A bunch of us Mid-Atlantic KHS riders went up to Granogue CX out in Somewherenearwilmington, DE for 2 days of racing this past weekend. The Granogue courses may not be the most technical ones around, but they’re always a suffer fest. No matter how they set it up, you go home feeling like the course was 75% uphill. There are very few places to recover. The conditions were unexpectedly dry this year, considering the amount of rain DC saw during the week. That was great news for me, because I could finally get away with the file treads glued to my new Hed Belgium/White Industries wheelset that JRABS built up for me this summer. Quick review/plug: super responsive and plenty light (1450-ish grams I think) for me... RECOMMENDED.
Anyway… on to the racing: I lined up in the 13th row (#67) of the grid in the 2/3/4 race (I need to improve my Bikereg race tactics), but I set my sights on a top 10 finish. Having gotten used to the 60 minute races in MABRA, I figured I’d just drill it 100% for the 45 minute race, and see what happens. The whistle goes off, and this is where things get a little blurry for me. I don’t really remember many details of the first few laps of the race, because I was really just trying to turn myself inside out and take advantage of any opportunity to make a pass. I didn’t care who was sitting in drafting. I just focused on the rider directly in front of me until I passed. Somewhere around 3 to go, I heard a spectator tell the guy in front of me that he was sitting in 9th. Mission accomplished as far as goals go, but I could see 2 other groups ahead of me within striking distance. Dropped him on the road and chased them down. About halfway through the 2nd to last lap, I caught a group of 4 or 5 guys, including the Shane Watters, the MAC points leader, and a few other people that I would assume are part of the lead group or the 1st chase group. I couldn’t see anyone in front of this group, but if there was anyone up there, they were probably out of reach with just a little over a lap to go. I decided that I was better off sitting in for a minute and taking some time to figure out how to beat these guys. I let them pull me through the 1st half of the last lap, and after recovering for a minute or 2, was able to determine that this actually was the lead group. Recovery section over… I started a couple of attacks. Only one person seemed to be able to respond and counter. I knew who’s wheel I wanted to be on (Alejandro Guzman) leading up to the line, and decided to stick to it until the last 150m or so. I’m sure he knew what I was doing, because he definitely started trying to entice me to pass. This little game allowed Nick Taylor to close the gap just before we entered the final technical off camber section. All I had to do was stay on Alejandro’s wheel. I had ridden this cleanly for the previous five laps, but started over thinking my lines, took a stupid one, and washed out my front wheel while correcting. That gave Nick the green light to go grab Alejandro’s wheel. I got up quickly, but kinda slammed my drive train into the ground in the process (this will come into play later), and watched my chances of a win sneak away. I drilled it for the next minute and a half, but couldn’t close the gap in time for the sprint. Alejandro took the win, and Nick took 2nd. The best I could muster from my legs at that point was to hold my 3rd place position and keep Shane from closing the gap on me.
While writing this, it kinda seems like an epic failure on my part to capitalize on a solid chance at a win. Yes, it probably was, but I it didn’t bother me that much. I still think this is the best CX race I’ve ever had, including past wins. While that one mistake was certainly untimely, it was really the only notable mistake I made the entire race. From a bike-handling standpoint, I'm not the cleanest of racers out there... especially not when I'm riding so far into the red like I had been for the previous 44 minutes. So to ride clean and fast enough to work my way through more than half of the field (and still have something left for attacks when I got there) was a huge confidence-builder. I met and exceeded my goal for the day, had my best-ever finish in a cat 2/3/4 field, my highest-ever kill count (64), and snagged a spot on the podium to top it off.
Ellis (31st), Ryan (39th), Blake (66th), and Uwe (87th) all raced really well on Saturday too.
On to Sunday's race...
I was lined up on the 13th row again, so I had the same goals in mind, but was also eyeing a win in the back of my head. The whistle goes off, and my bike (which ran silent during warm-up sprints) was making an awful clicking noise in the rear. I figured I was between gears or something, but the sound continued as I worked my way through the cassette on the start. Once I settled into my saddle, it kind of went away, so I tried to forget about it. I had made up a lot of places by the time I hit the first corner and was probably already in the top 35 or so. Greg was up front somewhere near top 10, and I was right behind Ryan, Ellis, and Sean.
Let me stop right here. Sean (on a single speed, BTW) registered day of and started on the back line of a 125 man field. Less than 500 meters into the race, he's sitting top 35. That's just crazy.
Back to racing... Ellis takes off, looking really strong. Sean, Ryan, Chad, and I get caught behind a small crash on the 1st tight turn. About 3/4 of the way through the first lap, I'm pacing through the field with Sean and Ryan. We're about 10 seconds behind Ellis at this point. Chad is following close behind us. About then, that clicking sound in my rear derailleur came back to haunt me. Apparently my 3rd-place-ensuring crash on Saturday had weakened my derailleur hanger, because it just snapped off when I got out of the saddle on a small climb. By the time I looked down and diagnosed the problem, Ryan threw his bike at me and grabbed mine. In hindsight, there are surely rules against this, since we weren't in the pit, but what's done is done. By the time I thought it through, I was already sprinting my lanky self away on a bike that is much too small for me. I'm still not sure it was the right thing to do, but I bring this up because stuff like this is what makes Ryan a great teammate. He's always looking for ways to help the team, even at the cost of his own race. While he was running my broken bike 1/2 mile to the pit, I was able to continue trying to work my way through the field and get to my better-fitting pit bike.
Coming out of the pit, I had probably lost about 5 places to Sean, who knows how many to Ellis, and Greg was still up in one of the front groups. Chad goes by me as I'm coming out of the pit, and we work together for a little bit to close the gap to Sean. As we were doing that, we were leapfrogging our way towards the top 25. Chad faded behind a little over the next couple of laps, but never drifted back farther than about 10 seconds from me. By the time Ryan got to his bike in the pit, he was WAY off the back and pretty much just trying to catch someone (anyone). As we got into the last lap, Greg was still fighting for a spot on the podium, Ellis was looking for a top 15, and Sean, Chad and I were still trying to catch Ellis. At the finish, Greg took 7th, Ellis was 18th, and Sean finished right in front of me in 21st (kill count 100+!!!), and Chad was 33rd. Ryan's generosity got him lapped and pulled at 76th place. Good day for the team with 5 out of 6 of us squeezing into the top third of a 125-man field.