i rolled into this weekend's charm city cross - the first midatlantic race of the season - excited but unsure. i've raced (and ridden) so sporadically this year that i had no idea what kind of shape i was in. i'd been relatively happy with my race results and unlike previous years i'd actually managed to spend a decent amount of time working on my 'cross skills in the prior weeks, but i was lacking any context within which to judge myself.
the forecast was threatening rain and storms but it was still dry as i arrived at druid hill park in baltimore before the first race of the day. i like to get to cross races early so that i can get a nice relaxed look at the course before the racing starts, so i suited up, put my race wheels (to which i'd finally mounted my tufos the night before) on my bike and took a couple of laps.
the course was long with no steep climbs, but there were a couple of hills near the end, a road climb from the start followed by a flat road finish straight that was perfect for sprinting and a couple of long fast grassy drags. a real power course. there were a couple of tight and off-camber corners, but otherwise it wasn't that technical. two sets of planks, both right after turns, one followed by a long shallow climb that would make a quick remount difficult. throw in a wooden retaining wall, followed by 180 around a tree to go back over the wall, and a triple sandpit with a 180-degree turn in the middle and you've got a good idea of the course.
watched the C race, took another couple of laps between that and the masters race, then started my final prep and warm up. there were callups based on registration order, so i took a fast lap of the course before heading to the start to line up. number 133 put me back in the 4th row of a 90+ rider field and i ended up near the middle of the row. as the ref blew the whistle i could feel the rest of the field starting faster than the area that i was. there was some rubbing on the start but we all stayed upright. my start wasn't good, in fact i'd say it was downright bad. being right in the middle of the field i had nowhere to go and then got stuck behind bottlenecks and pileups a couple times once we got off the road and into the grass. once i had the chance i started passing riders, including my city bikes/metrogutter teammate mike scardaville, fort james, and dillard, working my way up through the field.
3 laps down, 4 laps to go we were pretty well sorted out and i started to let off the gas a bit to make sure i'd make it too the end of the race without fading. i had a kelly rider in front of me, and a couple of coppi riders behind me. i passed the kelly rider after he went off course on a road crossing half way around the lap, then he came back around 30 seconds later when i took a turn wide and ended up in the tape. next lap i took a bad line through a tricky off-camber turn up and around a tree and ended up in the dirt. i was back up quickly but realized that 6 inches of my tufo had popped off my rim. i'm not sure if this was the cause of the crash, or a result of it, but i was able to pop it back onto the rim and ride to the pit, which, luckily for me, was pretty close. eric leaver of ncvc gave me a hand getting my pit front wheel on and i got back out onto the course to try and salvage my race.
i'd burnt enough matches in my ride up through the field on the first couple of laps that i didn't have the juice left to take back many places, but i probably managed to pull back 5 or 6 places in the last couple of laps. mike put in a good chase when i came around him, but i was able to build a little gap.
i'm not disappointed with my result (50 of 78 finishers), but i'd have been much happier if i'd not crashed and finished where i think i was before that (around 35th i think). with a better start i think i'd have done a lot better. my remounts aren't great -- they still have a stutter-step -- but they're getting better and i'm getting back in the pedals faster. i'm definately not losing as much time on the barriers as i used to. the 45-minute B race didn't seem as long as it did last year when i made the move from the Cs in the middle of last season.
i liked the tufo rear/michelin mud front setup that i had after my mid-race wheel change, so i think i might keep it. the michelin felt more sure-footed in the corners, but i do like the extra climbing traction in the rear from the lower pressure you can run in a tufo.
B race notes: brewer won the race, beating georgia gould (current womens mtb national champion)... the top 10 had 3 under 18s (nick bax, morgan gerlak, zach adams)... fatmarc took 6th, nystrom 7th...
great course, great park, great people, great time... keep it up guys.
next up... ed sanders cyclocross at lilypons