"Charm is my favorite 'Cross race." I heard this dozens of times over the weekend in Baltimore.
words by Clark Fredricksen images by Daghan Perker
Maybe it was the excitement of having UCI pros like Stephen Hyde, Jeremy Powers and Ellen Noble shoot across the same course as the category fives, or maybe it was the specter of the hulking Belgian flyover constructed in the middle of the park. Or maybe it was the crabs. Whatever the reason, the big takeaway from the weekend was that everyone loves Charm City Cross.
Druid Hill Park is a cool four hours from Brooklyn. For folks wondering, isn't near any of the main filming locations for The Wire. The right move for anyone racing early in the morning -- as I was -- was to drive down Friday night and find a nice Airbnb in town -- preferably also far away from said filming locations.
TBD's Clay Parker Jones has developed a knack for creating annotated course maps to help new guys like me not screw up too badly. In this case, his map for Charm City was extremely helpful:
The Race - Men's 5
The starting sprint at Charm City was a long stretch of tarmac into a smooth right-hand turn. Each field seemed to misjudge the distance of this stretch and inevitably started slowing down as they waited for the right-hander. As a result, I took the hole-shot both days in the five field .
Elevation change was an unspoken theme at Charm City given that the course was pocked with technical features:
- An epic Belgian flyover with 15-20 steep steps
- Multiple downhill and off-camber “W” sections
- An obligatory set of barriers
- Two "horse jumps"
- Back-to-back sandpits
The key was not making too many mistakes on these sections. On day one, I succeeded and won the men's category five race.
Day two was rainy, and the course became much more technical. I hooked my handlebar on a wooden stake going through the woods and did a full somersault in the dirt. I also approached the off-camber W section too quickly, grabbed brake, and lost time on each lap.
The sand was a major difference-maker on the course for all fields. The choices each rider made in the sand -- not to mention the execution of said choices -- usually dictated the order of things going into the finishing straight. For my race, the most successful tactic seemed to be riding into the sand and dismounting before the first turn. The men's UCI field did the same. Many of the pro women, on the other hand, were able to ride the entire thing thanks to a couple of friendly ruts.
Ultimately I made enough mistakes Sunday to lose the top spot by nine seconds and take second place -- not bad, but not quite as neat as Patrick Torpey winning both days for us at Nittany.
Heckles and Hand-ups
Charm City has some outrageous hand-ups. My personal favorite were the mimosa hand-ups during the men’s five and 2/3/4 fields. TBD, on the other hand, provided the race's least-appealing and most apropos hand-up for a race in Maryland.
On Saturday night we did what any respectable tourist group in Baltimore should do: We had a huge crab dinner at Captain James Crabhouse. This provided ample left-overs, which our team converted into Old Bay-caked crab hand-ups on race-day. The competitors who received them were not enthusiastic about this delectable choice of mid-race foodstuff, but they were a fan-favorite for sure.
On the heckle side, the race had a strong supporting contingent across all fields. For example, there was a bugle-playing heckler determined to unsettle the most steadfast UCI pros. There was someone who sang “Oh Canada,” in full, each time the Canadian National Champ came through in the women’s UCI race. And there were the folks who consistently reminded Richard Sachs that “steel is real” and others who asked J. Pow how much his Rapha kit costs.
As a first-timer, I enjoyed it immensely, In fact, so far this year, it's my favorite race too. Then again, we'll see what Gloucester has to offer next week.