Saturday, October 1, 2011

People say you'll never forget your first.

The Tacchino Cross race marked the first race for the team last weekend. Yeah, I'm a week behind on the post but when you're trying to rustle up everyone's pre-books for the 2012, things get crammed near the end of September.

We had a six pack of guys from the Keystone Velo Club p/b Simplicity Cycles at the event. Three of the six guys raced cross last season. The other three were green; me being one of the newbies to the cross scene. I've owned a cross bike, rode it as a commuter bike back in my shop days but never pinned a number on my side and decided to red line it for 45 minutes.

Located in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, Tacchino was what some have described to me as one of the most technically challenging courses in the area. The weather was cooperative..errrr, let me say, not the typical Belgium junk weather but the course was wet and slippery from the storms the day before.



Mike Brenneman (above two photos) was representing the Cat 4 field and had an early start time of 0830. Our team director talked me and two other guys into doing the Masters 35/45+ 3/4s, mostly because of the later start time. And seeing as I had a two hour drive to the race, took his advice.

Me, Chris and Shane pinned on our numbers and rolled to the start 15 minutes prior to launch. The field was huge; 125 starters. It was then when I found out that you are staged at the start of the race by when you register for the race. Let's just say that I didn't register too early being moved up a class four days before the event, ended up sitting back in 100th something spot, along with Chris and Shane.


Chris Sherdel after closing the door on the rider behind him. I think Chris rode better than he expected. Hell, the guy is an Ultra-marathoner and a mountain biker on the weekends. That's a toxic cocktail of potential if you ask me!


Shane McCreedy (above pix) rode a solid race as well. He has some good low end power too from those soccer playing quads. A good mid-field finish by Shane and Chris.

I won't lie, I had some butterflies in my gut entering my first cross race but as usual, clamped down on them and squashed them underfoot once the gun went off. A paved start leading into a 30 degree turn to a grassy straight, did little to spread out the field. At this point I knew it was going to be a challenging morning working my way up through the already strung out field in front of us.

During the first lap I jockeyed a couple of times with Chris and Shane and honestly it felt odd to pass them. I'd attribute this feeling from the amount of time I spent pack riding at the local training crits and doing a couple of sanctioned races on the East Coast. This time it was every man for himself for all 5 laps.

The corners were definitely slippery and off cambered. The straightaways were long and the section between the straights were littered with punchy corners. Lot's of accelerating; on the gas, brake late and then off the gas. There was a hellish run up with a telephone pole as a barrier at the bottom of the hill and then another pole 10 feet from the top. At the top was DJ AA's tent playing the beats and what I could determine; a dude and a keg pouring bevies for the spectators enjoying that part of the course. I wanted a hand up from there so bad, not a sole willing to help a brother out. Damn.

Two barriers flanked the food concessions area which provided a level of entertainment on each lap; Duval consuming fans, screamed each lap for me to bunny-hop the barriers. Not this year guys...

Proper tire pressure is your friend at every race. It's the easiest thing to over look and sometimes the hardest thing for amateur racers to understand. I weigh 180lbs in the buff so I decided to roll with 30lbs in the front and 35lbs in the rear of the clincher Grifos. I was very happy with this pressure and how well the Grifo tires worked on this type of course. As the race unfolded, I realized how much mountain bike handling skills crossed over into 'cross. And if you aren't a diesel, you need to make up time in the corners.

As each lap clicked by, I could hear our DS, Sean Mealey yelling updates to me. At the third lap I hear heard him shout that I was closing in on another group of riders. That would explain why there wasn't much traffic on that 3rd lap. Despite feeling like my head was going to pop off from my heart rate being pegged the whole time, his words were encouraging so I continued to dig deep; i.e. don't get out of the 46t ring unless approaching slow off camber sections or traffic in that area.

With two laps to go, I closed in on a guy after rounding the first 160 degree, rising muddy turn to the right. He stops pedaling and launches his pre-race meal over the course tape. Yuk! I'm closing in fast and he hits the brakes and launches another protein spill, this time his bike has come to a complete stop. At this point a guy rolls past him, around the 90 degree left but looses speed when watching the gory display of exhaustion. I lean into the bars a bit and pass them both with out missing a beat.

The last two laps reminded me of racing this summer in Annandale, VA during the Wednesday at Wakefield races. Fast, hard, no spots to take a breather and technically complex. One lap to go and I'm trying to see straight, keep the mistakes to a minimum and keep the wheels turning. My mouth is dryer than I've ever experienced. It's not tradition to have a water bottle during this short 40 minute race. Imagine eating handfuls of mulch in the middle of the summer; yeah, that dry.



Two laps then becomes one lap to go and I'm up in traffic again in the last hillside before crossing the pavement to the straightaway finish. By now I'm running on fumes, loads of dopamine, and blurry eyed from the sweat running into my contacts and me not blinking enough for fear of missing a line through the last few corners. I reach for the drops, lower my head for one last sprint down the straight, and......done.

Mens 1/2/3


Clark in the foreground and Mealey in the back approach the final bend before the first set of barriers near the food concessions. I aspire to keep up with these two in the future.


Barrier time! Mealey flows like water according to Bruce Lee.




After the barrier section. The dynamic duo are back on the gas looking for some kill points.



Clark tackles the off camber section after the concessions/barrier area. Again, much hairier than it looks when you're riding it as apposed to spectating.



Mealey in the drops as he slices one off in the corner. Keeping low and balanced is critical through all the off camber sections.



The six amigos? Four Zurigos, a Carbon Cross Concept and my Cavaria Red litter the ground after our first team showing of the season. The guys were all smiles with regards to the handling of their new Zurigo bikes.


Takeaway:
Having seen my wife give birth to my two beautiful children, her pain and all through pregnancy and child birth, only to finish delivery with the comment of, I'd do that again......

Cyclocross, I'd do that again.

Thanks to Mike and Chris for the photos.
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