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A Cross Column: Eleven Races In

Eleven races into the season and I feel like I spend more time in my car than my apartment. Which is mostly fine by me as my NYC apartment is about as close to a hole in the ground as it gets. The routine of packing up and hitting the road Friday morning has become familiar and as a bonus my car has really started to cultivate that “lived in” sort of vibe.

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After two weekends of having the professional cyclocross circus on the East Coast; the show split in two. Most of the “household names” headed to Madison for some Trek CXC Cup. I say most because a few guys decided to stick to driving and made the trip to Baltimore for Charm City CX along with most of the Mid Atlantic and NECX hitters. As a side note, someone has pointed out to me that NE stands for Nebraska and not New England, so now I can’t un see this.

I think it’s fair to say that the race in Madison was certainly more top heavy due to Saturday being a C1 but what Charm City lacked in big names it made up in depth. Every single guy lining up on the first two rows was capable of a podium or a top five and this was reflected in the racing this weekend. Both days large groups formed in the mens race. At one point swelling to as large as eight guys which made for exciting racing.

It was also cool to see some favorite people make a return to racing cross. Particularly I’m thinking of Laura Van Gilder who has single handedly proven with her 5th place ride on Sunday that crushing it literally never get’s old. I also met some new folks. It seems like more racers are making the trip out East due to the early stack of UCI races in close driving proximity. Gavin Haley is one such rider. I’ve never met this kid. But, some of you who follow the sport closely should know the name.

I was cooling down with Walton and Keith after the race on Saturday. I was probably still fuming about my dropped chain and a missed opportunity when Gavin came riding the other way. He did a quick u turn and joined our little ride around the reservoir in Druid Hill Park. I don’t want to delve too deeply into the mental acrobatics that bike racers do when they meet someone new and come up with a first impression of another bike racer. But, I think it’s safe to say that we all sort of size up the person and try to figure out if they are faster than you. I’m trying really hard to soften the fact that bike racers are a judgmental bunch.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was actually riding with someone significantly more accomplished than myself. Not every day does your cool down spin happen with someone that’s won a junior race at the World Cup level. Kid is legit. Right down to the St. Christopher's medal dangling from his helmet. But before I start sounding like a total fan-boy I’ll also add that he was hugely likable and friendly which is not usually something you get from dudes at this level.

The next day about 90 seconds into the race I actually found myself going through a corner with my bars completely hooked into Gavin’s. How we didn’t both eat massive amounts of shit and cause a huge pile up is beyond me. We both kept racing. I was motivated to make up for my mechanical the day before and found myself making the front group of about 12 guys. It’s important to make the front split even if you only hang there for a few laps. Those early gaps get big fast and generally don’t come back much.

It rained super hard Friday. Not enough to make it muddy but enough that the ground was soft and saturated so that every inch of grass on the course energy zapping and slow. Basically you had to pedal really hard to get anywhere which resulted in what was accurately described as a “grenade fest” by Anthony Clark. You just have to try to hold on to the group as long as possible before the grenades went off. Eventually I got blown off the group and got caught by another group that had my teammate Sam in it. Along with him were Robert Marion and another rider who I didn’t know. Sam was driving the group so I hopped on and tried to recover. I tried a few surges with 4 and 3 laps to go but it was half hearted as I was still dying and they didn’t stick. I tried again with 2 laps to go and got a bit of daylight which I managed to extend on the long climb. I was riding to my best UCI finish of the year in 9th so immediately I went into “don’t blow it” mode.

This involves going as hard as possible on every straight and being overly cautious in every technical section. Which if you know a bit about cross you’ll realize it's the absolute hardest way to ride fast on a cross corse. But it worked. In the last lap Robert managed to drop Sam but could only close 10 seconds of the 15 second gap I had built up.

I was elated. The sweetest part about getting a result though is the hugs from Deb and Richie afterwards. Honestly I would do all this just for the happy looks on their faces. But, it was also nice to see some of the hard racing and training paying off. Up next are two more UCI races in New Jersey of all places followed by the big East Coast swing at DCCX.

So much racing. So little time with my cat.


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