Monday, November 28, 2016

Thanksgiving Weekend CX Racing in Massachusetts

Patty and I spent 2016 Thanksgiving weekend with her family in Uxbridge, Mass.  Races here are big and frequent.  I signed up for NECXBAR Finals in Fitchberg.  Her cousin, Paul, lent me a classic S-Works for the race.  The commute was an easy 50 minute drive in a borrowed car.  A collaborative effort made this happen.


Pre-race: 41 racers pre-registered and 35 started in the 50+ age group.  I got a 2nd row start.  The course was 3.1km, all flat, 3 dismounts: serpentine sand section, barriers, and a short run-up.  The way the race promoters handled the call-up was elegant. All pre-registered riders have a score determined by previous USACycling CX results.  Numbers are issued in order of that score.  Mine was 214 because I was ranked 14th among pre-registered riders.  Call-up was 201-208 in 1st row, 209-216 in 2nd, and so on.  The bike fleet at the start line was impressive. Half ran tubulars, which were definitely an advantage on this course with lots of tight grass turns and plenty of rocks and roots to cause a pinch flat.

The race: I chose poorly on my line-up position because the first row guy in my file slowed me down.  I was ~15th out of the first straightaway.  The course was laid out with several long-ish power sections through grass and paths, interspersed with tight turn sections.  The field strung out quickly and 15th position was far from ideal -- slow to a crawl in the turns, then sprint to catch up in the straights.  I made a few risky passes, then fell on a crossed wheel half-way into the first lap and lost another 4 positions.  By end of lap 1, a group of heavy hitters were well clear, and I was still ~15th.  Through the rest of the 5-lap race, some in front crashed or faded… always someone to chase (and be chased by).  My lap times got faster (Strava file), and I was digging deep and dishing as much pain as I was dished.  It was a fight for position all the way to the final sprint, where seconds differed positions in front and behind me.  I was happy with a top-10 finish - 8th.  Main take-away is the importance of a good start.

Equipment: You know the “no equipment changes before the race” rule? That was completely violated on this race… a compromise for the opportunity to race during a family visit on Thanksgiving.  Paul Knapik, Patty’s cousin, lent me his ~10 year old Specialized S-works CX bike - a top machine in its prime, and more than adequate for me.  Bonus - frame size was perfect.  He has it set up with rear brake on the left lever (!).  I’m not used to that.  The rationale is the ability to storm into a barrier with your [left] hand on the rear brake, and your right hand free to start the carry.  It’s a good idea that can shave time… but better to make the change between CX seasons.  The set-up worked well for barriers when I had time to mentally prepare for left-hand braking.  It worked poorly for the times I overshot corners and grabbed a big piece of front brake.  I’m grateful for the use of the bike and the idea -- strongly considering the brake arrangement for the ‘17/’18 season.



I’m signing off for now.  See my next blog on the MTB aspect of my 2016 Thanksgiving visit to New England.