I'm not going to tell you anything you don't already know about weather systems off the East Coast of the US right now. So I won't bother trying. Where we're at: As the week wore on it became abundantly clear from Al Roker & the Media Circus that there would be rain on Sunday. Or there wouldn't. They pretty much nail it with those kinds of predictions, which is why I guess it's easy to keep your job as long as you sound like you know what you're talking about. I don't know, didn't know, but now I do. There wasn't rain. But it was sort of almost chilly and there was a slight breeze coming off the lake near the race. Not exactly the epic conditions that the weather drones would have you believe, but not a sunny June morning either.
Fairly typical cross weather, I'd say.
It's nice to have the MAC series right in your backyard for this stop on the 8 race tour. For once, I didn't have to get a hotel the night before, or wake up at some absurd time and drive 2 hours to be there. The race was a mere hop down the NJ Turnpike, a small price to pay when some of the other races are in Baltimore, or Providence, or Mars, or what have you. Nice and close. I mean, relatively.
So naturally I spent the night in Pennsylvania.
When I woke up, it was chilly, then it was chilly and raining. Then it was chilly and pouring. So it goes. Bring on the mud. But as I drove over Jugtown Mountain, speeding down 78 to the East, the rain stopped, the skies...well, they stayed gray, and the ground was dry. Totally dry. Bonus, maybe it won't rain today? One can hope. As entertaining as it is to watch others race in the mud, it's not actually as awesome when you're in it. Maybe I'm soft.
Anyway, fast forward 4 hours and I'm lining up in the second row. I drew #910, which means that 5 people did not show up who are ahead of me in the standings. It also means that I still sort of have a shot at top 10 overall if I have a good race today. Those of you following at home know that I've set this top 10 thing as a goal of mine this year. Why? Dunno. Why not? Because it's something to aim for. A good race at HPCX means I have a fair shot at that goal. A bad race means I don't have to trek down to Maryland in 2 weeks. I think I'm ok with either of these at this point.
As we line up, I'm talking to the guys next to me. Eric (Kissena) introduces himself, and we talk out the majority of the line-up wait. He's a good sport, and answers my dumb questions in stride (do you mind if I clip in both feet and lean on you? etc). Chuck also introduces himself, and asks if I was the one who did the recap after Whirlybird for CX Magazine.
Look ma! I'm famous!
I know before the whistle blows I'm going to have a poor start to this race. So of course, the whistle blows and I have my best race start of the year. Up the hill, I'm sitting in a good place, maybe around 15th or so. Things shake out a bit and I'm sitting in 16th, feeling pretty good, not great, but pretty good. I like this course, all except for that climb part of it at the S/F. I'm sitting on wheels, finding a comfort zone, feeling solid and liking the course and how the day feels.
Feeling good that I might end up with one of my better races of the year here. Like. I like this.
So this is where we flashback to before the race...
...Eric has built me some wheels this week and shows with them on race day. Nice new stiff carbon wheels with the Clement PDXs on there. We throw the cassette on but find that it needs a spacer. A spacer? Really? What gives here? No big deal. We go with the new Clement on the front and stay with the Limus on the rear. It's a Franken-combo just like this Franken-storm we have coming up the coast, or down the coast, or out of the closet...
Everyone's got that, right?
Naturally, after 1 lap my rear tire starts to feel soft. Ok, it's ok, This is cross. THIS IS CROSS! We bottom out once in a while. Ok...maybe not this much. And boy these tires are washing out like crazy on the turns. Crap, the bike isn't going to work. Losing too much air. Maybe a lap goes by as the tire slowly bleeds out everything it has. Bumps are bumpier, and I start to come close to riding the rim. Turns are totally sketchy, and I feel like I'm on the verge of rolling the tire off at any second. Not good, this is not good.
So I come up to the barrier area where the team tent is setup and I start yelling "pit bike!"
Nothing. I'm looking at Utah and he has this look on his face like, "I see you saying something, but I have no idea what."
Finally, I think Brad or Pearl or maybe Utah figures it out and Utah runs over to the pit. Unfortunately I am past the pit by the time he gets there, and I have to go another 1/3 of a lp before I get to the other side. This is where we coin the term "bleeding".
Bleeding: Dropping from 16th to 22nd in 1/3 of a lap when riding on a mostly flat tire. However, I will say that we executed one of the cleanest pits in the history of MTBNJ, at least when not involving Fred and Ben. Well Fred riding, and Ben pitting. This was a solid pit, and I felt like we got this as right as we could. I get back on the bike and hear Mandi yell for me to get back up there.
I try. I really do. As you can see, I'm in a No Man's Land here...
But it's hard, I'm sort of sitting in this purgatory where you can't gain on anyone and nobody can gain on you and you're starting to hurt but it still feels good and you're having fun but you want to try to get that guy but he's just out of reach and this hill leading up to the S/F is so damn steep and...
4 laps to go? Ugh.
So we go 4 more laps. I try to ride at this point with no brakes most of the time. While this is undoubtedly fun, I almost eat it several times before I come to the conclusion that I need to be a little more selective in how I apply, or do not apply, my brakes. This is all well and good until I wind up finally washing out my front and landing in the dirt right before the barriers. Naturally this is where everyone is spectating, and everyone loves this, and yells at me. I get up and do my best to run it out through the barriers and up the hill.
At the top, Rich Bauch (Colavita) tells me I might not want to do that so often. I reply, "I'm here for your entertainment." Someone laughs somewhere.
In the last lap I am trying to catch the guy in 21st and also hold off 2 of the guys behind me. I am giving it all I have, and I think I have it covered. Not sure if I can catch 21 but as I round the corner to the end of the race, I tap the brakes and...my brake pads overshoot the brake track, get locked underneath it, and my bike promptly goes from 15 to 2 mph. I lightly pedal the bike, do more or less nothing, then say screw it and get off. I get passed by 3 more people.
I throw the bike on my shoulder and run the rest of the race. I cross the line, drop the bike, and stop right there. This isn't exactly how the race is supposed to go. But sometimes it does. I look up, and Kelly Cline is sitting there looking at me with that face, that one that sort of says, "Been there, at least you finished. What can you do?" I shrug my shoulders and mention something about the brake. As much as I want to throw the bike, it won't help. So I don't.
Overall, 25th. Given that I dropped 6 spots before the pit and 3 at the end, I'll take it. Not an ideal race but if you're going to have a mechanical, might as well line them all up in 1 day and get them out of the way.
So...Fair Hill? I guess we'll see.