Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cyclesmart International Cyclocross Festival

A cold and early start makes more time for free beer....
This past weekend, UVM cycling ventured to Northampton, MA to compete at what is considered to be one of the best cyclocross races on the Eastern Seaboard.  My morning started off waking up early, downing some delicious homemade pancakes and dashing down I89 and I91 to get to Look Memorial Park in time to get to the start of the Category 4 race.  With frost still on the ground, mud and water frozen into patches, I inspected the technical and diverse course.  The race started with a sort grass section of a baseball diamond and lead racers on to a short paved section and then into the outer field towards a ridiculous run-up into the upper section of the course, which in itself, could be considered a whole separate course from what ran through the baseball fields.

The loose run-up strung out
the pack from the start.
The run-up could practically be considered a loose dirt cliff.  With the start of the race, over 130 riders were left waiting in line to sprint up the loose dirt run-up.  Starting about 8 rows back, put me about a minute back from the leaders  and further back because of the first run-up.  After the run up, racers dove through the woods, over roots and back down the hill into the field where racers dove across a sandpit, circled the trees and rode back up into the woods where there were brief moments spent on the bike path.  From the path, riders dove back into the woods where hairpins and roots could make or break a riders race.  After descending back down into the field, were launched over train tracks, into a few more turns before having to dismount and leap with a single bound over a single set of double barriers.

With temperatures rising, racers had to stay on their toes, as no lap would be the same as the last.  Burms were forming and thawing out, water created slick spots in the upper undrained forest and the baseball diamonds turned from frozen dirt, to loose mud.  Keeping the rubber side down, I managed a 47th place finish after Day 1.

Above is the speedy entrance to the pit.  Below is the tricky
180 degree turn around back through.  Like sliding on a 
wooden floor in socks.
Day 2 gave riders similar challenges, but in different orders.  This time, the race started out circling the baseball diamond, and launching riders out onto the pavement for a brief moment before arching into the hairpins before the double sandpit.
At this point, you may be wondering, what is a double sandpit?  I would describe it as an area of sand which you enter straight and come out onto a short patch of grass, which you then are forced to make a 180 and enter back into the sand.  Thus, becoming a double sandpit.
From the sandpit, racers circled giant pine trees, launched over the train tracks and were thrown into a quick 180 turn before the run-up, which the day before had been a descent onto the field.  After climbing the run-up, riders arched through the woods, in and out of the trees and then quickly dropped back down into the field where the train tracks could be used as a berm to make the turn as quick as possible before launching over the train tracks yet again.  From there, the race remained on the baseball fields.  Curving around bases 3, 2 and 1 but never touching home.

Thawing conditions kept riders on their toes.
With two laps to go, and the course thawing, I couldn't tell if I was loosing air, or the ground was just getting softer.  Eventually figuring out that it was a mixture of both, I dropped the hammer to get to the finish before it was too late.  Without pitting, I was able to finish the race on about 15 psi.  The worst part of it was probably the final three corners which took riders through the baseball diamond and on to the pavement where I was caught and force to sprint on the flat, which was no fun task.

Loosening conditions and a slow leak
made the last three corners
the most difficult.
All in all, the result was  a good one.  Out of 137 riders, I managed to post a 39th place finish, which translated to a 4th place finish among the Men's Collegiate C.

On top of some excellent racing, there was lots of fun to be found from watching the pros race.  Particularly watching Katarina Nash, the Czech national champion solo off the front of the women's field with what seemed like almost zero effort.  Within a single lap we watched Nash put a good 30 to 40 seconds into the rest of the field.  A demonstration of utter domination and raw power.

Arc hard, ride fast, go plaid!

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