Saturday, November 15, 2008
USGP New Jersey Day 1
Another weekend of big travel with USGP cyclocross races going on in New Jersey. Same crew as last weekend with the addition of two more. We brought on supermechanic Chris Kreidl to help us out this weekend and Mark flew in last night to Philly. Anna and I packed up the van on Thursday afternoon, picked up Chris and Kaitie and began the journey to the East Coast. We made it to Akron that night for some sleep and then finished the drive off on Friday.
Pulled into Princeton, New Jersey around 4:00 - just in time to preride in the fog and spitting rain before darkness came. The course was already sloppy and our bikes were dirty before we knew it. The super long sand pit was a giant slurry of water and sand and our drivetrains were gritty and sounded awful. The steep steps of the flyover promised to be painful each lap too. We knew this weekend would be memorable and poor Chris knew he was going to be kept busy with lots of bike cleaning.
We hopped back in the van for the "short" 7 mile drive back to the hotel. Of course it was 5:30, traffic was a nightmare, and you can't make left turns on US Route 1 where we were staying. Our dear little GPS also seemed to think our hotel was smack in the middle of a river. Turning around was impossible with the traffic and we ended up driving around the Princeton campus in an effort to try to get back to find the hotel. The gas light came on and we decided to go get gas instead of dealing with the ridiculous traffic. We stopped at three stations and no diesel for the van. All the stations in NJ are full service too so the attendants kept telling us to go down the road. We finally found a Shell with diesel and the dude overfilled our tank and spilled probaly a third of a gallon on the ground . . . nice - I think I could have done a better job buddy! Long story short - two hours later after getting some food we finally found our hotel. One big happy family in our two bedroom suite with kitchen and living room. Good to get out of the van and we chilled while Chris cleaned bikes before going to pick up Mark at the Philly airport.
Saturday morning we were expecting rain as the weather report promised 100% chance of precip. Cloudy skies gave way to sun though and by the time we drove to the course it was windy, mild, and relatively beautiful out. The previous day's rain and all the earlier races had turned the course to thick gloppy mud though. True cross conditions right?
The layout of registration/bathrooms/parking caused us to have to cross the muddy course several times and our bikes were pretty filthy before we even kitted up. Racers were running numerous sections of the coure rather than trying to muscle through the thick mud. And many were switching out bikes in the pit if they could. Chris gave us some pointers and we planned on swapping out dirty bikes for clean ones throughout the race. After warming up on the roads we lined up - 45 women - biggest race of the year thus far for me. Great to see some riders and friends I hadn't seen in awhile.
I was number 16 and ended up in the third row. A long uphill pavement section before a left hand turn into the mud. I was clipped in right away but it was one of the most aggressive starts I've been in. Girls were leaning into each other and I nearly crashed three times as we all jockeyed for position. The herd of us turned into the mud and the quick turns bottlenecked us. I hopped off the bike and ran around some riders only to remount for maybe 100 meters before an unrideable muddy setion forced me off again. I was probably in the low 20s at this point and began trying to pick off riders and make my way as smoothly as possible through the mud. If you could keep your momentum and speed up you could ride through it but otherwise you were better off running. I passed by the pits the first time thinking I didn't need a bike change quite yet. I was running and pushing my bike in many sections - the last thing I wanted to do was put a 30 pound muddy bike on my shoulder and run with it. Pushing somehow feels more stable and easier to me. Trying to carry that thing up the stairs of the flyover was painful. The dreaded sand section of the night before was now my favorite and fastest part of the race.
The sand had firmed up and you could glide right through. Approaching the pits for the second time of lap 1 I headed in and got a seamless bike exchange from Chris. Felt good to be on a clean bike although it didn't stay that way long. I picked off a few more riders and was overjoyed to see we only had two more laps to go.
The running was getting to me - I felt like my heartrate was pegged higher than normal and my legs felt like lead. Here's a cyclingnews pic of me with the superfan gorilla. I passed two more girls and then biffed it in a muddy corner and took out a post. I was up quickly but one rider managed to get back around me. My thumb was sore and I think I bent it backwards in the crash. I switched bikes again and was back on the Ridley. Sally Annis of NEBC was just in front of me and I was determined to stick close to her. I came through the finish with one to go and tried to tell myself it was almost over - just keep pushing - I was ready to stop! I was changing bikes twice a lap and was so grateful to have Chris in there helping out. I passed Sally with a half a lap to go and pushed to get a small gap. Another rider was not far ahead and I thought I might be able to catch her.
The stairs of the flyover were terrible the last lap - I practically crawled up them - but I held my gap over Sally and crossed the line in 14th.
What a day! It was incredibly fun but mentally grueling. The mud zapped all of your energy and you felt slow and cumbersome the entire race. Given the conditions and the incredible field of women at this race I was pretty happy with 14th. Definitely good to practice racing in these conditions and I learned a lot. Anna was T boned by another racer in the start and after racing for a lap her knee was too tweaked to continue and she unfortunately had to pull out. Kaitie was a rock star and rode strongly to finish 18th.
After hosing the bikes (and ourselves!) down we changed and headed back to the course to watch Mark battle it out with 70 other guys. Incredibly talented field of men present. By the time we made it over Mark was riding with Troy Wells and sitting in 7th place! We made our way over to the pit and he had dropped back just slightly to 9th which he would hold the rest of the race.
He was switching bikes up every opportunity as well and Chris was running back and forth to the hose to clean up the dirty bikes.
I got a pretty sweet video of the exchange - . Amazing race for Mark, a former collegiate cross country runner, and he nearly caught Driscoll for 8th by the finish.
Here they are going over the flyover
Huge thanks to Chris for his help in the pit and pre and post race. It's great to have someone to keep our bikes running smoothly and to help organize all of us and our stuff! As soon as we were back at the hotel he lined the bikes up and began the cleaning process while we showered up and relaxed. Staybridge Suites rock and the complimentary laundry came in handy. The rain fell down in sheets soon after we came back to ensure another wet course for today. With temps in the upper 40s today it will be much colder as well.
Thanks to Bob and Planet Bike and the rest of our sponsors for the fabulous support and equipment and getting us to this event. It's always a thrill to race at this level and we've been enjoying the experience. Wow - this entry turned out way longer than I expected! Guess that's what happens when you're bored sitting around the hotel! Thanks for checking in - I'll add photos in the next couple of days!