To say I was excited for this race would have been a gross understatement. I made my bike racing debut here last year only two days after discovering clipless pedals. I rode on a hybrid and I had mechanical problems. But I had a blast and that was the start to my love of cyclocross. So I was really looking forward to coming back here with loads of experience from last season as well as a full year training on the bike and away from running. I actually have a bike suited for racing, I'm on a bike team, and I had extremely high hopes for what I could do here.
If you like picture books better, check out the pics Jess took. I've posted them with captions. I thought about firing her for missing the finish, but my agent informed me that I'm contractually obligated to continue the relationship. Seriously though, she took some good ones and it was great know I had her in the pits if I needed her.
My warmups for road races have been pretty lame, but I knew with the way 'cross races start, I couldn't afford not to get the legs snapping. I did some spinning on the trainer and then did starts to get ready on the roads around Druid Hill Park. I then rode one final lap on the course before making my way to the start line just minutes before the whistle. I was fortunate enough to have a starting box on the front row due to my tenth place in the MABRA series last year. On the front row with me were the usual suspects. My favorite for the race, Mike O'Hara of LSV along with C3 riders John Hostetter III and Chris Nystrom. Geogia Gould, the 2006 women's MTB National Champ joined us as well.
Last season my starts were horrendous and I bungled away the only callup I got at Fair Hill. I've been working on starts in practice and most every day because of that weakness and today it paid off. I hit the pedal on the first shot at it and was surprised how quickly I was clipped in. I nailed it, but unfortunately the riders on my left and right converged towards the corner and cut me off a little bit. I had to slow up some, but still made it to the first turn in aroudn 5th place.
O'Hara hit the dirt at top speed with his customary jump into the air. He seemed as excited about the return to 'cross as I did. But unfortunately, his excitement quickly went awry as he took the off carmber left hander at too high a speed and slid off into the course tape. I ended up having to stop when I hit his handlebars, but I was lucky enough to get around him and avoid the carnage behind me. That said, there was a decent gap that had formed up ahead. I started working to close it.
I believe we did eight laps total and the first three were brutal. I was thinking all kinds of negative thoughts and I was hurting. I started thinking that I wasn't fit enough, that I wasn't going to be able to hang in the lead group and that my handling skills weren't any better than last season. But I tried to keep those thoughts out and focus on the task at hand. I had the start I wanted and I was in a great position to do well if I could hang with the pace.
After those first laps, the pace did subside some and I was able to settle in a little more comfortably. I had some trouble in the sand pit when I forgot to dismount and I ended up getting a fist full of sand before recovering quickly. I handled all the other dismounts adequately and my remounts were going very well. I ran most of the hill out in the fields rather than remount immediately after the barriers as some riders were doing.
I was finally able to work my way past Steve Fife on the fields and eventually it was myself and Morgan Gerlak chasing Geogia and Todd Hesel of HVB. I was very impressed by Morgan. He's a 14 year old and last year he wasn't having much success in the B races. I mean, how well can a 13 year old do against men? Well, today he damn well proved he belongs with us and he was keeping me focused when I hurt the most. Needless to say, he had plenty of fans cheering for him on this, his home course.
At one point, I noticed that the gap was growing between Morgan and I and Georgia and Todd. So I said to Morgan, "We've got to close that gap!" He responded with an agreement to work together to work up to them. That's exactly what I wanted to hear, so I did the first of the work. I'm not entirely sure how to work together in a 'cross race. There's not really an advantage gained from drafting, so the effects seem to be more like running in a group. Folks serve to keep you focused, but I'm not sure how much you can actually rest when you're not leading.
In any case, I was able to close down the gap and I'm not sure if that's where Morgan was finally lost or not. But from then on, it was Todd, Georgia, and myself in the lead group. Coming up the asphalt through the start/finish, I was actually in the lead for the first time ever and I was feeling the effort it had taken to get me up to that point. So I sat up in the same way I've seen Vervecken and Nys do in races and I took a gander back at what what behind us. We had a solid gap and I was pretty sure that it would hold to the finish. But Georgia, wasn't as content and she said, "We've got to go, or Morgan's going to catch us." I think she just may have not wanted me to rest, but I went ahead and punched it pretty hard. The announcer loved it and I got to hear, "And the Coppi rider is attacking Georgia Gould." It was cool.
In the closing laps, I was absolutely flying through the off-camber and that time was no exception. I looked back and I had a gap on Todd and Georgia. But after several turns, they were shutting me down and coming into the sand pits, my lead wasn't much any longer. I led at least one lap and nearly two and Georgia was back into the lead at points as well. Todd stuck his head up there now and then, but we were all working hard and the race was on.
Coming back across the road on the penultimate lap, I felt and heard a bolt and washer come off my bike! Inside, I was freaking out, but kept pedaling. I was sure it was a brake bolt, since I'd done so much tweaking in the past week, but a quick check showed me it wasn't--they were working fine. My next guess was the chain ring bolts, but as far as I could tell, they were fine too. I yelled to Jess to get my bike ready as I passed the pits. I didn't know what was wrong, but I assumed I'd find out sooner or later. My mechanicing didn't cost me the race as I didn't find out that it was one of my two seatpost bolts that had fallen out until after the race. There was no problem--thank God!
On the bell lap, Georgia attacked and the announcer noted how early it was for her to be attacking. I'm not sure if that was a mistake or not. Maybe she knew that her handling was her best chance since I think Todd and I were stronger. But in any case, she gapped me and Todd was able to latch on. I was falling back! I didn't panic yet. I just wanted to get through the technical sections without making a big mistake and then get out into the fields where I could make up big ground as I'd done before. I did just that and coming to the barriers at the base of the hill, I passed Georgia and Todd by running up the hill before remounting. They were all on my tail and I tried so hard not to touch my brakes as we flew back across the road.
I nailed it up the hill to the set of natural barriers and from then on, my focus was to protect the lead. I knew that if I could lead after the final set of barriers, that I would most likely win. I could ride the final twists and turn at my own pace because there was no room to pass (remind folks of last year?). As soon as we hit the asphalt and made the turn for home, I knew I had it won. I only halfway sprinted to start with to see if Todd would try to come around or suck my wheel, but I instantly had a gap. From there, I downshifted just as fast as I could and I sprinted all out to the line. I let out a yell, gave the salute and fully enjoyed my first podium and first win in cyclocross.
To win today at Charm City was awesome. It's my favorite course with the exception of Granogue and the competition here is always strong because the MAC season hasn't yet started. I came in with the goal of beating Georgia and putting my nose up front for a spell. I had aspirations of winning but didn't know yet if they were pipe dreams or not. I was hungry but nervous about my chances and to win was more than I could have hoped for. Hat's off to Nystrom, Bernie, Vonteity, Auer, Hostetter, etc. for another great race.