2021 USA Cyclocross National Championships (50-54 Age Group)

Yesterday was the penultimate race of my cyclocross season. It was the 50-54 age group race at the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships. This was the 5th time I’ve done Nats. It hasn’t been a priority, but as I’ve gotten more competitive in the Masters age groups, I’ve renewed my interest. I was at Leicester (1995), Baltimore (2001), Hartford (2017), and Reno (2018). I was also at Providence (can’t remember the year), but my race was cancelled right before the start because of violent weather.

My last go in Reno ended in disaster with a broken leg. I won’t say much more because I’m looking ahead, not back, but you can read about it. I didn’t do the 2019 race in Washington and 2020 was cancelled due to the pandemic. It’s good to be back at it in Illinois (Wheaton).

I drove out with Arlen Zane Wenzel and Adam Skepner. Zane is the Directeur Sportif of Team HORST Sports and Adam is a friend of the team. They have been a huge help. HORST Cycling has a boot in the race expo, and we have been helping out new customers with Cross Spikes.

We started the drive on Tuesday and finished on Wednesday after a brief early morning stop in Toledo, Ohio to get some rest. Once we reached the Chicago area, we made a short stop at a new HORST Engineering supplier. I had a meeting with their Quality Manager and then got a plant tour. Adam and Zane did walking laps of the industrial park where the shop was located.

A lot of interesting things have happened this week. Most notable was the action at the race. Cantigny Park is the race venue. I like the course. It is super-challenging with deceptively hard uphills, lots of off-camber turns, a slippery descent, steep Belgian stairs, a set of barriers, a sand pit, and a long asphalt finish stretch. It’s a worthy course for Nats.

The cold and damp weather has made it even more interesting. My age group race was at 2:05 P.M. on Thursday. Our weather was dry and cold with an overcast sky and a light breeze. The late afternoon setting meant there was melting of the top layer of soil. This result in several slippery spots including that section down two the Belgian stairs.

I won’t break down the whole race, but I was seeded 23rd and finished 23rd. My goal was to break the top 20 and I came close. My main disappointment is that I was “pulled” with one lap to go because of the P&P rule. I won’t even give you the rule book definition, but basically, in these championship races, they have a “quick bell.” I gather it helps them squeeze more races into a tight schedule.

Only 16 guys finished our race on the lead lap. This is partially because the leader was so far out front and there were big time gaps between the top riders. I was bummed because I had a slow first two laps and when I finally figured out the course and got a rhythm going, I ran out of time. My last two laps were strong, but a four lap race is hardly a championship. I wasn’t even out there for 40 minutes.

It sucks because I was competitive. It’s not like I was anywhere close to being lapped. I was actually making up time and could have caught a few more guys if I had the chance. My slow start is attributed to not feeling comfortable and just having blocked legs. After 20 minutes I loosened up and started to make progress, but it was too late. In the end, I’m satisfied, but I know it could have been better.

I’m glad that I didn’t crash. I was sloppy in spots, but at least I stayed on my bike. In warmups over the last few days, I’ve fallen four times on tricky spots, including a massive endo in the sand pit. Maybe those falls made me gun shy for the actual race. One thing for sure is that it was a competitive field. I got the last spot on the third row. There were eight riders per row. The start was clean, which was good because we were hauling on the pavement. The first time through that sand pit was ugly and I lost 20 seconds right there.

Like I said, I got better as the race went on. I’m generally happy with the outcome. I’ve said several times that this has been my best cross season ever. I’ve been strong and my bike handling has improved to the point that it has become an advantage and not a liability. I’m still not even close to the top talent in the age group, but I’m also not pack fodder. I can hold my own which makes it more fun.

A lot of other fun stuff has happened at the race. I’m sure I’ll write more about it. I’ve seen tons of friends from New England and beyond. It was fun to race with Jon Gallagher. We did a lot of riding in the early 1990’s and these big events have become like reunions. Team HORST Sports and the CCAP Team HORST Junior Squad has representation. Keith Enderle had a strong race in the 60-64 age group. Brett Chenail rode in the 45-49. Alexandra Miller-Davey did some warmup races today and her big race is tomorrow. Boden Chenail is also racing tomorrow. I’ve met a lot of new people too. After we set up the tent/booth this morning, I went for a nice ride on the Illinois Prairie Path. I made it back to the park in time to see Kelly Montgomery (Stage 1 Cycling Team/Airline Cycles) score the win in the Women’s 50-54 age group. That was super exciting.

Then, I made another side business trip to visit an equipment supplier in Mundelein. They were gracious hosts and I got a really cool tour of their showroom. I drove back to the park and helped Adam and Zane break down the tent. The rain started to pour down and high winds are predicted so we didn’t take the chance of leaving it up like the last two nights. Tomorrow should be interesting. Most of the day is filled with Junior races and it is going to be wet and muddy. The singlespeed races cap the day with my race being the last one at 2:20 P.M. By then, the course should be suitably trashed. Conditions for the elite races on Sunday will be rough, but that’s why the pros are pros.

I’m no pro, but for this week, I got to act like one. I’m feeling good with one race to go and thankfully, I’m still motivated to think about the next Nats in 2022.

Race Results

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Senior Night at Bolton High School: Bolton vs. Somers vs. Coventry. Made it from the middle school race in time for the boys race. Missed the girls but stayed for the festivities. #xc #running 🏃🏽‍♂️
Fantastic evening for XC at my middle school alma mater. Bolton vs. Vernon vs. Porter. @trailrunningmom is a wonderful coach! #running #xc 🏃🏽‍♀️
From #newyork Sunday for @pearljam at @thegarden to #Chicago on Wednesday for @imtschicago it’s already been a busy week with lots of planes, trains, automobiles, and jet packs! Amazing technology at the show.
A final @hardrock100run update for now and it’s a bit of a bummer. @trailrunningmom stoped at Animas Forks Aid Station just shy of the 59 mile mark. Persistent nausea and the inability to eat or drink weakened her. She arrived in Ouray in this condition and even a 40 minute nap didn’t improve the situation. She is at peace with her decision to stop and it helps that she finished this beast of a race in 2017 going the other direction. I unexpectedly joined her between Ouray and Animas Forks because I didn’t want to see her go alone. We got to suffer together for eight hours and enjoyed an amazing moonlit night. In our household there is always more to learn when you miss a goal than when you hit one.
@trailrunningmom has quite a crew assembled in Ouray at the @hardrock100run We await her arrival. From the looks of the tracking she was likely suffering in the climb and dealing with the t-storms. She might have had to hunker down because her location didn’t change for a long time. Now she appears to me hammering the six plus mile descent to the LOW point in the course in Ouray at a 7,792 feet.
Riding out the latest storm in Ouray. This weather is something else. To be a Hardrocker this year is going to take extra gumption. ⛈ @trailrunningmom appears to be moving steadily (according to the tracker) but the climb to Kroger’s Canteen slowed her. She gets a lot of downhill into Ouray so let’s hope she can keep running. We are planning a longer pit stop here including a full wardrobe change. Fingers crossed she gets here by dark around 9:00 P.M. @hardrock100run
Telluride was a blur. @trailrunningmom left the aid station around 3:20pm or so. She changed her socks (needed dry ones), got some solid food, freshened up in the “latrine”, and got moving again. We met up with Amy and John and they were a big help. Even my friend Mike, a part time Telluride resident, stopped by Town Park to cheer and assist. On to Ouray…she won’t be there for five hours or so. There are serious ⛰ ⛰ in between.
@trailrunningmom came into Chapman Gulch at 11:46am but if you are tracking then you know that. She was doing fine at 18.1 miles. Little D said Mom is pacing well but wasn’t as “exuberant” as past races. A big rainstorm just blew through and the clouds are threatening again. Next up: Telluride

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