Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Pre-E-Triple-C MAC warmup experience

Nittany Lion cross was fast fast fast with some nicely set up corners - some had some nice flow from one to another, while others provided more room for creativity in finding the best line, and my favorites had some quick little elevation changes in them. I found the Jamis Dragon CX to work pretty well and I rode my way to an 11th/67 placing in the Killer B's. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to sufficiently shake Mike Festa in the corners of the last lap, and he overpowered me for the last spot in the top ten. Regardless, MAC points were earned, and a place on the starting grid will be had for the rest of the season.

With 125 riders pre-regged for Granogue, that starting position would prove useful. At 40F and raining, the mud was flying, and our VERGE gear kept us at just the right temp - one tight base later, one loose base layer, jersey, shorts, arm and leg warmers - ooh, I love their gear. With my typical not-so-fast start, I dropped into the mud soup in the top 20-25 riders and picked my way through them whenever the terrain pointed downhill. My position varied from 6th to 15th in the following laps, trading positions with some of the same riders again and again as different sections suited our strengths. In the beginning of the last lap, I was just out of reach of a 5-person group until the R-L-R-L section of downhill turns. I bridged up on the off-camber section leading into the turns and rocketed my way through their scaping brake pads while pedaling. I made just enough time in this section and turned myself inside-out for the rest of the lap to secure my best-ever MAC finish: 7th/104.

Wissahickon didn't go so well. The soupy-slick mud of Saturday became much thicker as the rain slowed and wind picked up. The small (3-4 mm) clearance between the 700x34c tires and the brake bridge on my 26" mountain bike was not enough to deal with the thick mud and long grass at the Ludwigs Corner Horse Show Grounds. The start was a mess, as the race director was not enforcing the staging protocol: rather than 8 across, the first row was 10 and the second was 13! Half way through the first lap, my bike started packing up with mud. I stopped, checked out the bike and considered packing it in for the day, but I remembered that I feel that way during the first lap of every cross race. I trudged on, learned new ways to minimize mud build-up on my bike, and ended up moving up a number of spots, still without a clue where I was in the bunch. On the finishing straight, I looked behind me and found that I had to sprint for the finish. The steel tubes began humming as the speed came on and I found that I finished in 25th/94 by half a wheel. Just enough for a single MAC point - a worthwhile sprint.

Much thanks to everyone that was cheering for me and all the other Rutgers riders. The cheers on the big off-camber turn at Granogue fueled my drive to get to that section each lap. Thanks to all my awesome teammates that were out on course throughout the day; seeing you working hard motivated me to work hard. Thank you Jay for letting me borrow gloves for Sunday after leaving mine in a dryer in South Jersey. And a pre-emptive thanks to Efinger Sporting Goods for fixing the derailleur that I tweaked in lap 3 on Saturday and fixed just enough to race on Sunday - they'll definitely have it ready for the first ECCC battle this Saturday!