By Paul Weiss
We had a good crew from Maine at CX Nationals this year since it was so close to home, and folks are just really getting excited about cyclocross. The sport seems to keep growing by leaps and bounds, and it is funny to see both the Junior and Master fields overflowing with participants.
The Hartford Course was in a small park on the shores of the CT river. The area features some fields, a large earthen levee that was about 40 feet high and some small woods trails in the river bottom mud. Part of the course went through a gazebo and playground.
I went all out this year. I mean I love CX, but this year I went a little overboard with racing. I essentially raced more days than most pro racers. In retrospect, I over did it. Racing every weekend since the end of August has cost a lot in terms of free time, training and money. I set out to do the whole schedule for New England. Pretty much all weekends except Labor Day, even a midweek race. It was important to me to try to get on the Hartford course earlier in the year, which I did. The national course, while not following exactly, was in a lot of the same terrain.
With 2 weeks after the last Connecticut snowy races in Bethlehem and New Haven, I felt pretty good about having raced 2 full days in snow and then got some training days in on the road with snow. I knew Hartford could dish out some snow and ice. But the conditions early in the week at nationals looked like frozen mud to slippery mud. Changing fast each day. If you have not seen the video of the large slip and slide hill (that they eliminated later in the week) check it out here.
I got on course on Thursday, and things were in really descent condition in that all the mud was solid as a rock. There were a few good lines on the course, but really hard ruts that they had made some attempt to smooth with a ATV. Then it started to snow late in the evening, and I knew my race was going to be hard. The next morning it was those same frozen ruts but you could not see them because they were covered in a few inches of snow. This made the early races really difficult to say the least.
Brian Cole raced in the AM and ripped a derailleur off his bike. These frozen ruts could flat a tire in an instant. By the time I was set to race, the conditions had changed to surface mud. I got on the course for several lap,. and it was treacherous. Now the frozen ruts were not visible, and the snow was melting enough to make all sections of the course slippery beyond belief.
I lined up just after noon and was ready for a good technical race. However, this was a bit more. I love racing in snow, but ice and half melted frozen ruts are another thing. This course was a bit scary in that a fall on this stuff could break your wrist, arm or leg. No joke. We raced off the line and across the first turn, and it was going well. Into a straight away by the pits, I immediately hit a hidden lengthwise rut that took me out like I was not on a bike! Flat down, hard ouch. Got up and tried to see both the bike and me, both were ok, but a bent shifter had to be fixed.
Getting back on the bike, I was off the back of the pack, who were now going into a long diagonal off camber run-up that you could ride on the bottom for a way or along the top. It was really a hard run with mud, ice off camber. The big downhill caused everyone to pause a bit since it required leaning away from the hill, and an off camber turn then braking enough to not get caught in the exit ruts. Pretty scary for some folks since you could really injure yourself on the flat at high speeds. I negotiated that hill well, but it was the woods section after the pits that were probably the second most difficult.
The frozen ruts in the woods were unbelievable. It looked as if they raced hundreds in the mud and then left all ruts to freeze solid. Just the width sometimes of a 34 c tires. It was really hard to negotiate the small uphill’s and tight turns in the woods. Many spilled or ran their bikes here, but even running was dangerous. An ankle twist was very easy. I was glad to be wearing my Lake high ankle winter boots for both support and warmth.
A few laps in and I was still off the back. This course had no place to go really hard, and it was truly a course of attrition. The person who made the least spills and recovered fasted would win. There are so many places to have slip ups. Even the pro field experienced the same thing. I ended up having one other dump in the woods that caused another loss of time that really put me back. I ended up finishing way in the back ¾ of the pack. On the last lap, the leaders came through and started lapping the back of the field.
In retrospect, it was a fun experience but not what I had planned for. The conditions made the course more challenging than I had expected, plus the goal of not getting injured again. I had several injuries this season and did not want to repeat. Luckily I didn’t. I also saw the great advantage disk brakes could have offered me on parts of this course; my carbon rim brakes did not work well on the frozen downhills and mud.
The really good things was that I got the best hotel room, within a short 10 minute ride of the course. This made the post-race cleanup easier. It was so easy that Hank Pfeiffel and Troy Barry hung out there and kept warm before Troy’s race.
PVC had some good racing that day including: Nathaniel Smith, Brian Cole, Adam Lampton, and Chris Darling. It was great to see most racing! It was a fun season but I am glad to be on skis now! I look forward to the PVC racing team next season!
Here are some images: