2017 Cheshire Cross

Yesterday was the Cheshire Cross, which has become a favorite race. The course is very challenging with a tricky woods section that includes lots of singletrack, sharp rocks, and roots. There is also a sizable hill, called Heckle Hill, which I like.

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I had a good race and a fun day with the family, but still left the event frustrated because of how the Junior 9-12 race went. I’ll start with the frustrating part of the day. The Juniors started at 10:00 A.M. and the race was advertised (on BikeReg) as 20 minutes, but there was a note that said, “All riders will finish in 20 minutes or less.” In my mind, that is a contradiction. The way cyclocross should work, is that the lead rider should finish in the targeted time for the field. The riders that follow take longer.

So, it’s typical for a Masters 40+ race to be advertised as 45 minutes. After two full laps, the officials calculate the average lap time and then estimate how many laps there are to go. The next time around, you are given a lap card countdown. Today, I finished in just under 50 minutes, and I was a few minutes behind the winner. We completed seven laps. It’s important to note that the start was about a 1/4 mile behind the finish line, so the first lap was bound to be longer.

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Then, prior to the start of the Junior’s race, when the head official was giving instructions, he said that anyone finishing the first lap in more than 10 minutes would be pulled. I gather that he was merely reiterating what the promoter had decided, and what had been posted on the Internet. He added that they would be scored according to their place and that their points would count towards the series. I heard this, but I didn’t think much about it at the time. With all of the noise and chaos of getting our kids ready to go, it never dawned on me that this would affect EVERY one of the riders on the Team Horst Junior Squad. Boden, Shepard, and Lars have all been finishing in the top 15 of CT Series of Cross races, so I just assumed they would make it two laps. Owen and Ethan are the youngest boys on the team, and they have been lapped by older riders on short courses, so I knew that this rule might impact them.

There were more than 35 girls and boys on the start line, which is awesome. The officials didn’t do a good job lining them up and there was a bit of a crush (overlapped wheels), which resulted in a start line crash. Still, most of the riders got off the line cleanly and it was a fast beginning to what turned out to be a short race. We watched the boys on several parts of the course before we rushed to the finish area to cheer them at the start of their second lap. Boden was somewhere around 9th place when he came through and the official told him to stop. He missed the 10 minute cut-off by 20 seconds or so. I wasn’t paying attention to the time, and there was no clock, so this caught me by surprise. After Boden finished and after I realized what was happening, I yelled to Shep to sprint because he was with two other riders, but I didn’t get the word to him in time and their positions didn’t change in the final 50 feet. Shepard was about 15 seconds behind Boden and ended up a few places back. He was also told to stop, which brought a mix of anger and tears, before he calmed down.

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All of the boys coming through the finish at around this time were furious. I don’t think they heard the announcement at the start, and even if they did, they didn’t understand. Every other race this season has been two or three laps and 20-30 minutes, which gives them time to ride and improve their cyclocross skills. I shared my frustration with the official, arguing a bit, but eventually I walked away. I didn’t want to be “that parent” yapping at the referee, and like the official said, he was just following the promoter’s instructions. It just made no sense to let eight riders through and then stop 30 other riders after one lap of this course.

10 minutes was an arbitrary number to choose and shouldn’t be considered “half of the race.” The first lap is always longer with the finish line 1/4 mile back, congestion, and the crash. Only 8 riders were allowed to continue for a second lap. That’s a joke, which gave riders in the 9th through 15th spots no chance of making up time on a faster second lap. Some parents drove two hours to the race and they were more mad than I was. These kids are the future of our sport and we need to let them ride more than 10 minutes. Every kid should have gotten to do two laps, regardless of their speed and regardless of what the BikeReg page said. I bet most of those parents didn’t even see the “fine print.”

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Despite the announcement at the start, most riders had no idea they would be pulled after one lap. They don’t wear watches or even pay attention to their pace. And if they did, they don’t know how to pace themselves. That’s why they are Cub Juniors! They are LEARNING how to do cyclocross and you can’t learn in 10 minutes. The race organizers, who are good volunteers and deserve support for a grassroots race, had so many other options. The Men’s 4/5 race ran long. The Masters races ran long. Later in the day, there were gaps between the races. It seemed like all the morning events were crammed together so tightly. I just don’t understand their position on this Junior 9-12 field. To be fair, a few other races have advertised one lap races and the parents have successfully petitioned to get at least two laps. Most of them also didn’t have any time to pre-ride the course because the 4/5 race ran so long. That meant that they were seeing the course for the first time on their first and only lap, which is another reason why first laps are often always slower than the remaining laps. One other option that race organizers have is to shorten the lap for the youngest Junior riders. It would have been easy to chop off a section or two of the course without much effort. A shorter lap would have been everyone a chance to at least do it twice. As it turns out, some of the adult riders in later races were riding NO faster than the Juniors who got pulled in the 10-12 minute mark.

I’m sure another important factor for parents is the cost of doing this sport. Between the gear, the travel, and the entry fees, it’s a big investment. One lap races are a very low return on investment. Four Livingston Family members raced today, so we were traveling to Cheshire anyway, but if you drove all that way just for just one race, I totally understand why you felt gypped. I think I said enough about this. It was frustrating for sure, and you can count on me and other parents to make sure that at the start of tomorrow’s Newtown Cyclocross, that we are clear about the rules. Tomorrow, I hope, and expect the kids get to ride at least two laps.

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Anyway, the rest of the day went better. My race, the Masters 40+ started a minute in front of the Masters 50+ and a few minutes in front of the Masters 60+. That made for a crowded course, but these are the same guys I race with every weekend, and we know how to ride with each other. The congestion is just part of cyclocross. We were catching some of the 60+ riders on the second lap. Knowing how to pass cleanly is an important skill and all of them were courteous. I did my best to call out what side I was going to pass on.

Within my race, there were some fun battles. It was unfortunate (for him) that the leader, David Hildebrand, punctured a little past the halfway point. That moved me up a spot. Then, Travis Burleson, who was one group in front of me, crashed on a technical descent. I came upon him just after he went down in the woods. He was fussing with his chain, trying to get it back on. I picked up another spot at his expense. That left four guys in front of my group, which included Stan Lezon, Laurence Merling, Joe Rodrigues, and at least one other rider who I didn’t know.

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I thought I was the strongest guy in the group, but didn’t want to wait for a sprint, so I didn’t show my cards until two to go. I pushed the pace in the first five laps, but the gap to the group in front of us was too big to get across without being chased by the group I was in. Late in the race, it was best for me to race smartly and at least finish in front of the guys I was with. I moved to the front after the last big descent on the penultimate lap and then attacked right after the barriers as we headed towards the upper field. I hammered through those hairpin turns, extending my gap. I held my gap, which was 5-10 seconds, through the start finish and into the woods. I rode the final climb of Heckle Hill cleanly, and kept my gap all the way to the finish. Each lap was 1.4 miles long.

The last time up Heckle Hill, I was within striking distance of third (Keith Gauvin) and fourth (Joe Kubisek) place. I got close, but not close enough. They held me off and I ended up fifth. The officials had a hard time with the results, which was another frustration. They were counting by hand, and with the mixed fields and all of the lapped riders, it was very difficult. I hate to say it, but for a $35 race, you really need to have some sort of timing and scoring system. A camera system costs money, but is necessary. Even chip timing would have worked today. Using our own GPS’s and Strava would at least capture the correct order and eliminate the risk of counting lapped riders. Every 5K road race with comparable registration fees, has chip timing. The results are usually flawless and they are published immediately. The mess that the officials were dealing with was reminiscent of the road bike races I did back in the early 1990’s where after the finish, there was always a scrum with every rider lobbying for his position. In 2017, every cyclocross race deserves to have good timing and scoring. Technology helps.

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Dahlia did the kids race, which was fun to watch. She had a good ride and got to stand on the podium. I’m looking forward to 2019, when she will be ready to compete in Cub Juniors. We got to see our cousin, Lucas Smallidge, race the Men’s 3/4 race. He had a great battle for second place with another rider and unleashed a powerful sprint at the finish to secure second. It was great to see him. He is in his second year at UCONN, so I hope to meet up with him for a ride. Debbie did the Women’s 4/5 race, which started with the Women’s 1/2/3 race. She was the only woman on a mountain bike, but she still had fun. She wasn’t last and learned a bit more about cyclocross. Hopefully she does another race and continues to improve. I bet that in 2018, she gets a cross bike.

I’m still a fan of Cheshire Cross, and thank the volunteers, but I hope that they iron out the issues next time.

Race Results (will be posted when online)

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Roaring 20’s Dance 💃 Walking with a “cane”...or two...I fit right in. It had been a while since I took an @trailrunningmom #yoga class, but the timing was right @appalachianmountainclub Summit. In August, she is leading a #trailrunning and Yoga retreat at the AMC Highland Center in #crawfordnotch New Hampshire.

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@renocxnats #cxnats @seven_cycles #sevencycles #teamhorstsports #horstengineering #crossspikes @horsteng #chapelofthebells #Cyclocross #lifedeathcyclocross Good day representing @horsteng at @renocxnats in the 45-49 age group. It’s a great course. The wind was blowing hard, but the sun finally came out. I’m happy with 37th place but should have made a move to get to 29th, which was 30 seconds ahead. That’s a long way when you are going flat out and cramping. 4,500 foot elevation was a factor. I’m disappointed that they cut one lap of my race when I wasn’t close to getting lapped by the leaders. You train this hard and come all this way; and you want to get the most racing for the $ and time invested. They only let 25 riders do the full six laps. The only positive to come out of that was that I watched fellow New Englander @adammyerson execute a perfect final sprint to win the Stars and Stripes again. Teammate @artroti43 had a good ride too. 
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