy falling all over the place, and it was one of those courses that humbles you while convincing you that cross is the best cyclesport on Earth.
Also, I don’t know if it was because I was anaerobic, but I made several big mistakes in the first three laps. I fell hard twice and it cost me 30 seconds each time. Again, I couldn’t hold the wheels today. My legs were just empty. Mercifully, with two laps to go, I was caught by Matt Boobar. I was able to ride with him, which also helped my lap times. We had a few good battles on key sections of the course and I was able to get by him and pull away on a super-slippery off-camber section that went into a hairpin turn.
We had worked to hold off a fast closing Bryan Zieroff and the thanks to the last lap effort, I was almost able to get back up to 14-year-old Phillip Hempstead who had gapped me earlier in the race. Rather than be bummed out about the “kid” getting me today, I’m inspired. After we crossed the finish line, he pulled up and waited for me. We shook hands and he remarked that I was closing on him. I gave him a big pat on the helmet. He is a little dude riding with the faster/older juniors, and that reminded me of when I was 14 and all of 90 pounds. I told him that he rode a strong race.
My teammate, Arthur Roti was 19th today on a course that suited him. My place was one better today, 24th. The legs were just as heavy as yesterday, but the last lap battles and the crummy weather made for more fun. I’ll get some rest before the Verge Series final next weekend. I have my final “double” of the year with two days of racing at Goddard Memorial State Park in Warwick, Rhode Island.
In the meantime, a big thank you to the BayState Cross organizers, volunteers, and officials who braved some nasty New England weather to put on the races this weekend.