Tuesday, October 11, 2011

USGP New Belgium Cup

I always get a kick out of racing 'cross in Colorado. Not because of the events or the competition, but because of the environment. Seeing photos of guys racing with mountains in the background is such a far cry from the muddy fields of the midwest or Flanders for that matter. And then there is the intensity. Racing at altitude in a sport that requires you to go vol gas for 45-60 minutes is never easy.

One thing cannot be contested though when it comes to racing in Colorado. Coloradoans love their cycling, and the USGP stop in Ft. Collins has the biggest crowds, the toughest competition, and the most vendors at the venue. The entire front range comes to the party. After meeting Greg Keller last year at this event, I finally got the chance to hang out with him and meet some of the Boulder Cycle Sport and Boulder area racers I'd been rubbing elbows with over the past two seasons. Greg runs the Mud and Cowbells website and you won't find another guy the more passion for cyclocross. Top notch all the way.

Going into the weekend we were expecting cool temps and clear skies. But as race time approached, the front range was throwing us for a loop. As we pulled into Chris' around 1am Thursday night, the forecast was looming, 60 and clear Friday, 40 and rainy Saturday, and Sunday was touch and go.

Day One

We awoke to cloudy skies but the heavens hadn't begun crying yet. Elisabeth was first off in the Women's 3/4 race, finishing mid-pack in her USGP debut. Next was Chris in the 4s race. He had an awesome day battling from last row to mid-pack of the 80+ rider field. Then there was the men's 2/3 race. Chad Carpenter, Dave Averill and Tyler Carmichael battled out and all squeezed in top 30 efforts. Rafal and Clint took to the SS race and kept the NE scene rolling, followed by TK and TP in the Masters 45+.

By this time, the rain was coming down. Heavy down. We were in for a high plains repeat of Sunday in Sun Prairie. I was giddy like a school girl because I knew this would play to my strengths with slick twisty descents and off cambers.

In the absence of Bill Elliston, I got the number two call up. I slotted in next to series leader Richard Feldman. The front row call up is a blessing and a curse on cold wet days. As the back of the start grid is filled in, you're left up front, cold, wet and shivering. And then the whistle!

Off the line, Feldman slipped a pedal and went sliding onto his top tube. I had my own issues getting clipped in and was engulfed by the charging field. As we entered the quagmire that was the first turn, a rider in front of me began sliding as his front wheel lost traction. Pinned against the barriers on one side and quickly falling riding in front and to the right of me, I had nowhere to go and hit the deck hard. As riders ricocheted off me I got to my bike as quick as possible. I immediately began passing riders taking really aggressive lines through each and every turn. As the course opened up the situation wasn't good, I was well back in the 30's. This was going to be a very long day of fighting.

One of the drier sections on Saturday
Photo: Jill Tillinghast

To make matters worse, as I was charging through the field towards the end of the first lap, a second rider decided to take me as a victim as I hit the deck again, this time however my bike was also run over by a guy. I heard the crunch of carbon fibre as the guy came to a stop atop my bike. I thought the frame was broken for sure. As I jumped on the bike to get going again, something felt different. But as I rode through the finish line to complete lap one things seemed to be okay. The weird feeling was probably muddy hands and lack of grip on the handlebar.

Reeling in Feldman with a half lap remaining
The course really suited my style. The gains I could make on the twisty descents (4-5 riders at a time) far out weighed the inability to climb at altitude. The pit crew, Anne, RD and TK, and all the other NE folks around the course were giving me updates. First into the 20's then the teens, and before I knew it I had Feldman in sight. I couldn't believe my eyes. We were together on lap one after my crash and his pedal slip, but after that he'd checked out and disappeared up the course. With one lap remaining I closed in on him and made my pass over the flyover hoping I could gap him on the slippery descent. It worked but my gains were minimal, 3 seconds at best. As we climbed back up to the final straightaway, I'd given it everything but as he was chasing the advantage was with him and he nipped me at the line as we rolled across in 9th and 10th place.

Day 2

Establishing a gap with CJ Faulkner in tow
Photo: Megan Doloto
Sunday couldn't have been more of a contrast. A cloudy damp morning gave way to sunshine and a drying course. By the time we toed the line the course was drying quickly. I managed a quick pre-ride to test the difference between my Fango dry tires and my Limus wet tires. The decision was easy, Limus' all the way.

My luck off the line wasn't any better on day two as I again missed my pedal and quickly fell back into the teens. The drier, faster course had us all pedaling nose to tail and again I was able to maintain my position on the climbs and use the descents to pass. As the 10+ rider train began to break up, I soon found myself battling in a five man group fighting for 4th with CJ Faulkner, Brian Hludzinski, Steven Stefko and Grant Berry.

I was driving the group hard trying to bring back Richard Feldman and Christopher Case. Pete Webber was again, out of reach as expected. Soon, CJ passed me and mentioned something about working together. A quick glance over my shoulder and I saw we had a gap. CJ drove the pace for the next lap and with two to go I took over. There was no time to waste and Stefko (Colorado boy) was staying close but not close enough to ever make contact. With one to go, I put it in over-drive. Running the stairs and barriers as hard as I had all week. Taking bigger risks on the downhills. Standing up and downshifting on the climbs. And constantly accelerating on the flats. The effort was working as I slowly gained seconds here and there over CJ. I was closing in on Feldman but came up 8 seconds short, gasping for air across the line. Fourth place on the day, first flatlander, and secured a solid hold on second place overall in the USGP series.

Putting the pass on Brian Conant after the barriers
Photo: Megan Doloto

Leading the chase group through the barriers
Photo: Jill Tillinghast

Final lap gasping for air
Photo: Megan Doloto


mw said...

good work out there. sure enjoy the reading and picture viewing. gazing really.

Carp said...

Sungazing rules.