Snowed In And Mucked Up
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After a few weeks of what felt like going through the cyclocross motions, the Baystate weekend delivered course conditions of epic proportions as well as some winter adventure.
Dan Chabanov/Bob Kidd
Like every weekend of racing, it started with a travel day on Friday. Living in NYC and racing CX isn’t easy. Things like packing the car require some careful choreography, double parking, and trips up and down the stairs. Eventually things are all in the car. With the season almost over I finally feel like my car-packing job is getting good. Nice and orderly. Bags on the right side of the car. Wheels on the left. Tools and trainer go in last. Pump gets thrown in between the gallon jugs of water and my hotel bag gets wedged into the front so I don’t have to open the back for it. It sounds simple, but somehow up until this point, every time I packed the car it would always somehow turn out differently.
We decided to spend the night at Richie’s since it was about an hour away from the race. The farther north we drove the more wintery the world became. Richie lives at the top of a big mountain on the northern border of Massachusetts. There is one direct road off the highway to his house. But it’s tiny and not exactly well maintained. On this night it turned out to be totally closed because of the amount of snow bringing down several large trees that no one seemed to be in any hurry to clear. We had to detour through New Hampshire.
Finally we made the turn on to Richie’s tiny one-lane road. As we rounded the corner to his house, I was steering the car left. The car decided to go straight at that moment and right into a snow bank. Fortunately we were only .2 miles from Richie’s house. I grabbed the flashlight out of my glove box and we set off. A few minutes later Richie was sending us back with some shovels to dig out the wagon. It was a little more work then I wanted to do the night before a race but at least it was kind of funny.
It’s solid winter in the Northeast, and with several inches of snow on the ground, Saturday’s race was going to be interesting. Snow races are pretty rare so it’s always interesting to see the different approaches people take to tackling the conditions. Tire choice is all over the board. Some people go with full mud tires, others go in the opposite direction with file-treads hoping to maximize their contact patch. I went with something in the middle in the form of the Baby Limus. With tread selection pretty much being left to anyone’s best guess, there was at least consensus on tire pressure being as low as you can go. My teammate BrittLee ran about 18 psi in her tires both days. Being a little heavier, I had mine at 22.
Saturday’s race reminded me a lot of Madison nationals of years past. It felt warm all day, but once the sun disappeared behind some cloud cover, it all turned to ice and the ruts froze in place. A few people described it as tightrope walking on a bike. Nail the rut and you were fast with almost no pedaling effort. Miss it and it was heaps of effort wasted to simply get back on track. Also with most of the course only having one good riding line or rut, the start was going to be key. It’s almost impossible to pass someone riding the good line, so once we were in the ruts you could do nothing but wait.
Three people in front of me had shit starts, falling all over each other in the first corner. I tried not to panic. After all, an hour is a long time, and a race like this was all about keeping focus and nailing the ruts not panicking and making more mistakes. My first few laps were spot on and I made it back from the high 20s into the teens on the course. But then the course tape struck. I missed the good line in a corner and ended up shooting my bike into the tape, which then got tangled in my pedal, forcing me to stop and undoing al the forward progress I made.
Ultimately this is what my race turned into Saturday. I would catch a few people. Then make a mistake and lose them. Every mistake amplifies the frustration, which leads to more mistakes. It’s a hard cycle to break when your heart rate is 180. Somehow I ended my race with a bike throw against Lewis Gafney for 20th. Only later to discover in the hotel room that my effort was recorded by the officials as a DNF (Did Not Finish).
In almost five years of racing in New England I’ve never had a messed up result. Usually I don’t even bother picking up my money from Saturday’s race until the end of the weekend. So it was pretty disappointing to find out my hour-long ice-bike-wrestling contest that ended with a bike throw was recorded as not having even occurred. I tried talking to the officials about it but was greeted with blank stares and being told “You are a professional. It’s your job to check that the results are correct.” To which my reading is, “So, are you guys elite amateur officials or something?” The way I see it it’s their job to get the results right. I didn’t realize I was now also an unpaid quality-control guy.
Then Richie somehow straightened the whole thing out.
Sunday we woke up to very warm temperatures by Baystate standards. Which is to say it was above freezing. The snow was melting, everyone switched to mud tires, and put in their long mud spikes to run the off-cambers. My day started poorly again. I managed to pull out of my pedal at the start for the second weekend in a row, losing a ton of valuable start positions as we charged full bore through a bunch of icy standing water and into the first section of ruts where passing was again almost impossible. Today’s ruts had a nice layer of mud on top of them making it harder to see where the rut would go. It became about feeling out the rut and being able to remember it lap after lap while also making adjustments when a section of course changed mid-race.
I quickly lost track of where I was in the race because of how much mental effort it took just to keep the bike moving forward. Then I face planted into an ice puddle right in front of the pit. I was lucky it was above freezing; otherwise that could have been day over. After what felt like at least half an hour of racing I looked up at the cards to see five laps to go. I thought there might have been a mistake. With two laps to go I had been out on the course for almost an hour. It was actually starting to get dark when I started my last lap. Right in front of me a different rider had simply stopped at the line, choosing to finish a lap down rather do another lap. At this point I felt like I had been out on course so long I was bonking. Somehow I managed to catch a rider on my final lap. I think we were both sort of having a slow-motion race through the mud. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so content to simply finish a race.
I was caked in mud head to toe. At this point the sun had set and I was struggling to organize my mind long enough to get out of my mud suit without covering the inside of my car in dirt. It was another bittersweet weekend for me. No results to speak off but I rode through conditions I will probably remember for the rest of my life. Sometimes that’s all you can ask of bike racing.