Written by Paul Wojciak Saturday, 29 September 2018 00:00
2018 has been an up and down year for me. My winter and spring were great with snowboarding and racing three days at Moab Rocks in April. May closed out with major surgery for my dad. I, his only family, had to take care of a million things for him. Racing was the last thing on my mind. Well, honestly, not the last thing, but pretty close. Summer wore on into fall and my dad's health and situation are remarkably better now. He's got a new normal and a long way to go, but at least there is a road now. All of a sudden, cyclocross season is here, I start to get the racing tingle, and I have some bandwidth in my life to actually do some races. Of course, while I've been riding, I haven't been training. What the heck, set my goal to not finish last, have some fun, and put team Bikeman kit in the game. I can do that!
The Newtown Cyclocross event put on by CCAP in Connecticut is pretty close to my home and has been a fun venue in the past. I signed up for Masters 50+ and kept those goals loose. The race venue is on the property of the First Company Governor's Foot Guard. There are two equestrian locations in Connecticut providing ceremonial escort to the state governor and they've been doing it since October 1771! The race course was a great combination of punchy climbs, off cambers, tight turns, and short accelerations. Conditions were dry but grippy with overcast skies, temps in around 60 degrees.
I went through all my normal pre-race prep. I figured that keeping with the routine will help with the nerves. I learned the day's race schedule was about 15 minutes behind when I lined up for a pre-ride lap. The pre-ride helped me settle in and prove that the CX bike is recently tuned was still in working order. The mostly grassy course had really good traction. Let's see how things go.
Our Masters field was 'schooling' like fish before our staging. Here I am with my place in the 'class'. As it so happens, Iron Maiden - Run to the Hills was playing on the public address system right about the time. I remember thinking that's a good omen.
Lucky for me, my staging location was front row owing to last year's crossresults.com number. Of course, that rider isn't really me today, but we'll all take a front row start. Am I right? The whistle blew and we were off. I got clipped in and worked my way into position, following a line of riders up the first hill into some switchbacks. While traversing an off camber, three riders fell down in front of me like dominoes. I went around and was three riders further from the back!
I found another wheel and kept pushing feeling pretty decent considering I hadn't really done any top end work for months. The flow of the course really allowed time for recovery which helped me a ton. I came through the first lap and saw a 5 laps to go indicator. OK. That's going to be fun. I kept riding smooth, passing riders, and keeping my position. We started to catch the 40+ age group's back markers. I find it motivating to always have some rider around me in a race. If you find yourself in no man's land with no one to catch, you may ease off or let your attention wander. That wasn't the case in this field, there was someone to race the whole time.
The laps ticked off one by one and things were going better than I expected. The barriers were not a problem and there were no shoulder carry sections on the course. Some of the riders I was catching were definitely in my 50+ field. I finally got the bell and I spent the last lap tight to a rider's wheel. Over the barriers and I took a moment to get clipped back in. He put a gap on me. I caught him back up and we rounded the last turn. I grabbed a few gears and stood up, sprinting with what I had left. He was sprinting too; I might catch him. Over the line; he got me by a wheel.
Well, that experience felt good both emotionally and physically. I often say, "Set your expectations low and you are rarely disappointed". Some may call that a defeatist attitude. I call it pragmatic realism. I admit a couple months ago I had serious doubts about a lot of things. With my dad's health on the upswing, racing once again became possibility. I'm glad I was able to get my team Bikeman kit out there. I expect to get in the grid again and look forward to doing so. Newtown Cyclocross was just the event I needed to get Back in the Racing Saddle.
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