NoHo CX Weekend Race Report
Lead lap. Finish on the lead lap. You would think that finishing on the same lap as someone in a race would be an obtainable goal.
I had done three UCI cyclocross races since upgrading a month ago, and that goal had eluded me. Set back with mechanicals. lacking fitness and handling skills, it hadn’t even come close to happening. I had had 2 DNFs and when I did finish, it was 4 laps back. So going into this weekend, finishing lead lap was make or break for the rest of the season, and hyperbole aside, potentially my sanity.
I raced NoHo two years ago as a category 4. Day 1 was my first race breaking into the Top 10 and in a field of 134 riders, I was elated and surprised with how well I’d done. It was my first season racing bikes and after 5 cyclocross races with very little offroad practice, it was such a huge confidence booster. I had fully taken my bike apart on the train ride up and spent the night cabling my bike for the first time ever (as TBDers Chris Burati, Steve Rousseau, and everyone in the basement sleeping can attest to). I did not sleep. I did not expect to do well. But against all odds, I did okay. Coupled with the fact that Western Massachusetts is one of my favorite destinations to escape New York City, the whole 1st NoHo weekend was great and the reason I come back each year.
UCI cyclocross is hard. Really really hard (I’d use some expletives, but there are children reading. I’m looking at you Mikey). You get out there and every person has been a top rider in their field. You see Ellen Noble and Stephen Hyde riding sections that seem impossible. The transition to Elite road was hard, but you can hyde (one dad joke quota met). In Cyclocross there is no hiding. You are held to your own merits and any mistake you make is visible and costly. You can’t draft and you can’t recover. UCI racers finishing mid-pack have dedicated so much time to training, have so much power and finesse, and are ever on the cusp of elusive UCI points, but seconds add up. The rest of us are relegated to the Scrub Zone. The Scrub Zone is full of racers that were great in category 3 and local races, but can’t compete when pitted against the best riders in the country. As TBD rider, Colin Tanner, so eloquently put, "The scrub zone is a purgatory of sorts where your resolve is tested and your limits are either pushed or accepted. We are third class citizens in elite costumes.” Chris Pino has been documenting the Scrub Zone if you would like any more information on the phenomenon (not to be mistaken by with Carlo Quicho’s podcast which is pretty dope too).
Drinking beer and watching the pro line was hands down the best part about racing cyclocross. Riding that line for the first time tops that. I had so much trepidation. I feared bodily harm. I feared looking stupid in front of the two guys in lawn chairs at the bottom. Fear gets in your head and hesitation makes it that much harder each time you consider it. But it has to be done. It’s like jumping into cold water. Once it’s done, it’s really not that bad.
This year racing UCI for my first season, lining up in the back because of the random draw was a bit of a relief. Mixing it up at the start and potentially crashing out Cannondale Drapac's Joe Dombrowski was my biggest fear. The race started and I let the mayhem unfold in front of me. Bodies flying and vying for spots. I was slowly moving up in traffic. There was an icy turn that was claiming riders every lap.
Once the race settled, it was a game of cat and mouse. Groups formed and traded members when attacks went off. I was hanging in the low 30s picking up spots on the flats and losing time on the off-cambers up top. I settled into my own chase group who were my motivation. Trying to catch the next group and not get caught by the group behind. I got caught on the last lap after losing a few seconds through a sloppy line on a rocky chicane.
At this point, I knew the leaders weren’t going to pass so anything else was a bonus. I sat in, almost missed my saddle on a remount, and then led out a mean sprint for 37th place. Overall a successful day. So much so that I won’t talk about Day 2. Hint: it didn’t end well, but that’s for another write up.... 5 Ways to Not to Get Stuck in your Pedals and Crash during Pre-ride and End any Shot of Racing Day 2 at CSI. (#3 will shock you!).
Finishing lead lap may seem like a silly goal. But it’s a smaller part of a larger goal. Cycloross is great in that you race on your own merits and on your own choices. Everything that happens can be analyzed and improved upon. Goals are met incrementally and by the time you realize how far you’ve gotten, the difference is astronomical. I’m going to keep taking baby steps. I know where I lost time. I know I can improve there. I have a full year until I come back and who knows what my silly goal will be. Finish top half? Get a UCI point? Finish in the money? I’m not really sure, but I’m excited to come back and see what happens.