It had been a few weeks since I raced cyclocross, and I was happy to be back at it at the March Farm CycloMadness in beautiful Bethlehem, Connecticut. I was supposed to race last weekend in RI, but didn’t feel up to it. I had travel earlier this week (Sun-Wed) in Southern California and couldn’t afford to be tired for the trip. Today, this multi-purpose farm (including Christmas Trees), had a holiday vibe in so many ways, but one… it was 60 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of our race, which is unseasonably warm for the 12th day of December. It felt more like mid-October, which if it wasn’t such a bad sign that our climate is warming, would be awesome. Well, for a day, it was pretty awesome to race in shorts and hang out after the race in shirtsleeves.
The Masters Men had their usual CT Series of Cross early morning start. We took the back roads to Litchfield County, and departed Bolton at 6:00 A.M. to make the 8:30 A.M. race. When Shepard and I pre-rode the course, he said, “This is nothing like Fitchburg,” referring to the NECXBAR Finals two weeks ago on a dead flat and fast track. Today’s course was the opposite of that. My Garmin results show how hilly the course is. In 10 miles, we gained 700 feet and descended 700, which is a lot for a cross race, and I loved it. I had a good start and charged up the big climb on the first lap in the big ring, but every lap after that, I used the little ring.
The climb snaked its way up through the apple orchard. It was wise to stay off of the rotting apples at the end of the worn path. They were like ice. The top of the course had a great view of the valley below. The descent was fast and technical as you went down, leveled out, went down again, and then leveled, and then down to the bottom of the course. Those drops were steep with the last one a treacherous affair with no clean line. Whether you went left, right, or center, you were greeted with a muddy hollow filled with sharp rocks. Half of our field flatted. Some punctured on these rocks in the mud. Others in the corn maze that followed.
The corn stalks were sharp and there were some hidden rocks in this swampy section. I took it in the little ring. There were several hairpin turns in inside the maze that required concentration as you road over the matted down stalks. The fields were slow with the grass high and lush from the warm autumn the two have had. There was one set of barriers on a rare flat stretch. One of the steep uphills required a dismount after hairpin turn. I used my Mini Standard Horst Spikes and they worked great. I absolutely love these rough courses with lots of elevation change. So many of this year’s races have been on super-fast tracks. The good weather has kept the mud to a minimum. Only the SuperCross Cup in New York rivaled today’s course. I’m sure there were a lot of complaints. Not everyone likes the climbing and rough descents coupled with slow fields grass. I had a blast. I also do better when the race is longer. Today’s race was just shy of 51 minutes. By contrast, on a fast course, Fitchburg was 40 minutes and I was hoping for another lap.
After that good start, I settled in to fourth place. By the end of the first lap, I moved up to third and then on the second lap, got up to second. My teammate Wade Summers was in my group, but he punctured and was a ways from the pit. My other teammate, Pat Cunningham, who normally races 50+, but opted for 40+ and some different competition, moved up to join me. The two of us applied some pressure as we chased the leader, Joe Kubisek. Joe got a gap that we never closed. For six laps, Pat and I worked together. He was gracious and stuck with me. We traded pulls and alternated taking the front. With 1.5 laps to go after we crested the high point on the course, I detected some softness in my front tire. On the big descent as we took a fast right-hand turn, my front wheel started to wash out. I hung on but ended up in the edge of the woods. Pat was trailing me and came by. I told him that I flatted.
It came in the perfect spot because we were within 100 meters of the pit. I was able to ride the deflating tire all the way. I dropped my Seven Cycles Mudhoney and picked up my Seven Cycles Tsunami. I hated to leave my Mudhoney because it handles much better, has disc brakes, and is one of my favorite bikes, but the Tsunami isn’t a bad pit bike. The gap to Joe was around 20 seconds and I felt we had a chance to close it, but after I lost about 20 seconds with the bike change, the goal was to hold on to second and third. Pat was very gracious. He waited for me to catch up and we continued to work together during the last lap. He got the workout he wanted and he let me have the points for second place. It was the good teamwork that nailed down the two podium spots for Team Horst Sports. Joe rode a strong race to take the win.
It was a bittersweet day. After a tough work week, I rallied to make it to today’s race. With such an early start, I still had a chance to have a full Saturday. I stopped at the shop on the way back to do a few work related tasks. Then, Debbie, the kids and I went to the Connecticut Science Center for Scouts Robotics Day. After that, we even had time to pick out and cut down a Christmas Tree at a local farm in Andover.
It was great to go to the cross race with my son. He had a blast on the playground and tricycle track that surrounds it. The farm store was stocked with apples and pastries, thanks to race sponsor, Ovens of France. The sadness I feel is that cyclocross season is coming to an end. I originally planned to go to the USA National Cyclocross Championships in Asheville, North Carolina next month, but the race schedule, 16 hour drive, and our work volume at Horst Engineering is going to keep me closer to home. I’m fine with it, but I still would love to keep racing cross this season, especially if the weather is going to remain mild. The last race is going to be tomorrow, the CT Series finals at the Elm City Cross in New Haven. I can’t wait.