Big Time with the Big Boys - Master 35+ Category Race - Day 1
After some great results in the CAT3 Group - where skill levels range from razor sharp to dull as a doorknob, I threw my hat into the big leagues, where I'll try and stay from now on. In four big races this year, in the CAT3 group - I was in, near, or just behind HUGE pileups. Bone crunching, yard sale style mania. Having accrued enough points to upgrade to CAT2, and not having any points to speak of in the Verge New England Cyclocross Championship Series - I had nothing to lose - and everything to gain - by racing with the smartest, fastest amateurs out there. That is, if you can call retired pro's and silly fast CAT1/2 guys amateurs.
So off to Warwick, RI - about as far as I'm ever going to drive for a race - though it went quick at 1.5 hrs. each way. The venue looked great - right on the water, big state park, changing rooms, toilets, BBQ, and all sorts of amenities (heat!). With a few quick pre-ride laps of the Day 1 course - I knew it would be a drag race. It was fast, fast, technical fast, sand / run-up, fast - and then? More fast! I was worried the big guys at the front would rip a huge hole into the race from the gun - never to be seen again given the insanely FAST course. I think they did - as I saw them for about the first 30 seconds (before the start whistle blew).
With what sounded like a great start slot on the 4th row - I realized the corral was so wide, and the field not so huge - as to have me be near the back. It was also clear that start position with this wicked fast, experienced crew mattered not. WHEEEEEETTTT! Off we go.... clip in, pedal, upshift - right up the perfect CX race start design here; a long, gently uphill, wide, paved road onto a huge grass field. Nice! I had a solid start - mid/back of the middle of the field - and dug deep in the first lap to gain as many positions as I could without blowing up. The first lap went OK - a little sloppy, a little wobbly - but then things settled in. The front 10 or so were pulling away, the middle 10-12 were working hard to pull away from the remainder of the field. I was fortunate to be with this second group - as they were flying! In our 45 minute race we were poised for 5-6 laps. It was cold and blustery on the backside / waterside portion of the course - and nice and fast in the trees with an occasional tailwind.
The 4 guys I was working with started pulling away after I bobbled a steep rideable section (enter at speed, sharp off-camber turn, then UP - right towards a tree...) and I started easing off just a bit. Perhaps a minute later - perhaps 20 minutes later (not sure, I was close to dizzy at this point) two guys came up on me, came around, and started sneaking away. Whoa! I ain't done yet... One of the fellas was Aaron Millet - an awesome, fun, strong guy from Riverside Cycles. I snapped to, and quickly fell in with these guys.
About a minute in - after which they had both taken 'pulls' - I came around and sling-shot for the 2 guys we could see, about 30 bike lengths up course. A guy in a blue kit, and a Bikeman dude - who I had been with earlier at the aforementioned bobble. He could crush the flats and power sections - but was a little sketchy around trees and other sharp turns. Anyhow - I thought the two guys were right on my wheel and I'd made a mistake, pulling them up the road. They were not... so it was the three of us for a moment - when Mr. Blue started fading and I took a chance and went around, JUST as Bikeman was accelerating - so I ended up right on his wheel. He led around what was now the first half of the last lap - then I went around to avoid the damned bobble section - then a minute later he was back in front. Damn! Everytime he accelerated it hurt. Deep down hurt. We rode clean to the end - hit the pavement and he stood up and took off. No need - as I had not one ounce of pow left in me. Crossed the line and quickly warmed down, put jacket and leg warmers on, and limped back to the car (which now seemed 10 miles away).
Booyah! 16th place - about 2 minutes back from the the National Championship Leader group ahead. Met the fella who had been pacing Aaron and I for a while - Brent, and we chatted about how things went down, racing in this group, and how my little 'attack' was perceived. This was cool - both he and Aaron said they were like "shit!" when I took off, making it look like I shot up the road and closed the gap before they knew what was happening. That felt good, and I noted I thought, for sure - they were right with me. He laughed.
Was I supposed to laugh too? I did - it felt good. The M35+ group is a battle hardened group of ass-kickers - who are well adjusted grown ups too. Good thing Jamie has beat this notion into me - as I finally get it. Day 2 tomorrow!
Feel pretty good now...