I’m not one for this “going to a race every weekend” sort of lifestyle some folks pursue. It’s not out of laziness or dislike of the sport or any particular training plan, but because it’s danged expensive to piddle away that kind of dough. Do I look like a rich millionaire? Do I look like someone who’ll be financially solvent for more than the next month or so? Do you think Google AdSense alone can support my nacho habit?
Anyway, when I got Steve Weller’s email on Monday or Tuesday, or whenever it was that I got it, asking me to helping out at a ‘cross race, my first instinct was open-apple + D (or CTRL + D, if you’re a Windows kinda guy). Not that I haven’t got the volunteer spirit , but if I am going to a race, I’m gonna compete (just the way I am), so that’ll be like 40 bucks, gas and entry, and I just raced last weekend, and I’ve got next month’s rent riding on the Jags by 7, and etc, etc. But a free entry, just for setting up and tearing down? Where do I sign?
Steve said to be there at dawn (scheduled for 6:39am EDT by the National Weather Service), so I left Williamstown at 5:30 and violated pretty much every traffic regulation I could think of tearing down to Noho on rural Route 9. I arrived at Look Park just ahead of the sunrise, but spent 5-10 minutes bumbling about the massive park complex trying to find the racecourse. Eyewitness reports have me “ripping a donut” over the fresh-fallen leaves as I approached my parking spot, but I assure you nothing of the kind happened. I proceeded then to assist Steve-O in the set up of the hundreds of posts that would carry the official UCI yellow tape around to delineate the course.
Precise locations of various things were kind of up in the air, and the pea-coated gentleman who appeared to be in charge (clearly, the headmaster of this circus of absurdity was the very large emu that lives at the park) had an awful habit of changing the locations of run-ups and stakes and such things. I suppose I didn’t help by trying to route the course away from roots wherever possible. Eventually, that was all done, and after a few minutes of shooting the proverbial feces and enjoying the dew-covered, misty-aired majesty of the early AM, I got put on fence duty, setting up the barriers that surround the finish stretch.
Years of working at various race sites (most notably Dartmouth Carnival) have taught me that assembling and disassembling any sort of portable event fence is a task of monumental awfulness. If you ever get put on fence duty, just grab your stomach and moan “oh, I have to take a huge dump,” and make your way to the nearest outhouse. Do not come out for at least 45 minutes because that is how long it will take to set up the fence. Such as things were, though, I did not have to time pretend to take a dump for that long, because it would have cut into my warm-up time. Steve, also aware of the pure heinousness of setting up a race fence, was all like “uh, I’m gonna go register,” and, seeing my plight, offered to register me as well.
Now, Steve was gone for a long while, long enough that by the time he got back, Amy Wallace and Alie Kenzer had already shown up to sip coffee and harass me while I labored. Then Steve came back and was like “uh, there’s a problem with your registration.” Turns out that I hadn’t been registered on Monday (going through BikeReg would have been *not* free) and now the field was full. I was right up there on the wait list, but still, I was going to be peeved if I couldn’t race. As it was 8:23 or so (race at 9) I decided my obligation to the fence-building initiative was fulfilled. I showed the podium girls how to set things up and made swift tracks to the car, having just enough time to chamois up before the 8:30am wait list reckoning. Got registration, got a number, got to listen to some B riders whine because they couldn’t switch down to C’s, got warmed up and made for the start.
I arrived early for a best placement, but the field ended up being seeded by number. My field began at 400. I was 403. Chalk that one up to good luck. There was subterfuge by the officials/announcer on the line, as they said 30 seconds to go, reversed themselves, then announced 30 seconds once more. I, being the coy sort, however, kept my eye on Diane Fortini. Knowing from several years of New England racing (and a more near disqualifications than I’d like to admit) that she doesn’t fool around once she gets that whistle in her mouth, I was prepared when they started a mere 10 seconds after the final 30 second announcement. The dude to my left was not, however, and his first move was to run directly into me. He excused himself, but his gaffe left me 10 wheels further back than I wanted to be going into the first turn.
A very rough course map. Red sections are run-ups, orange indicates barriers; yellow, the start/finish; purple, the sand pit; and brown, a covered, narrow-gauge railroad track, that made for fun jumps. The directional arrow is magenta.
Course was straightforward, effective, fast, and not particularly exciting (the hallmark of a true UCI race). Still, things shook out nicely. As we hit the second turn (immediately following the first – it’s two 90s that ride like a 180) the leader went right off the course, through the tape and into the woods. I was worried, being so far down, of getting caught in the yo-yo of panicked braking, but cooler heads prevailed, which was impressive for a C race. Heading out through the first corners I was grabbing spots over less-aggressive riders (yeah, big fat 1.55in tires) and right after crossing the train tracks for the second time, I zipped around some guy and got lined out in 3rd. Not too shabby, I thought, as I headed into the sand pit.
All the lead riders knew from warm-up that pit was unridable, so we all uncliped and swung out legs over the saddle, just to show we could ride one-legged, and cruised into the pit. But as I moved to hop out, the my left cleat hung on just a fraction of a second too long before popping out, setting me slightly off balance as my right hit the ground. I struggled mightily to regain my balance, but certainly the loose sand was not helping things any, and after some more staggering forward at a good clip, I packed in solidly. I was all like “well, there goes my race,” as I gathered up my bike and charged out of the pit. It was too crowded to try those running mounts I’d been working on, so I just hopped back up, now 10 or so spots down.
But then weird stuff started happening. Like me getting inside people and just owning them through the next few corners. I caught in a decent group on the brief asphalt stretch, and though I had a crappy run up (the loose leaf/dirt amalgam over frozen/rock was impossible without toe spikes), I was soon back on the bike, dicing and pimping suckers like a 4-cross racer. By the time I got spat back out onto start/finish straightaway, I had hauled myself back up to the leading group, in about 4th or 5th. We charged on into the second lap, lead occasionally changing on corners, but just ripping along, hitting everything with superior fluidity. I was like “hey, this ‘cross stuff isn’t so bad” The frequent double-backs let you look back and see the course, and when we turned after the sand pit the second time, there was an enormous gap. Like, 30 seconds. Hell yeah.
Things really only got better on the next lap. The guy in front of me (same guy who shoved me at the start) crashed on the second corner (somewhat inexplicably, I thought) and I avoided him well enough to only run over his hand. After a short chase, I was back up with the leaders. Then some guy from Team NAV or Mercury Web or whatever other of 50 names that team has, did a huge roll-over fall in the sand pit. Put mine to shame, and let’s keep in mind that I was still trying to get the grains out from in between my gum and lip like, hours after the race. The guy who was now the leader started attacking like mad, trying to put time on the other dude while he was down. I was noticing he was going quite a bit better than I on grass and pavement. Dang these fat tires.
It was all back together on the run-up, and we hung together well through the rest of the lap. But I was really starting to get worked over the rooty sections between the second run up and the barriers. I don’t know how those guys can ride over them so fast. I excel at the rough stuff on a road bike, so I figure it’s gotta be wheel size or wheelbase on my frankenbike that’s slowing me up. These guys hammering away from me were just breezing over it, and I felt like I was trying to pedal even eighth notes while my bike was punching out triplets. I was psyched to hit the start/finish pavement again, but I shouldn’t have been, because the guys were just opening it up. Another rider came past me and got a gap on the start / finish, putting me back in 4th.
Then, coming into the second corner, I slid out. Not sure how; I was on the friggin’ sidewalk pavement, and had barely been leaning over. It was like riding on a frozen pond, and being over nice snow, and then *bam* hitting a patch of ice. The front tire vanished and I somehow got the bike laid over on the drive side, top tube in the middle of my right thigh, left foot through the main triangle, so I was roughly sitting Indian-style, but balanced on my left toe and right knee. Main point of impact was my knee, with ancillary road rash on my outer right shin, and cuts on my left from the chainrings (yeah, I Cat 5’d my left shin. Beat that.) Fortunately, I wasn’t going all that fast, so the damage was minor, but it was frustratingly difficult to unpretzel myself. All told, the loss was only 10 or 15 seconds, but it really shook me up.
Now I was having that thing happen to me that happens in ‘cross races, where I kind of float out in no-man’s land, not really able to chase or wait for the next group as I would in a road race, and grasping like a drunken lemur for some sort of rhythm or tempo. I was dismounting way early or way late and slow getting back on (I hadn’t been using my extensively practiced running mounts earlier because I didn’t want to throw off the sweet cyclocross mojo I had going earlier). People were starting to give me time splits on the group behind, which is never good. I was hemorrhaging time all over the place, and riders were slipping by me. I think I lost three spots over the last lap and a half, including one in 2-up sprint to the guy who pushed me at the start, but it all runs together when you get so out of it. I also accidentally knocked over Kat as I was lapping her, and she was understandably upset.
I was like “damn, man, another seventh place, whooptie friggin’ do” as I cooled down, using the small ring for the only time all day (I really gotta ditch that 36t and go DogFang and chainguard, regardless of what Jon Shea says.) So I rode around the course and came back the start finish, where a bunch of my friends were milling about being worthless (my day job, it seems is their weekend activity of choice). They were all like “sweet race, man,” having last seen me in 4th place with a huge lead, so I told them of the frustrating meltdown, and so we discussed more pleasant things like Mike McCormack’s biker hump, until some dude broke into the conversation with “Hey Ute City Cycles” (the name of the shop on my jersey.)
I was like “Hi, how is it going?” and then he asked if I had won the C race. Clearly, he had not been watching closely, as even if he’d not seen the 5 guys way up on me, my losing the sprint would have been hard to miss. So I told him no, and he was like “So you crashed on the last lap? Because you were winning with one lap to go.” Yes, apparently, many of the riders up the in my field were Masters. So maybe I had done better than I thought. I went back to the parking lot, used all my water to vainly attempt to clean my wounds, and came back to course marshall some more. Then they posted C results.
Apparently, I did not win. Nor finish, nor even start. No, instead some buttock named “Gary Catalano” won. Awesome. BikeReg, Cyclingnews, let word ring to the heavens telling of the glorious ‘cross victory of Gary Catalano. Convincing people that my real name actually is Cosmo presents difficuly enough without Alan Atwood, who has left me bereft of due glories before, announcing that my name is “Gary.” I had never won a bike race before, and finishing 7th on the line and having someone else’s name atop the results sheet didn’t really cement that feeling of success. But I don’t race bikes because for glory or I would have quit long ago. I got a medal and I stood on top of the podium, and that was fine by me.
The rest of the afternoon was whittled away making sure little kids didn’t walk out into the middle of the Men’s B pack and (of course) avoiding the PM fence duty. Ariel Herrman showed up, and since I had it on good sources that he couldn’t open a measly PDF file (“How many MIT students does it take to open a PDF file?”), I made fun of him for it. Turns out he had managed not to finish last in the B race, even with his rear brake jammed on with all the force it’s dinky little right lever spring could muster (the left lever spring having fallen/broken off mid race). All the more reason to go with v-brakes. As things wound down, I sat around with Rossman and Awerbuch and watched Kevin and Toby battle bravely but futilely (still taking 3rd and 2nd in the U23 category) in the Elite Men’s race while contemplating my own messy demise jumping up to the B field in whatever ‘cross race I do next. At some point, Nathaniel Ward of CBRC rode by and put things into perspective, pointing out that today was my day to be a sandbagger. I took that to mean that it should be enjoyed, so after taking the course down, I went the Brewery and ate a reuben. And it was good.