Since I started racing CX 3 years ago, Autumn and CX always give me chills and is no doubt my favorite time of the year. The beauty of the leaves turning, the crunchy sound of leaves underneath the tires and the feeling of inhaling and exhaling the cool, crisp air to and from your lungs. I’d take it any day over the hazy, hot and humid days of summer (and preferably without warmers :-). It’s great to see more and more people (and fellow teammates!) getting into CX and sharing in the pain.
I felt this year it was time to make some upgrades so I picked up a barely used ’13 Cannondale SuperX (58cm) in the previous off-season and some Velocity Major Tom’s paired up with a PDX on the front and the new MXP on the back (which worked out well!). It was my first time gluing up tires and, aside from knocking off a few brain cells, it wasn’t that bad! I still like my Ridley X-Fire but, though it felt great on gravel races, it’s 58cm frame always felt a little big for CX and a bit “tippy”. I’m sure that had something to do with running clinchers over 40psi (not knowing because of a bad pump gauge!) but, regardless, I’m glad I made the change. Not to mention, it’s nice having a pit bike/commuter/gravel bike/N+1.
Another preseason decision I had to make was to decide on racing with guys my age across all categories or with the ageless 3/4 category. Tough call because I know my training wasn’t really structured enough at the beginning of the season and I got mixed opinions on what to do. My main priority is my family and two kids so start time had some say into that decision. Regardless, I worked it out, went with my heart by starting with the 3/4’s and seeing where it went from there.
The first race of the year for me was in the 3/4 at NEOCX #3 Brooklyn CX. Going into the race, I hadn’t raced in over a month and felt a bit nervous at the line. I had punctured the brand new PDX tubular 20 minutes into a training ride and sealant apparently didn’t fix it as it went flat in the pre-ride. Mental note: don’t ride tubulars for training on unknown grounds or prepare for a potential costly mistake! Therefore, I rode with my pit, PDX clincher on the front and the MXP on the back. I ran took the chance of running both the clincher and tubular at 32psi since the course had some mud, albeit a generally fast and flowy course. First lap, I fell off the front after the first lap but generally felt really good for not having raced in a while. Gearing was sufficient (42/38 front, 12x27 back) for the flats and the one switchback climb. In all, I stayed on the bike and managed to maintain the 6th spot. Tried catching up to my teammate David Short but I also didn’t run a 1/2 marathon like he did the day before and was at my limit. For those who don’t know, I gave David some friendly banter throughout the season as his tapering involved 50+ mile rides, 10+ mile runs the day before a race. All kidding aside, big props to David who’s an awesome, young racer with a great personality. Best of luck to him in his future racing endeavors.
Next up was the sub-tropical 3/4 ABRA kickoff cross race in Point Marion, PA. Did I mention that I like cool, crisp air for racing? Yeah, so my goal was to get the <someone was joking about> prime in the first lap and then maintain a decent spot for the final. Instead, I led the first lap putting NuGo on the CX map but had the unfortunate event of crashing into the back end of another rider on the downhill section before the new run-up. I never recovered after that and the heat really got to my lungs (EIB). I enjoyed the course setup regardless of the conditions and it was good to see several teammates (Kyle and Jason specifically) get top ten finishes in that field!
After that was the 3/4 ABRA Military cross race in Oakdale, PA. Love that this venue is only 20 minutes from my house. Although, I simply wasn’t feeling it going in. Not having the front tubular back, stressful work week and going down drive-side on a warm-up lap didn’t help. I got a pretty good start but went down pretty hard (drive-side again) on the third main turn. Managed to catch back up to some but then, on the very next lap, I went wide into one of the white posts (at the bottom of the hill) which snagged and ripped out my rear brake cable. Needless to say, it was interesting riding four laps with only a front brake and taking risks at catch back up. I ended up catching up to my teammate and friend Derek Reager who gave me some inspiration to hammer out the last lap, pass a few riders and settle for a sub-par 16th. Again kudos to Kyle and David for podium spots in that field.
Next, onto the Tinkey-designed M.O.M. CX race at North Park. Got my tubular back, got some good sleep and woke up “feeling good” on a beautiful, sunny day. Next to Marilla Park, this was one of my favorite courses of the season (except for the sooper high and close barriers – I know the reason Tinkey, I know!, just sayin’!). It was a flowy yet challenging course with some LRR fast pump sections and some HRR glue-like surfaces along with the strenuous run-up and technical decent. The setting was spectator and, especially, kid-friendly as my wife and kids ended up coming and rooting on dad. In all, I had a good day on the bike (and staying on the bike!), gave it my all and finished 5th in a large Sport division field. Again kudos to other NuGo’ers in that field with David taking first and Jason, 8th.
One week after M.O.M. was ABRA’s Carrera De Los Muertos race at Marilla Park. Much different, dryer conditions than the previous year(s) but this is still my FAVorite course! Love the setting, love the roots, love the off-camber, love the hill of death (especially in a year that I could actually ride it!). The time of the 3/4 simply wasn’t working out for me and my home life so I decided to reg for my first Master 40+ race. Ok, yes, I did feel a little old but, if you ask anyone who knows me, I don’t focus on age but rather how I feel! I got a call-up for the second row and was happy to see JR enter the same category. I know several of the top dogs were outside of my league but, other than that, I had no idea what to expect competition wise. I got a pretty good start and maintained a pretty good position in my own ‘pack’ outside of the top dogs taking off. It turned out to be an awesome duo between JR and I for at least the last two laps. JR made a great tactical move on the last lap so I ended up taking 4th place but I thoroughly enjoyed that race and still think of it today (and how I could improve :). Kudos to Gary Rodosta for continuing to host that race. I will most certainly be back.
Next week was a new race at the South Franklin township park and I again raced in the 40+ division. Upon entering the park, I saw remnants of Bruceton Mills from years ago with the hill climb with several switchbacks. It was a pretty windy day but our race missed the rain that came later for the 3/4 guys. I felt pretty good in practice but was concerned about the climb. Turns out, my legs stayed with me for most of the race and my teammate, Josh Carson, and I hung together for most of the race. The sand was fun but, man, that false flat section after the start was super slow and tough both physically and mentally! I didn’t think I’d like the run-up with barriers but it was actually kinda fun. Again, the 42/38 combo was nice to have for that race for it’s variety of terrain. Managed 4th place again and was honored to stand next to PFlug (albeit a 1/2 lap down) on the podium. Kudos to all of those out there who can ride 46T and above chain rings on these types of courses. Maybe I just need a coach or eat more meat (or, rather, seitan :).
Next up was a non-ABRA series race at Raccoon park. I signed up for the 3/4 as the time worked out well that week and I car pooled with fellow teammate and 3/4 racer Jason H. I know it was sooooper windy and cool that day but that usually inspires me…not today. I knew something was wrong when I was literally shaking in warm-up and resorted to putting on tights and a thicker base layer up top. It was definitely an endurance course suited best for roadies but I just didn’t have that punch and my legs weren’t recovering as fast as they were in previous races. On the third lap, upon remounting after the barriers, I stumbled and ended up stepping into my front wheel and knocking it out of dish (was sitting off-center in the fork). Was going to pit but decided that it wasn’t worth it based on my position and decided to just ride it out. Ended up in 12th with a front tire that couldn’t rotate more than two rotations without coming to a stop. Kudos Kyle and Jason on top 10 finishes in the 3/4 and kudos to Tom B. and John McDanel on 1ST and 3rd spots in the 4/5!
So that evening, I pretty much figured out what was wrong…throat started getting raspy and, come Monday morning, I couldn’t swallow anything, had chills and could barely walk up and down the staircase without sitting down. Although I didn’t get diagnosed, I was exposed to someone that weekend who had strep throat. Took me nearly a week to get any form of energy to exercise but I knew that whatever race fitness I had had diminished. To make things worse, the two herniated discs in my neck went ‘out’ which, trust me, is not fun. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve had recurring issues with these for about 5 years where, at one point, I couldn’t even get out of bed one day due to it’s paralyzing effects. Since then, I’ve been receiving regular treatment for it and have been generally pain-free. Regardless, I was a no-go for the much anticipated ABRA White Park CX race.
Come South Park – the final ABRA race of the season. Since NuGo was sponsoring this race, I knew in advance that I’d be at the race the majority of the day. I pre-reg’d before I got sick and doubled up for the first time for both masters 40+ and the 3/4. Regardless of how I felt, I was doing it. I enjoyed the course last year and really enjoyed the setup even more this year. I knew the sickness had passed as I went with shorts (no embrocation cream thank you) and arm warmers with no issues. Felt no pressure and went into it thinking, do your best and enjoy it. It was great to see many of my teammates there. AND, it was ESPECIALLY great to see teammate Tom Borner get his SECOND cross win in the 4/5, Rachel get (I think?) her best finish (2nd) in the women’s 1–2-3 race and find out that Jason got 3rd in the 3/4! Meanwhile, I did what I could, pushed where I could, but the upper-end simply wasn’t there to keep me up front. It simply gave me more inspiration to do better and possibly add some structure to my training for next year. I realize there are more races left in nearby Ohio but due to my training level, holidays approaching and balancing home-life, I decided that S. Park was my last race of the season.
In summary, I’ll take the few podiums and continue to improve moving forward with respect to life’s other priorities. It was also good to see a large amount of team members racing this CX season and take some significant podium spots!
Thanks, first off, to my wife Kimberly for respecting me as a husband, father and my passion for cycling and fitness.
Thanks to both my chiropractor, Dr. Dave at Pittsburgh Upper Cervical Chiropractic and Denise Lanigan at Lanigan Massage and Bodywork for keeping my body in check.
Thanks to everyone at my home LBS, Trek of Pittsburgh (Robinson) for all of your continued assistance and guidance for all of my cycling needs.
Thanks to Rob at WLC for allowing me to use his equipment to fix my bike mid-season.
Thanks to JR for hosting an awesome, local series of CX racing. I’m not sure if I’d race CX as much without ABRA.
Thanks to NuGo for your title sponsorship and getting me addicted to your dark chocolate bars. 😀
Happy Holidays to all! See ya for some snow MTBing and, better yet, gravel racing in the spring!