Wednesday, October 6, 2010

2010 Gran Prix Of Gloucester Report

Gran Prix of Gloucester - No Rain / Much Pain!

The 2010 Chapter of the now infamous Gloucester 'Cross Race, aka New England Worlds - is in the books. With slowly building end of season fitness, I signed up the instant registration opened as this one fills up fast. This would be the one weekend I'd lay it all out on the line. My good friend, Rich Siemer - was going to make the trek from Washington, DC to experience the mayhem first-hand. He's an avid Mid-Atlantic CX'er and a very skilled technician. His Ritchey 'Break-Away' bike was awesome - fitting in what looked like a regular suitcase. Racer-X head honcho and event coordinator extraordinaire Dave "yes, why not - I am trying yet another bike/handlebar/accessory set-up for the first time in a monstrous event" Alden-St. Pierre would not only race, but snag a stellar tent & crew spot on the start/finish line next to the Factory Cannondale guys. He'd also assume duties in the cheer, wrench, shoot, video document, and heckle the rest of us section! I mention these two guys up front for good reason; they both play / have played a pivotal role in my cycling meandering and evolution (if one can call it that). The other character in this plot - besides the assorted Racer-X hooligans, is the other New Mexico CX transplant - Jamie Ryan-White.

He's been spearheading secret Wednesday Night 'cross training sessions that are really paying off and giving me some excellent technical advice - like how to get the bike on your shoulder without so much pain and bruising. No idea how we never crossed paths (so to speak) back in NM - though I knew of him through the very incestuous NM cycling scene.

Anyhow, Dave and I go WAY back to BMX / Freestyle - but more importantly we reconnected last year when we moved back east after a 10+ year hiatus. He's still as gung-ho about all things that are two wheeled and pedal powered as ever. I met Rich much later in life, when I first arrived in Santa Fe, NM in 2000. We worked at an architectural firm together and soon found a common interest in cycling. Alas, weighing in at 250 pounds or so - even the most modest ride in the foothills of Santa Fe nearly killed me, which he graciously led. Funny thing happened though, in that I was jazzed about the mix of terrain out west and LOVED getting out on two wheels again. I had a long, downward slide health-wise over the years in NYC preceding NM - gaining weight and bad habits along the way.

Me at a not-so-frisky weight and time in life...

Through 2000 and 2001 I worked at dropping weight and by 2003 was getting fitter - eventually upgrading to expert in 2004. It was not hard to get fit when the mountains that surround Santa Fe go straight up to 12,000+ feet and one gets possessed to ride to the top! I worked my way into that sort of shape, raced over the next few years, did great, trained on the road to race off-road even better, got hooked on road riding and (gulp) road racing too - training with a very strong, elite group. In a nutshell, it'd been an awesome roller coaster ride.

In 2006 when my son was born, things shifted dramatically. Between two large scale house renovations (while living in it), a kiddo, and a few job related rumblings / stressors - training and racing took a back seat to lifes more pressing issues. Leave it to Rich to then show me the light in 2007 - this ridiculous, painful, counter-intuitive insanity called cyclocross. I had some bike handling skills - both from the old bmx / freestyle days, and from all the off-road miles I'd put in (between 2003 and 2006 I logged about 6,000 miles off-road - and far too many on the road to mention) so I checked it out. 'Cross racing in NM looked very different than here - as a number of venues were wind-swept mesas spotted with scrubby vegetation and a lot of powdery dirt. I did a few races on my mountain bike - and did well in the "B" races - especially the more dirt / technical ones. As soon as we hit the grassy courses, however - riding a mtbike felt like riding in quicksand. I quickly hawked the road bike frameset and got a 'cross frame set - built her up, and was now 'official'.

Officially having fun in NM ca. 2008:

By 2008 I was figuring it out to some extent and had a great season finale at NM States despite a skin-blistering wipeout on a basketball court. Fast forward to New England 2009/2010 and here we are. Among other cap decorating feathers last year (in addition to getting my architects license, CPR/AED training, and certified SPINNING instructor) I won the EFTA Series Expert Vet title. Met some great road riding / training folks while living in Marblehead. Then last spring - found a veritable panacea of outdoor living and semi-suburban environs in Topsfield. Hell, Tim Johnson is my neighbor! In a lot of ways the stars were lining up - even still without a full time job or other 'real' security. I got my wife, my son, and my bike addiction... what the hell else does one really need? So last year I had an absolutely great time racing and riding - and did as well as I figured I ever could or would. This past weekend and Gloucester I blew my expectations out of the water.

Not sure what to do - race CAT3 or the Masters 35+ group, I defaulted to what I knew - the CAT3 gang. The top 30-40 guys in this group are fast and experienced. The rest of the gang - a real mix of intermediate and expert level road and mountain bike racers - can be a little sketchy. Just see team member Ryan White's bar-mounted video below of the first 30 seconds which include my start line sprint, just ahead of the trouble (I'm just to the left of #188 in red - none other than Cyclocross World's Chandler DeLinks). Both days featured start line mayhem and with fields of 125 racers - this can be frightening.

Day 1:
Feeling good, warmed up, course pre-ridden and lines dialed, and wearing my adopted skinsuit courtesy of Jamie - I lined up for the very odd downhill start. I see the usual hammers, and an ocean of brightly colored kits. We get the officials run-down, and wait the brief 90 seconds between the junior start (why are they ahead of us? Oh! We're old and slow...) and the lift-off of our manic CAT3 rocket of a field. With a blast of a whistle, off we went!

Video from the handlebars of Ryan White - Team

I get clipped in faster than usual, and was glad to have been in a slightly tall gear - as I was pulling off the line fast, ahead of the trouble. Keeping my eyes wide open on the front of the field - and just ahead of my wheel, I got around a number of first laps crashes. As the second lap unfolded, i worked good lines and reeled in guys here and there - still revving a bit high - but feeling good. It looked like the leaders already were mixed in with the back of the juniors - so I quickly lost the visual connection to the "front".

No worries - just pedal - and run!
By the third lap, I'm felling damned good. All the cheering sections on course were awesome! I may not have acknowledge many of the hecklers - but saw and heard them all - and man, it helps crack the wall of pain and keep focus in the moment. Somewhere towards the last 2 laps, the course felt more lonely. There were less riders to reel in, and less folks chasing right behind me. With Jamie hollering impossible stats about times and positions, I tried hard to stay focused - but was running out of steam. With one lap to go, it seemed I might be in the top 10 - so I rode safely but as fast as was sustainable somehow. Crossed the line and wobbled back to our pro-style pit area.

What the hell? 6th place! I was stunned. It seemed impossible to have passed that many racers out there - but it must have happened. The winner, local young gun Nate Campbell - riding for Seaside Cycles - absolutely crushed the field that day. Unfortunately it was hard to be mad at him, as he's a sweet kid who makes it look easy... and started racing only last year (!).

Day 2:
After another GREAT night's sleep at my dads - I felt pretty damned good. I was curious about the legs though, as I was all but done at the end the day before. All I knew is that most of the field would be too, so I knew we'd be on equal footing in that regard. Lined up in the 4th row (a HUGE advantage in these huge events) and vowed to keep closer tabs on the front this time - if possible. Again donning my borrowed (and cleaned!) skinsuit, as well as a set of sweet tubular wheels from Rich - who after battling the chattery course the day before (and a K2 base camp hike in Pakistan last month) bowed out of racing with a bad back , but assumed pit and heckler duties. Deluxe!

J-Rock riding smooth:

Repeat the Juniors / 90 seconds / Whistle Blow routine, and WHOOSH! Off we go, this time on a proper start - headed uphill and spreading out fast. Cresting the big paved starting hill onto the grass, I could feel that deep hard starting effort absolutely whale on my quads. Rolling and swooping down this fast grassy section on the far side of the course, I then remembered we'd be doing the famous Gloucester run-up in just a moment. Accelerate onto the ocean front fast stretch, then decelerate, drop all my gears, dismount and slide that bike onto my shoulder, hop up the wall, and run like the dickens straight up. The deafening roar of cheers, bells, horns and so on was great! It helped us fly up this evil run up. Re-mounting was smooth, low gear was good, and off I went. Seemed like I was in the top 20 right from the gun here and that made me a touch nervous. Don't blow it, but don't slack, as there is a huge hungry monster of a field right on my wheel. This time passing rivals was a lot harder - and many more seemed to be closer at hand ready to pounce on my slowly dying carcass. But, we all seemed to be staying closer to Nate - who again, was up front. After 3 laps, it was myself and a few others working for 3rd, 4th, and 5th place - and never far off the leaders to boot. At one point I came around 3rd place - but then he'd hang tough and claw back around me. The rear tire felt oddly squishy - even for a ubular, and I was occasionally distracted by worrying about it. It was sooooo smooth on the chattery grassy and gravel, I didn't really care, but vowed not to destroy that wheel / tire. On our last lap, I put in a huge effort coming out of the grassy chicanes on the portion of the course near the day 1 sand pits - along a long straight away to a climb - and had gotten around 3rd place guy. It was either he, or someone else he dragged up to my wheel a minute later, who then went by, then down - right in front of me. I wobbled, side-hopped, and stepped / stopped just enough to have 2-3 guys come by. Shit! Where did they come from? Now at this point we were just 150 meters from the u-turn onto pavement, at the base of the starting hill climb, to the finish area. Grrr, this was gonna hurt. I pulled out all the stops, punched the supercharger and accelerated with all I had once on the pavement. I held a wheel for a tick too long - and two guys did there best to sprint by me. One made it - one I held off by a tire thickness it looked like.

Rob with a pro-looking shoulder run!

In the end, I had dashed to a 5th place finish. Mr. nice guy Nate won again - but only held us off by 40 seconds or so. He was already getting pressure to upgrade, though I said don't bother yet - get a solid season out of it - though the USAC rules say it's an automatic upgrade with 2 wins in 12 months... He can work it out, no doubt. I was bummed to have only my battle hardened fellow New Mexican transplant racing on Sunday - though he got sideswiped, stepped on, and broke his frame for an unheard of DNF. Rich, my son, and I hung around for the pro races - watching a now predictable Cannondale / CX World team dominate.

It's impossible with perfect weather and great friends to not be so jazzed about cyclocross, and it sounds like those already converted had their faith boosted - while it sounds like yet more new to the 'cross flock got a solid dose of stoke. Great to see Andy and Rob out there - and Dave on his wild contraption - disk brakes and all. Perhaps a new Racer-X 'crosser will show her colors soon and get hooked - we'll see.

How the local / legend makes it look - easy:


  1. Nice report about a very impressive weekend for you. Jamie broke his frame?


  2. Thanks Rich - it was awesome having you come up for the crazy whirlwind adventure. And yes, he did! Cracked the seatstay just below the brace above the brake posts.... he was asking if any of us could weld! Crazy son of a gun.

  3. Oh, and here's my next bar/stem combo experiment: